BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
For the week beginning Sunday May 12, 2013
PURSUING THOSE WHO NEED TO HEAR
(Be willing to tell everyone about the Gospel of CHRIST)
Jonah 3 & 4
The prophet Jonah ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II. Years earlier, during the reign of Jeroboam II’s great grandfather, Jehu, the nation of Assyria had established dominance in the east, and, had secured tributes from Jehu, in effect, making him a “vassal king”. Sometime later, however, the Assyrians suffered a temporary setback due to dissension within their camp, and this allowed Jeroboam II to expand
’s territories to its greatest size since the “ Israel ” of David and Solomon. United Kingdom
Unfortunately, because of Jeroboam II’s disobedience to GOD, and his leading of Israel farther into idolatry, GOD had sent both Amos, and Hosea into northern Israel to warn him of Israel’s impending judgment if they didn’t repent and return to HIM. In fact, the prophet Hosea specifically told
that GOD would use the Assyrians to topple them because of their refusal to return to HIM (Hosea 11:5). Israel
It seems likely that, because Assyria had been lingering in a weakened and declining state for some years at that time, Israel did not believe the prophets, and remained stubborn, refusing to heed their warnings from GOD. And perhaps these prophecies by Amos and Hosea also explain why Jonah was reluctant to obey GOD and go to preach repentance to Nineveh. He of course, was one who believed Amos and Hosea, and so, he, understandably had a problem with going to save his enemies, so that they can come later and destroy Israel.
In chapter 3 we see, a now obedient Jonah, travels to Nineveh to deliver GOD’s message to the Assyrian populace, while still, hoping in his heart, that they would not heed his warning of imminent judgment. However, to the contrary, the people of Nineveh believed GOD’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to fast and dress themselves in sackcloth to show GOD their sorrow for their sins.
Even the Assyrian king, when he heard Jonah’s message, stepped down from his throne, took off his royal robes, humbled himself and repented as he sat on a pile of ashes, demonstrating his own sorrow for his sins, and the sins of the people. He even issued an edict to the entire city of Nineveh commanding everyone (and also their animals) to fast without food, or water. Every person was to wear sackcloth, and pray earnestly to the GOD of the Israelites, that HE might not destroy them. And when GOD saw their demonstration of earnest repent and obedience to HIM, HE had mercy on them and did not carry out HIS alternate plan of destruction.
When we obey GOD, as Jonah ultimately decided to do, our actions witness to others, and, as in this case, can have a positive effect, even on unbelievers. The use of the Hebrew term “Elohim” for “GOD” in verses 8 and 10, shows that the Assyrians lacked having a personal, revelatory relationship with GOD, and perhaps in this story, we do not actually see a true “conversion” by them, to the ways of GOD. What we do see here, for sure, is an emotional stirring of the heart, through fear of their desperate situation. This is not at all unlike what we see at the alters of our modern-day Christian churches, particularly when people come up during “Altar Call”, because of emotional, or physical reasons, rather than a desire to repent and make the drastic lifestyle changes, and heart changes, that one must determine to make, in order to please GOD.
Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites, which resulted in their repentance and their turning to GOD, angered Jonah very much. In fact, in chapter 4 of his book, we see that Jonah threw a major, adult-sized temper tantrum, stormed out of the city, and sat underneath a large leafy plant that GOD had provided for his protection from the blazing hot sun. There he literally sulked throughout the night.
GOD continues to deal with Jonah, however, as HE sends a worm to kill the plant that HE had made for the disgruntled prophet, causing him to be angered to the point of death. The lesson that GOD is trying to teach Jonah here is that when we cause GOD to withdraw HIS compassion from us, through our own ungratefulness and disobedience, we don’t have a right to be angry when we see HIM bestowing HIS compassion upon someone else, even if its upon those whom we don’t like.
We cannot be sure, whether or not this lesson was lost on Jonah, for his book ends without him ever responding to GOD’s final comments to him. However, as I said in last week’s commentary, Jonah was clearly at fault with his attitude of not wanting GOD’s “Will of compassion” to be demonstrated in the lives of others, even if he feared they might harm him at some future date. If we pray for GOD’s Will to done, even in the lives of those we think might harm us, as believers, we have to know that GOD, can and will, act on their heart for the better, and thus, remove us from the peril of their wicked intentions.
The book of Jonah has often been called “The Gospel of Second Chance”, because it clearly shows that when we know GOD, HE will not let us run away from obedience for too long. And sometimes, HE may have to place great storms in our lives, or, “great fishes” in our paths, to get our attention. However, we can be thankful, because ultimately, “our good and compassionate GOD” always has our best interest at heart.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander