Caught!: Jonah 1.4b-17

This week, in our study of The Book of Jonah, God catches the prophet Jonah, even as Jonah flies from the sense of God’s presence. The result of Jonah’s flight toward death is Jonah’s apprehension by God and reverent fear of the One-True-God on the part of Jonah’s Gentile shipmates.

My resistance to God will not overcome God’s merciful plan.

Have a look at Jonah 1.4b-17 (2.1 in some translations). Find somebody to discuss this passage with and see what you find.

Knowing that the great storm of Jonah 1 is a picture of God’s divine wrath, what does this account tell us about God’s hatred of sin within His merciful plan for sinners? 

What acts of futility do you see in this account? What do they tell us about the possibility of escaping form God’s plan? 

In :5b-6, Jonah is asleep in the bottom of the ship. Of whom does this scene remind you? Read Matthew 8.23-27 and compare and contrast the account of Jesus calming the sea with this scene from Jonah. How is Jonah like Jesus? How is he different? 

How are the mariners different than Jonah in this account? What are the different stages of their growth in faith? How might Romans 11.29 inform our understanding of this picture of Gentile belief we’re seeing in Jonah 1?

Read Matthew 12.38-40. How is the picture of Jonah being swallowed by the great fish a picture of Jesus? How is the casting of Jonah into the sea to satisfy God’s wrath both like and unlike Jesus’ death on the cross, as well as Jesus’ burial over three days? 

What does Jonah 1 tell us about our own resistance to God’s merciful plan? 

How does God use storms in our lives? What is the difference between suffering as a non-believer (Rm 1.18-19) and experiencing hardship as a believer? (1 Jn 1.9; Heb 12.3 … 5b-7). 

Flight!: Jonah 1.1-4a

Sometimes, my response to God’s merciful plan includes resistance.

The Book of Jonah is fantastic drama! The historical, prophetic narrative account of Jonah (working in the 8th century before Christ and during the days of Israel’s divided kingdom) involves the vast landscape of God’s mission to the nations. Within the cosmic plan of God, you have Jonah—small, flawed, deeply insecure, kind of a “loser,” a whole bunch like us.

God commissions Jonah to join His Mission (:1-2). The book opens with the prophetic word formula: “The word of the LORD came to Jonah …” (ESV). God’s Word broke suddenly into Jonah’s life. God’s Word often did in the lives of God’s prophets (see also 1 Sam 15.10; 1 Kings 18.1). And, God’s prophets often doubted themselves when God’s Word came. (Think: Moses, Ex 3-4).

God’s Word broke in on Jonah urgently and with clarity: ” … Arise … go to Nineveh, the great city and call against it.” Nineveh, not yet the capitol of Assyria, was yet the major city in the rising, global power to the east of Israel. Sending a prophet there was unprecedented. God typically sent prophets to confront Israel over her failures. If He dealt with other nations, it was for the refinement of Israel. God is up to something big here!

God’s Word broke in on Jonah with purpose: ” … for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah, accustomed to confronting evil (as he’d done under Israel’s King Jeroboam II, 2 Kings 14.25), will be tested in a new way by this assignment. He’s hardly ready. Often, we aren’t either. So, in response to God’s Word …

Jonah resists God’s Mission and flees (:3). The irony here is laugh-out-loud material. The dynamic reading goes something like this: ” … Arise … go to Nineveh. So, Jonah arose … and fled away from the presence of the LORD.” Jonah’s reason is unknown here (It will be revealed in 4.2), but his response is, in every way, perfectly wrong. There’s also absurdity in fleeing the presence of God. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fulness thereof” (Ps 24.1). You can’t get away from God, but you can run from the sense of His presence.

Jonah flees downward. There’s rhetorical and artistic power in this description. “And, he went down to Joppa …” Then, Jonah went DOWN into the ship. Later, he will go DOWN into the sea. And the fish will take Jonah DOWN to the bottom of the sea. In his flight from God Jonah is going down … down … down, into chaos and death. Only when he encounters God in the most unlikely of places will he be reborn to life.

Jonah flees to an exotic destination on the rim of the known world. We catch a hint of what people thought of Tarshish from 2 Chronicles 9.21, describing shipping in the Golden Age of Solomon: “Once every three years the ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes and peacocks.” Sounds like a good missionary destination, doesn’t it? Except God hadn’t sent him there. Jonah is going west, not east.

