Lesson for May 7, 2017: Sustaining Love (Jonah 1)

Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in the April 30, 2017, issue of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.


By Mark Scott 

The book of Jonah is minor due to its size, not due to its content. The book touches upon some major biblical themes—God’s sovereignty in creation, God’s love for the nations, Jesus’ resurrection, and the high priority of obedience in the lives of the Lord’s servants. In this story we see the prophet Jonah running from God, running to God, running for God, and running against God. Is the story real or parabolic? It is certainly never called a parable, and Jesus spoke about Jonah and his experience in the fish as a historical event (Matthew 12:39-41).

The prophet Jonah ministered to the northern 10 tribes known as Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II, a wicked king. Jonah may well have preached against the arrogance of Israel during this time. Perhaps one reason he ran away from his Nineveh commission was that if God showed mercy to Nineveh, then Jonah’s call for Israel’s repentance would go unheeded. The people might presume, “Oh well, God will forgive us.” Jonah was from Gath Hepher near Nazareth. From there to Joppa was 60 miles. From Joppa to Tarshish was much farther. Jonah bought his ticket, got on board the ship, and quickly fell asleep. God sent a severe storm. The sailors panicked, prayed to their gods, jettisoned the cargo, and rebuked the sleepy prophet for not praying.

Behind the prophet Jonah, the sailors, the ship, the storm, and the fish, there was the God who was master of the sea (see Mark 4:35-41; John 6:16-21). Jonah’s disobedience did not dethrone God. God’s sovereignty is seen in the whole book. God was the one who sent the storm (Jonah 1:4). Jonah acknowledged that God made the sea and the dry land. And the Lord provided a huge fish. A God who can keep a human alive in the belly of a fish, provide a vine to shade the bellyaching prophet (4:6), and provided a worm to eat the vine (4:7) can surely send a storm and rescue someone out of that storm.

The storm was significant enough to scare experienced sailors. In verse 13 the storm grew even wilder than before. The God of the Bible is not some local deity who can only defeat his enemies on either land or sea. God made both, and he can send and calm any of the some 2,000 storms that exist on the planet at any given moment.

Jonah’s Fault | Jonah 1:7-12

Jonah struggled to obey God (1:3), and he never really did capture the heart of God (4:10, 11). However, he never forgot his identity. He told the sailors that he was a Hebrew and he worships the Lord. He also was quite open in sharing with the sailors that he was running away from the Lord. He acknowledged that the storm was his fault and if he was thrown into the sea then the storm would cease.

The one thing that Jonah had going for himself was that he emotionally owned his sin. He was not pretentious. While he seemed to wear his feelings on his shirt sleeves (see 4:2,3), he still connected the dots between his disobedience and the storm. Based on this honest self-evaluation, he basically said, “Behold, I have found the problem with the world, and it’s me.” The sincerity of this ownership of sin is seen in the depths of his prayer in chapter 2.

Sailors’ Prayer | Jonah 1:13-17

In chapter 1, more space is devoted to the sailors than to Jonah or God. They play a significant role in this opening scene, even though they did not ask for it. They gave evidence of their worldview by casting lots. For them, the world operated by chance (Proverbs 16:33). They interrogated Jonah in an attempt to get to the bottom of their situation. They prayed for forgiveness in advance before throwing Jonah overboard. They may well have traded in their manmade gods for Yahweh, evidenced by their fear of him and their sacrifice and vows to him.

God’s sustaining love is evident throughout this chapter. His love sustained the universe even in the storm. His love sustained the sailors even though they may well have been pagans. And his love sustained a disobedient prophet in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.


*Lesson based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.

May 1: Psalm 139:1-6
May 2: Psalm 139:7-12
May 3: Psalm 29:1-9
May 4: Isaiah 54:1-10
May 5: Nahum 1:1-8
May 6: Jonah 1:1-6
May 7: Jonah 1:7-17

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