Tag Archives: Compassion

Bible Study on Jonah

Artist depiction of the city of Nineveh.

Jonah being vomited out of the fish.

“Yonah in Hebrew means “dove,” one of the birds used in very ancient sailing practice to guide lost sailors to land…[1]”.

Along with the book of Jonah, there is another reference to a Jonah in 2 Kgs 14:25:

“He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.”(NIV)

It is unsure if this is the same person.

“Even though it was not 60 miles across, Nineveh was by all accounts an impressive city. It was situated upon a tell near a natural crossing of the Tigris River, opposite the modern city of Mosul. Scenes carved around 645-643 B.c. upon a wall of the North Palace in Nineveh depict the city surrounded by turreted walls topped with crenellations. A likely place that one might have entered the city was through the East Gate, which is at the top of a stone-paved ramp. A visitor would certainly have marveled over the two giant bulls flanking the gatehouse. Upon entering the city one would encounter wide streets, some with stone paving, gardens, parks game-parks, canals, palaces, temples, and houses. This must have been a breathtaking experience, and the combination and grandeur of these features certainly distinguished Nineveh from almost every other ancient city.[2]”

Locating Nineveh. Across the river from modern day Mosul.


Without being specific, is there anything, or anyone or group, God has called you to do, or to speak out to, but you have been fighting with Him on?  (Another way: Do you put a limit on carrying God’s message to the world?)

  • Jonah 1:2-3—> “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa,where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (NIV)
    •  “Jonah’s sailor companions, contrary to what an ancient audience would expect, are respectful, tame, and even unselfish, though the reason for their civility may be simply a healthy fear of`Jonah’s God. Here is a man who, seemingly imprudently or rashly, has hired the whole ship and paid in advance, an action noted as unusual in talmudic literature. He is a foreigner, alone, without protector or friend, at the mercy of a whole crew against whom he could never retaliate. Yet, these rough fellows not only do not attempt to kill him out of greed, but they do a most dangerous thing in stormy weather: they try to bring the ship to shore to save their onerous passenger. According to a literal interpretation of his Hebrew name, Jonah is a “dove” kept in the hold of the ship, something light and capable of flight. Yet, he engages in a downward movement, going down to`Jaffa, into the ship, then down into its hold, where he falls into a deep sleep (wayyeradam, a word also evoking, phonetically at least, a downward movement), and finally down into the great fish. Normally, passengers and crew were on the deck. The Hebrew text suggests that Jonah himself becomes part of the cargo; he is a piece of the ballast, often merchandise but normally stones or sand, kept in the depths of the hold of the ship. Surely, he is stowed in the most dangerous place of the ship, among stones and heavy cargo which could crush him in a storm.[3]
    • “Lawrence Boadt has suggested that foe central focus of the text is the role of justice in the triangular relationship of God, Israel, and non-Israelite nations. With this claim he argued that the text teaches the original Jewish audience that God is sovereign, merciful, and interested in more than them.[4]”
  • Jonah 2   (Jonah’s Prayer)—>     “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry. 3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ 5 The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. 6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit. 7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. 8 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. 9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” (NIV)
    • Study Question: To what is Jonah promising to do?
  • Jonah 3:1-2—>  Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
  • Jonah 3: 6-10—>   6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
    • Question:  Why would God change His mind about Nineveh
  • Jonah 4:1-3 —>  But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
    • Question:   Where was Jonah’s heart? Does he accept or give compassion?
    • Follow up Question:  Why?
  • Jonah 4:4-5 —>  But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.
    • Question: Where is Jonah’s heart now?
  • Summarizing what happens next:
    • So Jonah sits and waits for the city to be destroyed, not realizing the miracle that God is working in the city.  While he is waiting a plant pops up and shelters him from the elements and then it is eaten by a worm leaving him exposed and unprotected.   Jonah becomes outraged at this going so far as to say “It would be better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:8 NIV)
  • Jonah 4: 10-11—>   “But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh…” (NIV)
    • “the book ends with God’s question. Whether or not God’s attempt at moral and psychological suasion was effective is left up in the air. Jonah is as silent at the end as he was in the beginning. Thus, the book ends as it began—in silence and with the question intentionally left open. God has the last word, and Jonah simply disappears at the end of the text. He dissappears so that the audience can take his place, for the question and message are really directed at the ancient audience and are not aimed at the literary character. The lack of an answer on the part of Jonah is meant to give the audience space to decide whether and how Jonah might have responded to God’s challenge and to provide its own answer to the central question of the book (4:11).[5]”
      [1] Hamel, Gildas. 1995. “Taking the Argo to Nineveh : Jonah and Jason in a Mediterranean Context.” Judaism 44, no. 3: 341-359. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 17, 2014).
      [2] Halton, Charles. “How big was Nineveh? literal versus figurative interpretation of city size.” Bulletin For Biblical Research 18, no. 2 (January 1, 2008): 193-207. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 17, 2014).
      [3] Hamel, Gildas. 1995. “Taking the Argo to Nineveh : Jonah and Jason in a Mediterranean Context.” Judaism 44, no. 3: 341-359. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 17, 2014).
      [4] McLaughlin, Ryan Patrick. “Jonah and the religious other: an exploration of biblical inclusivism.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 48, no. 1 (December 1, 2013): 71-84. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed October 17, 2014).
      [5] Abusch, Tzvi. “Jonah and God: Plants, Beasts, and Humans in the Book of Jonah (An Essay in Interpretation).” Journal Of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 13, no. 2 (September 2013): 146-152. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost (accessed October 17, 2014).

Please feel free to adapt this study for your needs.