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Week 1



Who/When: The book of Jonah is named for the principal character, not necessarily the author. Historically, Bible scholars differ on whether Jonah or some third-party narrator was the author. No matter if he penned the book himself, we know that the Prophet Jonah is the character this story addresses. He prophesied during the reign of King Jeroboam II (B.C. 793-753) in the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 14:26).

What: The book of Jonah addresses Jonah's call to proclaim God's judgment on the people of Nineveh.

WhereJoppa: Israel's oldest port city. It is still a small harbor town today. Tarshish: This port city is located in the western portion of the Mediterranean (Spain) and is believed to have been the furthermost developed area west of Israel at the time of Jonah. Nineveh: "This 'exceeding great city' lay on the eastern or left bank of the Tigris, along which it stretched for some 30 miles, having an average breadth of 10 miles or more from the river back toward the eastern hills. This whole extensive space is now one immense area of ruins. Occupying a central position on the great highway between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West, wealth flowed into it from many sources, so that it became the greatest of all ancient cities." (Easton, Matthew George, "Biblical Meaning for 'Nineveh' Easton's Bible Dictionary"). Historians tell us that Nineveh was a wicked and evil city. It was the capital city of the Assyrian empire in the late seventh century B.C, located northeast of Israel. The Bible first mentions Nineveh in Genesis. Nimrod, "a mighty hunter" built the city (10:8-11) and is understood as the leader of the builders of the Tower of Babel. The prophets Nahum and Zephaniah foretell the judgment and destruction of Nineveh and the Assyrian Empire. Until Jesus mentions the city in the book of Matthew, the Bible offers no further mention of Nineveh.

Why: The book of Jonah offers us no explanation as to the "wickedness" (1:2) that demanded God's judgment; however, Nahum accuses them of plotting "evil against the Lord" (1:11). He said, "They stumble over the dead bodies! All because of the many harlotries of the harlot, the charming one, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations by her harlotries and families by her sorceries" (3:3-4).

Additional Information: Minor Prophets

Another point to consider when reading Jonah is its position within Scripture. The book of Jonah is one of the twelve books classified as Writings of the Minor Prophets, not because they are of less importance than the Major Prophets, but because they are shorter in length. The Minor Prophets include Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.


The Bible does not organize these books in chronological order (though almost); their arrangement is determined according to their message. When reading the Minor Prophets, it is crucial to recognize that the twelve books form one book that systematically addresses one subject - God's relationship with humanity. Each author addresses this concern from differing points of view, each one building upon the author that precedes it. Therefore, when we read Jonah, we ought to read it in light of the book that comes directly before it, Obadiah.


Obadiah delivered a word of judgment against the nation of Edom, the "brothers" who rebelled against Israel. Edom turned its back on Israel and formed alliances with other nations who would also turn their backs on Edom. God judged their arrogance - "you live in the loftiness of your dwelling place [and] say in your heart who will bring me down?... From there, I will bring you down" (v.3-5). What Edom prided itself on, God promised to destroy, "as you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head" (v. 15). The alliances they formed in rebellion against Israel would be precisely what would bring their destruction. Obadiah delivered "a powerful message. It shows what happens to those who reject God's Word and His grace, rebelling in foolish pride." (John F. Walvoord). We should keep this message in mind as we begin our study of Jonah and see how our author builds upon this message.


Before starting a chapter-by-chapter study of a new book, always read the entire book first. So, on day one of this study of Jonah, read the book through once without pausing to ask questions or study it. After you've done that, go back and re-read chapter one. While reading chapter one, consider these questions:

Why did Jonah go all the way to Tarshish? Why didn't he stay in Israel if he didn't want to go to Nineveh? 
2. Note the mentions of the word "down." What do you think the author was attempting to relay to us?
3. Note the contrasts you see in Chapter 1. How does Jonah differ from the sailors?

4. Was Jonah repenting of his disobedience when he told the sailors to hurl him into the sea?
5. How did our author contrasts the idea of fear?
6. ​Notice how the chapter began and ended. What can you compare or contrast by how the author set up this portion of his narrative?


