Jonah Bible Study

Jonah- Lesson 12: The End


Jonah 4:4-11

I’m a person who doesn’t like loose ends.  I like everything tied up in a nice neat little package with a bow on top, so much so that, in my mind, my favorite book, Gone With the Wind, doesn’t end with Scarlett wondering whether or not she’ll get Rhett back.  I’ve mentally re-written the ending.  He comes to his senses before he gets to the end of the driveway and takes her back.  And also, they both repent of being such scallywags and get saved.  Because that’s how it is supposed to end.

I have a feeling Jonah was the kind of guy who needed closure, too.  All God told Jonah to do was to go to Nineveh and preach the message He gave him.  Jonah didn’t have to hang around and wait for the results.  But aggravated as he was, Jonah felt the need to see things through.  And he did much more than just dream up an alternate ending for a novel.  This guy went to the trouble of building himself a little lean-to and hanging around in the desert heat and wind for who knows how long, to see what the Ninevites would do and how God would respond.  And with each passing moment of Ninevite repentance, Jonah grew angrier and angrier.  Because things weren’t ending the way he thought they were supposed to end.

It was time for an object lesson.

Castor Bean Plant

Overnight, God planted and grew some sort of vine—some scholars speculate that it was a castor bean plant—to grow up over Jonah and give him some relief from the sun and scorching wind.  (Again, skeptics will cite the overnight growth of this vine as evidence that the book of Jonah couldn’t be literally true.  Obviously none of them are from the South, or they would be familiar with kudzu, a climbing vine which has the ability to engulf your whole house while you’re walking to the mailbox.) 


 Oh, how wonderful it was!  Oh, how Jonah probably praised God for it.  And then, our “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” God killed Jonah’s shade.

And Jonah lost it.

I mean, he was fit to be tied furious.

I see him ranting and raving, yelling at God, “MAD?!?  OF COURSE I HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE MAD!!!”

Now, I’m not sure why God didn’t turn Jonah into a little wet spot on the sand right then and there.  He certainly could have, and He had previously done so to people who seemed to have committed far lesser offenses than hollering right in His face.  But while we look on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7), and there was something in Jonah’s heart that God wanted to deal with, not by striking him down, but by reasoning with him.

“Jonah,” God said, “Get over it.  It was just a plant, here today and gone tomorrow.  You didn’t plant it.  You didn’t sweat over it and tend it.  You didn’t lift a finger to make it grow.  What’s the big deal?”

“What’s the big deal?  Get over it?  Lord, that plant was great!  I enjoyed it!  It was beautiful and brought me delight!”

“Yeah, and you know what, Jonah?  That’s how I feel about the Ninevites.  Only they’re not just some dumb plant.  They have eternal souls.  I’ve watched as each and every one of them was born.  It has broken My heart as time after time they have each dived headlong into sin when they could have delighted in Me instead.  I want to heal them.  I made them.  I love them.  You care more about that stinkin’ plant than you do about human beings who desperately need Me.”


The End.


Wait, what do you mean “The End”?  Is this another one of those stories that leaves loose ends out there?  How could the story end right here?  What happens next?

Well, in my mind, Jonah comes to his senses and grasps the irony of the situation.  The God who loves him and forgave his rebellion is the same God who loves the Ninevites and forgives them of their rebellion.  Jonah repents completely this time and rejoices in the work God has done.  He makes friends with the Ninevites and plants First Baptist Church of Nineveh right where the pagan temple used to stand.  They celebrate the ribbon cutting with an all-day singing and dinner on the grounds—a fish fry, of course.  And everybody lives happily ever after.

Because that’s how it’s supposed to end.




Journal Time:

Compare Jonah’s attitude about God forgiving and showing mercy to Nineveh with the attitude of Simon towards the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.  What are some similarities or differences?  How would you fit into the story?  Would you be Jonah/Simon, Nineveh/the sinful woman, neither, or both?  Explain.

What do Matthew 6:12, 14-15, 18:21-35 have to say about God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others?


Prayer Points:

Repent: of any situation in which you have refused to forgive someone.

Request: the strength and grace to forgive people who are difficult to forgive.

Seek God: for practical ways in which you can extend mercy and grace towards those people.

Jonah Bible Study

Jonah- Lesson 11: Without Grumbling and Complaining

Jonah 3:10-4:3


Did you ever have a missionary come to your church to tell you about his work?  Maybe he told you about getting Bibles to people who have never had one in their own language.  Or maybe he told you about a church he built for people who had been worshipping out under a tree or something.  A missionary usually excited about the work God is doing, even if that work is difficult.

If I were a gambler, I’d be willing to bet you’ve never had a missionary come to your church and say,

“I never wanted to go there in the first place, but God sort of made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.  So I get there, preach one sermon, and the whole city, including the king, demonstrates serious, heartfelt repentance and believes in God.  (Insert disgusted sigh here.)  I knew this was going to happen.  Just kill me.  Kill me now.”

