By Ryan Casselberry with assistance from Generous Giving staff
The book of Jonah teaches us profound lessons about the importance of obedience, trust and compassion for the unsaved. Jonah tried to avoid Godís instructions to warn the wicked city of Nineveh of the coming judgment. When the Ninevites repented and were spared the wrath of God, Jonah became angry, fearing that this enemyís prosperity would bring disaster to Israel. The book of Jonah reminds us not only of our need for Godís mercy but also of the way in which God promotes ministry across cultural and racial barriers. Furthermore, God asks us to risk our lives, our social status and our resources to bring this mercy to others, and he will be responsible to provide for our needs as we seek him. As we give graciously to others, especially for the advancement of the gospel, God remains trustworthy to give graciously to us.
Our study of Jonah consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the bookís teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the bookís major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the authorís goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the bookís possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Givingís Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study Notes
Jonah 1:1-2 (Key Passage) ó Godís Heart for the Lost: From the very beginning of the book of Jonah, we see that God cares about the lost, and this ought to be reflected in our giving priorities. We must understand the whole book of Jonah in the greater context of Godís care for the unsaved and his desire for them to escape judgment by turning to him. Even the people we find most reprehensible are precious in Godís eyes because he made them and loves them (Jonah 4:11). We need to develop hearts that have pity for the unsaved, even if they are our enemies, and we need to be willing to sacrifice our lives and possessions so that they can know God. Giving toward missions and participating in missions work (personally as well as corporately within church communities) is a critical part of following God. Jesus is, of course, our supreme example in this regard, and all who follow him must similarly give of themselves for the sake of the lost. The apostle Paul exhibits this imitation of Jesus wherever he goes (1 Corinthians 4:8-17). As he says in Colossians 1:24, ďNow I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christís afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.Ē He was willing to give up his wealth, his freedom and even his life for the sake of the lost who were being saved. And he commands us to ďFollow my example, as I follow the example of ChristĒ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Peter 2:21). Anyone who wishes to follow Jesus must deny himself and take up his cross (Mark 8:31-38), and all who follow Jesus must seek his kingdom with their lives and their wealth. Among other things this means pouring themselves out for the sake of the lost and perishing, trusting in the God of all creation to be our security. See Jonah theme essay Obedience and Trust.
Jonah 1:3 ó Jonah fled from the Lordís presence to Tarshishówhich scholars suggest could have been as far away as southern Spainóbecause he knew that God was merciful and could bring even pagan Nineveh to repentance (Jonah 4:2-3). Jonah didnít want to be a part of Godís plan for bringing Nineveh to repentance because he was afraid that if God spared Nineveh (the capital of Assyria), then Assyrian power would finally be the undoing of Israel and Judah, which already had been a great threat to Israel several times before (see The Expositorís Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 369). When God calls us to do things that could result in great personal risk, we need to believe that God is more than capable of taking responsibility for our safety and our future. When we obey his commands regarding our lives, energy and money, we must believe that he will remain faithful through whatever consequences (including death) that obedience might bring. Furthermore, we must be careful not to let nationalism, ethnocentrism, and regional concerns drown out Godís call to witness to the nations. Do we pray for ďourĒ troops more than for the lost of the world? Do we willingly give our resources to our church (those who look like us) while ignoring the needs of those around us of other races and the call to make disciples in every nation? See Jonah theme essay Obedience and Trust.
Jonah 1:4-16 (Key Passage) ó Repenting from Disobedience: Jonahís disobedience puts a whole host of other people at risk, and the life-threatening storm that arises as a consequence ďputs the fear of GodĒ into a crew of pagan sailors. We should not be surprised that Jonahís disobedience brought severe consequences, nor should we be surprised if disobedience with our possessions has consequences. Jesusí words on this matter ought to be especially sobering: In Matthew 25 he uses care for the poor as the standard for differentiating the saved from the unsaved (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet we also have much to learn from Jonah; in the midst of his disobedience he was willing to reverse course and face the consequences for his disobedienceódrowning at seaóthus saving other people from the judgment that he alone deserved. As we will come to see, repentance from his disobedience qualified him to be used by God. If we have thus far been poor stewards of our resources, we should never think it is too late to begin obeying, whatever the apparent consequences might be, for God is gracious and compassionate and seeks to save those who are lost, saving them for eternity and transforming them (even their giving) in the present (Psalm 86:15; Luke 19:1-10).
