The Man Who Disagreed With God

An EasyEnglish (2800 word vocabulary) Commentary on the Book of Jonah

www.easyenglish.info

Mark Kirkpatrick

This commentary has been through Advanced Theological Checking.

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

 

Introduction

The book does not say who wrote it. It is unlikely that Jonah was the author. This is because the story is not very favourable towards Jonah. No writer in the Bible tells such a bad story about himself.

Jonah was a *prophet in the land of Israel about 800-750 BC. During this time, an important event happened to Israel. Israel shared its northern border with Syria. When the army of Syria defeated the army of Israel in war, it took some of Israel’s land. Then the army of the country of Assyria defeated Syria in war, which made Syria weak. Then Jeroboam (king of Israel 793-753 BC) was able to get his land back. Jonah had said that God would cause this to happen (2 Kings 14:25).

However, when the people of Israel won battles against their enemies, they became proud of their power. The people forgot the special relationship that Israel had with God. They thought that God might be angry with other nations, but not angry with Israel. Israel was God’s special people!

It was at this time that the Lord sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh. (Nineveh was the capital of the land of Assyria, a powerful and cruel enemy of other countries.) God wanted Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh. He was going to punish them soon, because of their evil lives. But God cared even for the Assyrian people in Nineveh. This means that God cares for everybody. Jonah expected God to punish the bad people of Nineveh, not to be kind to them. God shows Jonah that his thoughts are wrong. The people of Israel should care for everyone and everything that God has made.

Chapter 1

v1-2 The Lord spoke to Jonah, the son of Amittai. He said, Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Tell the people to stop doing bad things. I have heard about the many evil things that the people there are doing’.

Verses 1-2 This book is a story about God and Jonah. God made and loves the world and everyone in it. Jonah knew that God made the world. But he could not understand how God could love even foreign nations who did bad things.

The book begins with God telling Jonah to go to the ‘great city’ of Nineveh. We know from the last verse of the book that a very large number of people were living in Nineveh. God cared about those people. He wanted Jonah to warn them to change their lives. God wants his loving rule to be for the whole world, and not only for Israel. But Israel did not like the idea that God might be good to other nations too. Israel preferred to fight wars against other nations! The idea that God rules over all nations was not new. The very first book of the Bible shows this, in the story of *Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-24).

(Many years later, the people of Nineveh had forgotten God’s warning. They went back to doing ‘‘evil things’’. The book of Nahum tells the story of how God then destroyed Nineveh, in 612 BC. Nobody ever built the city again.)

v3 But Jonah got up to run away from the Lord. He went down to the port of Joppa. There he found a ship that was going to sail to Tarshish. Jonah paid for his journey and went down into the ship. He wanted to get far away from the Lord. v4 But the Lord threw a strong wind on to the sea. There was a fierce storm and the ship nearly broke up.

v5 The sailors were very scared. Each man prayed to his own god. They threw the goods out of the ship into the sea. They did this to make the ship less heavy. All this time Jonah was asleep, down in the lowest part of the ship. v6 When the captain found Jonah asleep, he said, ‘Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray to your god! Perhaps your god will think about us, so that we do not die’.

Verses 3-6 Jonah, however, refused to obey God. He knew that the people of Nineveh were bad. And their city was 500 miles (800 kilometres) away! So, Jonah decided to go in the opposite direction, aiming for Tarshish (probably a place in Spain, famous for its ships). Jonah intended to run away from God. Then he would not have to do the job that God had given him.

But God had other plans. He was ready to change the weather to bring about his purpose. So God decided to send a great storm upon the ship. The storm came. Jonah went on sleeping. But when the captain found him, he woke him up. This was a very bad time to be asleep! The captain knew that everyone had a god. He told Jonah to pray to his god for help, as everybody else was doing. Then perhaps they would have a better chance of safety.

v7 Then the men said to each other, ‘We must throw *lots. Then we can find out why these troubles are happening to us’. So they threw *lots. These showed that their troubles were happening because of Jonah.

