Author Topic: The Minor Prophets: Jonah (Studies 1-4)  (Read 94 times)

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The Minor Prophets: Jonah (Studies 1-4)
« on: September 01, 2020, 06:59:12 PM »

"They seek a sign, and there shall be no sign given it, but the sign of Jonah the prophet. For, as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so also shall the Son of man be to this generation" (Luke 11:v29 & v30).

Throughout the 66 books of the bible, there are only a handful of stories that the majority of people, whether believers or not, are familiar with; because they represent something extraordinary, impossible, supernatural, and beyond human finite comprehension (the parting of the Red Sea, David & Goliath, Daniel in the lion's den, Noah in the ark, and Jonah in the belly of a giant fish). All of these stories preface another, far greater; the greatest story ever told: the birth, life, and passion of Jesus, the Son of God.

Jonah was a discouraged prophet in Galilee (Israel); having continually preached repentance, without any success, in the time of that wicked king Jeroboam (see 2 Kings 14:v25). It was at this backdrop that God commanded Jonah to be the first prophet to take a message to a heathen nation; to Nineveh, a "great city" of the Assyrians, sworn enemies of Israel, situated on the Tigris river. A city measuring 60 miles in diameter, with walls 100 feet high, 1500 towers of 200 feet in height, and a population of over 2,000,000 inhabitants, who lived by violence, plunder, and malice. A people who received their enjoyment through torturing enemies (v2).

What was God's purpose in sending a prophet there at such a time?

1. To highlight Israel's refusal to listen & repent at a time of perceived prosperity.
2. To foreshadow the gospel going out to the gentiles.
3. To show the unbounded mercy of God.
4. To display God's power, authority, and sovereignty over the whole earth.

However, we read that Jonah "fled from the presence of the Lord; deciding to go in the opposite direction, to Tarshish" (v3).

1. Overwhelmed/fearful by the greatness of Nineveh (a weakness of the flesh).
2. He hadn't received any assurances from God, as to His presence with him, and His protecting arm around him.
3. Seemingly impossible demands; doubtful as to the success of his commission (if his own people refused to listen, how likely for a heathen nation to take notice?).
4. He had a wrong view of God; lacking faith in His power (saw the greatness of the world as greater than God).
5. He desired to escape God's control over him (not the worship of God).
6. He saw himself as an outsider, with no authority, and unknown, heralding a message of impending destruction.


"Jonah travelled to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, and paid the fare" (v3). There is a message here of "false providence"; the open door isn't necessarily the right door to go through. God willl often use people or circumstances to further a person's chosen course, whether it is the right path or not.


"But the Lord sent a great wind, a tempest arose in the sea, and the ship floundered, on the verge of breaking up" (v4). *This was the first of God's miracles. "The mariners, in fear, cried aloud to their gods...but Jonah remained fast asleep" (v5). Fear causes men to seek God, but those with no thought for God's honour remain conceited and complacent, with a false sense of security, looking only to themselves.


"So, the captain woke him; commanding he prays to his God; that He may be merciful to them in their trouble" (v6). Even the ungodly know, in their own hearts, that their lives and safety depend upon the mercy of the Lord. Disturbance will always have a knock-on effect to other people.


"The mariners decided to cast lots; to determine who was responsible for their predicament, and the lot fell upon Jonah" (v7). *This was God's second miracle. GOD CAN DRAW OUT THE TRUTH, AND SIN WILL FIND YOU OUT PUBLICLY. IT is worth noting here, that the mariners, realizing the storm was something quite exceptional, believed themselves to be sinless and blameless, unworthy of punishment, and looking elsewhere for someone to blame. In addition, this verse also shows there is no such thing as luck or chance; that everything is ordered by God, for His eternal purposes.
"The mariners fired questions at the prophet, asking "Why have you disobeyed God?" (v8-v10). They had perceived that the God of Israel was the true and living God, and responsible for the events of nature, while Jonah had gone from an insensibility to his sin to an open confession of his guilt. "What shall we do to you; that the sea may be calmed?", to which the prophet replied "Cast me into the sea; for I know that I am the cause of God's wrath" (v11). The mariners knew they couldn't take the law into their own hands while Jonah, in humility, offers repentance by acknowledging his guilt, and God's righteous judgment upon him; that a blood sacrifice is required to appease God. "Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but could not, before crying to the Lord "Let us not perish for this man's life; lay not upon us innocent blood; for You, Lord have orchestrated this", and casting the prophet into the sea, causing the storm to immediately cease...". *God's third miracle. "...Reverencing God, they offered sacrifices and vows to Him" (v13-v16). Initially still trusting in themselves to thwart God's purposes, they soon realized the impossibility; yielding to His authority, and eventually giving glory to Him and testifying of His benevolence to them.

