Although Jonah is considered one of the minor prophets, the book of Jonah is unlike any other prophetic books in the Old Testament. It’s focus is more on Jonah himself, rather than any of his prophecies, and so it is more in line with a historical narrative rather than a prophetic narrative. The author of the book is believed to be Jonah himself and it was probably written sometime between 785 – 760 BC.
Jonah ministered to the people in Israel during the reign of King Jeroboam II, approximately between 793 – 753 BC. In 2 Kings 14:23-27 we are told that Jeroboam did evil in the sight of the Lord, yet he was also one of Israel’s most powerful Kings and during his reign Israel enjoyed economic prosperity and peace. At this time Assyria was Israel’s great enemy and Ninevah was a great city that would become its capital, so we can perhaps understand Jonah’s reluctance to even go there, particularly as the Assyrians used grotesque form of torture to subdue and frighten their enemies.
Read Jonah 1:1-16
In the opening verses, what does God command Jonah to do and why is it important that Jonah did as God asked?
- Jonah was to preach against Ninevah – to make known their sins and God’s coming judgement upon them. (Note that we are not actually told what these sins were but we can find out more about them in the first three chapters of Nahum)
- Jonah was a prophet of God and the test of a true prophet was that God’s Word came to pass, hence the significance of Jonah doing as God commanded. (See Deuteronomy 18:18-22)
How did Jonah respond to this command and what can we learn from this?
- Jonah effectively ignored God and ran off in the other direction.
- As Christians we rightly note how our society today ignores the will of God and does its own thing, but here we see one of God’s prophets doing that too.
Have we ever behaved in a similar way to Jonah when God asked something of us?
How does God respond to Jonah’s disobedience and what can we learn from Jonah’s subsequent actions?
- In sending the storm as He did, God is effectively dealing with Jonah in judgement.
- Jonah then apparently recognises his sinfulness, that he is putting the lives of the sailors at risk, and tells them to throw him into the sea.
- But does Jonah also believe that he will die when thrown into the sea?
What do we learn from the actions of the sailors in these verses?
- Considering the fearful predicament they find themselves in they are still reluctant to throw Jonah into the sea.
- Given the ship was sailing to Joppa there sailors were probably Philistines, yet as this encountered progressed we find them worshipping God – the God of Israel.
As we end chapter one consider where we find the main characters in the story so far.
We have Jonah, a prophet of God, drowning in the sea having disobeyed God.
The pagan sailors safe – probably on dry land when they made their sacrifice to God.
God Himself – at the heart of all that has happened and in control.
Is this how we might have expected things to turn out thus far? And who can we most easily identify ourselves with in this story – Jonah or one of the sailors? And what about in our own lives of faith, do things always turn out as we anticipate – if not, why not?