Study of the Books
of Obadiah and Jonah
September 20th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Obadiah and Jonah (Introduction)

These two brief books of prophecy reveal two unexpected themes of mercy for a nation and a city that had been working against God's plans. Obadiah doesn't introduce mercy until the very end and Jonah fights against it throughout his whole fish tale, but God's will persists. We will complete the study of both books in one day.

References used in the study of Obadiah include the following books:

  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984

  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993

  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)

  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)

  • Myers, Jacob M, The Layman’s Bible Commentary, Volume 14, The Book of Hosea, The Book of Joel, the Book of Amos, the Book of Obadiah, and the Book of Jonah; John Knox Press, Richmond, VA, 1959

  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970

  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

We begin in Biblical order, with Obadiah.

Obadiah (Overview)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

The book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. It is a very brief oracle against Edom that is assumed to have been written by the prophet Obadiah after the fall of Judah. Obadiah was a survivor and an observer of the aftermath.

There are no chapters in Obadiah - just a set of 21 verses. The book begins with Obadiah describing a vision from the LORD in which he speaks out against Edom because of its pride and because it took advantage of Judah.

The names Esau and Jacob are used interchangeably for the nations of Edom and Israel because they are the twin sons of Isaac who are the forefathers of the nations. On the appointed day, the land will be taken away from Esau and given to Jacob for the good of God’s kingdom, just like his land was given away when the two brothers walked the earth. But, in the final verse, we see a hint of mercy, as the prophet foresees a day when all peoples will be treated fairly:

    The remnant of the saved in Mount Zion
        will go into the mountains of Esau
    And rule justly and fairly,
        a rule that honors God’s kingdom.

    - Obadiah 21 (MSG)

What can we conclude from this petite prophecy?

  1. No person or nation is above God. He allocates land and skills as he sees fit and can re-allocate at any time.

  2. No person or nation is beyond mercy. God allocates mercy as he sees fit and can dispense mercy at any time.

Let us take time today to thank him for our mercy and remember that our brothers are no less deserving of mercy than we are - even if they have mistreated us and laughed at our misfortunes.

Jonah (Overview)

The story of Jonah was written by an unidentified third person. It takes place sometime after the exile and restoration of Judah. The story is well-known in our culture. Somehow, this little book of four chapters from a minor prophet has captured the imagination of many people. However, the primary meaning sometimes gets obscured by the role of the big fish. Each of the four chapters has a specific theme (1)

    Chapter 1 - Jonah's call and disobedience
    Chapter 2 - Jonah's repentance and deliverance
    Chapter 3 - Jonah's message against Nineveh
    Chapter 4 - God's mercy on Nineveh

Summary of Chapters

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

The first chapter relates that Jonah received a call from God to prophesize to the people of Nineveh regarding their wickedness. Jonah didn’t want to do this so he tried to escape from God and his responsibility by boarding a ship headed to a far port.

The ship became caught in a fierce storm that frightened these seasoned sailors. With some degree of reluctance they agreed to throw Jonah overboard into order to save their ship. The storm immediately stopped.

The remaining chapters describe a fantastic journey in which Jonah is swallowed by a “large fish,” where he remained for three days before exiting and eventually heading to Nineveh. Once he arrived he began to prophesize to the Ninevites as instructed by God. This verse is the only one of prophecy in the entire book of Jonah:

    Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

    - Jonah 3:3-5 (NIV)

To Jonah’s disappointment the people repented, were forgiven and saved by God. He sulked under a tree that God tendered to cover him from the sun. God then killed the tree and reminded Jonah that he was the Creator of man and vegetation and reserved the right to create, destroy, or forgive as he sees fit. God explained that Jonah had no justification for anger at God’s forgiveness because Jonah had no claim for creating these people just as he had no claim for creating the tree that had once covered him from the sun.

Reflection and Application

Which of the following is the hardest to believe?

    a) Jonah thought he could escape from God
    b) A giant fish swallowed Jonah and he survived in the fish for three days
    c) The people of Nineveh repented after only one warning
    d) God forgave the people of Nineveh

Many people might pick b) “A giant fish swallowed Jonah and he survived in the fish for three days.” We have seen or heard many stories of humans swallowed by sea animals – but other than this case they never report being swallowed whole and escaping.

Others might pick c) “The people of Nineveh repented after only one warning.” God is the creator of the universe and can intervene to do any of the multiple choice items listed above. By contrast, the people of Nineveh were humans, a race known to be stubborn, proud and resistant to God. There were numerous prophets sent to God’s people, but few listened. Then a prophet goes to a pagan nation and the people repentant overnight. What was the likelihood of that result? But nothing is impossible when God is involved.

Some might pick a), “Jonah thought he could escape from God.” Hello! What was he thinking? It seems silly to us. The Psalmist reminds us with beautiful imagery that there is nowhere to hide, even if we go to the far side of the sea or up into the heavens (see Psalm 139).

The other prophets had been given difficult and strange assignments, but according to their books they obeyed even at great cost and embarrassment. Why was Jonah different? Maybe he is the one that we can best relate to: Imperfect, scared, and angry that others can receive the same grace as us. We can feel a kinship with Jonah and his vulnerabilities, but we also need to accept our imperfections, follow God’s commands as Jonah eventually did, and accept that forgiveness is available to all.

Perhaps Jonah reflects the feelings of the broader community. He didn’t want to share God’s grace with the rest of the world, but eventually felt he had no choice but to obey God and accept the reality. This message brought to the Gentiles was unusual for the Old Testament prophets but was a foreshadowing of the message to be brought to us by another person who would spend three days in a dark place. The book of Jonah is another reminder of how the books of the Old point to the message of the New.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is the largest fish that you have seen up close?
    2. The people of Nineveh repented after one warning. How many warnings would it take for us to change our ways?
    3. Jonah thought he could run away from his God-given responsibilities by getting on a ship headed west. Are we equally guilty of trying to run away from God’s assignments for us?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know that you can find us wherever we are. Help us to find you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Fishing and Hunting Guides


    (1) Good News Bible Online - Introduction to Jonah

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Micah 1-4 (Popular Prophecies)

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