BIBLE STUDY The Book of
Jonah This study notes provide the core content of a group of bible studies on the Book of Jonah. While the core message of the study has been captured for you to read, written text can not fully express the sense of anointing upon the discussion of the word or the joy of corporate fellowship. We encourage you to pray before you begin reading that the Lord would open your heart and mind to be receptive and responsive to God’s message contained within this study. There may be times when you find it difficult to reconcile God’s truth to your own opinion or worldview, God’s truth is eternal, it does not change, our understanding of the truth does change as we allow God to work in our hearts and minds. 1
Jonah – chapter 1
Jonah was a prophet used by God in the 7th-8th century B.C. He is also mentioned in 2 Kings 14v25, and his story is referred to by Jesus (which gives proof to the fact that it actually happened). The story of Jonah is about rebellion and God’s grace and mercy. There are many parallels with our Christian walk with God; not least that God has a plan for each one of us and he is in control of all the circumstances in our lives. Read verses 1-3: Jonah’s Commission God said, “Go to Nineveh and preach against their wickedness”. This would be like God asking us to go to North Korea!! We don’t know how God spoke to Jonah, but it must have been very real, judging by his reaction. The problem was that usually Jonah was asked to prophesy to Israel – this time it was different. Nineveh was some 700 miles east of Israel and it was not a very nice place. Nineveh At that time Nineveh was an established and significant city, part of the powerful Assyrian Empire which later became a threat to Israel. Nineveh was the very opposite of Israel – its goal was power and wealth at any cost. It was morally and spiritually corrupt (The description in Nahum 3v1-7 makes disturbing reading). It would seem that it was ripe for God’s judgment, and yet ... in his grace, God was willing to give the people of Nineveh an opportunity to repent and be saved.
But Jonah rejected God’s commission and ran away! It probably seemed the easiest option at the time! He boarded a ship to Tarshish. We don’t know where Tarshish was it was certainly in the opposite direction to Nineveh – Jonah could well have got as far as the Atlantic Ocean in order to encounter a fish as big as a whale. Jonah chose to take himself outside of God’s will. Q. Can we ever really escape the presence of the Lord? Was it a physical or a spiritual barrier that kept Jonah from God’s presence? (See Psalm 139)
Read verses 4-7: Following Jonah’s disobedience The Lord sent a storm, not out of anger or retribution, but in order to bring Jonah to the place where he wanted him. Q. Can you think of any times in your life when God has used a time of difficulty to move you into his will? Everyone’s life was in danger and Jonah knew it was his fault. He tried to ‘opt out’ of the problem by hiding and sleeping. At this point the captain seems to have more faith and sense than Jonah! Q. How was Jonah feeling? How would we feel if we have not been a good witness for The Lord? “They cast lots to find out who was responsible”. Proverbs 16v33 says: The lot is cast ... but its every decision is from the Lord. When the lot fell on Jonah they began to interrogate him. Read verses 8-12: Who was responsible? The sailors recognised a greater power was responsible for the storm. In response to their questions Jonah answered (in a general sense) that he was a Hebrew and a worshipper of God, and that he was running away from God. He took the blame. Q. What effect did Jonah’s answer have on the sailors (v.10)? Jonah (God’s chosen prophet) had become a curse, rather than a blessing. The sailors challenged Jonah, but shouldn’t it have been Jonah, as a prophet, challenging the sailors? Q. Why didn’t Jonah pray to ask God for the salvation of all the crew? Would God have answered while Jonah was unrepentant? Read verses 13-16: The sailors Why didn’t Jonah offer to throw himself overboard? Instead, he put the onus on the sailors. Either way, his sacrifice in leaving the ship brought them deliverance. The actions of the sailors (v.15) resulted in a calm sea and an easy passage for them, which resulted in their acknowledgement of God’s Sovereignty, as they sacrificed and made vows to him. Q. Do we have that expectation that wherever we are, God will use us – even in the storms of life? God and all people The reason God made a covenant with Israel was that he might bless them – and through them, bless all nations. God’s love and mercy is inclusive, not exclusive. The reason he has shown us his mercy and saved us, is that we might be disciples and witnesses for him, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. This book shows how God was interested in Nineveh and in the sailors. It’s ironic that God still worked through Jonah, even in his disobedience! Read chapter 1v17: God in control When death seemed certain ... “the Lord provided”. Jonah was not in control – God was. God was in control of the storm, the sailors, the big fish and of Jonah’s destiny. Jonah wanted to end it all, but God still had a plan and a purpose for Jonah – which included giving him time to think for 3 days and nights in the belly of a fish! 3
Read verses 1-6a: Jonah’s distress Jonah finds that his actions have not led to death and escape – but rather, to a time of deep distress. And finally, at ‘rock bottom’ he talks to God. Q. Why did God have to use such drastic measures? Can you think of modern-day parallels? At first, Jonah cried to God because he was in danger and he needed rescuing. He talked about being in the realm of the dead (v2), in the depths (v3), in the swirling current (v3), being engulfed and the seaweed around his head pulling him down (v5). BUT ... we do see Jonah acknowledging God’s sovereignty, “you hurled me ... your waves swept over me ... you listened to my cry”. This was a real experience – but it is also a metaphor for the way people feel when they cannot go on – when life seems too hard to cope with. Read verses 6b-10: Praise brings victory When Jonah acknowledged that God was the one in control (v6b); and remembered God’s covenant (implied in v7); and threw himself on God’s mercy; then he found he was able to praise God (v9) – and God delivered him (v10). God was in control all the time. Q. Why does praise make a difference to our situation?