Considering our Questions 

1. Why did Jonah go all the way to Tarshish? Why didn't he stay in Israel if he didn't want to go to Nineveh? 

Notice that God said, "Arise [get up], go to Nineveh" (1:2) - or get up and go northeast. Instead, "Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa" (1:3). In other words, Jonah went as far as he could in the opposite direction God sent him. Jonah didn't go anywhere; instead of going northeast to Nineveh, he went south to Joppa (1:3), to board a ship headed to Tarshish, a city at the western edge of the world (as was known at the time). 

Why didn't Jonah stay in Israel if he didn't want to go to Nineveh? Why go so far from his home?

Our author answers that question clearly: "to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord" (1:3).

Jonah wasn't merely disobedient by ignoring God's command to go to Nineveh. Jonah is avoiding more than the Ninevites; he is avoiding God Himself.

However, events don't go well for Jonah when he runs from God. We are told, "The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea, and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid, and every man cried out to his god, and they hurled the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below to sleep.

God may have been orchestrating events in Jonah's life by sending the storm; however, he doesn't seem to care about it. The sailors, however, are very concerned: "So the captain approached him and said, "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish" (1:6 ). When the captain said, 'Get up,' he used the same Hebrew word that God spoke earlier to Jonah: qûm or "arise." I wonder if Jonah heard the irony; this pagan is telling him to run to God, the God he is running from! 

2. Did you notice the repetitive use of the word "down?" What was the author relaying to us by the use of this word? 

Jonah went down to Joppa, he went down into the stern of the ship, and then he laid down and went to sleep. In the next chapter, we will see that his journey down will continue. 


When our author told us that Jonah had "fallen sound asleep," he told us that he was in a very deep sleep - not just taking a little nap. The word he used, raḏam" can even mean unconscious. Do you remember that God put Adam into a deep sleep as well (Genesis 2)? However, the word used in Genesis is a noun – "tardema" - a thing (sleep) that God placed upon Adam. 


The word used in Jonah 1, "raḏam," is a verb; it denotes an action. Jonah chose to sleep and chose to make himself unconscious to God's presence. All the while, the storm was threatening everyone's lives. But though Jonah made himself oblivious to the storm, the sailors are wide awake to the situation.


3. Jonah is sleeping while the sailors are concerned. Did you note this and the other contrasts? The sailors begged Jonah to pray to God; Jonah was willing to die rather than talk to God. The sailors tried desperately to protect the ship and get to shore to save lives; Jonah was willing to die at sea. The pagan sailors are concerned for the goodwill of everyone on the boat; the Jewish prophet is not. Jonah has placed no priority on the common good of everyone and is certainly not using his faith to help his fellow man. These pagan sailors are astonished by that.


While Jonah is asleep, the gentile sailors are above crying out to their gods for help and "hurling" their cargo overboard – sacrificing their cargo to appease the sea. Nothing is helping, so they go to this man down at the bottom of the boat and tell him that their gods aren't helping; maybe his can. "For a moment, Jonah lives in the same 'neighborhood' with these sailors, and the storm that threatens one person threatens the entire community. Jonah fled because he did not want to work for the good of the pagans – he wanted to serve exclusively the interests of [his community]. But God shows him here that God is the God of all people, and Jonah needs to see himself as part of the whole human community, not only a member of a faith community... Jonah's private faith is of no public good. The captain had every right to rebuke a believer who was oblivious to the problems of the people around him and doing nothing for them." Tim Keller. Through these contrasts, the author is beginning to reveal more and more to us about Jonah's character. We should continue to watch for them. What do you think he's trying to show us?


4. Was Jonah repenting of his disobedience when he told the sailors to hurl him into the sea or was he saying he'd rather die than obey God and go to Nineveh? Listen again to his words: "Pick me up and hurl me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you because I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you." He doesn't repent but is beginning to take responsibility for his sin. It appears he's saying, "you shouldn't die because of me," which is not repentance, but it does finally show some selflessness – even though it seems he still doesn't care enough to repent and go on to Nineveh.

