UB David + I'll B Jonathan, Inc.


Used with permission: Character by Character compiled by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor Partridge. Copyright © CWR (www.cwr.org.uk).




Scripture passages referenced and linked in this lesson are written out for your convenience on this page.




For another story about Jonah, see this lesson in audio-visual format.

UB David + I'll B Jonathan, Inc.


Character by Character

Lesson 15: Jonah

Jonah (graphic copyrighted by New Tribes Mission; used by permission)

Scripture passages referenced and linked in this lesson are written out for your convenience on this page.

Jonah: “Dove”

An unwelcome charge

Jonah 1:1-3 (click the link to read the passages)

he had a prophetic ministry to his own people

Jonah, a Hebrew prophet, exercised his prophetic ministry in the eighth century BC. His father’s name was Amittai, and he came from Gath-hepher, a little town near Nazareth. Jonah is mostly known for his mission to the Gentiles, but his prophecy that Jeroboam would restore Israel’s border (2 Kings 14:25) shows that he had a prophetic ministry to his own people, too. When Jonah was told to go to the heathen city of Nineveh and pronounce the destruction awaiting them if they did not repent of their wickedness, so unwelcome to the Hebrew prophet was this charge that he set out, at his own expense (vs. 3), toward Tarshish (probably a town in Spain).

he sets out in the opposite direction

If going to Nineveh is what God wants for Jonah, it is certainly not what Jonah wants for himself, so he sets out in the opposite direction.

For thought and contemplation:

Jonah was charged with a task that he didn’t want. He didn’t mind preaching, but he liked to choose his congregation. Are you running away from a task which God has given you to perform? Then you had better reconsider—God will have His way in the end.

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, NIV)

An unworthy witness

Jonah 1:4-16

it heads into a great storm

Not long after the ship which is carrying Jonah leaves the port of Joppa, it heads into a great storm—one which has been whipped up by the Almighty Himself. The heathen sailors pray fervently to their gods for protection, and proceed to throw the cargo overboard. The captain wakes up the sleeping prophet and rebukes him for his seeming indifference, urging him to pray to his God, too. As the storm continues, the sailors begin to suspect that it has a supernatural source, and is due to the behaviour of someone on board. Lots are cast to find the culprit and “the lot fell on Jonah” (v. 7). Jonah is then closely questioned, whereupon he tells everything and asks the sailors to throw him overboard. This they do, with a prayer that the act will not be help against them.

asks the sailors to throw him overboard

For thought and contemplation:

Whenever we take a way that is other than God’s way, we not only throw our own lives out of balance, but we affect those who are around us too. Being an unworthy witness means that we won’t be able to live with ourselves—or with others.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)

An unusual event

Jonah 1:17 – 2:10

a large fish swallows Jonah

Thrown overboard by the frightened, yet reluctant sailors, who showed a compassion towards him that he was not prepared to demonstrate toward the Ninevites, Jonah faces what seems to be certain death. But the Lord has not abandoned the disobedient prophet, and initiates an unusual plan for his rescue and recovery. At the Lord’s command, a large fish swallows Jonah, inside which the prophet is entombed for three days and nights. From deep inside the fish, Jonah prays to the Lord and shares his experiences and thoughts with God. He realises that for a man who has treated God the way he has, God has indeed been good to him. From now on things are going to be different. “I will sing praises to you,” says Jonah, and more—“I will offer you a sacrifice” (2:9, GNB). And so, once again, God acts, by causing the fish to eject Jonah on to the shore of his home country.

eject Jonah on to the shore of his home country

For thought and contemplation:

There are really no limits to the times or places when we can pray. Jonah proves this. He prayed on the deck of the ship, in the sea itself and later in the stomach of a large fish. Remember, it’s not where you pray, but how you pray that is important.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)

Modern-day Jonah incidents

Numerous cases have been reported of men who have survived the ordeal of being swallowed by a whale. The Princeton Theological Review (Oct. 1927) tells of two incidents, one in 1758 and the other in 1771, in which a man was swallowed by a whale and vomited up shortly afterwards with only minor injuries.

One of the most striking instances comes from Francis Fox, in Sixty-Three Years of Engineering, who reports that this incident was carefully investigated by two scientists. In 1891, the whaling ship, Star of the East, was near the Falkland Islands. The lookout sighted a large sperm whale. Two boats were lowered, one of which was upset by a lash of the whale’s tail, so that its crew fell into the sea. One of them was drowned, but James Bartley simply disappeared. After the whale was killed, the crew set to work removing the blubber. The sailors were startled by something in the stomach which gave spasmodic signs of life, and inside was found the missing sailor, doubled up and unconscious. Within three weeks he recovered from the shock and resumed his duties.