We will end our first study here; as there are a number of points to consider:

1. We all have a Nineveh; a place, person, or situation we always try to avoid/fear. How should we deal with this in contrast to Jonah?
2. Consider Jonah's behaviour in contrast to the Apostle Paul (See Acts 27: v14-v44).
3. Looking at the mariner's behaviour, how can you ensure giving glory to God and not self-merits?
4. A sign is a proof/evidence of something true. What signs of truth has God revealed to you?


The word "fearful" in Greek means "cowardly". Jonah, although he had no sense of his religious obligations to the Lord and, unlike Paul, could no longer say "before whom I stand, of whom I serve" (see Acts 27:v23), was no coward; deliberately and calmly choosing to drown. From a standpoint of self-preservation, he now testified a care for other's safety and God's reputation, showing in both that one righteous person can save a whole community (see Genesis 18:v32). It may also be worth noting here, the disciples attitude to Jesus, when faced with a similar situation; that they were resentful/reproachful; assuming that the Lord himself didn't care about their safety (see Mark 4:v37 &v38).

NB*: The scriptures were never intended to be divided into chapters and verse, therefore, occasionally human errors occur; as here chapter 2 should have begun a verse earlier at chapter 1:v17, concluding at 2:v9, and these ten verses contain eleven passages from the book of Psalms.

Like many others, I have, for a long time, mis-interpreted these verses; holding a vision of a giant whale leaping from the water, and swallowing Jonah somehow in mid-air, before crashing back into the sea, and disappearing beneath the waves, like something out of "Stingray". However, the whole passage clearly intimates the words of a man drowning:

"For You had cast me into the deep, into the midst of the turbulent sea. Waters compassed me about, weeds compassed my head, and I sank to the very bottom, to the foundations of the coastal mountains; trapped forever, on the point of death, from the belly of Hell itself. From there, I recalled Your mercy; crying out in fervent anguish" (v2-v7).

The Lord had provided a great fish to swallow Jonah (chap 1:v17): "You have brought up my life from corruption/decaying, O Lord my God" (v6). And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (chap 1:v17).


"My soul is full of troubles, and my life draws nearer to the grave. I am counted with them that go down into the pit; I am as a man with no strength; free among the dead, like slain that lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and are cut off from Your hand. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deep. Thy wrath lays hard upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves" (Psalm 88:v3-v7).

It has been recorded in history by whale hunters, that when they have cut open a blue whale, they have discovered a pouch between the throat and stomach large enough to house a human being and, in addition, chemicals in the  whale's system causes all digested food to be bleached white. It is probable, therefore, that when the prophet approached Nineveh, relating his remarkable story, and displaying this distinct discolouration, it helped to convince the inhabitants of his message of repentance. Though, when he returned to Israel, the Jews scoffed at his testimony, even though there were clear visible signs. In similar vein, they scoffed at Jesus' testimony, even though clearly visible. Jonah's "resurrection" aided Nineveh to repent, and Jesus' resurrection convinces the world to repent:

"If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you Heavenly things?" (John 3:v12).
"For as Jonah was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall the Son of man be to this generation" (Luke 11:v30).

We end this second study with the prophet's words "They that worship idols forsake God. But I will sacrifice the voice of praise and thanksgiving; I will pay my vows to be a prophet of the Lord, and herald the good news: salvation is of the Lord" (v8-v9).

Please re-read the passage and consider:

1. Jonah was very familiar with the Psalms, and would have understood Psalm 139:v7-v12. Why, therefore, did he endeavour to flee from the presence of God?
2. A greater than Jonah is here.


In our previous studies we have noted several miracles by God and, in this chapter we see another four (miracles of repentance). God's grace had given the prophet a "second chance" and, now realizing the power of the Lord, he no longer fears the inhabitants of Nineveh (chap2:v10-chap 3:v4). Two things are worth noting here:

1. A change of attitude leads to a change of action (*the first miracle of repentance).
2. God's forgiveness allows an opportunity for us to fulfil our responsibilities to Him.

We noted, at the beginning, the towering city of Nineveh; that it measured 60 miles in diameter, inhabited by over two million proud, arrogant, and self-centred individuals who didn't take kindly to strangers. However, the prophet bravely pronounced that this great city would be torn down in six weeks!!!(v4).
NB: Forty, in scripture, signifies a period of testing (forty years in the wilderness/forty days tested by Satan etc).

"So the people of Nineveh believed..." (*the second miracle of repentance). There are probably three main reasons for the people's belief:

1. Jonah's testimony of how God had dealt with his disobedience, coupled with the physical signs.
2. The knowledge of God's dealings with other cities of repute (Jericho, Sodom, Gomorrah).
3. The work of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:v37).

"...and proclaimed a fast, putting on sackcloth..." (v5). Fasting and sackcloth usually followed an awareness of God's wrath towards an individual/nation.

