Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Studies in Jonah|
Introduction to Jonah
The Historical Context
Jonah lived in the time of Jeroboam II, (2 Kings 14:25 ) somewhere probably between 800 and 700BC. If you have done the studies on Nahum you will know that during this period Assyria was gradually developing and by the end of the period Nineveh had grown sufficiently to become the capital of Assyria .
The Geographical Context
Jonah's home was a place called Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25 ), near Nazareth in Israel . Joppa was on the coast of Israel . Tarshish is believed to be possibly on the south west coast of Spain . Nineveh is overland to the far north east of Israel .
Historical & Geographical Significance
Jonah's calling to go to Nineveh is still in the early days of that city. It would later (some 100-150 years later) be destroyed by God after His warning through Nahum. Observing the places in the paragraph above, you will realize that when God said go to Nineveh , Jonah went in exactly the opposite direction!
The Breakdown of these Studies
Because there are only six studies for this short book, there are obviously no divisions or Recaps. To get an overview of the book we might divide it as follows:
The Significance and Importance of this Book
Probably unlike any other book, this little book reveals the misunderstandings that we can have about God and shows them in stark contrast to the grace of God that is amazingly revealed. It is a book full of the activity of God. It has been a favourite story told in Sunday Schools, perhaps because it is so simple and clear in respect of what happens, but the lessons are of major importance. If you don't see something of yourself in Jonah, you're probably not being honest with yourself. Realise the wonder of God's grace that comes to you too.
Chapter: Jonah 1
Passage: Jonah 1:1-5
A. Find Out:
1. What came to whom to go where? v.1,2a
2. What was he to do and why? v.2b
3. But what did he do instead? v.3
4. So what did the Lord do? v.4
5. What effect did it have on the sailors? v.5a,b
6. Yet what did Jonah do? v.5c
1. Why do you think Jonah ran away?
2. What does his ability to sleep in a storm indicate?
3. What indications are there of the severity of the storm?
For those who have been told the story of Jonah in Sunday School, it's familiarity may mean we miss important principles. We need, therefore, to take it slowly. We all assume Jonah was a prophet because he received a word from God (v.1). How it came we don't know. Perhaps it was just a growing sense that this is what God wanted. The detail of it was quite clear: go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. Nineveh was a big city so it was probably like the equivalent of saying go and preach against London , New York , Paris, Sydney or Hong Kong. This task, although appearing clear to Jonah also seemed overwhelming and so he did a silly thing: he tried to run away from God.
Don't despise Jonah for this, because we all do it in some way or other. We all hear something from God, possibly preached, and then go away and justify why it doesn't apply to us. That's as good as running away. That's what the old sinful nature does. It doesn't like being told what to do and it doesn't believe God will be there to help us through with it, so we ‘run away' from it and pretend we hadn't heard it. But God doesn't give up on us, because He loves us and knows what we're capable of with a bit of encouragement, so He sends along a difficulty to catch our attention, something just big enough that we'll respond – even if we're exhausted from struggling against Him!
1. Be honest. How do you ‘run away' from God?
2. Realise that the belief that God won't respond is ill-founded!
Chapter: Jonah 1
Passage: Jonah 1:6-15
A. Find Out:
1. Who called on Jonah to do what? v.6
2. What did the sailors do? v.7,8
3. What was Jonah's reply and what response did it evoke? v.9,10
4. What did they ask and what did Jonah reply? v.11,12
5. But what did they try to do instead? v.13
6. What did they have to do in the end and with what effect? v.14,15
1. How are the sailors shown to be superstitious?
2. How is Jonah fatalistic?
3. What might have been an alternative course of action?
Again we have to say that for many this story is so familiar that we risk missing vital truths. Here is Jonah, running away from God, exhausted by it, asleep on a ship that looks like it might sink in a storm. The captain wakes him and tells him to join in their superstitious rites of calling on their gods – one of them might turn up for them! By drawing lots (!!!) they conclude Jonah is the cause, so he tells them that he's running away from the “I AM”, the LORD, the God of Israel who is the Maker of all things – including storms. Something of this has a ring of truth and they are terrified. They are doomed! Is there any may to pacify Him, is really what they ask.
Now it is at this point that we casually read what took place without a great deal of thought. What would have been a simple solution? Simply, “Turn the boat around, I've got to go back and go to Nineveh .” That was all that was needed, but Jonah has a very limited understanding of the Lord. He believes only his death will satisfy God so He will make the storm abate and the sailors be saved. Do you see this? Jonah is of the “Sin should be punished” clan and the result of that is judgement and death. He has yet to find the God of mercy, grace and salvation, the God who doesn't delight in the death of any man (Ezek 18:32 ) but who rather they turn and be saved!
