JONAH - The Prophet Who Objected to God's Love for All
A Bible Study

Title

The book is named after its principal character, whose name means ''dove."

Author

The book does not identify its author, however it is safe to ascribe the authorship to the prophet himself. Jonah is named the son of Amittai (1:1) from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25) in Zebulun (Joshua 19:10,13) Some feel that Jonah came from the same prophetic school as Elijah and Elisha.

Background

Jonah was a contemporary of Amos. The same problems Amos had to face Jonah also had to wrestle and deal with.

In the half-century during which Jonah ministered (800-750 BC) a significant event afflicted the northern kingdom of Israel. King Jeroboam II (793-753 BC) restored her traditional borders, ending almost a century of sporadic seesaw conflict between Israel and Damascus.

Jeroboam, in God's good and perfect providence (2 Kings 14:26-27) capitalized on Assyria's defeat of Damascus which temporarily crushed the center of Aramean power. Prior to that time, not only had Israel been considerably

reduced in size, but the king of Damascus had even been able to control the internal affairs in the northern kingdom (2 Kings 13:7). However, after the Assyrian campaign against Damascus in 797, Jehoash, king of Israel, had been able to recover the territory lost to the king of Damascus. (2 Kings 13:25) Internal troubles in Assyria subsequently allowed Jeroboam II to complete the restoration of Israel's northern borders. Nevertheless, Assyria remained the real threat from the north at that time.

The prophets of the Lord were speaking to Israel concerning these events About 797 BC Elisha spoke to the king of Israel concerning future victories over Damascus (2 Kings 13:14-19). A few years later Jonah prophesied the restoration that Jeroboam II accomplished (2 Kings 14:25). But soon after Israel had triumphed, she began to gloat over her new-found power.

Because Israel was relieved of foreign pressures she felt jealously complacent about her favored status with God. She focused her religion on expectations of the "day of the Lord'' when God's darkness would engulf the other nations leaving them and them alone to bask in the light of the Lord.

It was in such a time a message from the Lord through Amos and Hosea was sent to mighty Israel to announce to the people that Israel would be "spared no longer (Amos 7:8 8:2) but would send them into exile "beyond Damascus" (Amos 5:27) i.e. to Assyria (Hosea 9:3; 10:6; 11:5) During this time the Lord also sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn them of the imminent danger of divine Judgment.

Date of the Writing of Jonah

It is best to place the date of this book in the third quarter of the eighth century BC, after the public ministries of Amos and Hosea but just before the fall of Samaria to Assyria which happened in the years 722-721 BC.

The Subject of the Prophecy

The book records the prophecy of Jonah regarding Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. The purpose of the book is to show that God is a God not only of the Jews but of all people. It teaches Mission Work.

The Literary Form of the Book

Is it an historical account? Is it a parable? Did this event or events actually take place or did Jonah write this in the form of a parable (a form of literary writing) in order to express and teach the truth that racial prejudice and an unwillingness to include the Gentiles or non-Christians in the grace and mercy of God are contrary to God's will? The Book of Jonah has become a controversial subject in some circles.

We must hold fast to the truths that Jonah is one of the inspired books of the Bible; that the miracles recounted in the book could have been done by the Lord God; that the Lord Jesus looked on the Book of Jonah and the events therein as being factual (Matthew 12:38-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). If we insist on a certain view because we have certain presuppositions based on man's reason or thinking (such as - miracles are impossible), then whatever view we hold is wrong.

Two Great Miracles

The Great Fish and the Conversion of the People of Nineveh.

The Truths Taught by the Book of Jonah

1. The catholicity or universality of divine grace. It is the Old Testament counterpart of John 3:16.

2. A higher patriotism. An unconscious rebuke to the spirit of the 'elder brother' in the yet unuttered parable of the Prodigal Son. It denounces bigotry and hardness of heart.

3. The conditional character of prophecy of God's threatenings. When God comes near in any way, it is for our salvation. God is not obliged to fulfill His threats, but He is obliged to fulfill His promises.

4. The secret of effective preaching and witnessing. One must die, so to speak, like Jonah - and rise again. "The way of the cross, the way of light "

5. The necessity of obedience. Men cannot escape their divinely appointed duty nor shirk God s will in their lives.

Grace to the Gentiles in Jonah

Jonah tells us that God's grace is extended to all nations. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the grace of God is a teaching found elsewhere in the Old Testament (Genesis 12:3; Isaiah 2:2; Joel 2:28-32) but the book of Jonah deals only with this topic that God's grace is for all even the Gentiles. Of all the prophets in the Old Testament, Jesus likened only Jonah to Himself (Matthew 12:39-41) Jonah's experience is a type of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, who died and rose for all mankind-the ultimate proof of the grace of God!

