INTRODUCTION TO JUNE LESSONS
Sometimes they are just called “the Twelve,” the minor prophets (minor in size, not in inspiration) who the hound of heaven uses to pursue his people. Obadiah (845 BC) is the tale of two mountains (Mount Edom and Mount Zion). Joel (835 BC) shows how a locust plague can help bring about genuine repentance. Jonah (755 BC) is the struggle of a prejudiced prophet to love the nations as God does. Students will learn where Edom is, where Israel is, and where Jonah is.
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Unit: Early Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Joel, Jonah)
Theme: Where Are You?
Lesson Text: Jonah 1:1-17
Supplemental Text: Proverbs 4:10-15; Hebrews 12:1-3; Luke 15:11-24
Aim: Don’t run from the Lord; rather, run with him
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Download a PDF of this week’s lesson material (the Study by Mark Scott, Application by David Faust, and Discovery Questions by Michael C. Mack): LOOKOUT_June5_2022.
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By Mark Scott
The pre-exilic (previous to the Babylonian exile) major and minor prophets have a strong refrain in their prophecies, namely, “Come back to God.” These inspired speakers pleaded with God’s people to abandon their idols and run back to God. But Jonah ran in the opposite direction.
The book of Jonah is a narrative prophetic book. There is no question it is a story. But what kind of story is it? Historical story? Story “based” in history? Fictional story (similar to a parable)? As challenging as it is to believe the story as written, Jesus spoke about Jonah as if he was a real person and even tied his own resurrection—one of history’s most verifiable facts—to it (Matthew 12:39-41).
Jonah 1:1-3, 9-10
Jonah’s world consisted of living in Gath-hepher (Galilee) and being a prophet in King Jeroboam’s era (2 Kings 14:25). God interrupted Jonah’s prophesying to Israel and commanded him to go to the pagan city of Nineveh. This great ancient city was built by Nimrod (Genesis 10:11) and was the seat of world power during Jonah’s lifetime. The city was north of Babylon, east of Haran, and near modern Mosul, Iraq. It was three miles across and then later expanded to eight miles across. It had an impressive city wall with 15 gates.
But Nineveh was wicked. It was known for worshipping at least four gods (Nabu, Asshur, Adad, and Ishtar). It was also known for brutalities in war. Evidently there was no end to its wickedness (evil, as in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; cf. Nahum 3:1, 4, 16). No wonder Jonah wanted to run 2,500 miles in the opposite direction to Tarshish. He went to Joppa (modern Jaffa), paid the fare for the westward trip, and fled from the Lord.
Evidently, Jonah had previously told the sailors his identity (a Hebrew who worshipped the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land) and that he was running away from God.
Jonah 1:4-8, 11-16
The sailors most likely were not Israelites. Perhaps they had sailed from the west to Jaffa and were now returning home. But in this major section of chapter 1 we learn something of their religion and ethics (worldview).
This section is interesting because it looks like the verses, literarily speaking, form a chiasmus (a literary pattern that moves to a climax like the point of an arrow—see verse 8 where they ask the key question evident in the lesson title, “Who are you?”; events transpire up to that question and then fall away following it). Jonah is a prophet of Yahweh.
The sailors soon learn the Lord of heaven and earth is in charge of everything. His word came to Jonah (v. 1), he sent a great wind (v. 4), and he provided a huge fish (v. 17). God’s sovereignty is in place throughout this short book.
These sailors were not novices. They had most likely encountered many storms. But this violent storm was a whirlwind or tempest. Even the ship was in danger. They were crying out to their gods and jettisoning cargo to lighten the ship.
The sailors were amazed by Jonah’s behavior. He slept in the midst of this great storm (cf. Mark 4:35-41). Jesus slept on a storm-rocked boat because he was bone tired. Jonah slept because he was severely depressed. The sailors rebuked Jonah for his sleepy apathy. Their worldview came to clarity in verse 7. They believed their current trouble was caused by someone on the ship; someone had to be responsible. They cast lots as a means of discerning the will of the gods—a practice also used in Israel (Leviticus 16:8; Joshua 18:6; 1 Samuel 14:42; Proverbs 16:33).
Desperation caused the sailors to take Jonah at his word (at least he owned his disobedience) and toss him into the sea. The sailors did not want to follow Jonah’s advice, but finally they threw Jonah overboard and pleaded for God to forgive them (not hold them guilty). When the sea calmed, the sailors experienced a religious paradigm shift. They feared the Lord and offered a sacrifice to God. We would love to know more about their future.
Yes, it is God’s world. It was his word that came to Jonah. It was he who sent a great wind. And it was the Lord that provided (numbered) a fish to swallow Jonah. In a certain Bible “type,” Jonah was in the belly (intestines, bowels, or womb) three days and three nights. When there is a sovereign God, one can run but not hide.