Jonah stands as quite a unique book amongst the minor prophets. Its narrative flow, its focus more on the prophet himself than his message. It is quite a journey of a read. It contains one of the stories that kids know from a very young age where Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish. Yet, one facet of Jonah that can be easily missed is Jonah's name; Jonah.
Jonah comes from the Hebrew term yônâ (יוֹנָה). When understood as a proper noun it means, well, Jonah. When understood as a common noun it means dove. Jonah's name means dove. Now, you may wonder what sort of significance this would have. Well, let me take you to two significant portrayals of doves in the Old Testament.
The first and most well-known instance of a dove in the Old Testament comes from the section of Genesis dealing with the flood. As Noah and his family are kept safe in the ark during the flood, Noah sends out a dove to see if it will be able to find dry land (Gen 8:8-12). For Noah, this would be a sign that the Lord was good to his promise to establish his covenant with him as he said in Gen 6:18 (the one which began in Gen 3:15).
The dove was a means of the good news being brought to Noah as it returns at first empty-handed because it found no land, then with an olive leaf, and then finally it did not return at all. This was the sign of the Lord's goodness and the bird was the de facto messenger of it.
The next and lesser-known instance of a dove in the Old Testament is found in Hosea 7:11. There the Lord compares the tribe of Ephraim to a dove. He says, "Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria." Why is Ephraim like a dove? Because they flirt with pagan nations and pagan gods (cf. Hos 5:3). Why should they do that when their God is the Lord? In that way, they are silly and senseless. They have no direction and are carried to and fro by their own passions from pagan god to pagan god. In so doing, they flee the Lord himself.
Jonah the Dove
Return then to Jonah and we can see that Jonah the Dove can live up to his namesake in two ways. He can be the dove of Genesis 8 and proclaim the good news of repentance and forgiveness to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2, 4:2-3). Or he can be the silly and senseless dove of Hosea 7 and flee the Lord who is "a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." (4:2) Only three verses in tells us which dove Jonah is as he arises to flee from the Lord (Jonah 1:3). Of course, he does eventually become the Gen 8 dove but only begrudgingly and by the kind chastisement of the Lord.
Jesus the better Jonah
Jesus is the better Jonah not just in that he proclaimed good news of repentance and forgiveness (Luke 4:16-22) and is thus the true and better Genesis 8 Jonah, but he never once was the silly and senseless Jonah who flees from the presence of God. He lived, as he always did, in perfect communion with the Father and the Spirit (John 17).
In union with Christ we become imitators and ambassodars of Jesus the better Jonah. We become Spirit-filled proclaimers of the good news of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:1-2, 2 Cor 5:20). Jesus is the good news and it is him we present as Jonahs in union with the true and better Jonah; Jesus Christ himself.