What Luther has said about Jonah

"But greater than all he did in his own nation were his attacks upon the great and mighty kingdom of Assyria and his faithful preaching among the Gentiles; among them he accomplished more than could have been accomplished among his own people with many sermons". (LW 35:323f)

Outline

I. Jonah Flees His Mission (chapters 1-2)

A. Jonah's Commission and Flight (1:1-3)
B. The Endangered Sailors' Cry to Their Gods (1:4-6)
C. Jonah's Disobedience Exposed (1:7-10)
D. Jonah's Punishment and Deliverance (1:11-2:1; 2:10)
E. His Prayer of Thanksgiving (2:2-9)

II. Jonah Reluctantly Fulfills His Mission

A. Jonah's Renewed Commission and Obedience (3:1-4)

B. The Endangered Ninevites' Repentance Appeals to the Lord (3:5-9)

C. The Ninevites' Repentance Acknowledged (3:10-4:4)

D. Jonah's Deliverance and Rebuke (4:5-11)

 

F-Flight from God's presence--Chapter 1
I-Intercession from within the fish--Chapter 2
S-Sackcloth worn in Nineveh--Chapter 3
H-Human failure of Jonah--Chapter 4

 

I. A PROPHET FLEES FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

The prophet Jonah whose call compels him to stand before his God (1 Kings 18:15) alert and ready to do His will, seeks to evade by flight into a far country the unwelcome commission to "go and cry against that great city of Nineveh." (1:2) But Jonah can not escape his God by flight nor by sleep nor by drowning. The mercy of God which seeks out even wicked Nineveh will not be denied. God will not let His prophet go.

1:1-3 A disobedient Prophet

Jonah must have asked himself a number of questions. How could an Israelite prophet be commissioned to preach to the Ninevites? What language would he speak? What authority would he have? Why should there be a mission to the hated Assyrians, the oppressors of Israel?

The behavior of Jonah is clearly disobedient; he departs in the opposite direction from Nineveh, boarding a ship at Joppa bound for Tarshish. Twice we read here that Jonah wants to get away from the presence of the Lord. As the story unfolds Jonah will come to see that he cannot flee from the Lord.

1:2 Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian nation, situated on the east bank of the Tigris river. Assyria represented the pride and power and brutality of the kingdoms of the world. Assyria was the bitterest enemy of the people of God. To see a picture of the arrogance of Assyria see Isaiah 10:5-19.

1:3 Tarshish in Hebrew means "the end of the earth" It was located in southwestern Spain. At Jonah's time this city was literally at the end of the earth.

1:4-16 A Ship in a Storm

Jonah tells us that the storm comes directly as God's intervention for his life. The storm is great for the sailors, who are trained in the ways of the sea turn to their gods in prayer.

1:5 Jonah is fast asleep just like the disciples in Gethsemane. When they should "watch and pray" the disciples like Jonah shut out the agonizing reality of the hour by sleeping.

The "pious" captain of the ship in a bit of irony must summon the prophet to pray. It is the job of the prophet to intercede but here a pagan man must call upon God's prophet to wake up and get to work! The sailors at sea become the counterparts to the Ninevites of chapter 4 on land. They see the need to pray.

1:7 The storm had to come because of some sin and the casting of lots single out Jonah as the guilty party. For more information on the casting of lots to single out some sin see 1 Samuel 14:40-42 and Proverbs 16:33

1:8-16 The sailors question sets up Jonah's answer. Jonah's God is the very One who has made the sea. It is Jonah's God who is now threatening them. The sailor's reaction is again full of irony! They are afraid of God which is in contrast to Jonah the callous sleeping disobedient prophet. Jonah has a calm solution to the sailor's dilemma: like the cargo, he is to be cast into the sea.

The pagan sailors are reluctant to kill Jonah; they exert themselves to save the very man who would not exert himself to save pagan Nineveh!

The pagan sailors do not want the responsibility for Jonah's death Despite their hard efforts Jonah is finally cast overboard--but not without a prayer to be forgiven of taking Jonah's life. As soon as Jonah hits the water the storm is over. Now the sailors fear Jonah's God and so they offer sacrifice to Him.

What Jonah had sought to avoid by his flight is accomplished by his flight...the Lord is "found by those who did not seek." Him (Isaiah 65:1)

1:17 More irony! Jonah had tried to escape from the Lord in death (1:12) He does not succeed. The prophet Jonah who refused to pray (1:5 ) is forced to cry to the Lord! (cf. Psalms 130:1)

II. THE PROPHET PRAYS OUT OF THE BELLY OF THE FISH (SHEOL)

As always in this book God Himself is the one who is responsible for EVERYTHING that happens. It is He who appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. It is God who is not going to allow Jonah to escape his commission that easily. The fish has Jonah as his guest for three days and three nights. We are not told what kind of fish swallowed Jonah and so we can not tell, except that the story as strange as it sounds happened as it happened.

