Jonah 1:1-16

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Historical Context

Who was Jonah? (Jonah 1:1)

In the first sentence of the book we are introduced to Jonah the son of Amittai. With the help of 2 Kings 14:23-25 we are able to draw a few conclusions about Jonah.

– He lived during the reign of Jeroboam II which places him somewhere between 800 BC and 740 BC.

– He was a prophet that experienced some amount of success as is alluded to in 2 Kings 14:25.

– He was from a small town (Gath-hepher) roughly halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee.

Where did he go? (Jonah 1:2-3)
  • Joppa: A town on the east coast of the Mediterranean
  • Tarshish: We do not know much about this small port town, but scholars believe it to have been in what is now Spain.
  • Nineveh: Located near modern day Mosul in northern Iraq, Nineveh was a major Assyrian city during the days of Jonah. It’s only rival (culturally and militarily) would have been Babylon. After the time of Jonah, Nineveh became the capital of the entire Assyrian Empire. Some believe that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) were actually located in Nineveh rather than Babylon.

Why did Jonah disobey? (Jonah 1:3)

Many factors most likely played a roll in Jonah’s flight. Some think he could have simply been scared to go into “that great city” for fear of his life. We are reminded of how Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and prayed fire down from the sky only to turn tail and run when he heard Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18-19) wanted him dead. But there was probably more to it for Jonah than simple fear for his life. Nineveh was more than an enemy to Israel. They were a growing empire with the capacity to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Many scholars believe Jonah simply didn’t think they deserved to be saved. In other words, he though he knew better than God. Peter tried this with Jesus once; read Mark 8:31-38 to see how that turned out.

Contrasting the disobedience of Jonah (1:3) with the obedience of Jesus (Luke 22:29-46)

Jonah:

Withdrew from God
Cut-off community
“Paid the fare”
Embraced apathy
Sacrificed others for the sake of self

Jesus:

Withdrew to God
Called on community (Asked his disciples to pray)
Paid our debt
Embraced agony
Sacrificed self for the sake of others

But God…(Jonah 1:4-16)

Notice the back and forth, to and fro, that takes place in the first few passages of Jonah. God said “arise, go,” and Jonah “rose to flee;” “but Jonah” is met just a few verses later with “but God.” The words themselves hint at the tossing of the waves. Scholars tell us that this is even more evident in the original Hebrew.

Those two words “But God” say so much. They remind us that God’s plans never go unfulfilled, that it’s impossible to outrun His presence, and that despite the ease at which Jonah’s journey of disobedience began; God had his number the whole time.

They also tell us something of the grace and mercy of God (Ephesians 2:4). He wasn’t finished with Jonah, he didn’t write him off. And He didn’t stop there…He was in the process of bringing many sons/daughters to glory and he used a storm to do it (Hebrews 2:10)! Oh that we would have this understanding of God and His deep desire to bring those around us to the saving knowledge of His Son, no matter what it takes. May this truth transform our day to day routines!

Discussion and Reflection Questions:

  • In what ways are we like Jonah?
  • What is our “Nineveh”? It could be a friend or coworker you know God has called you to share the Gospel with but your sacred to take the first step. Maybe it’s a family member you need to reconcile with but they’ve hurt you so deeply you don’t think you can ever forgive them. Are there things God has made clear he wants you to trust him in and you’re finding it hard to obey? (It may be appropriate to take time in your small groups to pray for each other that God would strengthen you in Christ for the tasks and situations before you.)
  • In what ways might we as the body of Christ be asleep in apathy when we should be filled with passionate agony for the world around us?
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