Sunday School Lesson 33: Jonah 1-4: Micah 2, 4-7
Posted by Jim F. on August 26, 2010
This is another long set of study notes. I have adapted parts of them from a set of notes that Arthur Bassett made several years ago—but don’t hold Art responsible for any mistakes you see here. They are probably mine. I will provide study notes for both sets of readings, that from Jonah and that from Micah, but I will concentrate my notes on the book of Jonah.
With this lesson we begin to study a group of writings called the Minor Prophets. Jews divide the Hebrew Bible (what we call “the Old Testament,” but what is probably more accurately called “the First Testament”) into the Law (the first five books of the First Testament, also called the Pentateuch), the Writings (parts of which are also called “Wisdom Literature”; the Writings consist of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles), and the Prophets (Joshua, Judges Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—the Major Prophets—and Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zepheniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—the Minor Prophets) . The terms “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets” have nothing to do with the relative importance of the prophets in question. The terms refer only to the size of the scrolls on which the books are written: the major prophets’ scrolls are large; the minor prophets’ scrolls are small.
To this point, the materials we have read have focused on the miracles done by the prophets. Now the focus changes. Both the minor prophets and the major prophets we will study will focus on their message of repentance to Israel. How would you account for that change? Before dealing directly with this week’s reading materials, I will look briefly at five of the Minor Prophets, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Joel. There is little doubt about the historical existence of these prophets, except for Jonah. Many believing scholars do not believe that Jonah was an actual person; many do. However, whether he did is irrelevant to our purposes in Sunday School, so I will ignore it and treat Jonah as if he were an actual person.
Karl D has already pointed us to the LDS Church’s official position with regard to Jonah (and Job):
In October 1922 . . . the First Presidency received a letter from Joseph W. McMurrin asking about the position of the church with regard to the literality of the Bible. Charles W. Penrose, with Anthony W. Ivins, writing for the First Presidency, answered that the position of the church was that the Bible is the word of God as far as it was translated correctly. They pointed out that there were, however, some problems with the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, for instance, was written by Moses, but “it is evident that the five books passed through other hands than Moses’s after his day and time. The closing chapter of Deuteronomy proves that.” While they thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the story as told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it “is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book” to illustrate “what is set forth therein.” They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct.
Alexander, Thomas G., 1996, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930, University of Illinois Press (Paperback), page 283.
The book of Jonah (Jonah is placed at about 750 B.C.) differs from the other minor prophets in that he doesn’t call Israel to repentance. In addition, whereas we know little about the lives of the other Minor Prophets, the book of Jonah contains a great deal of biographical information about him. His book is about his problems rather than Israel’s. Because the Assyrians have invaded Israel (the Northern Kingdom) on numerous occasions, killing many and taking many into captivity, Jonah hates them. He hates them so much that he refuses to go on a mission to Ninevah, the capital city of Assyrian, for fear that the people there will repent. But Jonah’s story shows God’s love for all his children, even non-Israelites—and Jonah. God will forgive whom he will.
Questions: Why is it difficult to accept God’s love for all people, especially for our enemies or for people who have been guilty of heinous crimes? How does Jonah’s problem manifest itself in our lives? How might that effect us personally? How might it interfere with missionary work? How might it interfere with the mission of the Church as a world-wide church? How might this aspect of the story of Jonah relate to current events?
Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom (Israel) at the time of the Assyrian captivity (746-721 B.C.). He was roughly a contemporary of Jonah, Joel, Amos and Isaiah. Those prophets often used literary devices to reach their readers (metaphor, simile, rhetorical figures such as chiasmus, and especially typology). Hosea uses a powerful type to make his point. It is more than a metaphor. It is a real event that serves as a type or shadow of the Lord’s relation to Israel: Hosea is called to marry an adulterous wife, and then, though she has been unfaithful and even had children by other men, he is commanded to buy her back and to love her. The point of this shocking type is that Israel (like an unfaithful wife) has gone whoring after other lovers (pagan gods), and the Lord, the husband who has entered into a covenant with her, will buy her back and love her and bring her to repentance. (Some argue that Hosea did not actually marry the woman he talks about, that she is only a literary device. As with Jonah, it doesn’t matter for our purposes. Since the book of Hosea treats her as real, I do too.)
Question: What do we learn about God and his nature from Hosea? Why is the story of Hosea a message of hope? Where else in scripture do we see the same type? Why is marriage so powerful a metaphor for God’s relation to his people? Does that tell us anything about marriage?
