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Lesson 5: A Hebrew Prophet and Heathen Mariners *

Introduction: Jonah had God's "marching instructions" for him. Instead of marching in the correct direction, he ran off the other way. Instead of bringing news of the Great God of Heaven to the citizens of Nineveh, Jonah first brought the news to a group of heathen sailors. Let's dive into our lesson and find out how the Lord's work gets advanced even when we are unruly!

  1. Gods of the Sailors

    1. Jonah is on board his escape ship. Tired, he heads down to the hold for some "well-deserved" rest. While he is snoring away in the hold, something quite different is going on up above. Read Jonah 1:4-5. Were these "spiritual" sailors?

      1. In every group caught in some difficulty you have those who simply do not believe God exists or who have not taken the time to come to a firm conclusion on the matter. Are these sailors like that? (Apparently not. Verse 5 tells us that they "all" were afraid and "each" cried out to his own god.)

      2. How completely did these sailors trust their gods? (The next line continues "and they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the load.")

        1. Is that distrust or common sense?

        2. In the context of God's people rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem while the enemy lurked nearby, read Nehemiah 4:16-18. Is this a lot like tossing the cargo into the sea?

      3. Looking ahead, did the sailors call for supernatural help from these various deities cure the problem?

        1. What does that say about honest, heartfelt pursuit of the spiritual journey that is best for you? (The idea that there are many paths to ultimate truth is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Calling on Molech could get you drowned.)

    2. Read Jonah 1:6. How serious was the storm? (The captain thought they were going down.)

      1. Is there another explanation, other than religiosity, for every one of the crew seeking help from supernatural sources?

      2. Since the captain is not fussy about which god gives them a hand, what does that tell you about his theology? What does that tell you about his view of the storm? (They are undoubtedly an experienced crew. I believe that one reason they are all calling out to the gods, any and every god, is that this storm is so violent they are certain it has a supernatural source. This is no ordinary storm. This storm is something very special.)

      3. Do you think Jonah called upon God?

        1. Would it be okay for Jonah to call on God? (I think that is God's goal. Unfortunately, Jonah is sleeping.)

        2. Has that ever happened to you? You are in big trouble because of disobedience - yet you are "sleeping" when it comes to the danger and the possibility of God's help?

    3. Read Jonah 1:7. Sailors have a reputation for being able to accurately predict the weather. Why would this group of meteorologists think casting lots would be an accurate way of diagnosing the source of the storm? (Once again, this shows they turned to supernatural methods when they thought they had a supernatural problem.)

      1. Let's say things are not going well at home. Your cars need expensive repairs. The dishwasher is broken. The refrigerator is sounding funny. Should you cast lots to determine which family member is the cause of these problems?

        1. If you said, "No," then why did the lot casting idea work for the sailors? (God intervened to make the lot casting accurate.)

        2. What does this teach us? (Imagine the story that would be told up to this point. "I was working this boat on a trip to Spain. A terrible storm arose. It was no normal storm, so I knew Molech was unhappy with someone on the ship. We cast lots and Molech directed us to the guilty guy." Just because someone tells you something worked does not mean it is truth.)

  2. The Unruly Witness.

    1. Read Jonah 1:8. Consider the first question the sailors ask of Jonah. Does that question seem appropriate to you? (The lot was supposed to (v.7) identify the culprit. Instead of saying "confess what you did," the sailors ask Jonah to identify who is responsible. They are not automatically pinning the responsibility on Jonah. They want to hear what he has to say.)

    2. Read Jonah 1:9. Is this answer true?

      1. Remember last week we discussed the idea that gods had limited "jurisdiction" and Jonah must have thought he could escape God's area of influence. What does this answer suggest about the "limited jurisdiction" thinking? (Jonah now admits his God made everything - including the sea. Obviously, Jonah is within God's jurisdiction.)

        1. When do you think Jonah decided he had made a "jurisdictional error?"

    1. Read Jonah 1:10-11. Capture this picture in your mind: You find out you have an outlaw on your ship. His sins are about to get you drowned. Why would you ask the outlaw what to do?

      1. Why not turn to your own god for an answer? (At this point we see that the crew is coming to the point of believing in the true God of heaven.)

    2. Read Jonah 1:12. We started out our lesson saying that Jonah ended up being a witness for God against his will. What kind of a witness is this?

      1. How do we normally get people to consider their relationship to God? (This is actually a common path to God. Some terrible problem in life gets our thoughts to turn to supernatural matters. Someone introduces us to the true God of Heaven and we want to know what we need to do to please God (and cure the problem, of course).)

      2. Is the proper answer that someone must die? That is Jonah's answer. Is Jonah's theology correct? (Remember that in Matthew 12:40 Jesus compares Himself to Jonah. The parallel is certainly here. By being willing to give up his life, Jonah saves the crew.)

    3. Read Jonah 1:13. Is this how you react to the offer of grace?

    4. Friend, unwittingly Jonah continued his work as a witness for the Great God of Heaven. Would you like to be a witness following in the footsteps of Jonah? Or, would you rather just follow God's original plan for you?

  1. Next week: Salvation Is of the Lord!
* Copr. 2003, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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