Verse 7 When things become difficult, people sometimes try strange things to find an explanation. One way in Bible times was to throw *lots. We do not know how people did this. They probably used sticks or stones with marks on them (some examples are in Numbers 26:55; Joshua 18:8; 1 Samuel 10:20-22; 1 Chronicles 25:8). This was to find out what God wanted (Proverbs 16:33). God used this method to show the sailors who was to blame for their danger.

v8 So they said to him, ‘Tell us, who is to blame for all this trouble? What are you doing here? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?’

Verse 8 The sailors first needed to ask Jonah some difficult questions. Above all, they had to find out where he came from. They wanted to know which god he served. (People believed that every god belonged to a particular place or people.) Jonah’s God must be punishing him by sending the storm.

v9 Jonah said to the men, ‘I am a Hebrew man. I worship the Lord, the God of heaven. He made the sea and the land’. v10 The men became even more scared when they heard this. They said to Jonah, ‘Do you realise what you have done?’ For Jonah had also said that he was running away from the Lord.

Verses 9-10 Jonah told them that his God was the ‘God of heaven’. That was an ancient title (Genesis 24:3). The sailors *worshipped *idols. But even they knew that this title meant the ‘chief god’. Jonah also told them that his God had made both the land and the sea. The sailors were very much afraid.

Jonah’s God had sent the storm. So he was the only one who could stop it. But how could anyone persuade him to do that? What *sacrifice would satisfy such a God?

v11 The wind and the waves of the sea were growing wilder and wilder. So the men said to Jonah, ‘What must we do to you to make the sea calm for us?’ v12 Jonah answered, ‘Throw me into the sea. Then it will calm down. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you’.

Verses 11-12 Jonah now began to feel sorry for the trouble that he had caused the sailors. He must take all the blame for their situation. Jonah knew that there was only one answer. He himself must die. The sailors must throw him into the wild sea.

v13 But the sailors were unwilling to throw Jonah into the sea. Instead, they tried hard to get the ship back to land. But the wind and the waves were far too strong. And the storm was getting even worse. They could not row the ship to the shore.

v14 So the sailors cried out, ‘O Lord, please do not let us die because of this man’s death. Please do not say that we are guilty of killing an innocent man. We know that you are the Lord. We know that you can do whatever you want’.

v15 Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea. The storm stopped. The sea became calm again. v16 This made the men even more afraid of the Lord. So they offered a *sacrifice to him and made promises.

Verses 13-14 The sailors tried so hard to reach the shore. The Hebrew language uses the word ‘to dig’ (with oars) to describe this. Sails were no use in this storm. The sailors were unwilling to throw Jonah into the sea to save themselves. They were unwilling because

·  they did not want to kill an innocent man

·  they still thought that they could save themselves.

But Jonah had told them that his God had authority over land and sea. So, when the storm became even worse, they decided to pray to the Lord as the God of the sea. They did not want God to blame them for causing the death of an innocent man.

Verses 15-16 Then they threw Jonah into the sea. At once the storm stopped. The sea grew calm. (See Psalm 107:23-30 for a wonderful description of a storm at sea.)

The sailors were even more afraid when the storm stopped so suddenly. (Jesus’ companions were afraid on a similar occasion. See Mark 4:41.) The sailors offered a *sacrifice to God. They made promises. The bible does not tell us what those promises were. Nor do we hear anything more about the sailors. But God had used them to carry out his purpose.

Jonah had refused to obey God. And what happened to Jonah? He went down and down. First, down to the port of Joppa. Then, down into the ship. Then, down into the sea. Then, down to the deepest part of the sea.

v17 Then the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Verse 17 God had not finished with Jonah. When Jonah refused to obey God, he tried to run away. But God prepared a great storm to stop him. Then, when Jonah was sorry, God prepared a great fish to swallow him. God was preparing other things for Jonah (see 2:10; 4:6; 4:7). God is always in control.

Jesus refers to the story about Jonah being inside the fish for three days and three nights. Jesus said that it was a sign of his own death, before he rose to life again (Matthew 12:40).

Jonah saw a city (Nineveh). But he had no love in his heart for the people who lived there. Then a man greater than Jonah (Jesus) came into this world (Matthew 12:41). Jesus saw a city (Jerusalem). And he wept over it (Luke 19:41), because he loved the people who lived there. He did not want them to suffer.

