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Lesson 8: Jonah, the Amazing Evangelist *

Introduction: At long last Jonah is back on track. God has asked him once again to go and share God's word with the people of Nineveh. This time Jonah obeys. Think back to the lesson when we discussed all the reasons why Jonah would not want to go to Nineveh. Remember them? Will those worries and fears come true? Let's dive into our study this week and find out what happens as Jonah enters Nineveh!

  1. The Message

    1. Read Jonah 3:3-4. What do you think about the tone of Jonah's message? Is it attractive, upbeat and designed for the modern man and woman?

      1. Does this message appeal to the vanity of the citizens?

      2. Does this message appeal to the curiosity of the citizens?

      3. Is it possible the message was condensed for us for the purpose of brevity?

    2. What reasons would the citizens of Nineveh have to not believe Jonah?

      1. What would you say if you owned a financially strong company and one of your competitor's employees came to you and said, "In 40 days you will be out of business?"

        1. What reasons would you have to not believe this employee?

      2. What if Saddam Hussein came to the United States and said "In 40 days the great mother of all winds will come and sink your entire navy?" Would he be believed? (Jonah came from a country that was hostile to the Assyrians. They could dismiss him as a hostile lunatic. They could simply dismiss him as no one they knew or should trust.)

    3. What reasons would the citizens of Nineveh have to believe Jonah?

      1. Is there a convincing case either way? (Everything so far in this story has been illogical when viewed in human terms. God's hand has been on everything. My belief is that this is no different. The reason the Ninevites should believe is that the Holy Spirit is acting on their hearts and minds. The message itself does not seem to be attractive.)

    1. Read Luke 11:30. This New Testament comment sugggests additional insight into the evidence before the Ninevites. What reason does it suggest that the Ninevites believed Jonah? (It calls Jonah a "sign." This suggests that Jonah told his story to the citizens of Nineveh and they believed him.)

      1. What are the similarities between the Ninevites and Jonah?

      2. What hope does Jonah's experience give to the Ninevites? (That God will show mercy to them like He showed mercy to Jonah.)

    2. If you were a citizen of Nineveh, how would you interpret God's intentions in a message that said you had 40 days before destruction - as opposed to God just destroying you without a word? (This would give me some hope that God was allowing me the opportunity to repent. A deadline seems to clearly indicate an opportunity exists while time still lasts. The Ninevite might think,"Perhaps destruction will not come in 40 days if I do the right thing." Certainly, hearing Jonah's story would strengthen that hope.)

  1. The Reaction

    1. Read Jonah 3:5. How did the citizens of Nineveh react?

      1. Was it only the poorer, less educated, classes who believed?

      2. Did Jonah have a "traction" problem with his message in certain segments of the Ninevite community? (No. All segments of society got the message and repented.)

    2. This verse highlights the fact that the citizens believed God. What does that statement reveal about the understanding of the citizens of Nineveh? (It was not just Jonah they believed. They believed that God was behind Jonah's message.)

      1. What does this teach us about the supernatural component of Jonah's work? (This is further evidence that God's Spirit was actively at work in Jonah's message.)

      2. The New Bible Commentary on these verses gives us some interesting insight into other factors that God may have brought to bear to get the attention of the citizens of Nineveh. Historical records show that the Assyrians were suffering military defeats during this time frame. There is a report of a major earthquake in Assyria during the reign of one of the kings names Ashurdan. A total eclipse of the sun over Assyria occurred on June 15, 763 BC, which was during the reign of Ashurdan III. Although we cannot be sure that all of these correlate with the approximate time of Jonah's visit, it is possible. God may well have used nature to prepare the hearts of these people for Jonah's message just as He used nature in Jonah's reconversion.)

    1. What does the fast and the sackcloth tell us? (These were outward symbols of submission and contrition. See 1 Kings 21:27.)

    2. Read Jonah 3:6-9. Verse 6 starts out, "When news reached the king." Tell me what you think the King heard? (He heard that something unique was going on in the kingdom. A foreign prophet had come with a message of doom and all the people believed him.)

      1. Is the reaction of the King of Assyria what you would expect? (How many important people do not like to accept an idea that "comes from below?" I would think the King was used to leading the nation - not just following the people.)

      2. How does the King interpret the 40 day deadline? (This explicitly reveals to us the Assyrian interpretation of the deadline - perhaps it is a sign of the opportunity to repent and avoid destruction.)

      3. Notice that the animals are fasting and covered with sackcloth. Why is this?

        1. The next time you fast, should your pet be involved?

        2. For those who fast, notice the rigorous nature of this fast: nothing touches your lips!

      4. What instruction, other than fasting and sackcloth, does the King give? (To turn from evil and violence.)

      5. The church/state separationists tell us that you cannot change a person's heart from the outside in. Is this true? (Yes. See generally, Matthew 15:16-20.)

        1. If this is true, how do you explain the King's command to turn from evil and violence? More importantly, how do you explain God's reaction ( Jonah 3:10)? God decided not to destroy the city based on the reaction of the people. (There are two answers. First, the people seem to have already had a changed heart based on Jonah's message. Second, I think the King's reaction and God's response teach us a very important lesson which the radical church/state separationists do not understand. While you cannot change a person's heart from the outside, you certainly can influence behavior and attitudes by national standards. A nation which passes and enforces laws which promote right living has a positive influence on its citizens.)

      6. So far we have discussed the King's command for fasting and sackcloth, and his command to turn away from evil and violence. What have we left out? What else does the King command? (He commands prayer! Church/state separationists should now be clutching their hearts!)

      7. Notice the four components of the message of the (formerly wicked) King of Assyria: fasting and sackcloth, prayer, giving up evil, and relying on God for mercy. Is this pretty much the gospel in a nutshell? (It sounds pretty good to me. Repent, call on God, walk in God's ways and rely on God's mercy. From the New Testament perspective you would add the central factor that we need not hope for God's mercy, Jesus is proof of God's mercy and forgiveness.)

    3. I want to end where we started. Jonah's central message was judgment and destruction. This is generally not the way we approach evangelistic efforts these days. Are we missing something very important? Are we "wimping out" in our duties to the pagan world?

    4. Friend, Jonah's experience in Nineveh shows God's power to accomplish the most remarkable and difficult tasks. If God has a mission for you that you have refused to accept, will you reconsider in light of the unbelievable talent and power of your "Partner?"

  1. Next week: Conversing With God.
* 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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