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Jonah 1 Study Guide: Defiance and Discipline

Community Group Study Guide — Defiance and Discipline
Jonah 1

Study Information:
The book of Jonah is one of the most fascinating books in the Bible. God lays out a hard truth for us in the form of this historical story to reveal to us that just as Jonah has a heart that is hard towards people he hates, so too the people of God can be tempted to be reclusive and hard hearted towards people we think are unworthy of salvation. 

The story unfolds and shows us someone who was called by God to be a messenger but hated where God called him and runs away; and throughout the story you see everyone else follow God and be obedient except for the main character! In the story we learn about God’s great mercy and the dangers of hatred and bitterness in your heart. As modern day people this book teaches us about God’s compassion, our calling and how to grow in a love for people we may have a strong sense of dislike for. 

Jonah 1:1-10
The first mention of Jonah in the bible comes in 2 Kings 14:21-25 where he is sent as a prophet to a wicked king of Israel. God promised to be faithful to the people and not “blot them out.” We’re told that saw their hardship and suffering and was faithful to them even though their king was faithless. Later on though the people of Israel would not repent and be exiled. In the book of Jonah we get an opposite theme of what happened in 2 Kings. God called Jonah to a wicked foreign king and a people he hated, his message was “you will be blotted out” but unlike the Israelites, the Ninevites heard and repent and were saved. We’re meant to wonder why the people of God would not repent and follow God when the Ninevites were quick to turn. 

The book of Jonah opens with God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh and call out against the evil there. You would think that he would be interested in going because his message is one of doom and as the book progresses you understand that he does not like these people. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and they were a ruthless people who brutally conquered much of the Ancient Near East, later including Israel. Instead of following the Lord’s command Jonah goes in the opposite direction. It could be because of fear, but we learn later on in chapter 4 that he knew God would extend compassion if they repented and he did not want to see the Ninevites warned about the coming destruction. God’s compassionate character and steadfast love was well known to Jonah and this made him angry as he thought that it could be extended to Nineveh (Jonah 4:2)

To get out of his calling, Jonah attempted to flee from the presence of the Lord by going in the opposite direction, as if that was possible. He went onto a ship and immediately was met by a great wind and storm. A couple interesting features of the book of Jonah are how inanimate objects are given human characteristics like “thought” and that almost everyone and everything is obedient to God except Jonah… the wind, the ship, the sailors, the fish, the king and the vine that grows up. They all follow God and Jonah does not. As the storm threatened to break up the ship the captain went down into the belly of the ship and asked Jonah who he was, what he was doing and how he could possibly be asleep instead of calling on his God. The sailors were all afraid because they heard how Jonah was fleeing from God; there seemed to be an awareness of the seriousness of making the God of the Hebrews upset! 

The picture we get of Jonah is of someone who was hard hearted and non-receptive to God’s commands and this is magnified by how everyone else around him seems to be listening to the Lord even without being part of the people of God. 

Jonah 1:11-17
The sailors were fearful and wondered what to do. Jonah suggested they do the unthinkable and throw him into the sea to calm the storm. The sailors tried to row harder and fight the storm with their effort but end up giving into Jonah’s command and hurled him overboard. This stopped the storm and the sailors respond with fearing God and offering worship to him, foreshadowing the future repentance and worshipful fear of the Ninevites. 

Jonah is met by a great fish in the water whom God appointed to swallow him up for three days and three nights. Which would not only provide transportation for Jonah but ample opportunity to consider his ways and turn to the Lord. 

Stepping back, we are confronted with the heart attitude of Jonah and the merciful response of God to continue to seek him out and help him stay on course. Instead of having a soft heart to follow God and trust his wisdom and ways, Jonah fled from the calling of God. As the story moved forward we get a sense of bitterness and resentment in Jonah that God would save “those people.” He’d even be wiling to sit outside the city and the place where God was working because of his anger towards the Lord. 

Throughout the book of Jonah we get to see God continuing to pursue him and meet him with grace to reveal more of his character to Jonah. Part of how God did that was through disciplining Jonah. Instead of letting him flee, God sent the storm and the fish to bring him back. Sometimes we think of this kind of suffering as being punishment from God, but it is not punishment since the goal is not to separate Jonah from God but rather to bring him back. Punishment always separates, discipline is meant to restore. Romans 1:18-32 teaches us that God’s wrath is him giving us up to our sinful desires, whereas Hebrews 12:7-11 informs us that God disciplines his children to restore them and bring them back into alignment with him. Throughout the story, we’re given pictures of how God works in Jonah to bring him back and show Jonah his heart to the nations. This book forces us to consider questions like, “am I being obedient to God?”, “are there people I think are unworthy of God’s grace and forgiveness?” and “am I interested in going to difficult places and people with a message of hope?”

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read Jonah 1:1-17

How does Jonah disobey God and who/what objects are obedient to God in this passage? What point is that trying to teach us?

What is the difference between punishment and discipline? How does God discipline Jonah and why is this a good thing?

Why do you think someone would rather try to flee from God’s presence than be right in the center of where he was working? 

The Ninevites were a really wicked and unjust nation. There were many things that people like Jonah could point to as reasons why they were bad and unworthy. Are there people in your life that you have a hard time imagining sharing the gospel with or seeing them receive God’s grace and forgiveness? Why?