Read verses 1-3: From rebellion to obedience Jonah’s near death experience had obviously changed him – we can assume he was repentant because he had a real change of heart and direction (literally!). This time God said, “Go” and Jonah obeyed (v3). God won’t call us all to do what Jonah had to do. This was Jonah’s specific calling – to be God’s prophet. God calls us all to different ministries, but the principle of obedience is the same. God will bless our work if we are obedient and acknowledge his sovereignty, rather than wanting the control to do it our way. Read verses 4-10: Obedience brought blessing It is significant that the people’s hearts were ready to hear the Word of the Lord, and on hearing the word they repented and believed (what an amazing miracle - nearly lost through disobedience!). Even the King believed and prayed for God’s deliverance; almost certain judgment was averted (v10). God was in control of the Ninevites too and had prepared them to hear Jonah’s message. Q. Is there someone God has prepared who is ready to hear his message through you maybe?
Do we “put God in a box” or are we willing to have our ideas challenged? Read chapter 3v10 and 4v1: Who has the right to judge? It seemed wrong to Jonah that wicked people (despite their repentance) escaped God’s judgment. In fact, it made him absolutely furious! But would we feel the same? It was ironic that God had turned away his anger, but Jonah’s was building up inside him. Q. How does anger stop us from seeing things as God sees them? Read verses 2-4: Jonah’s world-view challenged Sometimes our world-view (the ideas we form as we grow up) doesn’t synchronise with God’s view and the teaching in the Bible. Jonah knew what God was like – gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love – and he didn’t like it! Jonah was stuck in the mindset that evil-doers should be punished and not given another chance. He didn’t seem to (or didn’t want to) understand how repentance could change the past or bring forgiveness. He couldn’t cope with his concept of God and justice being challenged, and so he wanted to die (a bit like a petulant child!). Like many people, he believed we should be judged according to what we have done. But God challenged this view, “Is it right for you to be so angry?” Q. What does this passage tell us about God’s grace – to Nineveh, and to Jonah, and to each of us? Read verses 5&6: Jonah runs away! Once again, Jonah removes himself physically, this time to the east of Nineveh. Now, God could have punished Jonah because of his misplaced anger. Instead he deliberately showed Jonah kindness by providing a plant to shelter him. Why? Was it because God wanted Jonah to experience the same grace that he had shown to the Ninevites? Was it because this story is just as much about Jonah and individuals as it is about Nineveh and wicked cities?
Read verses 7-9: God’s planning It is evident that God was engineering all the events in Jonah’s life: God sent a storm (Ch.1v4) God provided a huge fish (Ch.1v17) God commanded the fish to spew Jonah up on the shore (Ch. 2v10) God provided a leafy plant (Ch.4v6) God provided the worm (Ch.4v7) God provided a scorching wind (Ch. 4v8) In a way God turned the tables on Jonah. If Jonah didn’t think grace was right for the Israelites, God would take away his grace (symbolically) from Jonah, so he caused the plant to die, resulting in “punishment” for Jonah; and so Jonah suffered for his rebellion (forgetting that he had actually placed himself in the path of any east wind that might blow up!). Once again Jonah was in despair, “let me die” he said. Q. We can see that Jonah was being irrational – but can we be the same?
Read verses 10&11: God’s concern for people and animals A contrast is drawn between the loss of a plant and the loss of a group of people; the anger of Jonah and the love of God; Jonah’s selfish desire for comfort and God’s altruistic love; Jonah’s stubborn ideas and God’s grace; Jonah’s ideas about who and what should live or die, and God’s love for all that he created (including the plants and the animals). The phrase “those who don’t know their right hand from their left” is telling us that the Ninevites were ignorant of the things of God and shouldn’t be judged without being given that chance to hear and repent. It’s the same message today. And we should not be judging nations who don’t follow God’s ways; rather, we should be praying for them, giving to missions, and seeking to tell them about Jesus – whatever God is calling us to do. Obedience to our calling is the message of Jonah. Q. Do we know what our calling is? And are we submitting to God’s control in our lives?