2:1-9 In the belly of the fish, in the depths of the sea, Jonah again learns to pray! His prayer rises out of the belly of Sheol (from the abode of the dead; hell). In this prayer three things can be noted.

(1) This is a psalm-like prayer. We should understand it to be taken from the vantage point of his deliverance, after the fact and not a transcript of what Jonah prayed while in the belly of the fish.

(2) This prayer concentrates on the inner religious realities of Jonah's situation. There is little if any attention put on the physical aspects of his being swallowed and then vomited out of the great fish. This is important. The waves and billows and things which pass over him are God's, His judgmental action. (2:3) Jonah feels himself consigned to the Pit, to Sheol, shut out from light and life and the utmost depth of his misery is that he is "cast from the presence of God." (2:4) Jonah finds that what he once sought by his flight to be unendurable agony.

Twice Jonah recalls the temple, the sign and embodiment of God's presence among His people in the land from which he fled. (2:4, 7) Four times he speaks the name of the Lord, the covenant God of Israel; he calls to Him (2:2), remembers Him (2:7), thanks Him for His deliverance from the Pit (2:6, 9) and confesses Him as the Author of all deliverance (2:9) to whom all loyalty is due (2:8).

(3) It is important to note what the prayer (for all its eloquence and sincerity) does NOT say. Jonah does not mention his disobedience, except indirectly in vs.8 where "vain idols" which literally means "lying vanities" could refer to his self-sought ways).

In this prayer Jonah utters not one syllable concerning his unfulfilled commission; his thoughts are all of Jerusalem and the temple (v.4) not one thought is on Nineveh. He is now, perhaps unconsciously, evading by his silence what he had once evaded by flight. The Lord has brought Jonah a long, long, way but he is not yet prepared to answer God's great question which will come in chapter four. God is not yet finished with His son Jonah and neither is He finished with you and me either!

2:10 Again, at God's command the fish spews Jonah out on the dry land, presumably that whence he fled. Thus Jonah is back to where he started, back to square one, and the Lord begins all over again!

III. THE PROPHET OBEYS AND NINEVEH IS SPARED

There is urgency (judgment and destruction within forty days!) in the message of Jonah even though Jonah delivered the message so reluctantly. The attitude of Jonah is 100% negative. His delivery of the message was hardly satisfactory. But the impact of the message was tremendous! The people, from the richest and most powerful to the poorest and least powerful believed, repented, and fasted. Even the cows in Nineveh fasted! And God did not destroy the city. In spite of the immaturity and the inadequacy displayed by the man Jonah God's grace was manifested magnificently, and the "bottom line" of the story was good news for any sinner who repents...just as it is even today!

A point of importance for this chapter is the doctrine that God is not the God only of Israel but of the whole world. Judgment motivates repentance and God's mercy is extended to any people who repent, regardless of nationality or race. God's salvation depends on repentance and not on national origin.

3:1 God gave Jonah a second chance to be His prophet to Nineveh. It is good of God to forgive our disobedience and to still consider us worthy of His high calling to serve. Before we come to accepting God's second call, we may have to pass through the depths of the sea where we experience total despair from our rebellion. After Peter's denial, Jesus gave him a second chance to serve Him. In giving His spokesman a second chance, the people of Nineveh got their chance to repent

3:2 This great city of Nineveh belonged to the Assyrians, the traditional enemies of the Jews. To preach to Nineveh was to give pagans the benifits of Israel's God of mercy. Nationalistic Jews would refuse to give their best to a people who were cruel conquerors, forcing the Jews into captivity. The order to preach to Nineveh was an insight into the universal love of God for all people regardless of race or nation.

To "tell" is to share, proclaim. How can one know unless he is told? Jonah was commanded to tell the Ninevites of God's judgment and also His mercy. How can a people be saved unless the Gospel is preached? Here we see the crucial importance of preaching, of witnessing, and of sending out of our missionaries. In addition, Jonah is ordered to speak what God tells him.

Jonah was not to be trusted with his own message. If Jonah expressed his own opinion, the Assyrians would hear nothing about repenting and being saved! Jonah was to give God's message: repentance and release. This is still the case in preaching today...it is not the message of the preacher but the message God gives him to say. When this is done, the sermon is a message from God Himself, a message of good news and mercy. In our own Lutheran understanding we can call the preached word a "means of grace".

3:5-10 The Repentance of the Ninevites

The reaction of the Ninevites is nothing short of astounding; to the possibility of God's forgiveness there is the generous response of the king, the people, and even the beasts. In spite of himself Jonah appears to be the most successful missionary of all time.

