Winners and Losers: Part 27 - Jonah

Jonah: The Prophet Who Had Two Choices

Kathy's Sunday School Lessons - Written for Young Boys and Girls by Kathryn Capoccia

© Copyright Kathryn Capoccia 2002. This file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold.

Some people want to say that Jonah was not a real person, but our Lord Jesus referred to him and him as a historical figure (MAT 12:39ff) as did the Jews. He lived in a time when his own country, Israel, was deeply involved in idolatry though they had experienced the power and blessing of the true God. The people of his land had hardened hearts and would not repent of their sins even though God had sent many prophets to them, had inflicted three and one half years of drought upon them (1KI 16-22), and had brought war and ravishment to the land as punishment. God wanted to use Jonah to shame Israel into repentance by sending him to the pagan land of Assyria, having him preach a message of judgment, and then allowing the Ninevites to repent and be spared. Jonah was commissioned to go to Nineveh. He had two choices: obey or disobey. To obey meant life and usefulness: to disobey meant death. God would not allow Jonah to rebel and get away with it. Turn in your Bibles to the book of Jonah and let’s look at his story.


I. Who Was He ? Jonah 1-4.


            A. What was his name? His name “Jonah” means “dove”.


B. Who were his people? He was the son of  Amittai (“ truthful or loyal”) who lived in the 8th century B.C. Tradition says that he was the son of the widow of Zarephath whom Elijah raised from the dead (1KI 17:8-24).


C. Where and when did he live?


1. He lived in Gath-hepher in Zebulun, about 5 miles north of Nazareth (2KI 14:25), and over 500 miles from Nineveh.


2. He lived prior to 612 B.C., when Nineveh was destroyed;  he probably lived in the 8th century B.C. (c. 760 B.C.) after the prophet Amos’ ministry had ended in Israel, when Assyria was the dominant Gentile nation, and Jeroboam II (c. 793-758 B.C.) was king of Israel.


II. What Did He Do?


            A. He rebelled against God (JON 1:1-3).


                        1. He heard God’s call (JON 1:1).


                                    a. To go (vs. 2):


Jonah was commanded to go to unbelievers and confront them with God’s wrath toward them, just as we as Christians are commanded to go and make disciples of all nations (MAT 28:19).


                                    b. To go to Nineveh (vs. 2):


1) Nineveh (the name perhaps is derived from “ninus”, the residence of Nimrod, or “nunu”, fish) was the capital of Assyria, and the residence of the great kings of Assyria. It was founded by Nimrod, great- grandson of Noah (GEN 10:11); literature also credits it to Ninos, the mythical founder of the Assyrian Empire (according to Greek and Roman authors).


2) Nineveh was called “the great city” (JON 1:1; 3:2,3; 4:11), considered to be the largest city in the world in its time. It was situated in a plain, bounded on three sides by rivers (the Khoser, the Tigris and the Gazr Su), and on the fourth by mountains. It had a circumference of over 60 miles, and according to Jonah, required a three days journey. It actually was comprised of a complex of four smaller cities, including “Ninevah” in the NW corner of the plain by the Tigris River; however, the capital of Jonah’s day was Calah, a city 20 mi. S of Nineveh. In 700 B.C. Sennacherib made Nineveh the capital of Assyria.


(This information came from The NIV Study Bible notes on pgs. 1366,1367; The Commentary on the Old Testament by Keil-Delitzsch,  pgs. 389-391; The MacArthur Study Bible, pgs. 1292-1294).


                                    c. To go to Nineveh and preach against it (vs. 2):


                                                1) Nineveh was the capital of paganism.


                                                            a) Its wickedness had come before God (JON 1:2).


                                                                        i. evil ways and violence (JON 3:8)


ii. plotting evil against the LORD and counseling wickedness (NAH 1:11).


iii. cruelty and plundering in war (NAH 3:1,19).


                                                                        iv. idolatry and witchcraft (NAH 3:4).


* Nanshe: the fish goddess and daughter of Ea, the goddess of fresh water.


* Dagon: the fish god represented as half man and half fish.


*Assur: chief Assyrian deity and god of war; his cult was centered in Nineveh.


*Ishtar: goddess of love and fertility; her cult was centered in Nineveh.


                                                                        v. commercial exploitation (NAH 3:16).


b) Its wickedness had come up before God (JON 1:2).


            i. God had noticed their sin.


ii. Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin had earlier reached God in heaven and elicited His judgment (GEN 18:21).


                                                2) Nineveh was a Gentile city.


a) Spiritually: The Jews, though spiritually bankrupt themselves, had arrogance toward those who were not descendants of Abraham and under the covenant promises. 


b) Socially: Nineveh was infamous for its cruelty.


c) Politically: Nineveh was the historical enemy of Israel and Judah; in 722 B.C. God used the Assyrian nation to punish Israel for her idolatry- the Assyrians conquered Israel and deported her people to Assyria as captives.


                        2. He refused God’s call (JON 1:3).


                                    a. He had a rebellious attitude.


“That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God… a God who relents from sending calamity” (JON 4:2,3).


1) He did not want God to forgive the Ninevites, enemies of Israel, but rather, to pour out wrath on them.


2)  He did not want to include Gentiles in the umbrella of God’s grace: he was bigoted.


b. He ran away (JON 1:3).


1) He went to Joppa, a port on the Mediterranean Sea, to board a ship, rather than travel overland to Nineveh.


2) He went toward Tarshish, an unknown city, possibly a Phoenician merchant colony and port in Spain, near Gibraltar, which was west across the Mediterranean Sea from Joppa and 2,000 miles from Nineveh; both were in the opposite direction from Nineveh..




