BACKGROUND INFORMATION FOR THE WHOLE BOOK OF JONAH (should be printed for everyone and read in the beginning of the first Bible study.)
• Jonah lifetime overlapped at least partly with that of king Jerobeam II of Israel (793-753 BC). The kingdom of David and Solomon had been divided into two in 930 BC: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Jonah lived in Israel. He was born in the village of Gath Hepher near Nazareth. The temple was in Judah, but Israelites didn’t go there and fell deeper into idol worship by the year.
• The kingdom of Assyria existed for more than one thousand years. It had two golden periods, later of which overlapped Jonah’s lifetime (900-612 BC). Since one hundred years before Jonah, the kings of Assyria had waged imperialistic wars, famous for their cruelty. Defeated nations had to pay tribute to Assyria and often they were forcibly moved from into Assyrian captivity. Israel still existed as a state, but it was paying huge sums of protection money to Assyria.
• Nineveh was the biggest city of Assyria. Archaeologists have discovered tens of thousands of written clay tablets from its ruins. The descriptions of the Assyrian wars have a touch of sadism in them: mutilated bodies, naked people thrown on sharp poles and left hanging there, mountains of skulls beside gate posts...
Find Gath Hepher and the border area between Hamath and Dead Sea from a map. Jerobeam in verse 24 refers to Jerobeam I. The sin of Jerobeam refers to two calf-idols that the first Jerobeam raised in Bethel and Dan.
- How would you estimate/ assess the forty years of Jerobeam II as a king of Israel?
- When we think of Jerobeam’s reign, what may have been the situation of those Israelites who believed in Yahweh and no other god?
- How do you think people of Israel valued Johah as a prophet?
- (ONLY IN JAPAN: What would people in Japan think about a prophet who prophesized that the Kurile Islands will again come into Japanese hands – and it would actually happen afterwards?)
- How did Johah’s new task differ from his previous task as a prophet?
- Why didn’t the Lord command his prophet to preach against the idol worship in his own country but wanted to sent him to far-away Nineveh?
- What may have been God’s purpose by sending a missionary to the most violent capital in the whole world?
- What do you think about the message Johah was commanded to proclaim in Nineveh (2)?
- Why didn’t the Lord frighten the inhabitants of Nineveh by some other means, for example sending enemy troop to its gates? Why a missionary?
- Jonah tried to imagine the welcome he would get in Nineveh. What would probably happen to a foreign missionary in that violent city?
- What do you think the Lord wanted to accomplish through this mission trip a) in the home country of the missionary, and b) in the life of the missionary?
Find Nineveh, Japho and Tarshish from a map. Nineveh was situated near Mosul of modern Iraq. Tarshsish was in the modern Spain – the utmost end of the world at that time. Japho is the modern Jaffa.
- Try to find as many reasons as possible why Johan wanted to flee from his God given task.
- Count from a map how many kilometres there are between Gath Hefer (Nazareth) and Nineveh on one hand, and between Gath Hefer and Tarshish on the other. Which of these places is a further away?
- What do you think: did Jonah really believe that he would be able to flee from the eyes of the Lord? Give your reasons.
- What does the Bible mean when it says (in the original Hebrew) that Jonah wanted “to flee from the presence of the Lord” (3)?
- Give a rough estimate how much money (compared to a man’s monthly pay) Jonah had to pay for his ticket to Tarshish?
- What do you think Jonah said to his family when leaving for Tarshish?
- When did Jonah perhaps think he could return back home?
- To which task did the Lord call you and how did he do it?
- Who are “the inhabitants of Nineveh” to whom you should proclaim the word of the Lord?
- If you have ever tried to flee from Lord’s presence, please tell us how and why it happened?
- How could we prevent ourselves from doing the same mistakes as Jonah did?
THE GOSPEL: Jesus, unlike Jonah, left voluntarily the heaven to become a missionary for the whole world, knowing perfectly well, how it all would end. After his resurrection he has sent his messengers to the whole world, also to our cities, and without any invitation from our side. That shows how much Jesus loves every city in the world.