Jonah Character Bible Study Background and Lessons

Name: Jonah

Meaning of name: Dove

Ancestry and family life: Unknown (Except that his father was a man named Amittai)

When and where he lived: Jonah lived in Israel during the 8th century B.C. He prophesied there (2 Kings 14:25) and eventually in Assyria. During this time Assyria was the most powerful empire in the world and dominated the region. The kings of Assyria led numerous excursions against both Israel and Judah. The country was the dreaded enemy of Israel. The kings of Israel were at times forced to pay tribute to the Assyrians and only about 40 years after Jonah’s ministry were conquered and exiled. One can therefore understand why Jonah was hesitant to travel to the capital of Nineveh and give them an opportunity to repent. He wanted to see them punished.

Events surrounding birth: No info.

Training and occupation: No info, except that he is a prophet.

Place in history: Jonah had a pretty important place in history. He was author of a biblical book. He was chosen by God to take the gospel to the most powerful nation in the world at that time. His three days in the belly of the fish is used as a picture of Christ’s three days in the earth before His resurrection.

Weaknesses: If the Bible was a fictional story created by man there would be tendency to candy-coat its authors’ character flaws and make them appear better than they were. This is not the case with Jonah. Instead the book candidly portrays Jonah’s character, including his abundant weaknesses. Jonah had three primary character flaws.

  1. He was disobedient and actually attempted the fool-hardy escapade of running away from God (1:3) (Why did Jonah run away from God instead of going to Nineveh?).

  2. He lacked mercy and forgiveness, wanting revenge and holding bitterness in his heart (4:1-3)

  3. He was a complainer. Jonah didn’t respect God and had an overly high view of his own opinion and self. He routinely questioned God, disagreed with God, and vented his anger against God (4).

Can you see the contrast between Jonah’s character and God’s? What can we learn from Jonah’s weaknesses? How can we apply this to our lives?

Strengths: Strengths are hard to find in Jonah’s life. He did take responsibility for his actions instead of making others take it (1:11-12). He was honest when he was running away from God and about who he was (1:8-10). When he was inside the fish he called out to God and expressed repentance (2:2-9).

Important acts and events: Two important events occurred that are recorded in the book of Jonah.

  1. He was swallowed by a fish for three days. This is used by Jesus in Matthew 12:39-41 as a picture for Christ’s death and resurrection. It shows once again that the cross is the central event in all of history and this event foreshadowed it.

  2. His most important act was taking the gospel to the Assyrians. This may be overshadowed somewhat by his bad attitude and original disobedience. Yet Jonah did eventually obey God and did eventually go. He took the gospel to people who had probably never heard it. Most others probably wouldn’t have gone in the end.

Lessons from his life:

  1. Don’t run away from God. It’s impossible to succeed (Psalms 139:7-11).God will probably not appear and talk to us directly, sending us somewhere or instructing us. But He has instructed us in His Word. We normally do know His will for our lives. We should follow it with all our energy, knowing that if we don’t the consequences for not listening will catch up to us. God sees us all the time no matter where we are. It’s our responsibility to obey Him fully.

  2. God can use even weak and flawed people to serve Him. We should never use our own weaknesses as an excuse for not following God, sharing the gospel, or doing His will in our lives. Through our weakness He is made strong (2 Cor 12:9).

  3. We need to be merciful and show forgiveness. Everyone is important and valuable in God’s sight. He created them and gave them value. As Jonah, we are often much more concerned with some material things, like a computer, an mp3 player, etc. than we are with other people, especially those who may have been unkind to us. God loves them all and we should too, no matter what they have done to us.

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