The Sign of Jonah

In Matthew 12:38 the Pharisees taunt Jesus by asking him to perform a miracle. He responds by saying that the only miracle they will see is the “Sign of Jonah”.  Jesus used Jonah’s experience to illustrate how He would be glorified.  Likewise there are other parallels between Jesus’ resurrection and Jonah’s experience inside the great fish. 

For example, Jonah sacrificed himself for the sake of the sailors (Jonah 1:12) just like Jesus freely offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  While this is uncharacteristic of Jonah in general, he does show Christ-like grace and compassion for these men who are suffering through a terrifying experience. 

Also, the people of Nineveh were able to recognize God’s message when Jonah came into their presence.  Conversely, Jesus points out in Matt 12:41 that His generation failed to recognize the Messiah when He was in their presence. 

Lesson 6:  Summary & The Sign of Jonah

Posted on March 30, 2018 .

Jonah's Disappointment with God

One has to wonder what was going on in Israel when God called Jonah to preach to Nineveh.  By the account of 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah was a prophet who served Jeroboam II.  So Jonah already had a position of prominence in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He could have just stayed home and ignored God’s call.  What made him leave?  Did God’s call to him become so overwhelming that he was compelled to run away? 

After all, Jonah was just like us, most likely with many of the same obligations as we have.  Surely he had a home.  Perhaps also a wife and family.  What did he tell them when he left?  What did he tell the king?

Lesson 5:  Jonah’s Disappointment

The link below will take you to a website call The Bible Project.  This site contains short video summaries of the books of the bible.  Watch their lesson on Jonah to see their perspective on this story. 

The Bible Project:  Jonah

Posted on March 23, 2018 .

Jonah's Success in Nineveh

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, which was a great empire for 300 years.  The events in the book of Jonah seem to have taken place during a period of Assyrian stagnation (783-745) when the Assyrian kings were mostly ineffective.  This was the same time period as Amaziah and Uzziah in Judah, and Jeroboam II in Israel (2 Kings 14:23-29).  Jonah was able to capitalize on the declining conditions in Nineveh, and saved an entire city of clueless people (4:11).  

The wearing of sackcloth was occasionally practiced among biblical people.  From as early as the time of Job (Job 16:15) and Jacob (Genesis 37:34), people would put on sackcloth in times of mourning.  Perhaps the discomfort of having burlap next to one’s skin amplified the feeling of loss that the wearer was experiencing.  Whatever the reason, the Bible tells us that people did this when dealing with a profound loss. 

It is interesting to note that Jonah’s work in Nineveh led to the eventual destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. If Nineveh had not repented, then they would have been destroyed, and the Assyrians would not have eventually conquered Israel and taken them into captivity.

Jonah’s message to Nineveh was that they were at risk of being “overturned” (NIV).  The Hebrew word has multiple meanings.  It could refer to destruction, or being overpowered by another, or it could refer to a transformation of some kind.  Looking at it that way, Jonah’s prediction of 3:4 came true.  There was a transformation that led God to refrain from destroying that great city (3:10). 

Lesson 4 - Jonah's Success

Posted on March 15, 2018 .

Jonah's Prayer from inside the Fish

When I first read in 1:3 that Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish, I assumed this was an ancient name for the city of Tarsus in eastern Asia Minor.  But some scholars speak of Tarshish as a city in the far west of the Mediterranean.  If this is true, then Tarshish would have been in the south of modern day Spain, perhaps as far west as Gibraltar.  That would mean Jonah was determined to escape as far as he could from Nineveh; all the way to the edge of the known world.   

As chapter 2 begins, Jonah offers a “Last Resort” prayer.  He literally has no place to turn, so he prays to God as a last resort.  

But there is a haughtiness in his prayer.  He expects to be saved because of who he is, rather than because of his own repentance or God’s mercy.  He sets himself apart as better than “those who cling to worthless idols”.  So at the same time he recognizes his helplessness and need for God’s deliverance, he completely fails to recognize his spiritual helplessness and need for forgiveness.

Nevertheless, God does save him, although in a somewhat vulgar fashion.  The fish vomits him up onto the shore. 

Lesson 3:  Jonah's Prayer

Posted on March 8, 2018 .

Background: Israel, Assyria, and Jonah

To set the historical context, remember that the kingdom of Israel split in the time of Rehoboam, son of Solomon.  Rehoboam remained king of what was called the Southern Kingdom, or Judah, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, as well as the Levites.  Jeroboam I became king of what was henceforth referred to as the Northern Kingdom, or Israel, consisting of the other ten tribes.  Jonah lived among the people of the Northern Kingdom. 

Jonah was no stranger to God’s call when Jehovah spoke to him and sent him to Nineveh.  Jonah was a prophet to the king of Israel, Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25).  Historians place Jeroboam II as king near 750 BC.  This coincided with one of the periods of Assyrian decline mentioned in last week’s post.  Jonah’s home of origin, Gath Hepher also gives us a clue about his lineage.  Gath Hepher was a town in the region that was given to the tribe of Zebulun during the conquest.  It is very likely, then, that Jonah was of the tribe of Zebulun. 

Lesson 2:  Jonah Runs from God

Posted on March 2, 2018 .

The Futility of the Prophets

The city of Nineveh figures prominently in the story of Jonah.  Nineveh was the capitol of the Assyrian empire which dominated the Middle East for 300 years.  But like many empires, Assyria went through periods of decline.  The historical timeframe of Jonah suggests that Assyria was in one of those periods of decline when Jonah walked into town and began to preach.  It would be reasonable to suggest that God set Jonah up for success by sending him to Nineveh during this period of weakness. 

Jonah’s success in Nineveh stands in sharp contrast to other prophets.  In fact, most Old Testament prophets saw little or no success as they tried to convince their audiences to turn towards God and away from the distractions that came between them and God.  It’s a sad irony that Jonah had such success in a pagan city, while prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah were not successful in their preaching to God’s Chosen People, Israel. 

Lesson One Study Sheet

Posted on February 22, 2018 .

JONAH: The Most Successful Prophet Ever

Lesson 1     The Futility of the Prophets     

Lesson 2     Jonah Runs from God

Lesson 3     Jonah's Prayer

Lesson 4     Jonah's Success

Lesson 5     Jonah's Disappointment 

Lesson 6     The Sign of Jonah


Posted on February 19, 2018 .