Bible Study - Jonah - Lesson 1
Text: Jonah 1:1 – 17
The Book of Jonah is probably one of the most fascinating stories in the Bible, even though some critics had labelled it as fiction or a “Big Fish Story” or “Jonah and the Whale!”! If this is our centre of attraction in this Book then perhaps we could have lost its centre of focus which could be about Jonah, or about the sailors, or the people of Nineveh or about God. Or, could it be about us that this Book was written? It is hoped that we will discover the truth as we go along in this study.
Jonah, whose name means “dove,” was a servant of the Lord from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25), a town in the tribe of Zebulun (Josh.19:10, 13). This prophet, a Hebrew (Jonah 1:9) and the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1)was the only prophet to attempt to run away from God.
Other than Elijah (Matt.17:11-12), Elisha (Luke 4:27), and Isaiah (Matt.15:7), Jonah was also one of four Old Testament prophets whose ministries were referred to by Christ (Matt.12:41; Luke 11:32).
Jonah’s ministry had some similarities with his predecessors, Elijah (1Kings 17 – 19; 21; 2Kings 1 – 2) and Elisha (2Kings 2 – 9; 13), who were called not just to minister to Israel but also the Gentiles in Phoenicia and Aram.
Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, the most powerful king in the Northern Kingdom, Israel (2Kings 14:23 – 29). Earlier the Assyrians had established supremacy in the Near East and secured the tribute from Jehu (841 – 814 BC.). However, after crushing the Arameans, the Assyrians’ power become weakened by internal dissensions. This temporary set – back in power had allowed Israel’s Jeroboam to expand his kingdom to the greatest possible, ever since the time of David and Solomon.
Even though the Kingdom of Israel had reached its height under Jeroboam, the religious life of the people took a turn for the worse as they indulged themselves in idolatry and forgot about the God who had blessed them. Therefore God sent prophets like Hosea and Amos to warn them of their impending judgement. Due to their un – repentance, God would use a Gentile nation from the east (the Assyrians) as His instrument of wrath to punish Israel. Amos warned that God would send Israel “into exile beyond Damascus” (Amos 5:27). Hosea specifically delineated the ravaging captor as Assyria: “Will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” (Hosea 11:5) So, Assyria would awake like a sleeping giant and devour the Northern Kingdom as its prey. The prediction was fulfilled in 722 B.C. when Sargon II carried the Northern Kingdom (Israel) into captivity (2Kings 17). The prophecies of Hosea and Amos may explain Jonah’s reluctance to preach in Nineveh. He feared he would be used to help his enemy that would later destroy his own nation.
Nineveh was located on the east bank of the Tigris River, about 550 miles from Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. Nineveh was a large and well – fortified city. Before Jonah arrived at this seemingly impregnable fortress – city, two plagues had erupted there (765 & 759 B.C.) and a total eclipse of the sun occurred on June 15, 763. These were considered signs of divine anger and may help to explain why the Ninevites responded so readily to Jonah’s message around 759.
(The notes above about the “Author” and “Historical Setting” were mainly adapted from “Jonah” by John D. Hannah, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament)
A Help for your Take Home from this Book:
The issues that could be found in this Book are of great significance to us today, whether we are God’s servants and simply God’s people, as they are related directly to our understanding of God in terms of His person and character, and also in terms of the work that He has called us to do.
RUNNING AWAY FROM GOD? (Jonah 1:1 – 17)
It is a common human reaction for anyone to run away from any sign of danger or trouble to save his very own life. However, have you heard of anyone running away from God? Unthinkable isn’t it? Yet Jonah did it and perhaps he broke the last Olympic marathon record! What made him run away from God? His sin? His fear of God’s judgement? His lack of confidence in doing what God has called him to do? His fear of the people of Nineveh? This list of possibilities could go on. In order not to rob you of the joy of self-discovery, it is left for you to search from the Scriptures to find out what was in the heart of Jonah.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.” (Prov.4:23)
The simple but yet vital truth of Prov.4:23 is that all our thoughts and actions come from our hearts.
“Heart is used in Scripture as the most comprehensive term for the authentic person. It is part of our being where we desire, deliberate, and decide. It has been described as “the place of conscious and decisive spiritual activity,” “the comprehensive term for a person as a whole, his feelings, desires, passions, thought, understanding and will,” and “the centre of a person. The place to which God turns.” J. Stowell, “Fan the Flame, Moody 1986 p,13
While we might be enthused by the main character of this story, Jonah, it might be enriching for us also to take a look at heart of God and the heart of the sailors, and then compare these with the heart of Jonah. Having done all these deep thinking, let us then asks ourselves, “What is God telling me through all these observations?”
1) Why did God call Jonah to go to Nineveh and how did Jonah respond? (1:1 – 3)
2) *From both the text and the notes given above, what do you think is the possible reason why Jonah responded the way he did?
3) God intercepted Jonah from running away by raising a storm in the sea (1:4). How did the sailors respond when they came to know that Jonah was running away from God? (1:10)
4) How would you want to understand Jonah’s offering of himself to be thrown into the sea to appease God’s anger? (1:12)
5) What did the sailors do after knowing that Jonah was the guilty party? (1:13)
6) What do you make of the sailors who tried by their efforts to save themselves without the need to throw Jonah into the sea? (1:13 – 15)
*7) How would you best described the feelings of Jonah in the different scenarios in this chapter?
*8) By giving some examples, how would you want to consider as running away from doing what God has called us to do?
*9) Cite some common reasons to show why many of us are not proclaiming God’s message to unbelievers.
*10) Have you ever experienced God intercepting your path of running away from what He has called you to do? Would you like to share your experience especially on how God bring you back to your senses?
*11) How could the response of the sailors teach us to do better next time?