You know, when I study someone in the Bible, I bend over backwards to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I consider his cultural context, the fact that he was a fallible human just like the rest of us, the fact that he didn’t have the whole Bible like we do, etc.  But I’ve got to be honest with you—I just want to smack this clown upside the head.

Are ya kidding me, Jonah?  Seriously?

First, God gives you the unimaginable honor and blessing of placing a calling on your life.  He—the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of the entire universe; the all knowing, all powerful, perfect in holiness God—He wants to use you—Jonah—a slimy little piece of fish food.

Do you thank Him?  Stand in awe that He would choose you?  No.  You don’t like the assignment that the almighty, perfectly wonderful God gave you, so you run off in rebellion like an idiot and nearly get killed for your trouble.  And this same God, in Whose face you’ve just pitched a fit like a petulant child, saves your sorry little life—miraculously, I might add—and gives you another chance.  And what do you do?  You stomp your foot and say, “Fine.  I’ll go.

So you get there, reluctantly do what God told you to do, and get a storybook ending without even breaking a sweat.  This is usually where the confetti and balloons fall down from the ceiling and everybody cheers.  But noooooooo.  Not our buddy Jonah.  Jonah pouts, hollers at God: “See, I told You so!”, and throws another hissy fit.  Why does God put up with this guy?


There’s something oddly familiar about this story.  Seems like I’ve heard it before.

Oh, yeah.

That would be me.  My life story.

How many times have I clearly heard the Holy Spirit saying, “Nope.  Don’t say that.  Keep your mouth shut.” but because I wanted to smart off, or pierce someone with a verbal barb, I said it anyway, and then tried to justify myself to the Lord later?

How many times have I complained about household chores when that’s part of the calling God has placed on my life right now?  And He’s blessed me with the house, and with the family I’m caring for by doing the chores!

What about the times during the course of writing this study, that I’ve put my feet on the road to Joppa by goofing off and giving in to distractions instead of sitting down to study and write?

Wow.  That patience God showed Jonah looks a lot more precious when the sandal’s on the other foot.



Journal Time:

Does Jonah’s story (above) sound familiar to you, too?  Write about a time when you acted like Jonah.

 What does Jonah’s story tell you about God’s patience with our failings? What do Romans 2:4, I Timothy 1:15-16, and Exodus 34:6-7 say about God’s patience with us?


Prayer Points:

Repent: of complaining and ingratitude.

Request: that God remind you to be thankful in all things.

 Seek God: about any ways you may have been running from Him or rebelling against Him of which you were not aware, and ask Him to bring those areas in line with His desires.

Jonah Bible Study

Jonah- Lesson 10: Send a Great Revival

Jonah 3:5-9

One of the reasons people sometimes give for not believing that the book of Jonah is literally true is the mass repentance of the Ninevites.  If you’ll recall, the city of Nineveh was huge for its time—120,000 to 600,000 people (by the way, if you’re wondering where this figure comes from, check out 4:11.  Some scholars believe the phrase “120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand” refers to the children of Nineveh, and they add on extra people to account for teens and adults.  Some believe that phrase is a metaphor for being spiritually blind and leave the number at 120,000.  Others take the size of Nineveh, perhaps 60 miles in circumference, divide the area of the city into square yardage and assign a certain number of people per square yard based on population formulas.  Anyway, it was big.)

But when people say Jonah’s story couldn’t be true because such a large number of people would never repent, they are essentially denying the character and/or the power of God.  Think about it—repentance is an act of God.  Every single one of us is born into the “default mode” of a sin nature.  Nobody has to teach us how to lie or be selfish or be disobedient; we just do those things naturally.  We do not repent of our sin and turn to Christ in faith unless God first draws us to Himself (John 6:44).  So to say that a large number of people would not repent is to say either: a) God is not capable of drawing that many people to Himself for repentance (we know that’s not true from verses like Job 23:13 and Psalm 135:6), or b) that God would not want to draw that many people to Himself (which we know is not true from verses like Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11, and II Peter 3:9) and, therefore, would never choose to do so.

We also know, just anecdotally, that God does sometimes draw people to Himself en masse.  Ever heard of the Great Awakening?  The Welsh Revival?  Billy Sunday?  Acts 2:41?

Before He ever called Jonah the first time, God was already at work in Nineveh, stirring the people’s hearts—and the heart of the king—to be ready to repent when they heard His word.  And He did His job well.  Notice in verse 5, it says that the people of Nineveh believed in God.  They are the ones who first initiated fasting and putting on sackcloth and ashes.  It wasn’t until after this that Jonah’s preaching reached the king (6).  He was then also convicted, fasted in sackcloth and ashes personally, and then codified these acts of repentance into a three day law.  This wasn’t a king trying to score popularity points, either.  Kings back then, especially pagan ones, did as they pleased, including killing off their subjects if they felt like it.  This was entirely an act of God.

