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Lesson 1: Biblical Prophets, Modern Critics *

Introduction: Do you remember "Jonah and the Whale?" This week we begin a new quarter of studies on the book of Jonah. Years ago, when I was teaching the book of Jonah, an elderly man in my class reported that when he was a boy a whale had been transported on a flatbed railroad car to his hometown. He had never before seen a whale. Part of the "whale show" informed the public that the throat of the whale was very narrow - thus making it impossible for a man to be swallowed whole by a whale. The old man wanted to know how the Jonah story could be true. This week we look at some of the "historical markers" that support Jonah's story. Let's jump in and see what we can learn!

  1. Jonah, the Military Guide.

    1. Read 2 Kings 14:23-25. Figuring this out could make your eyes cross. We have altogether too many "Jeroboams" in these verses. Can anyone tell how Jeroboam did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam? (We have two different "Jeroboams." Jeroboam I is "Jeroboam son of Nebat" and Jeroboam II is "Jeroboam son of Jehoash.")

      1. What kind of king was Jeroboam II? (He did evil in God's eyes. He did not turn away from the sins instituted by Jeroboam I.)

      2. When we read about these kings, we often read of the prophet of God who would give God's message to the king and people. Who is the prophet of God who was on the scene during the time of Jeroboam II? (Jonah, son of Amittai.)

      3. What message did Jonah have from God? (It was a military message about securing and expanding the borders of Israel.)

    2. Read 2 Kings 14:26-27. Why would God help an evil king like Jeroboam II? (It was a combination of God's concern over the suffering of the people and keeping His promise to His people. God loved His people.)

      1. What does this teach us about God's willingness to work with less than perfect people? (He is willing. This is a theme we will see developed in the book of Jonah.)

    3. What attitude do you think the people of Israel had towards Jonah? (He was a "God-fearing patriot!" Everyone likes good news. He was predicting military victory and it happened.)

    4. Read Jonah 1:1-2. Is this the same Jonah who guided Jeroboam II? (Yes, Jonah, son of Amittai.)

      1. What does this tell us about whether Jonah was a historical figure in the Bible, as opposed to a fictional character created for the "whale story?" (This shows that Jonah was a historical figure because his influence on military matters is recorded in the account of the kings of Israel.)

  2. Jonah and Jesus.

    1. Read Matthew 12:38. Does this seem to be a reasonable request made of Jesus? (This shows unbelief. The attitude is "prove to me you can do a miracle.")

    2. Read Matthew 12:39-40. Why does Jesus compare Jonah to Himself?

      1. What parallels do you see between the experience of Jonah and that of Jesus? (As we will study in the coming weeks, Jonah's life was turned around by this three day experience. He would have drowned in the storm, but the fish rescued him by taking him underwater. Ultimately, the fish spit him out to a new life of obedience. Jesus, by dying for us, gives us new life.)

        1. Why is Jesus' death the only "sign" given to these Jewish leaders? (This suggests that these leaders had already decided that Jesus must die. Jesus tells them that after they kill Him they will see the sign of His resurrection from the dead on the third day.)

          1. Is this a sign to unbelievers today?

          2. Compare the believability of Jesus' resurrection to Jonah's whale experience?

    3. Read Matthew 12:41. How would you react to this if you were a Jewish leader? (Jesus is telling them that the gentiles of Nineveh were more spiritually alert than they were.)

      1. What does this statement say to religious sceptics today? (Those theologians who consider the Jonah account to be a myth stand in the same shoes as the unbelieving Jewish leaders who would not accept Jesus' resurrection.)

    4. What does this little interchange suggest about Jesus' view of the historical accuracy of the Jonah account? (Jesus relies not only on the detail of a literal three-day period, but He also compares Himself to Jonah. Jesus clearly credits the Jonah account.)

  3. Jonah, the Patriot.

    1. Let's go back to Jonah 1:1-2. Put yourself in Jonah's place. You are a prophet and a patriot. Your messages from God have been an important part of the defeat of the enemy. Nineveh has terrorized the people of Israel for many years. How do you react to this new assignment?

      1. Is it like your old assignments? (No. He is now going to be a prophet to the enemy.)

      1. A prophet's job is to go to his own people, right?

        1. Why would the patriot prophet be sent to the land of the enemy? (One commentary that I read said Jonah is the only case of a prophet being sent to the heathen. I've got to believe that Jonah did not want to hear this command from the Lord. The Bible Knowledge Commentary tells us that after Jonah's day Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire which ultimately destroyed Israel. Verse 2 tells us that God wanted to send Jonah because He had noticed the wickedness of the people of Nineveh.)

      2. What reason does Jonah have to go to Nineveh? (The important part is the introduction: "The word of the Lord." Jonah was told by God to do this.)

      3. Let's step back a minute. We all agree (God, Jonah and the Israelites) that the Ninevites were evil people. What solution do you think Jonah would have preferred to this problem? (Just destroy them. That was his message before from God when it came to heathen enemies.)

        1. What lesson does this teach us today in dealing with unbelievers? (The most obnoxious unbelievers can still be subject to conversion. Conversion, rather than defeat, is God's preferred plan.)

      4. Is this question of mixing patriotism with nationalism a problem for us today? Do we sometimes mix up our duties to God and our patriotic duties to our country? (It is just fine when those two interests are aligned, as they were for Jonah earlier in his life. But now they are in conflict and he is having trouble handling this.)

      5. Do you know how far a trip to Nineveh would be for Jonah? (It was 550 miles, which would take him a month to walk. Jonah had a lot of reasons not to want to obey God.)

    1. Let's skip ahead a minute. Read Jonah 3:4. This is the message that Jonah ultimately gave to the people of Nineveh. If Jonah were truly a patriot, why wouldn't he want to spit in the eye of the Assyrians and tell them their city would be destroyed? (An obvious problem is that he does not have the army of Israel with him. He is going to Nineveh "alone.")

    2. Read Jonah 3:10-4:2 to get a greater insight into Jonah's thinking about his new assignment. What does Jonah say that he feared? (Now we see what we might expect of "patriot prophet" thinking. He feared that his message might work and those people of Nineveh might be spared.)

    3. Friend, does God sometimes call you to do something that goes against the grain of your will? Something that seems out of character with your past assignments? As we continue our study of this story, Jonah has a lesson for you.

  1. Next week: People and Places.
* 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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