Jonah. The guy swallowed by a whale. That is probably the extent of what many of us know about Jonah. He was swallowed by a whale, spit on the shore, and then went and told that people of Ninevah whatever it was he was supposed to tell them.
If you’re a Veggie Tales watcher, you may know a bit more. But even then, not much. So who was this guy? Who was he supposed to tell and what was he supposed to tell them? Was he really swallowed by a whale? What did he do after that?
The book of Jonah is the 8th to the last book of the Old Testament. We have gone through a lot of stories in this series and this is our last one, so pull up those straps, lace them tight, and let’s do this.
First things first, read Jonah.
Yes, the whole thing!
**pssst: don’t worry. It’s only 4 short chapters, and not even 2 full pages in my Bible.**
So right off the bat, what do we see happens to Jonah (verse 1)?
He hears from God. Plain and simple. What does God tell him in verse 2?
I wish I had a map to show you the difference between Tarshish and Ninevah, but since I don’t I will just tell you Jonah was said to be in Gath-Hepher. If you are looking at the map think of that as center. Tarshish is west, across the Mediterranean Sea. Ninevah is North East. He didn’t just run away either. What did he do in verse 3 that shows he wasn’t just confused or misguided, but that he was running?
He went to Joppa – which is South West – and hopped on a boat set to cross the water. Wow! That is some serious running.
Before we look into God’s response to Jonah’s running – is it possible to run from God? In case you’re not sure take a look Psalm 139:7-10.
Now that we have that covered, how did God respond to Jonah’s disobedience to a direct command? (I mean, it was pretty clear. There wasn’t really room for interpretation.)
Look at verse 5. What do you notice about the word god, used in verse 1?
A little “g” refers to idols or false gods, not to God. The big “G” is no different from an actual name, and isn’t a title like king or emperor. It is a proper name. Make sure you don’t confuse the two. Alright, let’s move forward.
The men on the ship eventually do what to Jonah?
Does he claim responsibility for his actions?
Well, at least he has that going for him.
Before we move on, let’s recap Jonah’s actions thus far:
- He runs away, as if his hiding is going to change what he has been clearly instructed to do.
- He sleeps it off, continuing his effort to hide from God.
- He knows his wrongdoing and instructs the others to throw him overboard to calm the seas, and they do.
Verse 17 contains all that most, if not all, of us know about Jonah. What does it say he was swallowed by?
One of the things that will help you the most when reading the Bible is to read what’s there. Read the actual, physical words that are on the page. Not recall what we remember or assume we know, but to actually read the words on the page. Read verse 17 in these very different versions: NIV, CSB, ESV, KJV, NLT, Message. Even The Message (which is a paraphrase & not a Bible I recommend studying from) says “fish”. Some say great fish, some say huge fish…but all five say fish. So that tells us there is no actual evidence that it was a whale. All we know is that it was a big, water creator like a fish. We 100% know that.
In chapter 2, we see Jonah praying to God. He is confessing, basically. I have spent a whole week studying this chapter before. There is so much more depth to it that it seems on the surface, but if you take just a minute or so to read and reread it to yourself, you will get the gist of what his prayer is.
Let’s move onto Chapter 3. What does God do in 3:1, and what is different about Jonah’s response this time?
Jonah doesn’t hesitate or run this time. Instead, he takes the 3-day journey to Ninevah to do what he has been told twice to do. What message does he deliver in verse 4?
When you really dig into the Bible there are some really interesting themes or patterns stitched throughout scripture. One of those is numbers. What number does Jonah specifically reference in verse 4?
Pause here for just a minute with me and think more about the significance of the 40 days. What other story do you remember that was also 40 days? A few we have even studied in this series are in Genesis 7:12, Deuteronomy 8:2, 1 Samuel 17:16. The number 40 usually signifies of time of testing. So remember: anytime you see the number 40 in scripture, pay attention to what is happening. There is a test happening somewhere to someone.
How did the people of Ninevah react to Jonah’s proclamation?
How did God react to the people of Ninevah?
How did Jonah react in 4:1?
Alright, let’s spend the rest of our time today looking at this final conversation between God & Jonah….
Chapter 4 opens with Jonah not just being peeved, but the ESV says “displease…exceedingly…and angry”. The Hebrew word for displeased is yara` (yaw-rah’) meaning “to be broken up (with any violent action)”. The Hebrew word for angry is charah (khaw-raw’) meaning “to glow or grow warm”. So Jonah wasn’t just a little upset; he was incredibly upset. His face was turning red and his body was beginning to react. This is the part that just throws me for a loop. He was throwing a temper tantrum. But why?
Let’s look at verse 2 together in the NLT:
So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.
How does Jonah describe God here?
Merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, filled with unfailing love, not quick to kill. Those all seem like good things don’t they? But Jonah is basically reacting like this:
And how does God respond in verse 4?
So what does Jonah do in response? Does he even answer?
Nope. He does this:
And y’all, look at how God responds in verse 6. He covers Jonah, so he could pout in the shade. Does this blow your mind? It does mine. He let his child pout it out. That really makes me think twice about getting mad at my kids for pouting. If God let Jonah pout it out then maybe I should back off mine own a little about bad attitudes. But does God let Jonah stay in his mood?
Nope. He gave him a day and then He said…that’s it. You’re done. Let’s move on. Look at the last few verses, what did God ask Jonah that He had asked him before?
Is it right to be angry at this plant?
As if Jonah hasn’t been dramatic enough through out his assignment, he tells God he is “angry enough to ___________”. In verse 10 my Bible uses the Hebrew word for pity, meaning “to look compassionately on, to spare”. Jonah wanted God to blow Ninevah to bits. He wanted to sit back & watch it burn. Was that his motivation for going the second time? “Well,I can’t run away, so I might as well go get a good seat to watch people die”. But God’s response says it all:
“Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
We can learn a lot from Jonah about how not to act, but one of the greatest lessons in this story is that even in Jonah’s anger and bitterness and tantrums he knew the character of God. He said it himself in 4:2 : that God was merciful, compassionate, and abounding in love. He had obviously seen the destruction & the wrath before, as well as knowing the mercy and compassion. We don’t know what happened to Jonah after that. Maybe he just laid there and continued to pout or maybe he drug himself back to Gath-hepher, walking around the rest of the day with slumped shoulders and full knowledge of God. We don’t know. We can see, though, that God let His child, Jonah, throw a temper tantrum. He let Jonah sulk and moan. God didn’t punish him or, from what we can see, really even correct him. He appealed to his heart and seemingly left it there. Maybe that should be a lesson for all of us when life doesn’t go our way or our kids act like Jonah…or the next time we act like Jonah.