The story of Jonah and the Big Fish is supposed to make you smile. It’s an odd little novella filled with satire and tongue-in-cheek humor; with keep-you-reading plot twists and with characters that make you wonder who are the “bad guys” and who are the “good guys?”
Jonah is a dark hero in his role as reluctant prophet, but his place among the prophets of Israel is extremely important because the book of Jonah is an unusual voice, a minority opinion in the multi-voice witness of Scripture. Occasionally, Scripture describes some of “the nations” favorably.
Certainly some individuals from among the Gentiles stand out in some of our favorite stories (the wonderful story of Ruth comes to mind). But generally the historical stories and the prophetic warnings portray the nations as irredeemably wicked and inherently dangerous to the spiritual and physical well being of Israel.
Assyria in particular was the historical nation that conquered and destroyed the Northern Kingdom; those Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were lost to history. But in the Jonah story, the brutal empire of Assyria is redeemed by a God who is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah’s burning accusation in 4:2!)
This amazing grace is portrayed as unacceptable to the character Jonah, but the overall prophetic witness of the book claims that God’s steadfast love is for all people, not just for Israel.
Read more at Charlotte Vaughan Coyle. Living in The Story: A Year to Read the Bible and Ponder God’s Story of Love and Grace (pp. 171-172). Resource Publications. Kindle Edition.