Was Jonah the Son of the Widow at Zarephath?

Question from a Site Viewer
I’m a Jewish believer living in Israel. I’ve gone to a Bible study where the rabbi made the statement that Jonah was the son of the widow at Zarephath, which I know is contrary to II Kings 14:25. When I brought this to his attention he fell back on the tradition regarding Jonah’s father’s name.

You stated the following: “According to legend, Jonah was the son of the widow at Zarephath. Such, however, is highly unlikely since Jonah would have been around 100 at the time of this account.”

Could you send me your reference information regarding the above statement? I don’t expect to be able to convince him because he’s not convinced by what is written in II Kings. I’d like to compile as much evidence against his belief in this tradition as possible to show him the error of man before God.

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question. The story of the widow at Zarephath occurs during the reign of Ahab (1 Kings 17). We know from Assyrian records that Ahab sent 2,000 chariots and 10,000 troops to fight against Shalmaneser at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C. We also know from Assyrian records that Jehu paid tribute to Shalmaneser in 841 B.C. Between Ahab and Jehu, we have Ahaziah who reigned two years (1 Kings 22:51) and Jehoram who reigned 12 years (2 Kings 1:17; 8:25). Jehoram most likely reigned as a co-regent with his father Ahaziah. Given that there was a period of at least 12 years from the death of Ahaz to the reign of Jehu, we understand that Ahaz must have died shortly after sending troops in 853 B.C. There also appears to be some time between the end of Ahab’s life and Ahab’s encounter with Elijah on Mt. Carmel (See I Kings 20-22). Elijah was with the widow at Zarephath before the event at Mt. Carmel. So my best estimate is that somewhere around 860 B.C. is when Elijah stayed with the widow at Zarephath. At that time, she already had her son who at that time was a lad. So, I assume that the child may have been born around 870 B.C. and may have been around 10 years old at the time of the famine in 860 B.C.

Jonah first appears in Scripture in 2 Kings 14:25. There are a couple of ways of looking at this passage. One can read the passage and say that during the days of Jeroboam, the son of Joash, the prophecy of Jonah was fulfilled, but not that Jonah lived during this time. However, I think the better reading is not only was Jonah’s prophesy fulfilled during this time, but this was the time Jonah lived. I note that in the very next verse the author explains the fulfillment as God seeing the affliction of Israel–that it was very bitter and that there was no helper. It does not make sense to me to read this passage as God first sending Jonah to prophesy, then God seeing the affliction of Israel, and then God deciding to fulfill Jonah’s prophesy through Jeroboam II. It makes far more sense to me that God saw the affliction and decided to exercise compassion, sent his prophet to prophesy and then fulfilled that prophecy. Accordingly, I see Jonah as living during the days of Jeroboam II. While there is some uncertainty as to the precise years of his reign, most scholars accept his reign as being around 790 B.C. to 750 B.C.

So, if Jonah was the son of the widow at Zarephath, he would have been around 80 years old at the beginning of Jeroboam II’s reign. But the beginning of Jeroboam’s reign is not marked by bitter affliction of Israel. To the contrary, the end of his father’s reign, Joash, was marked by repeated victories over Syria (2 Kings 13:25) and a great victory over Judah (2 Kings 14:12-13). In fact, Scripture talks about Joash in terms of “his might” (2 Kings 14:15). So I see the bitter affliction spoken of in 2 Kings 14:26 as rising sometime afterwards during the reign of Jeroboam II. If we allow 5 to 10 years for the affliction to become bitter, this would place the prophesy around 100 years after the son of the widow of Zarephath would have been born. Accordingly, as I have stated in other places, I think it is unlikely that Jonah was the widow’s son.

This does not mean that it is impossible that Jonah was the son of the widow, but it is highly unlikely. I note also that the widow was a foreigner from Zarephath in the territory of Sidon (1 Kings 17:9). Jonah was from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) which was in the territory of Zebulun, about two miles from Nazareth. If Jonah was the son of the widow, one wonders why he is said to be from Gath Hepher rather than from Zarephath. I do not find any good support for linking Jonah to the widow.

I hope this helps. I do not, however, suspect that you will be able to convince the rabbi. People must have open minds in order to be convinced. And as we know from 2 Timothy 2:24-26, our role is to be gentle with all. Ultimately, we win people to Jesus by love, not by convincing arguments. Vigorous arguments done in loving ways help keep us grounded in truth, but for those outside of Christ, such arguments can seem like attacks and arrogance. Accordingly, I would urge you not to use the information to take on the rabbi, but rather to guide your own thinking in truth. As for the rabbi, if you can show him the love of Christ, you will be doing what Jesus has called us to do.

Thanks again for writing. May the Lord Jesus guide into the full riches the Spirit in love, gentleness, truth, and patience.

a fellow servant,

tim

One thought on “Was Jonah the Son of the Widow at Zarephath?

  1. Tino Huggins

    Hello my name is Tino. Even though I am not the Jewish believer who wrote you this statement and question above, I do greatly appreciate your solid reasoning and use of Scripture verses such as (1 Kings 17:9; 2 Kings 14:25) as the way that you arived at your answer. I also appreciate your great advice to this gentleman on showing the love of Christ as the way to share.

    Reply

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