HE WANTED TO MAKE HIMSELF UNAVAILABLE TO GOD so he would not have to preach to the Ninevites, because he didn’t want them to receive God’s grace (JON 4:2)..






            B. He was pursued by God (JON 1:4-2:10).


1. God would not allow Jonah to flee (JON 1:4-17).


                                    a. God “hurled” a fierce storm at Jonah’s vessel (vs. 4).


b. God let the lot fall on Jonah so that he was thrown into the sea (vs. 7).


c. God caused the storm to cease as confirmation of Jonah’s guilt (vs. 15).


                                    d. God “appointed” a great fish to swallow Jonah (vs. 17).


                        2. Jonah repented and obeyed (JON 2:1-9).


                                    a. He was chastened by his brush with drowning (JON 2:2-6).


b. He confessed his sin before God (2:2, 7-9a).


                                    c. He submitted to God to do what He commanded (JON 2:9b).


                        3. God delivered Jonah (JON 2:10).


                                    a. God spoke to the great fish.


1) This fish is not identified as a whale: however if it was a whale, recent history has shown that a man can be swallowed by a whale and survive.


2) Some fish, such as Groupers, can grow large enough to contain a man.


                                    b. God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah up on land.


1) The location of his landfall is unknown but scholars conjecture that Joppa, Jonah’s port of departure, may have been the spot.


2) The stomach acid of the great fish, after 3 days and nights of washing Jonah’s skin, had undoubtedly left him looking, at best, mottled in appearance when he emerged.


            C. He fulfilled his commission to Nineveh (JON 3:1-4:11).


                        1. Jonah delivered God’s message (JON 3:1-3).


                        a. Jonah was recommissioned (JON 3:1,2).


                                    *God gave Jonah a second chance to be used.


                                    b. Jonah went and preached (JON 3:3,4).


1) He went into the city on the 1st day’s walk preaching judgment (vs. 4).


2) He named 40 days as the appointed interval until judgment (vs. 4).




a) Moses stayed on Mt. Sinai for 40 days as he received the Law (EXO 24:18).


b) The Israelite spies traveled for 40 days in Canaan (NUM 13:25).


c) The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years (NUM 32:13).


d) Jesus fasted and suffered temptation for 40 days in the wilderness (MAT 4:2; MAR 1:13; LUK 4:2).


e) Jesus appeared to the disciples for 40 days after His resurrection (ACT 1:3).


                                    c. Nineveh responded in repentance (JON 3:4-10).


                                                1) God may have prepared the Ninevites for judgment:


                                                            a)  There had been two plagues (765 and 759 B.C.).


                                                            b) There had been a solar eclipse (763 B.C.).


c) Jonah had an appearance that made his story believable and God may have even taken advantage of the Ninevite reverence for fish here.


                                                2) The Ninevites believed Jonah (JON 3:5-9).


a) The people humbled themselves before God after the 1st day of preaching (JON 3:5).


i. They proclaimed a fast.


                                                                        ii. They put on sackcloth.


b) The king (probably Assurdan III, c. 772-755 B.C.) exchanged his royal robes for sackcloth and sat in ashes [at the ash heap outside the city] (see JOB 2:8).


c) The king published a proclamation for repentance by a universal fast for man and animal.


i. It was a Persian custom to include animals in mourning ceremonies from the MacArthur Study Bible notes, pg. 1296).


ii. These pagan people could acknowledge the true God, as the sailors on Jonah’s ship had (this contrasts with the Israelite’s hardness of heart in the face of many prophetic warnings).


                                    d. The LORD relented (JON 3:10).


                        2. Jonah despised God’s mercy (JON 4:1-11).


                                    a. Jonah was displeased (JON 4:1-3).


1) He was angry at God’s grace toward the Ninevites (JON 4:1).


                                                2) He accused God of being too kind (JON 4:2).


3) He wanted to die (JON 4:3).


                                    b. Jonah went to observe the city (JON 4:5).


                                                1) He built a shelter on the east side of the city (JON 4:5).


                                                2) He waited in misery (JON 4:5,6, 8).


a) Misery because the sun was blazing on his head (vs. 8).


b) Misery because his enemies were receiving grace?


                                    c. God prepared an object lesson for Jonah (JON 4:6-11).


1) God prepared a (castor?) plant to grow over Jonah’s shelter and provide shade (vs. 6).


2) God prepared a worm to devour the plant (vs. 7).


3) God prepared a scorching east wind to discomfort Jonah (vs. 8).


4) God confronted Jonah with his and callousness toward the Ninevites (vs. 9-11).


a) Jonah only cared about the plant and was angry that the plant had to perish.


b) God was concerned that the Ninevites  would have had to perish, of whom (out of a possible population of 600,000) 120,000 “could not tell their right hand from their left” (vs. 11).




III. What Can We Learn From Him?


A. About God’s sovereignty:


1. God requires that we obey Him and sometimes gives us no option but to do so.


                        Ex.: Jonah, John the Baptist, John MacArthur.


2. Sometimes God’s permissive will allows us the freedom to make mistakes and face the consequences.


a. Jonah had to endure the anguish of the experience in the great fish.


b. Jonah probably bore the marks of his experience for the rest of his life.


                        3. God will accomplish His will despite the weakness of His servants.


            B. About God’s compassion:


1. God offers salvation to all, not just to a select few; and no sinfulness is too great for God to forgive if there is true repentance.


a. Nineveh was offered salvation though it was probably the worst city on earth at that time.


b. The Apostle Paul was offered salvation because he was the “chief of sinners” and God wanted to use him as an example to mankind of His unlimited forgiveness (1TI 1:15,16).


2. God has compassion on all mankind but the helpless enjoy His special concern.

 Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Kathy Capoccia's Sunday School Lessons for Young Adults" by:

Tony Capoccia
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