As explained in part 1, these are my notes (not a transcript) from when I taught an adult Sunday school class on Jonah. I go with the flow of the class, but do like to have key points jotted down.
Review last week:
We did an intro to Jonah, emphasizing the unique aspects of this brief book:
- Jonah is the only prophet Jesus compared to himself and we looked at Matthew 12.
- Jonah is the only prophet whose ministry was to the gentiles.
- More than any OT book, it demonstrates God’s compassion for all of humanity. We may think of the OT as more exclusive and about the Jews, but there is evidence of inclusion and God’s concern for outsiders: gentiles, foreigners, refugees.
- And I used the phrase “God’s global vision.” Beginning with Abraham, he wanted the world to be blessed through the Jewish people.
Today we will look at Jonah chapters 1 and 2.
We will listen to a dramatized reading of chapter 1, but first a few facts…
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, who would eventually conquer the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Nineveh was in the east, and Jonah was trying to get far away by sailing westward from the port in Joppa. It is uncertain where this place Tarshish was but it was west. And some think it was southern Spain or North Africa.
It is interesting that Jonah would board a ship because the Jews were not a seafaring people. They were a land people. They had no navy and no merchant ships. The Phoenicians were the great naval innovators of that time. I Kings mentions that Solomon utilized Phoenician sailors for the gold trade. Jonah, by boarding a ship to go across the Mediterranean, was determined to avoid going to Nineveh.
Let’s listen to chapter 1. (listen…)
This chapter can illustrate the futility of running from God. It is a very literal and overt example. – But don’t you think we can run from God in subtle or indirect ways? Thoughts?
(With hectic schedules, it is easy avoid doing things that faithful Christians should be doing. Or maybe there was a period of life where you didn’t run from God but just avoided God.)
We need to consider the worldview of these sailors.
They were obviously polytheistic and there was this idea of appeasing the gods. One of the gods was upset and sent the storm. They viewed most things in life this way. YHWH, the one true God, actually did send this storm. Verse 4 states clearly that the Lord sent a great wind.
However, we need to distinguish between the Jewish worldview and the polytheistic one.
- What book in the OT makes it clear that you cannot always equate calamity and suffering with punishment from God?
(Job. His “friends” told him that God must be punishing him for sin. However, Job was actually innocent, and his friends were wrong in their assessment of the situation.)
Jesus reinforces this idea in several passages. In John chapter 9, Jesus and the disciples encountered a blind man, and the disciples out rightly asked Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents. Jesus responded that “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Or in Luke chapter 13, Jesus mentions a tower that had fallen over killing a bunch of people, and Jesus clearly refuted the idea that it happened because they were “worse sinners.”
I think God can, like with Jonah, bring circumstances into our life to get our attention. But ultimately we live in a fallen, broken world and sometimes bad things just happen.
- The polytheistic gods were neither moral nor consistent. Their anger could be whimsical, and their acts of punishment arbitrary or even childish. That does NOT describe YHWH, the God of the Bible. YHWH is moral, and while he could punish, it was just and not arbitrary. As Jonah will emphasize in chapter 4, YHWH is a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love.
We may think that we are nothing like these polytheistic pagans appeasing the gods. We’ve moved beyond this in modern times. — But have we?
There are big sectors of American Christianity that teach a subtle or watered down version of appeasing the gods. For example, consider this book title: It’s your time, activate your faith, achieve your dreams, increase in God’s favor.
The teaching is that if you do certain things and have a strong enough faith, it will increase God’s favor in your life – health, wealth, and success will be yours. If you have problems and struggles and lack, it is your own fault. Problems are blamed on a weak faith. You have prevented God from favoring you.
(Or what I’ve heard described as a vending machine belief in God. I’ve done what I am supposed to do – I inserted obedience in the vending machine – and now God owes me blessing.)
That is not Christianity. God owes us nothing. We owe God everything. Grace is the unmerited favor or undeserved kindness of God.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
– So if we could not earn God’s favor to become a Christian, why do we think we can earn God’s favor after we become a Christian?
Chapter 2 is a prayer or psalm. Let’s read it.
What was Jonah’s condition when he prayed this way?
Why do you think people sometimes have to reach such a low or be desperate before they remember God or pray?
(Self-sufficient, God is last resort.)
I see a lot of hope in the prayer. Note in verse 2 it says in his distress he called and God answered and God listened to his cry. Even if we’ve been disobedient or wandered away from God, he will hear us.
Verse 8 says: “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”
Again, we can think we are so much more advanced today. After all we are not building statues and worshiping them like in ancient times. We are not polytheistic. But we have plenty of other types of idols today. What are some?
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”
Explain. How does clinging to an idol turn us away from God’s love? here.
Part 3 here.