The Book of Jonah: God’s Compassion and Our Lack of Compassion

by Max Andrews

The following is an outline of the book of Jonah I used for a Bible study group.

Question:  When I say, “Jonah,” what do you think of?

Historical Background:  Eighth century B.C.—Jonah was a prophet from Israel (Northern Kingdom) called to preach repentance to Nineveh (Assyrian).  Instead, he attempted to flee to Tarshish (Spain?).  Jonah had many reasons not to like Nineveh.

  • During Assyrian captivity they would torture.  Their methods would be cutting the skin on the side of the body and peeling it off a live person.
  • They would place bodies on spears for display.


1.1-6:  The pagans aboard the ship were better pagans than Jonah was a Jew

  • The pagans called on their gods
  • They sought help from their gods before help from man
    • Jonah could care less about anyone perishing

1.8-17: Jonah is tossed overboard and is swallowed by a big fish

  • How could Jonah live?
  • Natural: It has been well established that the phrase “three days and three nights” in ancient Hebrew usage was an idiomatic expression meaning simply “three days,” and was applicable even if the beginning and ending days of the period were only partial days. Thus it could refer to a period as short as about 38 hours. There is always some air in the whale’s stomach, and, as long as the animal it has swallowed is still alive, digestive activity will not begin. Thus, Jonah’s experience could possibly have happened entirely with the framework of natural law.
  • Miracle:  Jesus uses a simile to compare His miraculous resurrection like that of Jonah in the belly of the fish.  Its literary comparison likens the Jonah situation to be miraculous, c.f. Mt 12.40.

Ch. 2:  Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving to the Lord

3.1-4: Jonah preaches repentance

3.5-10: Nineveh believes and repents

  • Jesus believed that Nineveh truly believed in God and repented, c.f. Mt. 12.41
    • The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.  Mt. 12.41
  • Sackcloth and ashes was a customary sign of humility and repentance

4.1-4: Jonah hates that Nineveh repented

  • He goes as far as wishing death upon himself

4.5-6: God provides a plant for Jonah

  • Modern day Iraq, it is hot.
  • Jonah was happy

4.7-9: God appoints a worm to eat the plant in the night

  • Jonah becomes angry that he lost the plant

4.10-11: God asks Jonah why He shouldn’t have pity on Nineveh

Now What?

  • God can use a Jonah, people who do the right thing for wrong reasons.  But, that’s not the point of the book.  The point of the book is to show what kind of hearts we should have for the city and the world.
  • Drive back home, walk around public school, walk around your community, listen to the radio, and watch TV, observe the culture and see the godlessness and sin.
  • Jonah was full of piety, what made him think his sins weren’t worse than Nineveh’s (c.f. The parable of the two debtors Luke 7.36-50)
  • Satan may say to you, “You are an out-and-out hypocrite to walk in that praise procession. You can’t love this world; you don’t even love your parents, your friends, or your spouse! You better just go home and leave public praise to the pure in heart.”
  • Respond, “This much I know:  God is God, I need God and this world needs God.”  Flee the devil and he will flee you (Jas. 4.7).
  • The power of God is not limited to our purity.
  • So often we only praise God when He does something for us.
  • God treats both Nineveh and Jonah with mercy.

Why God has pity on Nineveh

1.  The Worm Factor

  • In 4.9 Jonah pities the plant, should God not pity Nineveh?  A worm destroyed the plant!  The worm of Nineveh (or the world) is the god of the world, Satan.  The corruption and depravity of mankind is running its course.

2.  God’s Labor Over It/Its Age

  • Comparison in 4.10 to the labor God did in creating Nineveh, a very old city (c.f. Gen. 10).

3.  The Moral Confusion

  • The people did not know their right from their left (4.11).  If they cannot follow the simplest instructions like, “take a left at the end of the road,” how can they be expected to follow moral law (c.f. Rom. 2.15) like, “do not kill.”  They could not tell the difference between many animals.  The 120,000 people did not include children, possibly upwards of the 300,000s.

4.  God Genuinely Loves the World

  • Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? –Ez. 18.23

2 Comments to “The Book of Jonah: God’s Compassion and Our Lack of Compassion”

  1. I like the contradictions between God’s call to Jonah and Jonah’s response to the call:

    Jonah went from Geth-hepher to Joppa, a port city, to flee to Tarshish. Joppa is to the south of Geth-hepher, and Tarshish is to the west. Nineveh is to the north and east of Israel.

    The trip to Tarshish was over water; the journey to Nineveh would be over land.

    Jonah stowed away with a crowd; Jonah was called to go to Nineveh alone.

    Jonah’s acts were a sign of direct contradiction to the will of God.

    • Indeed. I do enjoy noticing paradoxes in the Scriptures and how they serve meaninful purposes. Thanks for commenting Jeffrey. I hope you stick around and provide more feedback!

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