All of which might lead us to wonder, if God desires for all people to come to repentance, and God is capable of drawing both individuals and large groups of people to Himself, why doesn’t He just go ahead and draw everyone on the planet to such an irresistible degree of conviction and repentance that everyone gets saved, and no one ever has to spend eternity in hell?

The answer is…

I don’t know.

And, truth be told, it’s not my business to worry about it. 

Because what I do know is:

  • God is sovereign.  He knows everything and is in complete control of everything.  He never drops the ball.
  • God’s ways are higher than my ways and His thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9).  He knows more about how things work and how to handle things than I do.  A LOT more.
  •  God is always right, no matter what (Psalm 145:17).  He has never made a wrong decision.
  • God is always perfectly just (Deuteronomy 32:3-4).  No one will ever be able to stand before Him and rightly accuse Him of being unfair.
  • If I don’t understand God’s ways or if I think He’s doing something the wrong way, it’s not because He’s wrong, it’s because of my lack of knowledge and understanding of His ways.  (I Corinthians 13:12)

My business is to love Him and obey Him (John 14:15) and let Him handle everything else.

I just wish I were better at that. 


Journal Time:

Is there an unsaved person in your life?  What do Matthew 28:19-20, I Peter 3:15, and II Timothy 4:2 say is your responsibility with regard to that person?

What are some evidences God may be drawing an unsaved person to Himself?  How can you be ready to share the Gospel with that person?

Prayer Points:

Repent: of any time you have thought God was wrong about something.

 Request: that God give you the ability to trust Him even when you don’t understand His ways.

Seek God: For opportunities to share the Gospel with others.

Jonah Bible Study

Jonah- Lesson 9: The Reluctant Prophet

Jonah 2:10- 3:4

Eject!  Eject!  Jonah’s hitchhiking days were over, and my guess is that he was probably much cuter the first time he entered the world than this second time.  (I’m just wondering how much ceremonial cleansing and sacrificing he had to do.  I’m thinking back over Levitical law, and I don’t remember anything about how many days you’d be considered unclean or which sacrifices you’d have to offer if you’d been swallowed by a fish.  Not much legal precedent on that one.)

With his “rebirth” came a re-commissioning of the original commission.  And this time, Jonah didn’t hesitate to get up and go.  Wise choice.  Some people just have to learn things the hard way, and many times, they are the ones who most passionately warn people not to go down the road they traveled.

Was this the case with Jonah?  Did he have compassion on the Ninevites and wanted to warn them to repent so they wouldn’t suffer dire consequences just like he had?

Um, I’m thinking—not, and if you’ve read the rest of Jonah’s story, you can probably see the evidence for that in chapter 4.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

First of all, it wouldn’t surprise me if Jonah had thought this whole itinerant preaching gig was an exercise in futility.  While there were a few examples of “righteous Gentiles” in Israel’s history, you didn’t generally see large groups—whole cities—of pagans basically repenting of their entire way of life and turning to the one true God.  Generally, what you see in Old Testament history is God commanding the total obliteration of pagan nations. So, with history on his side, Jonah may have assumed that his warnings of God’s overthrow of Ninevehwould not be heeded.

Along those same lines, it might have been difficult for Jonah to wrap his mind around the idea of God’s desire for the Ninevites to know Him. Israel was God’s chosen people, after all.  In their minds, they had cornered the market on God, and the unclean Gentiles had no business with Him.  (There were, however, examples, of Gentiles coming to know the Lord—for instance: Exodus 12:48, Ruth 1:4, 16—so this shouldn’t have been a totally foreign concept.)

Finally, as mentioned in earlier lessons, Assyria (with Nineveh as its capital) had attacked and harassed Israel in the past, so even though Jonah was now being obedient to God’s command to preach His warning to the Ninevites, it’s doubtful Jonah had any special love for them.  He may have even been a little resentful that God was giving them the opportunity to repent.

But, despite Jonah’s probable misgivings, preach, he did:

“Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!”

And that was the beginning of the good news for you and for me.  The call to repent and believe the Gospel is available to all.  It doesn’t matter who you are, your nationality, or where you were born.  God doesn’t play favorites.  He desires that all come to know Him.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish,
but have eternal life. John 3:16

Journal Time:

Read Acts 10:1-35.  Compare Peter’s attitude towards the Gentiles to Jonah’s.  What were some similarities?  Differences?

Has there ever been someone on whom you would rather have had God’s judgment fall than for the person to repent and experience God’s grace?  Why?  What did that say about your heart?  What do Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11, and II Peter 3:9 say about God’s heart?