God rebukes Jonah for resisting His mission (:4a). We have to believe that if Jonah had stuck around God would have talked to him, reasoned with him, given him a sign. This was God’s way with Moses earlier. But, Jonah had to do things the hard way. He couldn’t escape God, and God responded.

The stormy sea is often a picture in the Hebrew Old Testament of chaos and destruction, apart from the formative order of God’s work. (Think of the first verses of Genesis, how God organized creation from that which was “formless” and “void”.) Here, Jonah is headed for destruction. There’s also the theme of the “giantesque,” the really large: “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea …” Later, there will be a great tempest, a great fish, a great city, a great selfish anger, and a great selfish delight. Everything in God’s mission is too big for Jonah!

And, as we draw back to think about the effect of these first verses on our own lives, we realize that everything about God’s mission is too big for us, too.

Jonah is a great book for those who trusted Christ long ago. Jonah had a fine resume of having served God, but he’d gone into retirement, apparently. What God calls Jonah to is present, not past, faithfulness. Unlike Jonah, we don’t have to wait for a particular word to come from the Lord. We have God’s revelation of Himself in the Gospel, in our Old and New Testaments. This puts us in a great place to ask ourselves: Am I following God through His Word now?!

Jonah had his reasons for not following God (to be revealed deeper in the book). And, we have our reasons why we might not be following God: We’re busy (doing good things) … we’re hurt … we’ve chosen sides against somebody who doesn’t care much for God … we don’t think God can find us.

Whatever our reasons, the beginning of a study on the excellent little book of Jonah is a great time to check our present attitude toward God and His call on our lives, especially as we consider God’s mission of mercy on the undeserving.

Sometimes, my response to God’s merciful plan includes resistance. Am I resisting God? …


Find someone with whom you discuss Scripture. Talk about some of the following questions, and then read through the rest of the Book of Jonah to prepare for next week. 

In your own words, describe why the little Book of Jonah has such power as a story. What about this prophetic narrative grips you? 

What do you suspect God is up to, at this juncture in Jonah? What do you think God is doing in the nations, and in Jonah’s life? 

What are some ways that you are putting yourself in the place to hear from God in His Word? 

Are there places in your life where you don’t want to hear from God? When were some times when this was true in the past? 

Are there places in your broken experience with God and other people where you don’t think God can go? Do you have a redemptive story about a time where God broke through one of these places? How about sharing this story? 



Psalm 106: God’s Graciousness to His People (on Mission)

This week at Woodland we transition from our series on “work” to thinking about how our work in God’s world interacts with God’s Mission in the world.

Unlikely as it might seem at first (with its images of giant fish and withering plants), the Old Testament Book of Jonah will be the place where, in the coming weeks, we will see God joining His large-scale work among nations and peoples with His work among individual people—like Jonah, but also you and me.

Before beginning Jonah next week, however, we consider a psalm that introduces the heart-issues with which Jonah will struggle. While originally addressed to the Nation of Israel in its quest to find restoration after its exile in Babylon, Psalm 106 causes those of us who live after the cross to ask: What kind of people does God want us to be as we participate in His mission for the world? … What is our right response to our gracious God who sends us out in mission? 

The psalm is a long one recounting Israel’s need to praise God for His gracious acts (:1-5), Israel’s need to acknowledge its sinfulness (:6-46) and Israel’s need to continue to trust God for deliverance (:47-48). “Save us, O LORD God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise” (:47).

Like the Nation, our right response to our gracious God is praise, acknowledgement of sinfulness and trust for deliverance. 

We’ll see, next week, that Jonah (though living a bit before the exile and the Nation’s restoration) will struggle with all aspects of this psalmist’s injunction.

For the moment, circle up with someone with whom you discuss Scripture. Consider the following questions as you reflect on Psalm 106.

Where do you most struggle with the psalmist’s commendation for responding to God’s gracious acts? Is it hard for you to praise God always? How about acknowledging sinfulness? Or, trusting God? 

What do you find most amazing about God’s gracious acts? (Think of God’s mission in sending Jesus, providing atonement for our sins, not to mention God’s work of including us in His mission to the world.)

What do you think about the idea that having our sins covered isn’t the same thing as forgetting them? While realizing that God doesn’t hold our sins against us (Ps 103.11-12), when is it a good time to reflect on our own sinfulness?

Why is trust in God an ongoing need in the Christian life? Why can’t we just “get saved” and be done with it? 

What are some images that come to your mind regarding the Book of Jonah? What do you think this message on Psalm 106 has to do with that book we’ll be starting next week?