Amos was a herdsman or wool grower and sycamore fruit gatherer from Judea (Amos 7:14). Unlike the other prophets, he was not called to prophesy to his own people, Judah. Instead the Lord called him as a prophet to Israel. He prophesied in about 765-750 B.C. The metaphors that Amos uses reflect his pastoral background. Amos prophesies against those who have oppressed Israel. Then he prophesies against Israel: he tells us that just as those outside Israel cannot escape judgment for the ways in which they treat others, Israel also cannot escape judgment. Amos’s message condemns a society in which the righteous and the poor were oppressed and treated without mercy. As much as anything else, he is a prophet of social justice. He condemns both Israel and Judah for not keeping their covenant obligations. Amos condemns Judah for such things as idolatry (2:4) and other wickedness. He condemns Israel for things such as social injustice (2:6-8, 4:1, 5:11-12, 8:4-6), practicing idolatry (involving fornication and adultery—2:7), and suppressing the prophets and Nazarites (2:12, 5:10, 5:12, 6:1-6).
Question: What do the things for which Amos condemns Israel and Judah tell us about them? What do they say about the relationship of religious worship to humanitarian concerns? Why is social justice such an important matter in the writings and revelations of the Prophets ancient and modern and in Christ’s teaching?
Micah was a prophet from the southern kingdom of Judah, probably under king Zedekiah, the last Davidic king (597-587). He was roughly a contemporary of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. Micah’s prophecies condemn both Samaria and Jerusalem. His message was that we ought to emulate God. In a day when both kingdoms were corrupt and wicked, Micah’s prophecies centered on three topics: (1) the destruction of Samaria (the northern kingdom, Israel) and Jerusalem (the southern kingdom, Judah) because of transgression; (2) the coming Messiah and his birthplace in Bethlehem; (3) and words of council, chastisement and comfort from the Lord.
Question: How does Micah’s description of what the Lord requires of us (“to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly”) encapsulate the essence of the gospel? Do we sometimes let other aspects of our religious life keep us from grasping this vital principle? What about aspects of our non-religious life?
It is difficult to know when Joel prophesied. Tradition makes him a contemporary of Hosea during the reign of Joash, king of Judah (837 B.C.). But many believe that his book is one of the latest of the prophetic books (500 B.C. or somewhat later). Joel uses the natural disaster of a plague of insects (locusts, palmworms, cankerworms) to convey the terror, power and destruction of a coming destruction. In turn, that destruction serves as a type of the Lord’s apocalyptic coming, when the earth will be cleansed and burned by fire. Like most of these prophetic writers, Joel ends his prophecy with words of hope and a promise of restoration to the Israelites. Though we seldom refer to Joel, remember that Moroni quoted from his book when he first visited Joseph Smith, telling Joseph that Joel’s prophesy was about to be fulfilled.
Question: Do we understand prophetic images of apocalypse as images of blessing or cursing? Why? Are prophesies such as Joel’s best understood by trying to figure out what they tell us about the future or what they tell us about the present? Why?
At a number of times in the First Testament, there were multiple prophets. We also have more than one prophet today. However, the ancient prophets seem not to have been organized in any fashion, much less as ours are, nor to have been thought of as ecclesiastical leaders as they are today. How do you explain that difference?
What do you make of the fact that neither the title “prophet” nor the verb “prophesy” appears anywhere in the book of Jonah?
The book is divided into two parts, Jonah 1:1-2:11 and Jonah 3:1-4:11. Each of those parts correspond to a different mission given to Jonah. In the first mission, Jonah receives God’s mercy; in the second mission, he begrudges God’s mercy to others. What do we learn from the contrast of those two missions?
Verses 1-2: Read 2 Kings 14:25. Does that help us understand who Jonah is? Is it unusual for an Israelite to be called on a mission to the city of Nineveh? How would an ancient Hebrew reader of this verse have responded to the idea that Jonah went on such a mission? The Hebrew word translated “wickedness” may also mean “calamity” or “difficulty.” How do you think Jonah understood it? Why? (Regarding the wickedness of Ninevah, see Nahum 3:19.) How far away from Jerusalem was Ninevah?
“Tarshish” was a common name denoting a mining center and port. There was such a city in Spain, a Greek and Phoenician colony there that in ancient times was called “Tartessos,” and “Carthage,” in North Africa, is a variation of the same name. As Word Biblical Commentary points out, the name was as common a descriptive as the name “Portland” is today (31:451). Here it seems to designate merely some far away location.
Why would Jonah want to go to Tarshish, when Nineveh is in the opposite direction? Why does Jonah think he could run from God by leaving the borders of the Promised Land? What does the emphasis on the distance to Ninevah tell us and what should it have told Jonah?
