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Bible: What Does The Book of Jonah Teach Us About God's Mercy?

Updated on September 23, 2016

The Prophet Jonah

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City Needing Repentance


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THE BOOK OF JONAH

Commissioned to preach against the wicked Ninevites, the prophet Jonah, intent on avoiding this disagreeable assignment, attempts to flee from the presence of the LORD (vv. 1-3).

Yahweh, however, does not allow His man to evade Him, sending a storm to intercept Jonah's ship and cause enough damage to make the sailors fear for their lives and entreat their gods.

Of course, they expect Jonah, asleep in the belly of the ship, to awaken and pray too, hoping against hope that his god might spare them (vv. 4-6).

Believing the calamity has assaulted both ship and passengers because someone aboard had angered his god, the sailors cast lots to discover who that guilty party might be.

When the lot (providentially) falls on Jonah, the men ask him all types of questions, some of which he answers, especially those regarding his faith (vv. 7-9).

Fear strikes them (and probably anger, too) because they believe Jonah has jeopardized all of their lives by fleeing from his god (v. 10).

Knowing that he—and he alone, if anyone—should perish, the prophet remains perfectly willing in his stubbornness to die instead of preach to the hated Ninevites.

Therefore, after their inquiry concludes, he tells them to cast him overboard to stop the tempest (vv. 11-12).

Perhaps because they do not believe in Jonah's solution, or because they fear killing him (and thus risk incurring the wrath of his powerful god), the sailors make one last ditch effort (fruitless, as it turns out) to save themselves.

Having failed, they realize that they must follow Jonah's instruction (v. 13).

After beseeching Yahweh for mercy, they toss the prophet into the sea (vv. 14-15).

The immediate calming effect this action produces on the waters motivates them to offer sacrifices and take vows in acknowledgment of Yahweh's power (v. 16).

Meanwhile, Jonah finds himself inside a monstrous fish God had appointed to swallow him (v. 17).

[If one believes in the existence of an omnipotent, personal God, then believing He could make a large fish swallow a man is not difficult to accept].

Prayer for Salvation from Death

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Jonah's Prayer

Jonah 2

Encased between Jonah's report that he prays (v. 1) and that God answers that prayer (v. 10) reside the contents of the prophet's request (vv. 2-9).

Verse 2 summarizes the episode very succinctly: Jonah cries out for deliverance, and God saves him from death.

[Hebrew poetic parallelism is prominent here].

The prophet, greatly distressed, vividly recalls the helplessness he felt while enduring this unique marine experience (v. 3).

Yet as he sank to the depths with seaweed suffocating him, he also remembered that he believed he would one day live again (vv. 4-6a).

Despite the harrowing experience, Jonah acknowledges Yahweh's deliverance (v. 6b).

It appears that as he began to lose consciousness, the prophet prayed (v. 7).

He responds to his salvation by contrasting the "faith" of idolaters to his own, and confesses that he would not forget to thank his Savior (vv. 8-9).

The Great City, Nineveh

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Nineveh Repents

Jonah 3

When Yahweh's commission comes a second time to the prophet, Jonah obediently travels to Nineveh, the vast capital of the Assyrians (vv. 1-3).

With great courage, he proclaims God's message of judgment to this ruthless people on the day he arrives (v. 4).

The whole city, including its king, believes his word and repents.

Thereupon, the ruler issues a citywide decree of repentance from evil and violence, a decree that also commands fasting for every living creature in order to avert God's wrath, if possible (vv. 5-9).

Consequently, Yahweh shows mercy and relents regarding His decision to judge the city (v. 10).

[This repentance prevented immediate judgment; it did not lead to faith in Yahweh as the only God].

Desert Conditions

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The LORD Cares About People

Jonah 4

God's sparing of the despised Assyrians greatly angers Jonah (v. 1).

He discloses the reasons for his initial disobedience: he knew, from Yahweh's character, that He would want to save them; Jonah, however, had wanted no part in that business (v. 2).

The prophet then requests that Yahweh kill him so that (presumably) he would-not have to face his countrymen about "saving" their hated enemies (v. 3).

The LORD questions Jonah about the righteousness of his anger (v. 4).

Still hoping that God would yet destroy the Assyrians, the Israelite, bitter to the core, takes up temporary shelter outside the city (v. 5).

Yahweh accommodates him by providing a shade plant to give him relief from the hot sun (v. 6).

Soon, however, He destroys it with a worm (v. 7), and sends a scirocco to distress his miserable messenger.

In response, Jonah again expresses a death wish (v. 8).

Yahweh inquires a second time about the righteousness of his anger toward His dealing with the plant, and the prophet angrily tries to justify his attitude (v. 9).

The LORD attempts to teach Jonah that his priorities are out of order, emphasizing that he should not pity a plant more than a whole city of people and livestock (vv. 10-11).

What is Yahweh's point?

Jonah placed no stock in the plant, but God cares deeply about the lives of people . . . and so should His spokesman.

SUMMARY QUESTIONS OF JONAH

1. Where did the LORD send the prophet? Where did Jonah go?

2. What was Jonah's problem? Why did he have it?

3. What did Jonah know about Yahweh?

4. After Nineveh's repentance, what was Jonah's problem?

5. What lesson did Yahweh wish to teach the prophet?

6. Where does Jonah express a hope in an afterlife?

7. What two things attacked Jonah’s shade tree?

© 2014 glynch1

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