5. How did our author contrasts the idea of fear? Did you notice the repetition of fear/afraid (4x) in chapter one and how the author used the term in two different contexts: fear of the storm and fear of God? Jonah knew to "fear the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land" (1:9), but he didn't trust His commands, so he fled from His presence, apparently thinking he could outrun this creator. ​

However, the sailors did not know God, but When Jonah told them he was a servant of God "who made the sea and the dry land," and the sailors witnessed God's authority over His creation, they humbled themselves before this powerful God. The sailors, in contrast to Jonah who ran, feared the Lord and turned to Him in prayer (1:14-16), hoping the creator of the sea and the storm was merciful - "perhaps your god will be concerned" (1:6). Though they didn't know Him, the sailors feared God enough to find hope in Him.

When I remembered the book of Jonah follows the book of Obadiah (Remember Obadiah addressed the theme of pridefully disregarding the grace and word of the Lord), I considered the contrasts of this book as they relate to pride. The Gentile sailors did not exhibit any pridefulness but humbled themselves before God. God hates pride - whether in an unbeliever or an Israelite - and He will deal with it, "Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down" (Obad. 1:4). When the Hebrew Jonah pridefully ran from the God of creation, God did not turn from Jonah. While Jonah has chosen to go down, we will see that God will bring him much further down than the bottom of a boat. When the sailor's humbled themselves before God, He brought them salvation from the storm (1:15, 16). When Jonah turned from God, He brought his prideful heart down to the ocean's floor. But this was also salvation, as we will soon see.

6. Did you notice how the chapter began and ended? What can you compare or contrast by how the author set up this portion of his narrative? The chapter begins with God's judgment against the Ninevites' wickedness and concludes with God's mercy and compassion shown to the sailors. God judged Jonah's sin by hurling a storm. When the sailors hurled him overboard, as soon as Jonah's body hit the water, this God of wrath miraculously saves the sailors and, soon we will see, saved Jonah's life. This chapter begins with God's judgment but ends with God's mercy. That is very important in developing an understanding of the next chapter.


Primary Message: Knowing God is to fear Him, not in the way we might fear a storm, but in a way that elicits complete trust. Sin keeps us from this kind of trust. God will judge our sin; however, He will also reveal Himself in a way that destroys sin. Sometimes, that revelation requires a storm, but we can trust His ways are always for our good.



God told Jonah to go up, and Jonah went down. Why? Because he was trying to get away from the "presence of the Lord." He was running from God, not merely from God's assignment. And why? If you have read through the book of Jonah, you know Jonah was running from God's mercy, pridefully believing the Assyrians did not deserve it. "The lack of mercy in Jonah's attitude and actions toward others reveals that he was a stranger in his heart to the saving mercy and grace of God" (Tim Keller). God chose Jonah for an assignment that would reveal his merciless heart -- to Jonah. When God reveals sin, He reveals to heal. Often, however, the revealing process is complicated. Jonah's sin, pride, is a formidable foe that mandated robust intervention.


To reach Jonah's prideful heart, God made his life fairly miserable: He hurled a great storm and designated a great fish. Why? If we don't intimately know God, we might assume His response to Jonah's sin was merely punishment from a wrathful God. Sometimes we do this as well. We often misunderstand God's judgment because we don't understand true love. You can't have true love without judgment - perfect judgment.

Scripture does reveal a God of wrath. The prophet Nahum describes Him as a "jealous and avenging God is the Lord;
The Lord is avenging and wrathful. The Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies." Most people don't mind quoting the verse that follows those - "the Lord is slow to anger and great in power;" however, they want to skip over the "wrathful God" images. To be a faithful reader of Scripture, nevertheless, we must acknowledge that an authentic concept of God incorporates His mercy and wrath within the same text.










Reread verses 14-17 as though you are telling the story to someone who doesn't know anything about God. 

