1Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:1-2, NKJV)
One author warns us against putting too much in the names that we find in Scripture.
While some have seen great significance in the meaning of “Amittai” (“truth”) and the name “Jonah” (“dove”), we must be careful not to interpret these in a way that goes beyond the book’s obvious intent.
Smith, B. K., & Page, F. S. (1995). Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (Vol. 19B, p. 224). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Fanciful interpretations are to be avoided and yet care must be taken to avoid the other extremes – (1) seeing no meaning in names that have meaning and (2) failing to recognize the relationship between names in the text and the clear intent of the original author. With trepidation and respect for the skills of the commentators that issue such words of caution I submit the following:
The name Jonah means dove. New covenant readers of this book, conditioned by the gospel accounts of Jesus’ anointing (Isaiah 11:2; Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:22; John 1:32), cannot help but to think Spirit when they encounter the word dove. Amittai, the name of Jonah’s father, means truth of God. Taken together the names form a word picture that indicates early in the text the role that Jonah has: a spirit of truth. He is a spirit of truth sent by God to a society that needs to be (i) confronted by someone they cannot ignore, (ii) convicted of sin, and (iii) converted away from violence. Insofar as God is willing to communicate His displeasure and declare the inevitable result of continuing in acts of evil, Jonah is a warning. Indeed, Jonah’s words could cause the city to repent and thus avoid the wrath of God; in this sense Jonah is also an agent of compassion. He foreshadows the compassion ministry of The Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 16:13) who now works in the world convicting it of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (John 16:8-11).
The dove that came and settled on Jesus has now settled on us. That is, Jesus followers are now carrying the mantle. As the Father sent the Son so now the Son sends us (John 20:21). We are sent forth to our newer Nineveh to confront with compassion the fallenness of our world and to offer the gracious gift of saving truth – the gospel.