Verses 4-6: How could Jonah sleep through the storm? Why do the sailors wake him up? Brigham Young suggested that we put ourselves in Jonah’s place [Journal of Discourses. 7:333] to understand the book. Is that recommendation particularly apt in this instance? Is it significant that the captain addresses Jonah with the same two verbs that the Lord used when he called Jonah, “arise” and “call” or “cry”?
Verses 7-9: Why do the sailors cast lots? What does the word “occupation” mean here?
Verses 12-13: What does the fact that Jonah asks to be tossed overboard tell us about him and his feelings at the time? How does this contrast with his later behavior as regards Ninevah? How do you explain the difference? Why go overboard, rather than just pray for forgiveness from the Lord? Why not just jump overboard? What does the fact that the sailors are hesitant to follow his wishes, even though it possibly means their own death if they do not do so, tell us about them?
Verse 14: What is the innocent blood they refer to?
Verses 15-16: What is their reaction to the calming of the sea?
Verse 17: What does scripture tell us about the origins of the great fish? What does this information do to the arguments about what type of fish it was? We understand the symbolism of Jonah’s three days in the fish in Christian terms: Jonah is a type of Christ, who spent three days in the tomb before he was resurrected. However, we are not the only ones who have read this story symbolically. If we were ancient Israelites or modern Jews, how might we understand the symbolism of Jonah’s three days in the belly of a great fish? For whom might Jonah stand? Who might the great fish that consumes Jonah stand for? (Compare Jeremiah 51:34 and perhaps Isaiah 27:1.) For what might the stay in the darkness of the fish’s belly stand? How do we choose between these two symbolic readings? Must we choose? If the book can have more than one meaning, what prevents it from having any meaning we decide to give it?
“The cuneiform characters denoting Ninevah are a combination of the symbols for house and fish” (Jerome Biblical Commentary 1:635). So what?
Verses 2-9: If this is a foreshadowing of Christ’s experience in the tomb, what does the reference to hell (literally, the place of departed spirits, out of the presence of God) foreshadow (1 Peter 3:18-20)? What do you make of the references to the temple? . . . to being brought up from corruption? Is there a baptism motif here? In Hebrew, verses 2-9 are in poetic form, though what comes before and after is prose? Why is the prayer in poetic form rather than prose?
Verses 1-2: How is this new beginning significant to our understanding of Jonah’s story typologically?
Verse 4: Note the size of Nineveh; it was one of the grandest cities of its day. The word “Ninevah” may refer not only to the city, but to the region surrounding it, an area of about 26 square miles (Jerome Biblical Commentary 1:636). What are Jonah’s feelings regarding the city? Has his attitude toward the Assyrians changed as a consequence of being in the sea? Why? How do you explain a missionary going to preach the gospel to a people he strongly dislikes?
Verses 5-9: How is the drowning metaphor of verses 5-6 appropriate as a description of sin? Why might the writer of Jonah not bothered to mention the name of the king of Ninevah? How do the Assyrians express their repentance? What might cause the entire city to repent? How does this compare to Israel (cf. Ezekiel 3:4-7)?
Verse 10: What is God’s reaction to their repentance? What does God’s “repentance” tell us about the nature of divine prophecies? How might this story, like the story of Namaan, make us question our presuppositions about what the First Testament teaches?
Verses 1-2: How do you explain Jonah’s reaction to the repentance of the people of Nineveh? What do you make of the fact that Jonah says, essentially, “Didn’t I tell you this would happen?” (verse 2)? If he really did already know that Ninevah would probably repent, why did Jonah flee his mission? Wouldn’t we expect his response to be like that of Amos, “The Lord hath spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8)? How might Jonah have justified his flight to himself? Why would anyone get angry when others repent? What lesson can we learn from Jonah’s anger and its outcome? Can you think of an instance where you’ve had something like Jonah’s experience?
Verse 3: Why would Jonah want to die, when earlier he had fought so strenuously for his life while in the belly of the great fish?
Verse 4: Isn’t this the heart of the story: how can someone who has received God’s grace refuse it to others? In what ways do we refuse divine grace to other people?
Verses 5-7, 10: Why would God raise up a gourd in one night and then destroy it? What has the miraculous gourd to do with the story of Jonah’s rescue from the fish? With the story of the city of Ninevah? Compare and contrast verse 6 with 1 Kings 19:4. Is this similarity intentional? What does it teach us? What is Jonah waiting to see? Verse 5 tells us that he is waiting to see “what would become of the city,” but he isn’t just curious. What is he hoping will happen?