Chapter 2

v1 While Jonah was inside the fish, he prayed to the Lord his God.

Verse 1 Jonah learned that nobody can get away from God (Psalm 139:7-10). Nobody can avoid responsibility when God calls them to do something for him. Moses tried to do so (Exodus 3:11; 4:1, 10, 13). So did Gideon (Judges 6:15). So did Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6).

At last, Jonah turned back to God and prayed. (Jonah uses words that are similar to words in the Psalms. One example is Psalm 18:4-6.) Jonah’s prayer is a prayer of thanks to God, because he saved him from death in the sea.

v2 Jonah said, ‘I was in great trouble. I called to the Lord for help,

and he answered me.

From deep in the world of the dead

I cried for help, and you heard me.

v3 You threw me down to the deepest part of the sea.

The waters were all round me,

and your powerful waves rolled over me.

v4 I thought, you have swept me out of your sight.

I shall never see your holy *Temple again!

v5 The waters surrounded me. I was drowning.

I went deep down into the sea. The water closed over me.

*Seaweed wrapped round my head.

v6 I was at the deepest part of the sea,

the place where mountains begin.

I thought, I shall be a prisoner there for all time.

But you, O Lord my God, brought me back from the gates of death!

v7 When I was losing all hope, I remembered you, O Lord.

And in your holy *Temple, you heard my prayer.

Verses 2-3 God heard Jonah’s cry for help as he sank in the water. Jonah now realised that God had caused the sailors to throw him into the sea.

Verse 4 The *Jews believed that nobody in the world of the dead was able to *worship God again (Psalm 6:5; 115:17). Death had cut them off from God. Jonah thought he could never again *worship God in the *Temple in Jerusalem.

Verse 6 The world of the dead was like a prison with many bars. Nobody could ever hope to escape. But God could bring Jonah back from the world of the dead. And he did.

Verse 7 The *Temple was the special building in Jerusalem (as in verse 4), where the *Jews believed that God was present in a special way.

v8 People who serve *idols turn away from God’s love.

Verse 8 Only God could have saved Jonah. No *idol could have done so. People who trust in useless *idols do not trust and follow the one true God. However, God still loves them.

v9 But I will offer a *sacrifice to you with shouts of praise.

I have made a promise. I will do what I said.

The Lord is the one with power to save!’

Verse 9 Now Jonah was ready to give honour to God. He would offer him a *sacrifice of thanks. God always appreciates our thanks (Psalm 116:17). And Jonah will promise to obey God and go to Nineveh.

v10 Then the Lord commanded the fish to *vomit Jonah on to the shore. And it did.

Verse 10 The fish had served God’s purpose. So now it brought Jonah near to land and threw him out of its mouth.

Chapter 3

v1 Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time. v2 ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Tell them the message that I shall give to you’.

Verses 1-2 Jonah knew that he deserved to die. He had not obeyed God. But God had saved him from death by the fish.

The whole book is about God’s great love and great patience. He loved Jonah. He did not even mention Jonah’s first failure to obey him. He loved the people of Nineveh. He did not want them to die. Now God repeated his original command to Jonah to go to Nineveh. God wanted him to warn the people of Nineveh. He wanted Jonah to tell the people to turn back from their evil ways. They must turn away from their evil ways and turn back to God. Jonah must speak the words that God gave him to say, and not use his own words.

v3 Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now, Nineveh was a very big city. It took a person three days to walk across it.

Verse 3 This time Jonah obeyed God. It was a long way to Nineveh, about 500 miles (800 kilometres). It would take Jonah a long time to walk there. When Jonah reached the district around Nineveh, it would still take him three days to walk across it. We now know that the city itself was only 8 miles across. But the officials of Nineveh also governed the large district around the city. This was about 50 miles across. That would certainly take Jonah three days to walk across. (The people of Assyria had two words for ‘city’. One word meant the city itself. The other word included the much larger area around the city that the city officials governed.)

v4 After Jonah had walked for a day, he warned the people: ‘After 40 days, God will destroy Nineveh’.

v5 The people of Nineveh accepted God’s message. They fasted (stopped eating food) for a time, and dressed themselves in *sackcloth. This was to show that they were sorry for their *sins. Everybody in the city did this. From the most important people to the least important people, they all did so.

