Recently on my blog, I’ve been sharing my notes from when I taught adult Sunday school. This will be a 3-part series on Jonah. And the same disclaimer, that these are my notes (not a transcript) and that this will not read like a typical blog post.
Jonah is one of the Bible’s most unusual books. It is really rather sad that it is a neglected book, and mostly considered a story for children. I hope you’ll see over several lessons how relevant this little book is.
It is only 4 chapters long, yet contains narrative, a powerful psalm, and lots of irony.
It is an unusual prophetic book for several reasons.
- The content is more about Jonah than the prophetic message he gave. In fact, it only gives us 8 words of the prophetic message that Jonah brought to the Ninevites. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
- Jonah is the only prophet whose ministry was exclusively to gentiles. We will come back to this point because it is really important.
- More than any other OT book, Jonah demonstrates God’s compassion and concern for all of humanity.
- Jonah is the only prophet whose experience Jesus likened to himself.
Genre? This has been debated. Is it history, legend, allegory, advice tale, parable? But there are some good reasons to view it as a real historical account.
- 2 Kings 14:25 specifically refers to Jonah as a prophet
- It reads more like a straightforward account, despite the unusual occurrence with the whale.
- And Jesus seemed to treat the account as factual.
Have Matthew 12:38-42 read – to see what Jesus said about Jonah.
Before I draw out one specific point, there is actually a number of interesting points about what Jesus says here. What jumped out to you? You guys are good at conversation!
(Asking for a sign can indicate a heart of unbelief. And if you have a heart of unbelief, you won’t believe a sign when you do see it. We should not be surprised when some people reject the gospel, because some people would not believe even when Jesus was right there in front of them.)
Note, that Jesus was in a way jabbing them – the Ninevites and Queen of the South were gentiles and Jesus is commending the gentiles, while being critical of the Jewish leaders for a heart of unbelief.
I drew a diagram on the board a few months ago that portrayed a Jewish cultural view. (See here for more about how Jews could view gentiles.) That is one important point. And Jonah prefigures the true meaning and significance of salvation. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world – not only the Jews.
Jonah had to learn that God’s grace extended to the Assyrians, and he did not like that one bit. Jonah was a reluctant prophet with a bad attitude who had some lessons to learn about God and his great compassion.
A little review.
God did distinguish the Israelites by setting them apart as his own special nation, but this wasn’t done to play favorites, but to benefit everyone eventually. Throughout the OT we can see hints of God’s global vision. It begins in Genesis with God’s calling of Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3. “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Some of the Psalms refer to God as the God of all nations. Several passages in Isaiah hint at God’s plan to include Gentiles. Isaiah 49:6 “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
And there are a number of individual examples of gentile inclusion in the OT – such as Ruth and Rahab.
Ruth was a gentile woman of the despised area of Moab. Moabites were supposed to be excluded from the congregation of Israel for 10 generations. But Ruth’s faith is so strong that God sets aside his own law, and in grace makes provision for Ruth to be accepted into the community in her own lifetime. — A foreign national and former pagan becomes a part of God’s people, and not only that she is in the genetic line that leads to Christ. (Matt 1 genealogy.)
Furthermore, the instructions God gave the Israelites included several provisions for foreigners or gentiles. God reminded them that they were once the foreigners in the land of Egypt.
Have read: Deut. 10:17-19. Deut. 24: 14-15, 17-19.
To get back to Jonah and how Jesus referred to Jonah.
The Jews were God’s special people yet they were to be a channel to bring blessing to others – which would culminate in their Messiah being not just the Savior of the Jews but of the entire world. We can see the culmination of this in Revelation 7:9-10. This pictures an international throng of those redeemed by Jesus around the throne in Heaven.
We are somehow naturally prone to be exclusive or clannish. We like our little groups. We can be suspicious of those different from us.
Jonah needed to learn that God’s compassion extended even to the Assyrians.
When Jesus was on earth, the Jews needed to be reminded that salvation was available to the gentiles too. Even though Jesus was Jewish and primarily ministering to the Jews, we can see instances of him reaching out to gentiles or outsiders and it always surprised the disciples. But it really shouldn’t have surprised them.
- Jesus healed the servant of a gentile Roman centurion and commended his great faith. (Matt 8)
- Jesus healed the daughter of a gentile Canaanite woman and also commended her great faith (Matt 15)
- When Jesus gave the Great Commission to his disciples, I have a feeling they still didn’t quite grasp that the Gospel would be for all people.
What about us? What type of people are we exclusionary towards?
Who are the people in your Ninevah? Who are gentiles to you? Who have you written off? Who do you fail to love? Who do you think doesn’t deserve salvation?
“It is easier to hate than to love–and some of us may often find ourselves dangerously close to creating our own Ninevah. Perhaps the people that inhabit our “Ninevah” are abortionists, homosexuals, political enemies, cultists, or an ethnic group we are uncomfortable with. The question we must honestly consider is this: will our prejudice cause us, like Jonah, to be guilty of silence, or will we intentionally express the heart of God? Jonah chose silence and hate rather than obedience and love.”– David Sper
Part 2 here.
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