1. God is looking for obedience, not judgement.
2. How do we see the Lord?
Chapter: Jonah 1-2
Passage: Jonah 1:15 - 2:1
A. Find Out:
1. What happened when Jonah went overboard? v.15
2. What effect did this have on the sailors? v.16
3. But what did the Lord do? v.17a
4. How long was Jonah there? v.17b
5. What did Jonah do there? v.1
1. How did the Lord make use of Jonah's exit?
2. What is the twofold end result of God's rescue plan?
Depending on what you feel about God, you will analyse what takes place here. If you think God is hard and tough, you will see the episode of the fish as a judgement on Jonah. The reality is that the fish is God's rescue plan to save Jonah from his fatalistic belief in the judgement of God that we noted yesterday. Let's note what happened.
Jonah has said he needs to be sacrificed to save the sailors. Eventually, in their desperation, they do throw him overboard, although goes against everything they believe in. To their surprise the storm immediately abates. There is no question, this is cause and effect. They recognise the reality of the Lord and immediately sacrifice and surrender to him. A whole load of sailors have encountered the Lord. Good stuff!
But here is Jonah now in the water having committed this act of sacrifice – dying. There is no doubt about this; he will drown. This means God has to act quickly to save His foolish prophet, so He prompts a passing large fish to swallow him whole. Amazing, a fish big enough to swallow him and big enough to swallow him without harming him further! He's alive! More than that, he's talking to God! In the hell that is the inside of this fish, Jonah prays. Very often all God wants is His children to talk to Him. For three days Jonah remains there, a picture of what will happen to Jesus (Mt 12:39 -41). Inside the fish Jonah is as good as dead, a picture of hell possibly. In three days he will be spat out, a clear picture of resurrection. It's a work of God without doubt!
1. God constantly acts to save us from our own foolishness.
2. Our wrong beliefs often lead us into difficult circumstances.
Chapter: Jonah 2
Passage: Jonah 2:1-10
A. Find Out:
1. From where did Jonah utter this prayer? v.1
2. What does he say happened to him? v.3,5,6a
3. What did he do? v.2a, 7
4. What did he say happened? v.2b
5. What does he feel about the future? v.4,9
6. What then happened? v.10
1. How was Jonahs' situation hopeless?
2. What did he do in it?
3. What was the consequence of that?
Death was certain (3,5,6a) but as he went down Jonah cried out and suddenly this very large fish (we aren't told what sort) came and swallowed him. Suddenly there is air and he's breathing – as awful and fetid as it would be – but he's alive.
We must take the Scripture as it is and not try to change it. This means we must accept that when he was drowning Jonah cried out to God (v.2) and then continued praying in this terrible situation inside the big fish. Others tell us that inside such a fish there will be acids for digesting food. There is utter darkness and constant movement which means he has no sense of anything at all except utter awfulness! Yet here, this runaway prophet, forced by the terrible circumstances, comes to his senses and makes amazing declarations of faith which, presumably, he later remembered and shared so it could be written down. As he prays (and it may have taken him the three days (1:17) to come to this point), he comes to a place of assurance. Now that is incredible.
At the point of death he's swallowed and is barely kept alive in this hell of surroundings – possibly the worst environment on earth you could imagine. Yet in this hell-hole, he is conscious that he's going to survive (v.4,9) and he vows he will do what God has said, and then suddenly it is all over and he's vomited up on a beach, alive. A total, awful, bleached mess, but alive!
1. Sometimes we have to face death before we can see the truth.
2. In the face of death, God speaks.
Chapter: Jonah 3
Passage: Jonah 3:1-10
A. Find Out:
1. What did God tell Jonah to do? v.1,2
2. So what did he do? v.3,4
3. How did they respond? v.5,6
4. What was the extent of the king's repentance? v.7-9
5. So what did God do? v.10
1. What did Jonah just have to do?
2. How effectual was his work?
3. So what was the outcome?
There is a sense almost, that this chapter is too easy. Jonah comes and preaches, there is wholesale repentance, and the city is saved from destruction. Wonderful! But let's think about it some more.
God comes to Jonah in his bedraggled state and tells him to go and preach repentance to Nineveh . Jonah now goes. Why? Because he's in no state to do anything else and he has promised (2:9) to be obedient. Nineveh was a major city as we've already observed so it will take three days to go through it. Jonah arrives at the outskirts and immediately starts preaching. The word spreads like wildfire and there is repentance (whether v.5 is a summary of what happened after the king sent out his edict, or whether it already started to happen is not made clear).
