Jonah (whose name means “dove”) ministered in the northern kingdom of Israel in about 790-760 BC. Jonah’s reluctance to obey the Lord’s call to preach in Nineveh creates a natural doubt over whether he was actually a prophet, but the Savior referred to him as such in Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29.
The book of Jonah is written by a later writer, in third person, and its engaging story line lends itself to simply reading all verses of its four short chapters. Note commentary and study/teaching ideas below.
Jonah 1 Fleeing from God
Is there a place you would not want to go as a missionary? Consider the experiences of Jonah:
Verse 2 Nineveh was part of ancient Assyria and was in today’s northern Iraq, about 500 miles northeast of Jonah’s homeland of Israel. In this verse, why did the Lord call Jonah to go to Nineveh?
Verse 3 Jonah tried to escape “from the presence of the Lord,” heading by ship toward Tarshish. (Can you run away from God?) Departing from Joppa, he likely went due west, because going north would have taken him closer to Nineveh. Some scholars believe Tarshish was in today’s southern Spain (some 2,500 miles from Joppa), or perhaps in Italy’s Sardinia.
Verse 5 In fear of losing their lives in a “mighty tempest,” Jonah’s shipmates prayed to their false gods and threw heavy cargo overboard.
Verse 7 Surely the casting of lots was a practice based on false beliefs, but it appears that the Lord’s hand was in the results, pointing to Jonah as the one who brought “this evil” upon them.
Verse 9 Jonah rightly declares his belief in “the LORD” (Yahweh, or Jehovah), and tells them that He is the Creator of earth and sea (perhaps intimating that He could control the elements). Evidently the men had heard about Jehovah.
Verses 11-12 Jonah humbles himself sufficiently to willingly offer his life in order to save the lives of the others.
Verse 13 To their credit, rather than immediately tossing Jonah to his death, his shipmates tried to save themselves and Jonah through their own strenuous efforts.
Verses 14-15 Upon deciding to cast Jonah into the sea, the men first prayed to the Lord, the God of Jonah.
Verse 16 It may be said that these men, who came to fear Jehovah “exceedingly” and even offered a sacrifice and vows to Him, were Jonah’s initial “converts” during this mission.
Verse 17 The Lord has all power in heaven and on earth, and Jonah’s being swallowed by a “great fish” and surviving the experience—even to the extent of “three days and three nights”—is within His capacity. (Although it is probably fruitless to try to conjecture a scientific explanation, it can be noted that the whale shark grows up to 70 feet in length and can open its mouth four feet wide.)
Jonah 2 “I Remembered the Lord”
Jesus Christ used the three-day experience of Jonah as a symbol of His own three days to be spent in the world of spirits, between His death and resurrection (see Matthew 12:38-40). This not only testifies of the veracity of Jonah’s experience, but also makes Jonah—like all prophets—a type or foreshadowing of the Christ.
Verse 1 We can pray any time, from anywhere, and in any circumstances (see also Alma 33:3-11).
Verses 2-9 are the words of Jonah’s humble, sincere prayer to God, uttered while still in the fish’s belly (verse 1). What things did Jonah say in his prayer that impress or touch you most? For you, which verses demonstrate Jonah’s faith and repentance? (See also Alma 36:18-19.)
Verse 10 Again, we know that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26; among numerous scriptures that assert similar witness of God’s omnipotence).
Jonah 3 “Let Them Turn Every One from His Evil Way”
What is more fearful to one’s heart—submitting to God’s will, or resisting Him?
Verse 3 Nineveh was a large city, requiring three days to walk through. The footnote indicates that the Hebrew can be translated to mean that it was also a “great city to God.” The fact that the people were not of Israel, but rather gentiles, may have been the cause of Jonah’s initial reluctance—but God is showing Jonah how He feels about all His children. What are your feelings toward those not of your culture, race, background, faith, beliefs, and so forth?
Verses 5-10 In our study of the Old Testament, we are not accustomed to people immediately accepting a prophet’s invitation to repent, and then repenting! Even the king of Nineveh displays an attitude of humble, sincere repentance; declaring a fast for all inhabitants and the animals!
Jonah 4 “But It Displeased Jonah”
For some unexplained reason, Jonah does not rejoice over the repentance and forgiveness of the people of Nineveh (verse 1). Again, does Jonah feel that “heathens” are not worthy of God’s grace and mercy; or is it because the people of Nineveh (being the capital of Assyria) were enemies of Israel, and Jonah preferred to see them destroyed? In any case, Jonah is not feeling right and he prays to ask the Lord to take his life (verses 2-3):
- The Lord’s response to Jonah is short and succinct: “Doest thou well to be angry?” (verse 4). Let us rejoice over anyone’s turning to the Lord, even if they are “enemies.”
- Read the rest of the Lord’s actions and statements, in verses 6-11. What lessons do you draw from these verses?
- What do you consider to be the most important things people can learn from the book of Jonah? What does the story of Jonah and Nineveh teach you about God?
Micah 2-3; 6-7 In Their Day
The name “Micah” means Who is like unto Jehovah? or Who is like God? The prophet Micah labored in the southern kingdom of Judah in about 740 to 700 BC. Like other Old Testament prophets during this time, Micah is calling upon the people to forsake their false gods and false prophets, to repent, and turn to Jehovah:
- In Micah 2:1-2, what plans did the people of Judah devise as they lay awake at night? (“work[ing] evil upon their beds”). Apparently, to be really bad takes planning! Let us instead make intentional plans for how to be good!
- In Micah 3:5, the false prophets among the people proclaimed “peace,” insisting that all was well among them. But what did the Lord say would happen to them, in verses 6-7?
- In Micah 3:9-11; 6:11-12; 7:2-6, Micah declared that the leaders and others of the Israelites were prospering materially by means of murder, bribery, deception, violence, dishonesty, and family discord; all the while claiming that the Lord was among them (3:11). This is one form of “priestcraft” (as defined in 2 Nephi 26:29). Read the coming consequences, as declared in Micah 3:12; 6:13-15.
- In Micah 6:1-4, the Lord reminds the people of some of the things He had done for them. And what does He want in return? Read the Lord’s classic response in verses 6-8. How would you re-state these verses in your own words? How can you apply them to yourself? (See also Mark 12:28-34.)
Micah 4; 7 In Our Day
Also, like other Old Testament prophets, Micah was privileged to see and record things the Lord would do in the last days:
- Micah 4:1-3, 5 are nearly identical to Isaiah 2:2-5, prompting the conclusion that Micah was quoting from Isaiah, or vice-versa (or, they may have both been independently inspired by the Lord in recording these prophecies).
- The more important issue is to consider these verses and their implications for our day. Read Micah 4:1-5 and list the things that are happening—or will happen—as parts of the Lord’s latter-day/Millennial work.
- Find in Micah 7:16, 18-20 the glorious things the Lord will do for Israel.
Micah 5:2 The “Ruler in Israel” to Be Born in Bethlehem
One of Micah’s most important contributions is his prophecy that the Lord Jesus Christ would be born in Bethlehem—the only such prophecy found in the Old Testament. In John 7:40-43 there is an argument against Jesus being the Messiah, because—they said—the Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem. Ironically, these people were evidently ignorant of the fact that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, thinking instead that He had been born in Nazareth, where He was raised.