Unit: Early Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Joel, Jonah)
Theme: Where Are You?
Lesson text: Jonah 2:1-3, 5-7; 3:5-10; Joel 2:12-17
Supplemental texts: Ezekiel 18:22-23; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Acts 26:20
Aim: Return to the Lord, for he is gracious and compassionate.
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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_June12_2022.
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By Mark Scott
The little town of Humboldt, Kansas, annually hosts the only uniquely Bible parade in America. It is held on the first weekend of October (this year it’s on October 1). For years they have had Jonah’s whale (great fish) as a float in the parade. The whale sprays water from its blowhole onto the crowd as it makes its way along the parade route.
People are enthusiastic about this “whale of a tale” in the book of Jonah. But as G. Campbell Morgan reminded us, only 3 verses in the book are about the great fish while 48 verses are about the great God.
One thing is for sure: Jonah was on the run. In chapter 1 he ran “from” God. In chapter 2 he ran “to” God. In chapter 3 he ran “with” God. And in chapter 4 he ran “counter” to God. God always desires for us to run to him in full repentance. Textual selections from Jonah 1–2 and Joel 2 underline our need to return to God.
Jonah 2:1-3, 5-7
Jonah found repentance in the belly of the fish. While people and animals have been found to survive in the bellies of great fish, Jonah’s survival for three days and nights might have been miraculous. Sometime after the experience (maybe even when he returned to Israel), he penned his prayer from when he was in the bowels of the fish.
There was no sugarcoating his situation. Jonah called out to God in his distress (trouble or affliction). Reflecting typical Jewish thought, Jonah acknowledged that the depths of the sea were demonic and away from God. He felt as though he was in the realm of the dead. Jonah was confident God heard him, but he was conscious he was in the very heart of the seas with swirling currents and waves and breakers sweeping over him. Jonah knew his situation was dire—i.e., engulfing waters, deep, and seaweed—but he was confident he would yet see the temple again (Jonah 2:4). He even was confident he was experiencing the roots of the mountains.
Jonah’s return to God was evident in the phrase, “But you, Lord my God.” He knew God could (and did) bring him up from the pit (ditch or place of corruption). His life had been ebbing away (fainting), but he was confident God answered prayer from his holy temple (the symbolic place of God’s presence on earth) and that there was a difference between God’s people and other people (vv. 8-10).
The King’s Return
After Jonah was spit out onto dry land (U.S. Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black says that even a great fish cannot stand a bellyaching preacher), he went to Nineveh. Can you imagine how emaciated he must have looked? Jesus said that Jonah himself was a sign (Matthew 12:39). He walked through the city and pronounced his prophecy of destruction, which would come in 40 days (Jonah 3:1-3).
It must have been shocking to Jonah when the people of Nineveh (from the king on down) repented. In fact, their repentance showed up in fasting and sackcloth. The king even put out a decree (judgment) including people and animals. It’s hard to say how much the pagan king understood what was involved in repenting to Yahweh. But he did so personally and led his people to do the same. God was so impressed that he relented (comforted) and did not destroy them—it is a good example of conditional prophecy (i.e., when judgment is declared but people repent, that condition of repentance reverses the judgment of God).
Neither Jonah nor Nineveh had long-term repentance. Jonah would fail again within days, and Nineveh’s repentance would last only around 100 years (see the book of Nahum). True and long-term repentance must go beyond skin deep. This is what the prophet Joel urged. A storm and a fish got Jonah’s attention. The message of judgment got the king of Nineveh’s attention. A locust plague (and drought) would get Israel’s attention.
Fasting, sackcloth, and weeping are all evidences of repentance. But the real evidence is what takes place in the human heart. So, Joel said, “Rend your heart.” Joel promised that God would be gracious and compassionate. God would bless the people if they would just turn to him. But it would take everyone (people, elders, children—even infants, bridegrooms and brides, as well as priests). Our returning to God ensures that God’s name is not misrepresented among the nations of the earth.