Verse 8: Why would the Lord send an east wind? What is the significance of an east wind to an Israelite? Where is it coming from? Note also that the writer makes a special point earlier (v. 5) that Jonah had positioned himself on the east of the city—which means that he is on the opposite side of the city from where he would have entered; he has crossed the entire city. What is Jonah’s response to his situation after the gourd dies? How is the use of the gourd in this situation like the parable of the man and his sheep that Nathan tells David after David’s involvement with Bathsheba? In other words, how do these stories open the way for the recipient to be his own judge? Does that say anything about divine judgment in general?
Verse 10: How is Jonah’s pity (“concern” might be a better translation) for the gourd ironic?
Verse 11: What lesson in love and regard for human kind does God teach Jonah through the death of the gourd and Jonah’s reaction to it? Who is the Lord talking about when he speaks of those who cannot tell their right from their left hand? Why does he mention the cattle?
Verse 1: What does Micah mean when he speaks of people “devising iniquity and working evil upon their beds”? He is not talking about sexual sin.
Verse 2: What kind of evil have the wealthy been planning? (In verse 2, “heritage” means “inheritance.”)
Verse 11: Who is Micah referring to when he speaks of those who shall be the prophets accepted by his people?
Verses 12-13: What is the point of these verses? What do they mean to us personally? How do you explain what verse 13 means? Who has been broken up? What does it mean that they have “passed through the gate”? If they are broken up, how can the Lord be at their head?
Verses 1-3: How does one eat the flesh of the Lord’s people? How does this description coincide with a description of sacrifices? If so, are those Israelite sacrifices on the temple altar or idolatrous sacrifices? Or, is the comparison to butchers preparing slaughtered animals?
Verse 5: How do the prophets make the people err? What does God propose to do about these prophets (3:6-7)? What does Micah mean when he says they will cover their lips? Where do we find such prophets today?
Verse 8-11: Micah has come, he says, to make a particular declaration of iniquity on Israel. What is the substance of that declaration? What does his chastisement of the judges, the priest, and the prophets tell us about the religious practices of the times? the judicial practices?
Verse 12: Does the punishment fit the crime? If so, how?
Verses 1-3: (Notice that these verses are the same as Isaiah 2:2-4.) Why are mountains so important in Old Testament writings? What can they symbolize—and why? We know how we understand the prophecy of these verses. How might someone in Micah’s audience have understood it? What description does Micah give of the millennial reign? How might we prepare for that reign? (Note that Sargon and Sennacherib, kings of Assyria, attacked Jerusalem during Micah’s time, making his prophecy of a time when the nations would flow to the temple especially poignant.)
Verses 4-8: What does Micah mean by the image of the vine and the fig tree? Are those particularly significant? Whom has the Lord afflicted, in other words, injured (verse 6)? Why is the Lord’s promise to be the king of Israel important at this point in their history? What does it have to do with what we have seen Israel (then Judah and Israel) go through? How is this prophecy of Israel’s restoration relevant to us?
Verses 9-10: How is the image of child birth apt? What do you make of the reversed exodus imagery in verse 10: instead of leaving Egypt and dwelling in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, Israel will leave Zion and dwell in a field on its way to Babylon.
Verses 11-13: What is it that Sennacharib and the others who attack Zion do not know or understand?
Verse 1: A significant number of scholars believe that this verse belongs in chapter 4. Can you explain why they might think that?
Verses 2-3: How does Matthew’s quotation of Micah (Matthew 2:4-6) about the birthplace of the Savior differ from the original prophecy? Does where he comes from help explain why Micah might be the only one to name the birthplace of the Savior? Why was the Savior to be born in Bethlehem rather than in the capital city, Jerusalem?
Verses 1-5: What is gained by the Lord recounting the history of Israel from the time of Moses forward? Why do the prophets’ teachings often begin by reminding us of our past history, the history of Israel? Why, out of all the things he could have referred to, would God remind the Israelites of Balaam?
Verse 7: To what is the Lord referring?
Verse 8: What do you think of Micah’s synopsis of the requirements of the Lord? How can this include everything that is required of us? How are these three all brought together in the Holy of Holies when the High Priest comes before the Ark of the Covenant? Why would all of these be associated with our state of being, rather than what we have done? What is gained by this type of approach to the gospel?
Verses 11-12, 14 (also Micah 7:5-6): What is wrong in the business world of that time? What does that mean in today’s terms? How can one eat and not be satisfied? What does it mean to do evil “with both hands”? What is vengeance when it is the Lord’s vengeance? Is it vindictiveness or retaliation? If not, what is it?
Verses 5-6: What is happening to the family at Micah’s time?
Verses 7-10: What is the significance of the “therefore” that begins verse 7? What does verse 9 tell us about the process of repentance?
Verses 18-20: What is Micah’s final evaluation of the Lord? Why is it a good one?
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