The proclamation of the unnamed king of Nineveh can be called a "theology" based on Jer.18:7-8. What we see here is that repentance and conversion from sin moves God to "repent" of the evil He intends to inflict on men. This does not mean that God has sinned but that He has changed the verdict because man through repentance and faith has changed. The phrase that "everyone turn from his evil way" is also seen in Jer.25:5 and 26:3. Once again we see more irony. The King of Nineveh is in favorable contrast to the impenitent Jewish king Jehoiakim back home.

IV. THE PROPHET'S ANGER AND GOD'S QUESTION

The final encounter between God and His servant Jonah glaringly exposes the evil root from which sprang the disobedience which had expressed itself first in Jonah's flight and then in the prayer from the belly of the fish.

At the root of Jonah's problem is self: self-love, and self-pity. Twice Jonah is angry, angry enough to die, Jonah even asks for death, first because the Lord has been too gracious, gracious to the undeserving; Jonah here is just like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. Jonah feels that God's grace is an insult to his deserving self! (cf. Luke 15:28-30)

Jonah is also angry because he is hurt in his self-esteem, where all good men are most easily hurt. Jonah says some "big things" he dares to throw God's grace back in God's face. Here we see the grace of God to Jonah as God "takes it" as Jonah continues with his fit.

In contrast to Jonah's blast against the Lord the Love of God is revealed in a wonderful way. The words which the angry prophet hurls at God as a reproach set Him forth as the God who loves without limits and punishes only when He must and therefore a God who "repents of evil".

Jonah in this chapter is quick to anger. God is slow to anger even in the face of Jonah's selfishness. God will not let his servant die and cloths His rebuke in a patient, twice-repeated question. (3:4, 9)

A third question confronts the prophet with the mystery before which all people must bow in adoration, the mystery of the love of God His love for Nineveh, the rebel prophet and the enemy. Here we see the love of the creator for the creatures whom He has made. (cf. John 3:16 God loved the world...)

God's love will not let go! We cannot understand this love, for God is God and not man (Hosea 11:8-9) and His love goes far beyond the reaches of human love (Romans 5:7-10).

You and I can, and must, bow before our God and adore Him; and it is this last question in verse 11 which God asks Jonah which we must also answer ourselves.

4:1-4 The Reaction of Jonah

Though no prophet ever experienced such a success as Jonah, he is displeased and even angry with God. Jonah knew God was "soft" that He would forgive should the Ninevites repent. Indeed he tried to flee to Tarshish (1:3) for that very reason--to forestall the eventuality of the Ninevites' conversion.

Jonah has a reason for his anger. He feels that God should be the God only of the Jews. By forgiving these Gentiles Jonah sees God breaking the covenant which was made with Abraham. However what Jonah forgot was that God told Abraham that through His promise "all the nations" would be blest.

Jonah is so angry all he wants to do is die. There is no little humor in this exchange: yes, the prophet is ready to die, but God will not allow him to go without teaching him the lesson that awaits him.

4:5-11 Jonah and the plant

Jonah does not give up on his hope that somehow the doom pronounced Nineveh will still be fulfilled, and he takes up his residence in a "booth" outside the city. The question has been raised why God should make a plant (probably the castor oil plant) spring up overnight to provide shade for Jonah since he already has the booth. We answer "why not?" Here we see the grace of God shown to Jonah in the midst of his anger against God the Lord is providing for all and even more then Jonah will need. This plant is also a part of God's lesson for Jonah.

Jonah's great joy over the plant is short lived. God sends a worm to kill it and an east wind to torment the prophet. Again, Jonah asks for death and God asks if he has any reason to be angry for the plant.

The whole point of the story comes in the last two verses of the chapter and the book. If Jonah pitied the plant, with which he had nothing to do, should not God pity the people of Nineveh? There is no answer to God's last question. There are at least 120,000 innocent children, not to speak of the cattle. God has had pity and mercy and compassion because of His love.

The last two verses contain the heart of the message God wants Jonah to hear and understand. Israel should not presume to limit God's concern only to the people with whom he has covenanted. The mercy of God spills out beyond even the holy covenant to embrace the Gentiles (Cf. Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15)

+Soli Deo Gloria+

Sources

Concordia Self Study Bible New International Version Robert G. Hoerber Editor Concordia Publishing House St. Louis, MO. 1986 pp.1369-1370

Concordia Self Study Commentary, Martin H. Franzmann Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 1979 pp. 619-621

The Acrostic Bible An Entertaining Way to Remember The Bible Barry Huddleston Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, TN. 1978 Walk Thru the Bible Ministries Portland, Or.