The Hebrew of verse 14 says, "the sea stopped her raging" or "the sea gave up her wrath." It is as though God's wrath was transferred to the sea, and once Jonah is tossed into the sea, God's wrath is satisfied. Just as Christ dealt with the wrath of God by standing in our place on the Cross, God turned His anger away from the sailors when they tossed Jonah into the sea. So... Jonah disobeyed God, He hurled a storm, and then He made the sailors hurl Jonah into the sea to be swallowed by a fish. How could you convince your audience that God is not a vengeful, short-tempered God? In the same manner, you would convince a friend that a God who asks Abraham to take his son Isaac to be sacrificed is a good God. By reminding them of the Cross. God did what He never required of Abraham; He gave all. 


Paul explained to the Romans, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (3:23). Yes, God is just - He demands righteousness - but He is also a justifier - declaring us righteous in His sight.


Showing mercy and demanding righteousness are not contradictory attributes of God, and faith never pits them against one another. They go hand in hand. Hear how the psalmist explained it, "Graciousness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." (85:10). And where did righteousness and peace kiss each other? On the Cross of Jesus Christ. "At the Cross, in holy love, God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He took the judgment we deserve to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the Cross, divine mercy and divine justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled" (John Stott). We can trust the mercy and grace of God - even amid His divine judgment - because of what He did for us on the Cross.


Here in Jonah, as soon as his body hits the water, this God of wrath miraculously saves Jonah by providing a fish to save him - yes, the fish saved Jonah's life (we will look more into this in the next chapter). Even though Jonah ran from God because he didn't know Him well enough to trust Him, God still showed him mercy in salvation. God is undoubtedly a just judge and a loving Father.

However, that is because God's love is perfect. Ours is not. We often judge not out of love but anger, pride, or ignorance. That's why we don't always trust God's character;  we forget He is not a flawed human. The only person who is consistently and eternally loving and righteously just is God, and the only way humans can avoid being judgmental is to let God be Judge. 

This chapter of Jonah, and the contrasts the author skillfully weaves into it, compel us to ask, Do I trust God and His Word, or do I run from the Word of the Lord because I don't trust the Lord of the Word? Have you judged God as unmerciful because He demands judgment, or have you chosen to ignore those assertions of God's character in His Word?


Many people focus on one aspect of God’s character at the expense of the other: If I ignore His wrath and only accept God’s mercy, grace, and steadfast love, I give myself permission to continue in sin – if God will not punish sin (He is too merciful to punish), why should I give it up?  On the other hand, if I only know God as a just God who demands the punishment of sin, I risk living under some misunderstanding that my righteousness saved me (but I also demand that your sin be judged)


He invites us, however, to know Him well enough that we understand how merciful He is in requiring the judgment of sin. Instead of clashing, God’s roles as just and justifier harmonize. God redeems through judgment; He mercifully provides healing through His justice. Until we apprehend the fullness of God's character, we risk running from His justice or, like Jonah, His mercy. We will continue to ponder these thoughts as we watch God intervene in the life of this prophet. You see, it's not about a fish. Like all of Scripture, it is about a God who loves people enough to hurl a storm so we can experience Him completely. How else will we reveal Him to a world in desperate need of a God who is just and justifier? 

One last word: Don't run from God when you doubt Him. Linger in the doubt until He reveals Himself to you in a way that erases that doubt. It might take a storm, but He will provide a fish to rescue you from that storm. Wait and see!



A misconception of many people is that the Old Testament angry and wrathful God was replaced by the New Testament sweet and kind Jesus. Rather than cultivating that misconception, Jonah's story (as well as Nahum's and other prophets' messages) refutes it entirely. God has offered an in-depth revelation of Himself here in Jonah. God's justice, often mistaken as merciless, is actually wonderfully merciful to Jonah. God knew precisely what Jonah needed, and He loved him enough to let him hurt so he could find healing. That's the kind of love God has for us - and His judgment is not a sign to the contrary; it's an indication of our God's extraordinary love and mercy. ​

In the fish, Jonah begins to gain insights into the wonder of God’s grace.

Graciousness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Psalm 85:10

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“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me.
I called for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice.

Jonah 2:3

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