Verse 4 Jonah was tired and dusty after his very long walk. He was a foreigner to the people of Nineveh. And he would have looked strange. But they did not laugh at him as he shouted out his warning.

Verse 5 Jonah’s message from God was a shock to the people. They surprised Jonah because they listened to his warning. His message frightened them. They realised that they were really in serious danger. At once, they did things that showed that they were very sorry for the way that they had been living. To show that they were sincere, they put on *sackcloth (a very rough dress) and stopped eating for several days. Everybody did the same, from rich and important officials to the poorest people.

v6 The king of Nineveh heard about these things. He got up from his royal seat and exchanged his royal clothes for *sackcloth and sat in ashes.

Verse 6 The news of Jonah’s warning came to the king of Nineveh. At once, he acted in the same way as his people. He was the king. But he realised that God was much greater than any king.

The king of Nineveh was much wiser than an evil Jewish king, Jehoiakim (he was king of Judah, 609-597 BC). When Jeremiah warned Jehoiakim from God to change his evil ways, Jehoiakim only laughed (Jeremiah 36). Soon afterwards, God punished Jehoiakim. A powerful enemy captured Judah. Jehoiakim died. Judah was never again a free country (2 Chronicles 36:6-16).

v7 Then the king declared to all the people of Nineveh:

‘By command of the king and his noble officials: Nobody is to eat anything. All people and their animals must not eat or drink. v8 Everybody must cover themselves, and even their animals, with *sackcloth. All must cry out to God. All must stop their evil and cruel ways.

v9 Who knows? Perhaps God may change his mind and stop being angry with us. Perhaps he will not do what he said he would do. Then we shall not die’.

Verse 7 The king of Nineveh hurried to call his important officials. They immediately advised the king to make a royal declaration. Everybody must show that they were really sorry for their bad lives.

Verse 8 They must put on *sackcloth instead of their ordinary clothes. They must not eat or drink. They must cry with loud voices to God to forgive them. They must stop all cruel actions. They must put *sackcloth even on their animals. The animals could not understand the reason. But they soon added their loud cries. They were hungry!

Verse 9 God’s warning through Jonah had frightened the king and his officials and all the people. Perhaps God would notice that they had really changed the way they lived. Then he might decide not to destroy them.

v10 When God saw that the people turned from their evil ways, he pitied them. He changed his mind and decided not to destroy them.

Verse 10 God saw what the people of Nineveh were doing. They were showing that they were really sorry for their *sins. God saw that they meant what they had said. Although they did not deserve God’s love, he was generous. He forgave them their *sins, and did not destroy their city.

God intends his love to be for everybody. He loves even evil and cruel people. God has great patience. He pities and loves all who *sin. God does not want anybody to die because of their *sins. He wants everybody to turn to him (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus said that the people of Nineveh were an example to everybody (Luke 11:32).

Chapter 4

v1 Jonah was upset and angry. v2 He complained, ‘Lord, did I not say before I left home that you would do this? I thought that you might forgive the people of this evil city. So I decided to run away to Tarshish. I knew that you are a kind and patient God. I knew that you are full of love and do not like to punish anybody. I knew that you would be ready to change your plans to destroy these people. v3 Now, Lord, let me die. It is better for me to die than to live!’

v4 But the Lord said, ‘What right have you to be angry?’

Verses 1-2 The anxious people of Nineveh waited for the 40 days to end. When nothing happened, they knew that God had heard their prayers to forgive them. He was not going to destroy their city and everybody in it. The people were very glad. But Jonah was very annoyed. Why did God not punish these cruel and evil people? Jonah thought that they deserved it.

When God called him the first time, Jonah suspected that God was too kind to punish Nineveh. This was the real reason why Jonah decided to run away from God. Jonah could not understand how God could love such cruel people. The people of Nineveh deserved to die. However, God had not destroyed them.

