Summary Of The Book of Jonah
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” Jonah 1:2
Based around 780 BC, the book of Jonah is written during the time of reign of Jeroboam 11. Jonah is mentioned in 11 Kings 14:25.
This was a time when the Assyrian empire was reaching its most powerful.
Nineveh eventually conquered and took into captivity the northern kingdom of Israel in 722-721 BC
Nineveh itself was a massive city and is recorded as being around 7 miles in circumference with stone walls and towers over 200 feet high and 50 feet thick – wide enough for 6-7 chariots abreast; enabling quick defense to any part of the wall that was threatened.
The city is first mentioned in Genesis 10:11 as being founded by the hunter Nimrod, who also built the tower of Babel and so instituted a rebellion against God. From this we see that the city of Nimrod (Nineveh) is always seen in a negative light, when it comes to the worship of the true God.
Famous for the worship of Ishtar (Astarte) the fertility goddess, the city of Nineveh was also full of temples (around 2,000) to many different deities including Sin, Nerbal, Shamash, and Nabu – just to name a few.
The Assyrians themselves had a well-deserved reputation for utter ruthlessness and barbarity, towards any who stood against them.
It was into this situation that The Lord decided to send Jonah, with a message to repent or be judged. In fact The Lord gave them 40 days until they faced utter destruction, but Jonah knew that if they repented then God would forgive, as he complains here..”
“Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2
Jonah has been described as a complete bigot by some, and a patriot by others, both standpoints have their merits. However put yourself in Jonah’s shoes before judging to harshly, or indeed commending too loudly.
The Ninevites were the sworn enemies of the Israelites; indeed they were the persecutors of many nations at that time. They worshiped false idols, offering human sacrifice and worship through temple prostitutes. In the eyes of a man of God such as Jonah, the Assyrians were an abomination worthy of the full measure of a righteous God’s wrath.
Imagine for a moment if you as a Christian, had a neighbor who worshiped the devil, beat you up whenever you passed, and from whom you had to hide your daughters – then the Lord comes to you one night and says he is going to judge them for their wickedness…and you’re to take the news! The problem is that you know they are likely to repent and be forgiven – what would you do ?
Before going further discuss this with the group for a few minutes, and gauge the reactions.
“Let my words, like vegetables, be tender and sweet, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.” – Author Unknown
The story of Jonah is familiar to millions worldwide. It transcends racial, religious and cultural boundaries inasmuch as it is steeped into the collective consciences of millions world-wide. To be a Jonah, is to be someone who is cursing all those around them by their very presence. Sailors even to this day refer regularly to someone ‘being a Jonah’ if they have suffered a series of misfortunes.
What’s in a name: Jonah means ‘Dove’ or messenger. Fundamentally that is what he was, a simple messenger of the Lord – and a very effective one at that.
Jonah Summary in a nutshell:
The Lord has seen the wickedness of the people of Nineveh, and decided to judge them for their wickedness. Jonah is chosen to be the messenger to the Ninevites. He is however not happy with his task and immediately runs from the presence of God.
In the process of running from his mission, Jonah jumps on board a trading ship heading for Tarshish, which unsurprisingly is in the opposite direction to Nineveh.
A storm brews up threatening to sink the ship which results in the crew drawing lots, to see who had brought this calamity upon them. Jonah is pointed out and confesses that it is his fault, telling them to throw him overboard to prevent any further disaster. The crew reluctantly agree, Jonah is thrown overboard straight into the mouth of a giant fish, that keeps him there for three days, when Jonah finally repents.
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.” Jonah 2:1
He is puked up on the shore near the city of Nineveh, and his remarkable ministry causes everyone to repent in sackcloth and ashes – including the King and even the animals of the field.
God hears the cry of the Ninevites and their repentant heart, and decides to forgive them their sins – Jonah is hopping mad. Hoping to change God’s mind Jonah sits down under a vine shelter that the Lord has caused to grow up, in order to await the destruction of Nineveh.
A worm comes, kills the vine, Jonah is roasted under the hot sun and says to The Lord “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:8
The story end by God pointing out to Jonah that there is a lot more at stake than perhaps Jonah is thinking about.
“You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” Jonah4:10
• God sees the wickedness of Nineveh and determines to judge it.
• Calls on Jonah to warn of impending doom.
• Jonah does a runner – ends up in the belly of giant fish.
• Jonah repents and goes (reluctantly) to deliver the message.
• Ninevites believe Jonah’s message and repent in sackcloth and ashes-even the King.
• Jonah not happy – just wants to sit down and die!
Points For Discussion – Group Input
“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
Q1 – Why would The Lord care about the Ninevites, the great persecutors of Israel?
First Clue………’For God so loved the WORLD ……’ (John 3:16)
Discuss>>>>>>>Jews thought that The Lord loved only them…Whereas he is the God of all the world.
Danger in judging people who may or may not be ‘worthy’ !!
Q2 – Why did The Lord choose Jonah, and why did he run?
Answer…..Why Not !! The lord is no respecter of persons (acts 10:34)
Often he will choose the weak to defeat the strong (witness the story of David vs. Goliath) or the foolish to confound the wise (1 cor 1:27) Get someone to read.
My own experience: I was once told that ‘God would not use you if you do not love the people” Utter Nonsense !……..discuss – many ways to love people. Jonah being the prime example of someone who did not love the people but God used him anyway.
Why did Jonah run?
Firstly, Jonah had every good reason (he thought) to wish Gods judgment on the Ninevites.
They were the great tyrants of the Middle East, the persecutors of Israel, an ungodly mob fully deserving of HIS God’s wrath.
Secondly, Jonah 4:2 Get someone to read ‘slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness’( Jonah 4:2) .
He (Jonah) was right !
Q3 – Why did they believe Jonah ?
Answer: The story of Jonah was probably known to the Ninevites.
His story had gone before him. Remember we are talking about a man who had been puked up alive on a beach, from the mouth of a giant fish. There was more than likely witnesses to this ‘beaching’. Apart from which there is no doubt that the stories from the sailors themselves would have travelled far and wide.
When the Ninevites saw Jonah, they were more than ready to hear his message…Gods planning perhaps ?
Jonah Summary – Lessons
1 – “ For God so loved the world” The Lord loves and wishes everyone to come to repentance. (1 john 1:9 if we confess our sins….).
Repentance = Deliverance.
2 – God can and does, call on all kinds of people to accomplish his will. This book tells the story of a reluctant prophet who arguably becomes one of the most effective preachers in the entire Bible – and he was not happy about it !
Resources for this work are mainly my own experiences mixed with of course, internet research.
Feedback from the Bible study groups at my own home, where this course was taught, have been invaluable here and a real encouragement to go ahead with this publication.
My thanks to everyone involved.