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Lesson 9: Conversing With God *

Introduction: What an amazing day for Jonah! He doesn't get skinned alive and his hide stretched out on a rock to tan. He doesn't get a limb or two removed. He does not get mortared up alive in some wall. He wasn't impaled on a post. None of the terrible things the Assyrians had a reputation for doing to their enemies happened to him. Instead, all the citizens of Nineveh, including the King, accepted Jonah as a true prophet, accepted his God as the true God, and all repented and turned away from sin. Imagine the stories that Jonah will have to tell back at his home church! Consider the fund-raising potential of such a story! "Thousands of Truly Evil People Repent in a Single Day" is the headline. Let's jump into our study of the Bible and read about the reaction to this fabulously successful day of evangelism!

  1. Reports To Send Back Home

    1. Read Jonah 4:1-2. How does Jonah react to the smashing success of his message?

      1. Would Jonah make a great pastor?

      2. Imagine a Billy Graham evangelistic series resulting in a city-wide, top to bottom conversion. Then insert "Billy" into our Bible text instead of "Jonah." Can you imagine it?

    2. What is wrong with Jonah? (He loves himself and his reputation more than he loves God or other people.)

    3. How can a person who has such a clear vision of God's character so greatly misunderstand his own purpose in life? (Jonah obviously did not believe that being like God was the goal.)

    4. How do you think Jonah reacted to God's mercy to him? Was he as upset about God showing him mercy as he was to God showing mercy on the people of Nineveh?

      1. Is this you? Are you upset when God shows mercy to people who have the same sins you have?

        1. What about worse sins than yours?

    5. Compare the King of Nineveh to Jonah. Which one would you choose to be your prophet? (Review Jonah 3:6-9.)

      1. Contrast the attitude of the King towards Jonah and Jonah's attitude towards the King.

    6. Read Jonah 4:3. Do you agree with Jonah's view of things? (My first reaction is to agree with Jonah. What useful purpose can this guy serve? He has to be "kick-started." His attitude is destructive. He only considers himself. If he wants to die, let him. He certainly should retire from ministry.)

    7. Read Jonah 4:4. What is your answer to that question?

  2. Prophets

    1. Read Deuteronomy 18:20. What is the punishment for being a false prophet?

      1. Do you think Jonah had this in mind when he told God to just let him die ( Jonah 4:3)? (This certainly softens our feelings towards Jonah. Before, we were ready to let the bum die. Now we begin to understand why he wants to die.)

    2. Read Deuteronomy 18:21-22. Let's put ourselves in Jonah's place. Does this test apply to us?

      1. Applying the test, is Jonah a false prophet?

      2. Let's revisit your answer to God's question in Jonah 4:4. Has Jonah a reason to be angry?

    3. On the face of it, we have Jonah's prophecy of destruction in 40 days, and the unmistakable fact that it did not occur. You want to avoid the logical conclusion that Jonah is a false prophet. Why? Because he is such a great guy? (No. Because the entire story leads to the conclusion that God gave this message.)

    4. If you believe that all prophecy is conditional, based on God's mercy, how can you ever apply the "prophet test" of Deuteronomy 18:21-22?

      1. Why can't a false prophet say, "God changed His mind to show mercy on X?"

    5. Read Jonah 3:4. Do you believe this is exactly the message that God gave to Jonah? (From many years of listening to witnesses and examining witnesses, I know that the truth sometimes gets "shaded" by the emotions of the witness. Sometimes it is just plain dishonesty. Other times a witness believes every word he said is absolutely true. My belief is that Jonah "shaded" God's message to eliminate the clear conditional nature of the warning. He could not eliminate the "40 days" part of the warning because it was critical. However, Jonah shaded out the conditional part of the prophecy. Intelligent listeners, like the King, realized that maybe Jonah had not told the entire story ( Jonah 3:9). Bottom line: I conclude Jonah is a false prophet because he has shaded the message from God. If Jonah had clearly conveyed the conditional nature of the message, then his reputation would be intact.)

    6. Read Jonah 4:4 again. What does this teach us about God? (I was ready to let Jonah die after hearing what he had to say in Jonah 4:1-2. God, however, shows mercy by trying to reason this out with Jonah. God sounds like He is in the role of a counselor.)

    7. We like the story of Jonah because God's mercy to Jonah shows us that God will have mercy on us. Aside from the general issue of God's mercy on everyone, why would God choose this guy as His prophet? Jonah is not just anyone, he is God's chosen prophet. (Wayne Grudem's book "The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today" presents the theory (which I believe is correct) that "New Testament" prophets (i.e. modern prophets) do not come under the Deuteronomy 18:21-22 prophet test. New Testament prophets are allowed to be wrong. As a result, it is our job to compare what the prophet says with what the Bible says and in that way we sort out the wheat from the chaff of modern prophets. I think the Jonah story shows us that God's tolerance for nonsense among his prophets, even in the Old Testament, is greater than we might have believed.)

  3. Waiting for Vindication

    1. Read Jonah 4:5. What do you think Jonah hoped would happen to the city? (I think he was waiting to see fire fall from heaven.)

      1. If I'm right about what Jonah was wishing would happen, what reason would he have to believe that God would send fire?

    2. Review Jonah 4:2 again. Is there any reasonable hope in this that God will send fire?

      1. If you say, "no," then what reason would Jonah have to believe fire might come? (The only reason I can see is that Jonah offered to die when he learned that God was going to show mercy. Assuming Jonah has the defective character that he seems to have, his line of logic is that God considers me so important that He will destroy Nineveh now that I've told Him I would rather die than live.)

    3. Friend, the hope that shines out of this book could not be missed even by the blind. The violent, terrible Ninevites are spared by God's grace when they turn to Him. God keeps tenderly working with the twisted Jonah to accomplish God's goals on earth. Whether you have been outwardly evil, or outwardly a Christian with a twisted, selfish heart, God still wants to draw you closer to Him. Will you respond today?

  4. Next week: A Wind, a Worm, and a Plant.
* 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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