But why the amazing response? It is speculation because we are not told, but we may suggest the following. First Jonah was such a terrible sight – probably bleached white by being inside the fish, so he's going to be listened to. Second, usually the word comes to prepared, hungry hearts. Third, the Lord convicts the people. Jonah is only a small part of this. He is the small flame that kindles a great fire. The repentance is real and whole-hearted, just the sort the Lord looks for, so He does not bring the threatened judgement. Does God change His mind? Only when people change and real repentance is that change. Wonderful isn't it! Nineveh is saved! Well Jonah has something to say about that; he's still learning!
1. When God tells us to do something He's in it already.
2. Fruitfulness comes from God taking our small activities.
Chapter: Jonah 4
Passage: Jonah 4:1-11
A. Find Out:
1. What was Jonah's objection to Nineveh being saved? v.1,2
2. What did he feel he wanted and what did the Lord ask? v.3,4
3. Where did he go and why? v.5
4. What 3 things did the Lord ‘provide'? 6-8
5. What did the Lord challenge him? v.9
6. What point did the Lord make? v.10,11
1. What point did Jonah seem to be missing in v.1-3?
2. What did he seem to expect to happen?
3. What point was the Lord trying to make to him?
Forty days are up and Nineveh hasn't been destroyed. “See,” says Jonah, “just like I expected. I knew God wouldn't destroy them!” And that he makes his excuse for his disobedience. If he had been thinking rightly, he would have realised that the only reason God hadn't destroyed them was because they had repented, and they had only repented because he, Jonah, had told them to!
As so often we do, after a major spiritual activity, our man is left feeling weak and low. I might as well die, is what he feels. The Lord questions him but he gives no answer. He just goes out and from a distance waits to see what happens. Perhaps God will yet judge this city that had had such a bad reputation. He sets up a shelter, and waits. It's hot and it's uncomfortable. Amazingly a vine grows rapidly up over his shelter and gives him more shade. He's highly appreciative of it! He doesn't know it's a gift from the Lord. Incidentally we're not given any time from for all this. It could be a day, a week or even a month as he waits.
But then something eats at the vine and he's exposed to the sun again and now he is really annoyed. Ah, says the Lord, you're upset about the loss of the vine, are you? Too true I am, replies Jonah. Why should a wretched worm be allowed to kill it? Hmmm, says the Lord, so you get upset about me saving this massive city? Point taken!
1. Our concerns are often very self-centred.
2. God's concerned for people. Are we?
In these chapters we have seen:
In these four short chapters we should note the following:
It seems quite clear from these chapters that Jonah, who we tend to call a prophet (one who hears from God His word to pass on to others), has some wrong ideas about the Lord, which might be listed as follows:
God is limited in space and therefore you can run away from Him.
God only gives us tough jobs that would be better avoided.
God is out to kill us if we fall down on the job.
God changes His mind and so can't be trusted to judge people when He says He will
God's Amazing Grace
Again and again in these Conclusions you will find us highlighting God's grace. That's simply because it is constantly there being revealed throughout Scripture. Again, let's list the ways it is seen in this little book:
God doesn't just destroy sinful Nineveh ;
He gives it the opportunity to change to avoid judgement.
He chooses a prophet who He knows (Scripture tell us God knows everything about us) is going to have problems – but He also knows he's come through in the end!
He doesn't just let Jonah run away and miss out on some life changing learning, but creates a storm to challenge everyone.
When Jonah gets suicidal He catches him with a fish.
As soon as Jonah is overboard He stills the storm to save the sailors.
He gives Jonah sufficient time to come to his senses in the fish.
As soon as he does, the Lord releases him onto the land. God works (implied) in the people of Nineveh bringing conviction in response to the word that has come.
When Nineveh repents, God relents and saves them.
When Jonah is angry and complaining, the Lord graciously doesn't bring him tough discipline.
While Jonah is angry the Lord graciously provides him with a real life parable.
When Jonah is too obtuse to see the point of it, the Lord graciously explains it to him.
How does all this apply to us? Well, very often we're like Jonah and we exhibit all the same misconceptions Jonah showed. Check them out again in the paragraphs above. Yet what is more wonderful, the Lord deals with us in the same gracious way.
This isn't really a story about Nineveh; it's a story about a muddled prophet and a gracious God! Isn't it great!