These small group studies of Jonah extensive cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, lessons to learn, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Overview of Jonah
A God of Second Chances
Lessons Learned in the Belly of a Fish
I. God’s Command To Jonah (1:1-2)
II. Jonah’s Initial Disobedience (1:3-17)
a. Fleeing to Tarshish (1:3 -13)
i. The storm (1:3-6)
ii. Assigning blame (1:7-10)
iii. The solution (1:11-13)
b. Jonah Thrown into the Sea (1:14-17)
III. In The Belly Of The Big Fish (2:1-10)
a. Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-9)
i. His cry (2:1-2)
ii. His crisis (2:3-6)
iii. His solution (2:7-9)
b. Jonah’s Release (2:10)
IV. Obedience In Nineveh (3:1-10)
a. The Lord’s Repeated Command (3:1-2)
b. Jonah Obeys (3:3-4)
c. The Ninevites Repent (3:5-9)
d. God Relents (3:10)
V. God Teaches Jonah Mercy (4:1-11)
a. Jonah is Angry at God (4:1-4)
b. Jonah Waits, Hoping for God’s Wrath (4:5-9)
i. God appoint a plant (4:5-6)
ii. God appoints a worm (4:7)
iii. God appoints a wind (4:8)
iv. Jonah cries out again (4:9)
c. God’s Final Lesson (4:10-11)
Author:Possibly Jonah, though it could have been written by another prophet soon afterwards. An argument that it was by Jonah is that there is information that only Jonah could have known. However, God also knew those facts, and could have revealed them to another author, as well. An argument that Jonah was written by another is that he is usually spoken of in the third person, except in chapter 2 (though other OT authors also sometimes spoke of themselves in the third person).
Date:Between 793-753 B.C., most likely around 760 B.C. This would make Jonah a contemporary of the prophets Hosea and Amos.
History:Jonah (whose name means “dove”) was from Gath-hepher near Nazareth (according to 2 Kings 14:25), a town in the tribe of Zebulon. He was born to Ammitai (according to Jonah 1:1; meaning “my true one”), and lived during the long and prosperous reign of King Jeroboam II (793-753), the most powerful king of the Northern Kingdom. Some unverified Jewish traditions say that he was the son of the widow of Zarephath whom Elijah raised from the dead).
Jonah was a prophet to the 10 northern tribes of Israel, during a time when they enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. Because their enemies (Assyria and Syria) were weak, they were able to expand the boundaries of their kingdom. However, during this time of material wealth, the people were spiritually poor, and their worship was increasingly ritualistic and idolatrous. Because of this, God sent Hosea and Amos to warn the Israelites of impending judgment, but they were stubborn. Later (722 B.C.), God would have to punish Israel by allowing the Assyrians to regain strength and then destroy and imprison many of them.
Nineveh’s repentance might have been encouraged by two plagues (765 and 759 B.C.) and a solar eclipse (763 B.C.). Such natural occurrences were often viewed, superstitiously or rightly, as divine judgment.
The book of Jonah is unique, in that instead of ministering to Israelites, Jonah was ministering to Gentiles. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, was perhaps the largest city in the world at that time, and was founded by Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah. It was huge, and very secure, with a wall 50 feet wide and 100 feet tall around it. Located on the east bank of the Tigris River, about 550 miles from Samaria (capital of the Northern Kingdom) it was famous for its cruelty. Perhaps it was because of their bad reputation and long years of fighting against Israel that Jonah was reluctant to obey the Lord and travel to warn them of His coming wrath. Perhaps another reason he was hesitant to go was that, as an Israelite, he felt spiritually superior to them due to the covenant God had made with the Israelites, and was then ashamed when the Ninevites repented and turned to the Lord at the teaching of a stranger, when the Israelites often would not repent for their own prophets. However, though the Ninevites repented at that time, they were destroyed about 150 years later.
General Theme: Several themes run through Jonah. I would say the primary theme is that we cannot flee God, but are required to obey Him completely, regardless of if we agree with the outcome or not.
A secondary theme is that God is sovereign over all man and creation. We see in 1:9 that creation came into being through Him, and 1:4, 17; 2:10 and 4:6-7 show us that it obeys Him completely. The storm, the great fish, the plant, the worm, the wind…they were not coincidences, but divine acts brought about by a sovereign Lord.
Jonah also served to teach Israel many important lessons, including their responsibility as missionaries to Gentile nations, their need to repent (which the Gentiles did readily in this case, while at the same time the Israelites were ignoring Hosea and Amos), and God’s punishment of disobedient and tender love in bringing the sinner back to obedience.
The book of Jonah is also a picture of Israel. Israel was also chosen and commissioned by God to be His witness, rebelled against His will, but was miraculously preserved by God through centuries of exile and dispersion to finally preach His truth (excerpts from MacArthur Study Bible). Believer’s Bible Commentary says, “When Jonah was cast into the sea, it resulted in the salvation of a boatload of Gentiles. But when he was cast onto dry land, it resulted in the salvation of a city. So the fall of Israel has resulted in riches to the Gentile world, but how much more blessing will flow to the world through the restoration of Israel!”
Key Verses: 1:2-3, 15, 17, 2:4, 10, 3:3, 8-9, 4:2, 9-11
1:3 Jonah apparently feared man (the Ninevites) more than he feared God. He also had a very small view of God, thinking that he could somehow flee His presence.
1:11-17 God desires obedience rather than sacrifice. Jonah was willing to sacrifice his life in order to stop the storm and save those on the ship, but God saved him in the belly of the fish, so he would have another chance to obey.
1:16 God can even use His child’s disobedience to lead others to Himself.
Man’s efforts cannot thwart God’s plans.
Sin cannot remain hidden.
Sometimes God has to take us to a dark place in order for us to humble ourselves and acknowledge Him.
Even when we’ve disobeyed, God is merciful and allows us to obey again.
Never give up on someone. God can bring even the most hardened person to repentance.
We cannot manipulate God with bad (or for that matter good) behavior.
People are more important than things. Period.
There is never a good reason to be angry with God.
God is a perfect balance of justice, righteousness, compassion and mercy.
Running doesn’t solve anything. In fact, it makes things worse and can endanger other people.
Place value on the things God values. Jonah’s grumbling was a side effect of his wrong value system.
God is merciful, and is a God of second chances. He gave the men on the boat, Jonah, and the Ninevites all second chances to repent and obey Him.