An unequivocal response

Jonah chapter 3; 4:1 and Luke 11:30-32

announces the message which God has given him

Back on dry land, the chastened prophet is recommissioned by God to carry out the task which he earlier refused. This time Jonah obeys implicitly, and makes his way to Nineveh to proclaim God’s word. After walking through the great city of Nineveh for a whole day, Jonah finds a suitable spot and announces the message which God has given him: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” His message produces an immediate response, and the people proclaim a fast and put on sackcloth to demonstrate the depth of their repentance.

He descends from his throne, takes off his robe, puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes.

But it isn’t only the people who react in repentance; so, too, does the king of Nineveh. He descends from his throne, takes off his robe, puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes. And just to make sure the people are behind him, he issues a royal proclamation that the whole of Nineveh must repent.

For thought and contemplation:

Jonah’s call to Nineveh to repent found an immediate and wholehearted response. How wonderful it would be if our own nation responded so quickly to God’s word of truth. But it would be even more wonderful if we Christians responded just as quickly!

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn form their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV)

An unwise prayer

Jonah 4:1-3

produces in him great anger and bitterness (graphic provided by http://sweetpublishing.com)

Although Jonah’s will has been subdued by the events and experiences through which he has passed, his deep inner feelings concerning his mission seem not to have changed. The success of his mission, instead of bringing him joy and delight, produces in him great anger and bitterness. He seems to have no desire to remain in a world in which Gentiles as well as Jews are able to experience the mercy and compassion of the Lord. God’s heart is bigger than Jonah wants it to be, and it is all too much for him. He looks defiantly into the face of God and prays. Prays? Hardly! What comes out of his mouth is more like a catalogue of complaints. Examine his prayer carefully and we will be surprised if you don’t agree that his words are shot through with self-pity and self-concern.

For thought and contemplation:

How glad we ought to be that God is a “listening God”, who listens intently to our prayers even when they are shot through with self-centredness and personal pique. How glad we ought to be, too, that some of our prayers are not answered!

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3, NIV)

An ungrateful response

Jonah 4:4-8

erects a shelter for himself and sits down to await (graphic provided by http://sweetpublishing.com)

God challenges Jonah to investigate his emotions to see whether or not they are justified, but Jonah seems deaf to God’s voice. In fact, it seems Jonah has the sulks, and is in no mood for a question and answer session with the Almighty. Jonah leaves the repentant and mourning city, erects a shelter for himself and sits down to await the end of the 40-day period. Did he hope, deep in his heart, that the repentance of the Ninevites would still not avert God’s wrath? It seems so. God, however, who has shown great love and tenderness to the city of Nineveh, demonstrates that same degree of love for Jonah by providing a sheltering vine to protect him from the burning rays of the sun. Jonah appears to feel a degree of gratitude for the shade which God has provided, but there are still deep roots of ingratitude within his heart.

For thought and contemplation:

How sad that our minds can become so warped that we fail to see the goodness of God even in the midst of our rebellion. George Herbert put it well when he said: “Thou hast given so much to me… Give me one thing more—a grateful heart.” Make this your own prayer—today.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18, NIV)

An unrepentant reply

Jonah 4:9-11

the vine which God has provided to shelter Jonah from the burning rays of the sun is attacked by a worm and thus dies (graphic provided by http://sweetpublishing.com)

At dawn the next day, the vine which God has provided to shelter Jonah from the burning rays of the sun is attacked by a worm and thus dies. As the sun climbs high in the sky, God sends a hot east wind which makes Jonah furious, and once again he wishes he was dead. How sad that the prophet seems more angry over the collapse of the sheltering vine than over the possible destruction of a whole city. The Lord’s object lesson, designed to show Jonah the inconsistency of his heart, and His further challenge concerning his unrighteous anger, meets with little response from Jonah. Jonah is upset about a plant, but seems to care little about the people. He remains completely unrepentant and unwilling to show mercy and compassion to the Ninevites. How true it is that there are none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear.

For thought and contemplation:

Life is certainly mixed up when a man’s values are such that he can have more pity for a plant than for the vast population of a great city like Nineveh. How about you? Do you value things more than people? If so, then make sure you don’t go into the rest of the day with an unrepentant spirit.

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8, NIV)

The lesson to be learned from Jonah

Jonah was one of the most mixed up of all the Old Testament prophets

Jonah was one of the most mixed up of all the Old Testament prophets. His failure was not that he was a false prophet, but a disobedient one—and also one who thought more of his own reputation than he did of the people’s good and the glory of God. Jonah would probably have enjoyed seeing Jehovah avenging Himself on His adversaries, and when the Lord deprives him of this fierce and patriotic satisfaction, he becomes vexed and angry.

There are many lessons we can learn from Jonah’s life—the fact, for example, that God will pursue His purposes in our lives despite our inner or outer rebellion. The greatest lesson we learn from Jonah, however, is the need to surrender our right to our reputation, for if we become preoccupied with how people think about us, it can soon affect and interfere with the individual life-message which God has given each one of us to share with the world.

Used with permission: Character by Character compiled by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor Partridge. Copyright © CWR (www.cwr.org.uk).

For another story about Jonah, see this lesson in audio-visual format.

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