How do you react in the following situations?
Most of us tend to be pretty patient with people we like and impatient with those we don’t (or who don’t like us). God, however, is incredibly patient and merciful even with those who blatantly disobey him. Most of us know the Sunday school story of “Jonah and the whale”, some people take it literally, some see it as a mythical story we can learn from (like Jesus’ parables), either way, read on; here’s Jonah - the world’s least willing evangelist!
Nineveh was a major city of the Assyrian Empire who were known for their cruelty towards their enemies (including Israelites!) They skinned captives alive, impaled them on large spikes and used rape as a weapon of war. It is possible that people Jonah knew had suffered such a fate at their hands.
Some commentators believe that this story was included in the Old Testament to make the Israelites ashamed of their own hard heartedness. Even Assyrians turn to God when a prophet comes, but they wouldn’t, even though they were meant to be his people!
READ JONAH 1
1) a. How would you describe Jonah’s character, what might have been his motives for running away?
b. How does this chapter affect your view of God?
READ JONAH 2.
3) a. Why do you think God left Jonah in the fish for 3 days?
b. Sometimes God allows us to be put in difficult situations. Why do you think he does that? (Rom. 5.3-5 & Heb. 12.5-11 may help)
READ JONAH 3.
4) a. God could have simply sent someone who would do the job first time. Why do you think he gave Jonah the same job again?
b. How would you describe the reaction of the Ninevites to Jonah’s message and why is it significant?
5) When have you done something for God which you were scared of? What was the outcome?
6) Given the background info how do you react to v10 & how do you think Jonah felt?
READ JONAH 4.
7) a. How would you sum up Jonah’s reaction in V1-3 & God’s response to it in V4-11?
b. Why do you think Jonah’s lack of response this time suggests about him now?
8) a .God shows incredible restraint, patience and mercy with Jonah. (Who frankly doesn’t deserve it!) When has he done the same with you?
b. What, from this story has struck you as most significant for your own life?
1a). Jonah was probably scared, but also probably wanted God to judge his people’s enemies - I mean, did they DESERVE God to be merciful after all they’d done? However, despite his running away, Jonah is honest - he tells the crew why God is after him and also sacrifices himself rather than the whole ship be lost. He accepts responsibility for his sin.
B) Most of us don’t like the idea of an angry God, who will shake us up to get our attention. However it is important to remember that he provided a way out of trouble for Jonah (and will do the same for us) It is also important to remember that he was trying to save a huge city of people, it’s not all about Jonah, but about something bigger; the lives of thousands, who God loves - even though they don’t deserve it!
3a). It seems that Jonah took a while to repent - he was stubborn. God was giving him head space, to reassess his life, priorities and attitudes.
b). The NT passages look at discipline, the things that God brings out of our hard times - they are worth reading to get a biblical perspective rather than just people’s opinions.( esp., if some people in the group are going through a hard time at the moment.)
4a) God often gives people a second chance for their own sake. To show he has forgiven them, or still believes in them - Peter is another good example of someone who blew it, but God trusted him again. It’s good to know that God doesn’t write us off after 1 mistake!
b) See ‘This might help’ – one of the points of this story in the Hebrew Bible is to demonstrate how hard hearted God’s own people had become. They had been sent dozens of prophets but had NOT repented, the evil Assyrians did (although we have no records of this being an actual historical event). Many people see the book of Jonah as a sort of Old Testament parable, a hypothetical story to make a point.
6) The Ninevites DID deserve punishment, they were horrible - but God forgave them, he loved them. Many of us struggle with the idea that God loves people we think are monsters - but he does, as much as he loves us!
7) God asks Jonah questions which he cannot answer, to show him how unreasonable he is being. He very clearly makes the point that HE is God, not Jonah and that Jonah’s objections are selfish, inhumane and unreasonable. Jonah has nothing to say, because what IS there to say? His own sin is so obvious and such a contrast to God’s patience and mercy. How humbling!
© Ruth Perrin 2008. Last revised on 1 December 2008
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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