Jonah 1:17-2:1 ó Jonah is swallowed by a great fish, saving him from the storm. In the context of the ancient world, the details of Jonahís rescue would be immediately of great significance: In ancient myths and religious systems (including Jewish religious thought), the sea was feared as the strongest earthly manifestation of chaos, and sea monsters represented this chaos in its most terrifying degree (See The Expositorís Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 374). But in the story of Jonah, the sea and sea creature are both pawns that do Godís bidding; nothing is out of Godís hand, and no tools are out of his reach. We today should not be afraid to obey Godís commands to steward our skills, time and finances, even if it is unclear how God will organize the circumstances for our provision and safety. God can use the most unlikely means (and even some that may seem dangerous) to equip us for his work and ensure our safety in the midst of obedience. God will provide for us however he chooses, even in ways we could never imagine. Everything is his and for his use. See Jonah theme essay Obedience and Trust.
Jonah 4:1-11 (Key Passage) ó Delighting in Godís Mercy: Jonah becomes angry with God for Ninevehís repentance. There are several reasons for this: First, the mercy of God that withheld the promised disaster from Nineveh could lead people to question whether he was a false prophet. Godís mercy could harm Jonahís legitimacy as a prophet because the disaster he foretold never came. As we exercise our gifts, we must remember that it is better to please God than men, whatever the consequences to our lives or reputations (Acts 5:27-33). Second, and more importantly, the survival of Nineveh seemed incredibly unjust and even dangerous to Jonah. Nineveh was the capital of the kingdom of Assyria, which God used multiple times to punish Israel for her unfaithfulness. Generally speaking, this kingdom posed a great and ongoing military threat to Israelís well-being (See The Expositorís Bible Commentary, vol. 7, pp. 369, 385). Jonah is disappointed by this display of Godís gracious compassion because he thought Nineveh deserved judgment, and if spared it could return to harm Israel. Jonah was both angry and afraid. It is interesting to note that in Jonahís grief over Godís mercy toward the pagan Ninevites, he forgot Godís mercy toward his own people and toward Jonah himself when he was preparing to drown in the waves of the sea. He failed to see that even if human reason opposed the coexistence of a prosperous Nineveh and Israel, it was still possible with God. As we see Godís provision and mercy come even for our earthly enemies, we should not be afraid that he will quit sustaining and protecting us. Godís mercy does not come in limited quantities. Moreover, we should never be angry that he is merciful, for we, too, need it very badly. We should delight in the exercise of Godís mercy, rejoicing as he gives it to those he has created. Even if they are our enemies, they are humans and Godís creatures just as we are (Jonah 4:11; Matthew 5:43-48). God will be responsible to uphold us in the midst of any circumstances (Psalm 46). Thankfully, even if we are perplexed to the point that we, like Jonah, fault God for his compassion and mercy, he still exercises it with us (Jonah 4:4-11; Job 3:2-26; Jeremiah 15:15-18; 20:7-18). God has revealed the fullness of his grace and mercy to us in Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-10), and we are called to imitate him by showing grace and mercy to those who need it, especially through the ďgrace of givingĒ (2 Corinthians 8:7-9). As we follow the self-sacrificial example of Jesus in our giving, we should never be afraid that his mercy for us will run out. See Jonah theme essay Obedience and Trust.
Jonah 4:7 ó The writer of Jonah makes Godís sovereign provision clear by using particular language about his use of things great and small: Whether the fish (Jonah 1:17), the plant (4:6), the worm (4:7) or wind (4:8), these things were used directly by God. So also he provides for us. Nothing, however small, will escape his notice (Matthew 6:25-34).