Prayer Points:

Repent: of any time you have preferred judgment over repentance and grace for someone.

Request: that God will give you a burden for the salvation of those who are in rebellion against Him.

Seek God: for ways you can see sinners through His eyes and love them as He does—with the desire that they come to Him in repentance and faith.

Jonah Bible Study

Jonah- Lesson 8: Prayer Conditioning

Jonah 2:1-9

There’s a lot we can learn about prayer from Jonah:

It’s ok to cry out to the Lord in distress (2).

If you’re like me, you’ve heard a million times that our praying shouldn’t be relegated only to crying out to the Lord in distress.  You’ve probably also heard verses like James 1:2, which might make you think that when tough times come our way, God wants us to just grin and bear it.

It’s true that we need to maintain a healthy, balanced prayer life by spending time with God every day.  One of the benefits of doing so is that we won’t find ourselves in Jonah’s shoes nearly as often, because we’ll be more in tune with the Spirit’s leading, and more apt to be obedient.

But when those tough times come, whether of our own making, or not, God wants us to cry out to Him.  The joy that James 1:2 talks about is joy in the result of the trial (James 1:3-4), not in enjoying the pain and suffering itself.  Even Jesus, when He was in Gethsemane before His crucifixion, cried out to the Father in anguish (Luke 22:41-44).  Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him.

It’s ok to tell God you hurt.  It’s ok to ask for His help.

Prayer doesn’t always require a specific posture or place (1, 2, 7).

In this passage, we don’t see Jonah on his knees in his “prayer closet” (Matthew 6:6) speaking softly to the Lord with hands neatly folded.  In verse 7, he’s at the bottom of the sea, nearly unconscious, thinking a prayer.  In verses 1-9, he’s inside the fish, talking out loud.

While it’s best to have a quiet place and uninterrupted time for our main time of daily prayer, I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing”, which means that we should maintain an ongoing inner dialogue with God regardless of where we are or what we’re doing.

Pray Scripture back to the Lord (2-4, 6).

Does anything in Jonah’s prayer sound familiar to you?  If so, it could be because he was praying Scripture to the Lord:

2- From my distress I called upon the LORD; The LORD answered me (Psalm 118:5a—I find it humorous that the rest of this verse says, “and set me in a large place,” but I guess maybe Jonah wasn’t in the mood to see the irony.)

You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol. (Psalm 86:13)

3- All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. (Psalm 42:7)

4- As for me, I said in my alarm,
         “I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
         Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications
         When I cried to You.
(Psalm 31:22)

6- To bring back his soul from the pit, (Job 33:30)

Be thankful (9).

To an outsider, it might not have been apparent, but Jonah had a lot to be thankful for.  God loved him enough to chase him down, stop him from sinning, turn Jonah back to Himself, save his life, and still be willing to use him for Kingdom work.

Did you eat today?  Wake up this morning with a roof over your head?  Can you walk, talk, see, hear, think clearly?  Were you arrested the last time you tried to go to church?  We have a lot to be thankful for, too, but we take so much for granted.

Get up off your knees, changed (8-9).

Jonah got up off his knees recognizing who he was and who God was.  He purposed in his heart at that moment not to forsake his faithfulness to the Lord.  He intended to walk in the way of grateful worship, fulfill the calling God had placed on his life, and be obedient.

Cooperating with God as He works to develop your prayer life will not leave you unchanged.  When you commit to become a praying person, be prepared to: fall in love with the things of God, know Him better, walk with Him more closely, see Him move in your life, and become more obedient, thankful, humble, kind, and fruitful.  Every day, you’ll come away from your prayer time a little more changed into His likeness.

Preach the Gospel to yourself (2-9).

That’s basically what Jonah was doing in his prayer.  He recounted that he was dying in his sin, terrors on every side, no way to help himself.  But, God, in His mercy, reached down and saved him.  Now, he had a new start.

Remember where you came from—the sin that once bound you—and how God brought you out.  Meditate on God’s grace and mercy in saving you.  Think about the terrible price Christ paid on the cross to save your life.  Consider the victory that is yours through the resurrection.  Praise Him for His compassion and His love. 

And, hey, you won’t even smell like fish when you get done.


Journal Time:

Consider your prayer life.  Which of the above are strong areas in your prayer life?  Which are weak areas?

 Make a “prayer plan”.  Are there some practical things you could do to strengthen your weak areas or your prayer life in general?  Can you think of any Scriptures about prayer to guide you?

Prayer Points:

Repent: of any time you’ve prayed with wrong motives (James 4:3) or outside God’s will.

Request: God’s help in being more faithful to Him in prayer.

 Seek God: for ways in which you can cooperate with Him as He works to develop your prayer life.