"...and the king laid aside his own robes and, covered in sackcloth, laid in ashes..." (v6) (*the third miracle of repentance). The king realized that he was ultimately responsible for the behaviour/attitude of the people (something our own leaders of today should be made aware of).

"...and publishes a decree..."(v7-v8). We see here, in these few verses, a process towards salvation:

Denying oneself (from injustice/tyranny/extortion/vices) > humility > prayer for mercy > repentance > continuance of a sinless life > conversion.

"God saw their works...and repented of the evil He had originally decreed" (v10).
NB: Nineveh was temporarily reprieved, not saved/reconciled to God.

Though God cannot change His character, He can change His behaviour and actions. We see here, THAT HEART-FELT PRAYER AND GENUINE REPENTANCE CAN ALTER GOD'S MIND (Hallelujah!!!). Therefore, it may be worth that extra effort to attend church services, reading the scriptures, or praying etc.

We will leave our study here, before moving into the final chapter, and the crux of the whole book. Please re-read the passage and meditate on "Who can tell if the Lord will turn and repent; turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?" (v9), considering the occasions He has given you that "second chance" to honour Him.


At the close of our last study, we saw that God can change His mind, and be persuaded by mortal man to alter His original plan of action; for He desires none to perish.

"BUT it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry" (v1).  Life is a series of "buts", until we are aligned with the Lord, and here we have two opposing reactions: God forgave/ Jonah was angry. There are five probable explanations for the prophet's attitude:

1. Personal - He was made to look a fool and false prophet when his prophecy of destruction didn't materialize after forty days, placing his own reputation above that of his Lord's.

2. Political - The Assyrians were long-standing enemies of the Jews, and renowned plunderers of other nations. Therefore, saving them could lead to a possible future invasion (which did actually happen).
NB: It isn't wrong to be anxious/fearful regarding a task God has asked us to perform; as this often encourages us to seek Him in prayer.

3. Racial - The Assyrians were gentiles; hated by Jews.

4. Psychological - Jonah was selfish, and wanted all the honour for himself (excusing his own conduct, while blaming God).

5. Love - He loved God and was jealous for his Lord's reputation; not wishing to see God's love, grace, and mercy abused by people continuing in sin, ungrateful and unthankful, offering a sham response with no genuine show of repentance (v2).
NB: Jonah had witnessed the same situation occur with regard to king Jeroboam (see 2 Kings 14:v24-v27).

Unfortunately, Jonah returns to his petulant self. We can imagine him scurrying away in a huff, at the end of his tether, past caring, and murmuring under his breath "I knew He'd let them off. Don't know why I bother to prophecy. Might as well just give up..." (v3 & v5). In between his grumbling, the Lord enquires: "Is it proper for you to be angry?" (v4). It is wrong to be angry with God!!! Anger is a momentary madness which blinds the perceptions. Our intelligence, understanding, and insight fly out the window, and we become unbalanced in thought.

The Lord often uses familiar objects in order to stress an important point, and here He provides a plant to shelter the prophet from the heat of the sun (*miracle ten), a worm to destroy the plant (*miracle eleven), and a hot wind (*miracle twelve) which, along with the burning sun, caused Jonah to lament his condition (v6-v8). Here, God asks "Is it proper for you to be angry for the loss of a shrub?", thus declaring the error of the prophet in having more concern for a plant, which he hadn't tended, than he had for the 120,000 inhabitants of Nineveh (v9-v11).

God has made us, the animals, and the entire universe. WE ALL BELONG TO HIM. We often look for reasons why He should bestow blessings upon us. Though Jonah was right in his understanding of human nature (he knew that the Ninevite's response to his proclamation was hollow; that none would change, and they would soon return to their evil, idolotrous ways), he was completely wrong in his understanding of God's divine nature.

We ourselves would soon run out of pity for others if we saw no apparent change in them. We'd give up on them, stop praying for them, come to the end of our own tether and, in all likelihood, have destroyed the world a long time again given the opportunity. BUT God never runs out of pity; giving every single human being, in whatever condition, a chance to repent and be saved; sparing until the last possible moment. This is the ONLY reason the world continues today. God says "Should I not have pity upon...", therefore, shouldn't we also say "I'm not giving up on..."?

Please re-read the passage and consider:

1. Human/divine responses (whether our anger/frustration is ever justified and how better can we control our uncontrollable temper).
2. Do we view "but" as positive or negative (how does God view it?).

In Jonah, we have passed through a fierce storm, been swallowed by a giant fish, visited a celebrated city, ending our journey with a fresh view of our GREAT GOD. What a story!!!

I pray that you enjoy studying this fantastic book, and get to know a bigger God than you knew before.

Please feel free to give feedback/thoughts on this study


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