Unit: Early Minor Prophets (Obadiah, Joel, Jonah)
Theme: Where Are You?
Lesson text: Jonah 3:10–4:11; Joel 2:18-27
Supplemental texts: James 5:10-11; Exodus 33:19; Psalm 103:11-14
Aim: Imitate his compassion.
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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_June19_2022.
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By Mark Scott
Can God change? Malachi 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change.” God is immutable (does not change), but that does not mean he is a creature of habit and is forced always to do the same thing in the same way. His character does not change. But his methods can vary, and sometimes his prophecies (judgments) are conditional (i.e., given with a view that if the people do repent then God relents from his judgments).
Once again we are combining emphases from Jonah and Joel. The picture of God in both of these minor prophets is one of compassion, which the Lord so wants us to experience. Jonah “finally” got to Nineveh and preached for the people to repent. The real surprising thing is that they did.
The City and the Prophet
God always welcomes repentance. God saw that the Ninevites turned from their evil ways. So God relented (comforted) and did not bring on them the destruction (a form of the word for evil) he had threatened. The repentance was citywide, and Jonah was—upset. That seems most odd.
The NIV takes some liberty in paraphrasing it, “But to Jonah this seemed very wrong” (he was exceedingly displeased), but it does capture the idea that Jonah is really chapped. The Bible says he became angry (hot or burned). He expressed that anger three times with what seemed to be suicide threats (Jonah 4:3, 8-9).
Jonah’s anger took the form of a complaint. His anger caused him to justify his trip to Tarshish and to speak against the loving character of God. He had wanted to forestall (prevent) going to Nineveh. Something is deeply wrong in the soul of a person who complains about the grace and compassion of God. Five great qualities of God are admitted by Jonah in his complaint against God (grace, compassion, slowness to anger, abounding in love—mercy or loving kindness—and relenting from judgment). Jonah is not in a good place.
The Plant and the Worm
God addressed Jonah’s anger with an interrogating question and an object lesson. “Is it right for you to be angry?” God asked. The object lesson is more involved. Jonah sat down east of the city under a shelter (probably to watch the coming judgment). When the judgment did not come, he pouted. So, God went to work to save the prophet. God provided (numbered or appointed) a plant, God provided a worm, and God provided a wind. There is no question who is in charge. God provided everything.
The plant grew quickly (maybe even miraculously). It provided shade for the angry prophet. His anger turned to happiness about the leafy shade. But by the next day a worm had chewed on the plant and made it wither. The hot Middle Eastern sun combined with the desert wind caused Jonah great distress. Again he gave his death wish.
But the plant and the worm served to drive home a lesson about the love of God—that grace is undeserved. Jonah did not plant it or make it grow. It’s short life God alone could control. We have a classic “how much more” argument. If God cares for the plant, how much more does he care for Nineveh with its vast population, its spiritual confusion (not knowing their right hand from their left), and also many animals (a rather humorous way to end the book). An angry prophet stands in contrast to the compassionate God.
The Wine and the Oil
Jonah’s object lesson was from the plant and the worm. Joel’s object lesson (or maybe metaphor) was from wine and oil. Remember that the locust plague and drought had made war on Israel. But repentance would cause God to look with favor on his people. If they would just rend their hearts (Joel 2:13), God would bless. God was jealous (envious) for his people and took pity (compassion) on them.
Wine and oil became symbols of new days (fresh starts; new beginnings) for Israel. It is not accidental that both are used in the New Testament for the age of the Messiah (John 2:1-11; Mark 6:13; James 5:14). God will bless Israel and take away the scorn to the nations. The northern horde (Israel’s enemies) would be judged (drowned in the sea and pushed into the desert).
Creation springing to life (as well as it being tamed) is also a symbol of God’s compassion and restoration. Rain and abundance of crops indicate more than that the locust plague and drought are over. They tell the story that the Lord is God and that there is no other.