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Jonah: On the Way to Joppa

During the reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753 BC), a Northern Kingdom prophet named Jonah was called by God to “announce the Lord’s judgment” (Jonah 1:1-2) to the Assyrians. God commanded him to go to Assyria’s capital, the city of Nineveh to preach against its wickedness and convince the people to repent. The heart of the Assyrian empire was located around 500 miles northeast of Gath-Hepher, Jonah’s hometown in the Galilean region. (For a better picture of Bible events and location, refer to the Holy Land Map in conjunction with this article.)

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It was clear from the start that Jonah was unwilling to go to Nineveh because the Bible did not mince words with his response to God’s command: he ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). Jonah was understandably resentful about preaching repentance to the Assyrians, so he headed to the port city of Joppa to catch a ship bound for Tarshish. Joppa (modern Jaffa) was a harbor city located far west of Jonah’s village of Gath-Hepher. While the modern location of the famed city of Tarshish is still being disputed (according to the Septuagint and Vulgate translations of the Bible, Tarshish was another name for the city of Carthage while historian Flavius Josephus asserted that it was the Anatolian city of Tarsus).

There is a modern argument, however, that Jonah did not go directly to the port city of Joppa so that he could escape from the presence of God. It was said that he travelled to the city of Joppa to put himself out of God’s reach—which made sense only if God’s power was limited by location (Joppa was a Philistine territory at that time). Perhaps Jonah took the attempt to escape one step further by passing through at least four to five ports to shake off God’s presence. Clever or not, Jonah sent a clear message to God that there was no way he would willingly go to Nineveh.

Jonah was inside the belly of a fish for 3 days.

This theory, however, is not without its issues. First, Jonah’s hometown of Gath-Hepher was located in the Northern Kingdom. The only significant ports that lay between the town of Gath-Hepher and the Philistine port in Joppa were Acco (modern Acre) to the northwest and Dor to the west. If Jonah, however, was based in Samaria (and not in his hometown) during the reign of King Jeroboam II, there were no other ports of considerable size and importance near the capital for one of the most famous escapees in history to take refuge in except for Joppa.

God’s omniscience and omnipresence also hindered the theory that Jonah passed through at least four to five ports to shake off His presence. The Lord was with Abraham as he travelled from Harran down to Canaan and Egypt—all of which were pagan cities. He was also with Jacob when he came back to Upper Mesopotamia after he tricked Isaac to give away his brother Esau’s blessings. God’s presence was also felt during the Israelite’s struggle in Egypt, Daniel’s captivity in Babylon (although this would come much later than Jonah’s adventure), and many other instances in the Bible when location (even the schemes of men) simply did not present a problem for God to show his power. God also heard and answered Jonah’s prayer while he sat inside the belly of the fish after it swallowed him (he was eventually vomited on dry land).

Whether he passed through a number of ports on the way to Joppa or not, the book of Jonah continues to fascinate readers thousands of years after it was written. There are lessons that his story offers to its readers, although people will probably never know the truth about this detail on his journey. Two things are for sure: God extended His mercy even to the merciless and men could never thwart the plans of God.

May, Herbert G., G. N. S. Hunt, R. W. Hamilton, and John Day. Oxford Bible Atlas. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
Singer, Isidore, and M. Seligsohn. “” TARSHISH -. Accessed June 29, 2016.
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13 thoughts on “Jonah: On the Way to Joppa

  1. If Joppa is on the east side of the Mediterranean sea, and Nineveh on the Tigris river, how did the “fish” travel there? Was the great fish hyper-space to that location?

    1. Jonah boarded the ship in Joppa and started out on a voyage west. When the storm arose and Jonah subsequently was thrown overboard and swallowed by the great fish, the ship might not have been very far along in its journey. In any event, three days later the great fish spit Jonah up on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea (the Great Sea). God repeated His commandment to Jonah. This time Jonah obeyed and started out on the journey that God desired of him…walking to Nineveh to preach to the city.

    2. Unfortunately, the Bible is silent on how Jonah got to Nineveh, after the great fish puked him out. If you assume things not evidenced, he made the trip by two sandal power, four cloven hooves, or two (or four) wheels, at the mercy of one (or more) of the local inhabitants. The extreme NE portion of the Mediterranean Sea is about 200 miles from Nineveh. Walking would have taken him about a week, assuming he walked 30 miles a day.

    3. This was an act of God with Whom nothing is impossible. The fish swam through the Mediterranean Sea, round the Cape; (present day South Africa) up the gulf and up the Tigris River to Ninieve.

    4. You must assume it took him back to Joppa. There is no time line given to the entire ordeal.
      Here is an interesting fact God revealed to me leading through research. Tarshish was in Spain on the far western end of the Mediterranean. Joppa was about 150-200 miles from Jerusalem, which is about another 500 miles to Nineveh.
      The fin whale can travel at 23mph. Multiply that 23mph by 72 hours (3 days and 3 nights) and you get 1656 miles. If the whale swam constantly at that speed the Jonah came within a very short distance of reaching Spain before interception. His journey took WEEKS considering the 200 mile trek to Joppa, the 1600 mile boat ride, the 3 days aboard the whale, then the 700-800 miles on land to get to Nineveh. A days journey under the law was only 20-25 miles a day, with a much shortened distance on the sabbath. Do the math. Phew!
      Also, assuming that God did teleport the whale, let’s not forget about the instance with Phillip and the Eunuch. He disappeared and was found again at Azotas. Jesus appeared in the middle of the room with the disciples when their door had been shut and locked. With God, all things are possible.

      1. Joppa is not 150-200 miles from Jerusalem. It’s more like 35 miles…

    5. The fish regurgitated Jonah more or less at his starting point.
      Jonah then did as he was told and made his way to Nineveh

  2. Exactly right. Two calls from יהוה and two different journeys by Yonah. Though I don’t think he walked from Gath-Hepher to Niniveh, it being approx 500miles away. He likely joined some of the caravans crisscrossing the distances between the East and West of his day. Likely more than one. Until he got to Niniveh and decided to walk a day’s journey into it to start proclaiming the message of יהוה to its inhabitants.

    1. This is a good enough explanation for any sane man.

  3. The Bible says that, “Jonah rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa…” It doesn’t say anything about him stopping off at any other ports along the way. Therefore, unless some historian uncovers a piece of wood in any of the other ports saying, “Jonah stopped here,” it can be safely assumed that Joppa was Jonah’s one and only destination.

  4. The truth is that no one can thawrt God plan

  5. Here’s Jonah, one of God’s children, a Hebrew who feared the Lord; the Creator God. And he finds himself in this near-death situation (a near-death situation orchestrated by his God). He somehow escaped being bitten in two, or chews into pieces, by this creature; then finds himself stuffed into absolute blackness, the stench revolting, the noises terrifying. Any air available would be heavy, wet, and even toxic (methane). How often do we Christians today find ourselves stuck in such a frightening, or stinking, dark, even near-death situations, and give all the credit to the enemy? We waste our time “rebuking the enemy,” while God is trying to love on us, teach us, use us.

  6. Very informative

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