Verse 3 Jonah decided that life was not worth living. ‘Let me die!’ he tells God.

Verse 4 But once again, God has no hard words to say to Jonah. He merely asks him a question: ‘Have you the right to be angry?’ But Jonah is so angry that he does not bother to answer.

v5 Jonah went out of the city. He sat down in a place that was east of the city. He made a shelter of branches for himself. He sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.

v6 The Lord made a plant grow up over Jonah. This gave shelter from the sun and made Jonah more comfortable. Jonah was very glad to have the plant.

v7 At dawn on the next day, God provided a *worm which attacked the plant. The plant died. v8 When the sun rose, God provided a hot east wind. The heat of the sun and the hot wind on Jonah’s head made him feel very weak. Jonah wanted to die. He complained, ‘It is better for me to die than to live’.

Verse 5 The writer goes back to an earlier time in the story. This was when Jonah was not sure about what would happen to the city after his warning. The writer wants to finish the story with an important lesson. This is that Jonah is wrong and God is right.

It seems that Jonah began to shout his warning in the west of Nineveh. He then walked on towards the east. He chose a place to sit outside the city, with the rising sun behind him and so shining on the city. He was still hoping to see God destroy Nineveh. This would be like the time when God destroyed the wicked cities of *Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:1-28). Meanwhile Jonah made a simple shelter out of branches to protect himself from the hot sun.

Verse 6 As God provided a great fish (chapter 2), so now he provided a plant. Jonah was glad of the extra shade that the plant gave him against the fierce sun. But the plant lived for only one day. God intended to teach Jonah a lesson about kindness.

Verse 7 So, as God had provided a fish and then a plant, so now he provided a *worm. That night the *worm attacked the plant, and the plant died. So Jonah lost its shelter.

Verse 8 Next day, when the sun grew hot, God also provided a hot east wind to blow upon Jonah’s head. Jonah felt so weak and miserable, he wanted to die. Jonah’s words were like Elijah’s words in the desert. Elijah, too, had run away. But he really wanted to do God’s work, and thought he had failed (see 1 Kings 19:4).

v9 But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you have the right to be angry about the plant?’ Jonah answered, ‘Yes, I do! And I am angry enough to die!’

v10 Then the Lord said, ‘You pity the plant. But you did nothing to make it grow. It grew up in a night and died in a night. v11 So why should I not pity Nineveh, that great city? More than 120,000 people live there who cannot tell right from wrong. And there are many animals’.

Verses 9-11 Jonah still did not understand how wrong he was. God has no pleasure in seeing evil people die. He told Jonah that he was wrong not to pity the people of Nineveh. God knew that they were like children. They needed God to be like a good father to them.

God cares for everything that he has made. He cares for every person and he cares for every animal (Psalm 145:9). He is very patient. He will go to great trouble to try to persuade every person in every nation to trust in him and to follow him.

Word List

idol ~ something that a person makes to worship as a god (see worship).

Jews ~ people of the families of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their children.

lots ~ a set of objects by which to choose something by chance.

prophet ~ a person whom God sends to speak for him.

sackcloth ~ a dress of very rough material. It shows that the person who wears it is very sorry or very sad.

sacrifice ~ a gift to God to ask him to forgive sins; or to thank him for something.

seaweed ~ a long plant that grows in the sea.

sin ~ something bad that a person does against God or other people.

Sodom and Gomorrah ~ two cities that God destroyed because the people in them were wicked (Genesis 19:1-25).

Temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the Jews worshipped God (see Jews; worship).

vomit ~ to empty what was in the stomach out through the mouth.

worm ~ a long thin animal that lives in the ground.

worship ~ to give honour to God or to an idol (see idol).

Books

Douglas Stuart ~ Hosea – Jonah ~ Word Biblical Commentary

John C. L. Gibson (Gen. Ed.) ~ Twelve Prophets ~ Daily Study Bible

D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer (Editors) ~ New Bible Commentary Revised

New Bible Dictionary

Bibles ~ Easy-to-Read, NIV, NIV Study Bible, RSV, New Living Bible, NEB, Good News

 

© 1997-2002, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

October 2002

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