Sunday School Bible Survey:      JONAH

Theme: Commission from God

Key verse: "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me" (1:2).

From the Scofield Study Bible:
The historical character of the man Jonah is vouched for by Jesus Christ (Matt. 12:39-41), as also that his preservation in the great fish was a "sign" or type of the Lord's own entombment and resurrection. Both are miraculous and both are equally credible. Second Kings 14:25 records the fulfilment of a prophecy by Jonah. The man himself was a bigoted Jew, unwilling to testify to a Gentile city, and angry that God had spared it. Typically he foreshadows the nation of Israel out of its own land; a trouble to the Gentiles, yet witnessing to them; cast out by them, but miraculously preserved; in their future deepest distress calling upon Jehovah-Saviour, and finding deliverance, and then becoming missionaries to the Gentiles (Zech. 8:7-23). He typifies Christ as the Sent One, raised from the dead, and carrying salvation to the Gentiles. The chapter divisions indicate the analysis of Jonah.


  1. W. Graham Scroggie said, "The subject of this book is not a whale but foreign missions!" (cited by Hayden, Preaching Through the Bible).
  2. We know very little about the prophet Jonah. "His name means 'dove' and certainly his ministry to Nineveh was Spirit-anointed, resulting in one of the greatest religious revivals in history" (John Phillips, Exploring the Scriptures).
  3. Jonah is mentioned in II Kings 14:25. "He (King Jeroboam II, the king of Israel) restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He spake by the hand of His servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which was of Gathhepher."
  4. The book of Jonah has been viciously attacked by liberal critics. They say it nothing but a "fish story." When they belittle the book of Jonah, they are really attacking the Lord Himself, because Jesus referred to Jonah as a literal prophet swallowed by a literal whale.
  5. Our Lord said in Matthew 12:39-41 "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here."
  6. Therefore, when liberal critics question the historical accuracy of the book of Jonah, they are questioning the credibility of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  7. Also, our Lord used the story of Jonah as a picture of His death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:40). This is another reason why the liberals despise the book of Jonah. They are apostate.
  8. Josephus, the famous Jewish historian, said that ancient Jews all regarded the book of Jonah as historical.
  9. And so did Christians up until the 20th century.
  10. Referring to the book of Jonah, J Vernon McGee said, "This book is the spot where the enemy has leveled his heaviest artillery" (Thru the Bible).
  11. Though the book of Jonah has been viciously attacked by wicked sinners; it has been a great blessing to God's people.
  12. And it has been greatly appreciated by lovers of great literature. Charles Reade, the English literary critic and author, wrote, "Jonah is the most beautiful story ever written in so small a compass."
  13. The Book of Jonah was written during the period when Nineveh, founded by Nimrod, was in its heyday. The Assyrian nation was the great world power of that day.
  14. Nineveh was a great city, and the book of Jonah verifies that (cf. Jonah 1:2). But like all the great cities of antiquity, it eventually was destroyed (by the Babylonians in about 606 BC).

Bible teacher J Vernon McGee says there are six significant subjects which are suggested and developed in the Book of Jonah, and which make it very relevant for us today (from Thru the Bible):

  1. This is the one book of the Old Testament which sets forth the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  2. The Book of Jonah teaches that salvation is not by works, but by faith which leads to repentance...The most significant statement in the Book of Jonah is in the second chapter. "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jonah 2:9). He is the author of salvation.
  3. The third great purpose of this book is to show that God's purpose of grace cannot be frustrated. Jonah refused to go to Nineveh, but God was still going to get the message to Nineveh. The interesting thing in this particular case is that Jonah was going to be the witness for God in Nineveh—he didn't know he was going there, but he did go.
  4. The fourth great truth in this book is that God will not cast us aside for faithlessness. He may not use you, but He will not cast you aside.
  5. The fifth great truth is that God is good and gracious. Read Jonah 4:2 for the most penetrating picture of God in the entire Bible. It is wrong to say that the Old Testament reveals a God of wrath and the New Testament reveals a God of love. He is no vengeful deity in the Book of Jonah.
  6. The sixth and last great teaching is that God is the God of Gentiles...God has a salvation for all mankind. I have written Romans 3:29 over the Book of Jonah in my Bible. Paul writes, "Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also." The Book of Jonah reveals that even in the Old Testament God did not forget the Gentiles. If He was willing to save a woman like Rahab the harlot, and a brutal, cruel nation like the Assyrians, including inhabitants of Nineveh, its capital, then I want to say to you that God is in the business of saving sinners.


  1. Jonah knew the will of God, but he disobeyed the will of God (cf. 4:2). God told him to go to Nineveh, but he disobeyed God and tried to "flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD" (Jonah 1:3).
  2. Of course, it is impossible to flee "from the presence of the LORD," but people try to do it nevertheless.
  3. Many Christians are like Jonah — when it is convenient to obey God, they will obey. But if it is inconvenient to obey God, they often choose to disobey.


  1. The book of Jonah illustrates the providence of God.
  2. Jonah was given a commission from God, but he disobeyed God. But God providentially saw to it that Jonah fulfilled his commission.
  3. Jonah was a Hebrew prophet and the people of Nineveh were archenemies of the people of Israel. The Israelites were regularly invaded and attacked by Assyria. The capital of Assyria was Nineveh.
  4. The Ninevites were cruel heathen people, and they were enemies of Israel. But the Bible says, "For God so loved the world..." "And he that winneth souls is wise" (Proverbs 11:30).
  5. But Jonah did not love the people of Nineveh (4:10, 11). And Jonah was not being wise by fleeing from God. But God providentially saw to it that Jonah went to Nineveh.
  • "But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea..." (1:4).
  • "And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah" (1:7).
  • "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah" (1:17).
  1. We see from these Scriptures that the Lord intervened powerfully and changed Jonah's direction. Jonah, by his own stubborn will, was determined to disobey God and go to Tarshish (1:3) — in the opposite direction (on the southern coast of Spain).
  2. God graciously allowed Jonah to board the ship. (I say "graciously" because God could have killed the stubborn and disobedient prophet.)
  3. But God, by His sovereign will, prevented Jonah from going to Tarshish (1:4).
  4. The mariners cast lots because they did not know any better (1:7). As Christians we can pray. We have the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to lead us and guide us.
  5. Proverbs 16:33 says, "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD." The LORD providentially saw to it that "the lot fell upon Jonah" (1:7b).
  6. "The lot fell upon Jonah" (1:7b). God was in this, and God used this, but that does not mean God approved of it. There are many things that God allows, and God uses, but it does not mean God approves of it.
  7. In Judges 14, when Samson told his parents that he wanted to marry a certain Philistine woman in Timnath, his parents objected. They did not want him to marry a heathen girl.
  8. But Judges 14:4 says, "But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel."
  9. God allowed Samson to marry a Philistine woman, but this does not mean God approved of it.
  10. God allowed Esther to enter in a worldly beauty contest in order to marry the king of Persia, but this does not mean God approved of it.
  11. God allowed Joseph's brothers to sell him into slavery but this does not mean God approved of their behaviour (cf. Rom. 8:28).
  12. The LORD was in the casting of the lots (Jonah 1:7). But this does not mean that God approves of gambling.



These are simple Sunday School survey notes. They are not for sale. The author used many outlines from popular Bible teachers such as C.I. Scofield and J. Vernon McGee, and he has tried to give credit when using their material.

—  Pastor James J. Barker  —