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Lesson 4: The Jonah Saga *

Introduction: Which would you rather do, predict military success for your country or help the enemy of your country? Unless you don't like your country, the answer is easy. Think about how popular you are predicting success, and how unpopular you are helping the enemy. These questions give us insight into our study this week about the prophet Jonah. 2 Kings 14:25 tells us that Jonah predicted military success for Israel. No doubt he was a national hero. Then God came to him with a different missionary ministry. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and learn more!

  1. The Mission

    1. Read Jonah 1:1-2. This doesn't sound too bad from a patriot's point of view, does it? Preach against the enemies of your country!

      1. What is the small problem? (Jonah is told to go to Nineveh to preach against it. Not stay home in Israel and preach against Nineveh.)

    2. Read Jonah 1:3. Why do you think Jonah ran?

  2. The Storm

    1. Read Jonah 1:4-6. How can you explain such a deep sleep? The storm is so violent that the ship might break, yet Jonah is able to keep sleeping! (I think this reflects the deep stress he experienced in making the decision to run. He is just exhausted now.)

    2. Read Jonah 1:7-9. Are these religious sailors? (Yes. They believe in divine lot and not chance.)

      1. What is the state of Jonah's faith? (He still believes in God even though he is currently rebelling against Him.)

    3. Read Jonah 1:10-12. What do you think is God's goal in this? Kill Jonah? Stop Jonah?

      1. What happened to the free will that we discussed in the first lesson? Recall the two trees, choice architecture and channel factors? (This is a huge channel factor!)

    4. Read Jonah 1:13-14. What did the sailors think would happen to Jonah if they threw him in the sea? (He would die.)

      1. Are the sailors correct about who is morally responsible for Jonah's death?

      2. Are they limiting God? Making assumptions about God?

      3. Would you have such a generous attitude towards Jonah if you had just lost your cargo?

    5. Read Jonah 1:15-16. Is Jonah an unwitting missionary? (Yes! He manages to convert the sailors on the boat.)

  3. The Fish

    1. Read Jonah 1:17 and Jonah 2:5. If Jonah ran because of fear, imagine being tossed into the water and then swallowed by a big fish? Would it help to have seaweed wrapped around your head? (This has to be terrifying.)

    2. Read Jonah 2:1-2. How desperate is Jonah's situation? (He thinks he is calling from hell, the "depths of the grave.")

      1. When I was young I was told that if I was not obeying God, He would not listen to my prayers. What does Jonah's situation teach us? (Even though Jonah is in rebellion, God both listens and answers!)

    3. Jonah's prayer in Jonah 2:3-9 goes from thinking he will die, to optimism, to making a new vow to follow God. If you were Jonah, would you want God leaning on you this hard to make the right choice?

    4. Read Jonah 2:10. What results from Jonah's prayer and his change of heart? (He is delivered from the fish which had delivered him from the storm.)

  4. Nineveh

    1. Read Jonah 3:1-3. Is Nineveh a tourist attraction? It takes three days to see all the museums and take all the rides? (Several commentaries say Nineveh was 60 miles in circumference. It took three days to walk around it.)

    2. Read Jonah 3:4. How would you feel if you were Jonah? You are an alien in a huge city bringing the incredible warning that it will be defeated!

      1. When I've studied this story before, I learned there were reasons for Jonah to fear. The Assyrians (who live in Nineveh) are mean people. They drop people on sharpened posts. They put live people into walls and seal them up. Which would you prefer, being swallowed by a fish or dropped on a sharpened spike?

    3. Read Jonah 3:5-6. How do you explain this? (The power of the Holy Spirit!)

      1. Recall the question about choosing between the fish and the spike? What does this outcome teach us? (We do not need to choose. We can trust God to be faithful.)

    4. Read Jonah 3:7-9. What is the result of Jonah cooperating with the fabulous God of Heaven? (The people of this great city turn to God! Think not only about the spiritual impact, think about the political impact. The Assyrians were the super power of the time. They had an evil reputation. They are now followers of God!)

    5. Read Jonah 3:10. What does this teach us about the character of God?

  5. Unhappy Prophet

    1. Read Jonah 4:1-2. Is Jonah the ideal prophet? Are Jonah and God on the same page when it comes to the love of God?

      1. Do you think Jonah is lying about his reason for running to Tarshish?

      2. Why is God's love and compassion a reason to run? (Jonah told them destruction would take place in forty days. If it does not, it makes him look like a false prophet.)

      3. Assume you are Jonah and are telling the truth. Look again at Jonah 3:4. How could you present this to avoid the false prophet problem? (Forty days gave the people an opportunity to repent - which they did. Jonah could have added the obvious warning that they needed to repent.)

    2. Read Jonah 4:3-4 and re-read Jonah 2:2. Do you think that Jonah is telling the truth about wanting to die? He just got through asking God to spare his life while in the fish! (In the United States we would call Jonah a "drama queen" - someone who is overly dramatic.)

      1. How does God react to the drama queen? (God is kind and reasonable with him.)

    3. Read Jonah 4:5. What is Jonah expecting when he waits to "see what would happen to the city?" (He is still hoping God will destroy it!)

    4. Read Jonah 4:6-9. What do you think about Jonah's character?

    5. Read Jonah 4:10-11. What does this say about the educational system in Nineveh? Does this mean that 120,000 people did not learn which hand was which? (This is a reference to people who are so young that God does not hold them accountable for sin. Nineveh had many young people.)

      1. Does God care about animals? (Yes. I think God's point is that an animal is more important than Jonah's vine.)

      2. Why is Jonah so concerned about a plant, rather than people and animals? (Because the plant was doing Jonah some good. It provides shade for him. We see that Jonah is selfish.)

    6. Would you choose Jonah for a friend?

      1. Why did God choose him to be His prophet?

      2. Why did God chase after Jonah?

      3. Why is God engaging with Jonah when Jonah is being petulant? A selfish drama queen? An unloving person?

    7. Consider this a moment. Jonah lacks emotional intelligence. He is selfish. He has character defects. History records that the Assyrians in Nineveh were evil. What does this tell us about our God? (He loves us and He pursues us even when we do terrible things.)

    8. Friend, God wants you! God wants you despite your defects! Why not, right now, choose to follow the God who shows an incredible amount of patience and love?

  6. Next week: Exiles as Missionaries.
* Copr. 2015, 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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