Their Problems And Ours

EasyEnglish Bible Studies that show that God is sufficient whatever the problem

Study 8

Jonah: The Problem Of Prejudice

by Raymond Brown, M.A., M.Th., Ph.D.

translated into EasyEnglish by Mary Read

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.


About these studies

(Prejudice means to have strong ideas; and to refuse to think about anybody elseís opinions)

Bible Passages about Jonah:

The book of Jonah; 2 Kings 14:23-27;

Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-30, 32.


This is the story about Jonahís fight with God. It is a great story. It is an exciting record. It shows one manís reaction to the clear voice of God. Jonah was a man who was sure about his beliefs. All sincere Christians are in the same danger as Jonah. It is the serious danger of prejudice.

We must not be unfair. There are many great people in the Bible. No Bible teacher wants to talk about these peopleís *sins all the time. Most of these people are much better than we are anyway. So, we should not give all our attention to their failures.

The book of Jonah warns all *believers. It warns against certain beliefs. They are *religious beliefs too. People with these beliefs are in danger. They think that their own opinions are the only right ones. They refuse to listen to any other people. There is something else too. It is the most serious thing of all. They can even refuse Godís message.

Dr. Graham Scroggie was a Bible teacher. He also wrote books. He describes Jonah. He says that he is very like Peter. He loved his country. He had strong prejudices. He only thought about his own little world. He had a tendency too. It was to act without any thought. But you still like him!

Jonah was afraid of the people who lived in Nineveh. It is easy to understand the reason for this. Their nation was Assyria. They were very cruel to their enemies. All people in that part of the world knew about them.

Then God gives clear instructions to Jonah. He has a task for him. God says: ĎGet up; go; cry outí (1:2). His orders were very clear. He could not possibly mistake what God wanted him to do. But Jonah did not want even to think about what this meant. It seemed to go against many special truths. He felt pain and despair. So he tried to escape from God.

Strong Bible beliefs are right and proper. They are essential for the Christian life. The Bible has great truths that do not change. We must be very sure about them. Each one who speaks Godís message must know their value. Bible truths give authority and certainty. This is not just for Christian workers. Every member of the church should share this great certainty. Many people do not trust the Bible. They say Ďifí, Ďbutí or Ďmaybeí about many things. This attitude only makes the truth seem weak.

But there is a danger here. It is good if someone knows the truth. But this could turn into ideas that are just strong opinions. This can easily happen. Then that person cannot allow any other opinion. He may agree to hear it. But it is not likely that he will study it. Anyway, he will not really think about it. There is no careful thought about it. So there is no chance to learn new things with other people.

Jonah had his own ideas about whom God should save. The people in Nineveh were certainly not among them! Jonah had great resistance against them. His message was that God is severe. But it was also about the fact of Godís goodness. Jonah did not want to tell them that part.

There are various important matters in the book of Jonah.

1 We must aim to obey Godís word completely

Sometimes you must be very severe with yourself. Your Ď*religious ideasí may be wrong. It is possible to have very strong opinions. But they can lack the authority of the Bible. Martin Luther lived from 1483 - 1546. He had one ambition. His only desire was to be Ďa prisoner to the Word (the Bible)í. We should be the same.

The Jonah story happened at some time in the years 782-753 BC. (BC means Before Christ.) Jeroboam 2 was ruling at this time. (Read 2 Kings 14:25.) There were smaller countries in the near East. They were all afraid of Assyria. This large nation was a great danger to them all. We noted before that they were extremely cruel. The *Hebrews hated Assyria.

Of course, Jonah shared his peopleís hate and fear. In the same situation, we would probably feel the same. So, he just could not warn these cruel people. He could not urge them to *repent. He wanted God to punish them as soon as possible! The people in Assyria had made God very sad. He would be their judge and punish them. This was definite. But He chose to use them first. He called them Ďthe stick of my angerí. (Read Isaiah 10:5.)

There were limits to what they could do to Godís people. Now, God wanted to warn them. Their punishment was approaching. The *Lord God knew the people in Nineveh. He knew that the message would upset some of them. Some of them would *repent. (Read Jonah 3:5-10.)

God would forgive these people, if they *repented. Jonah did not want to accept this truth. He is very honest. He tells God the reason why he ran away. It was because he knew what God was like. He would give Godís message in the streets of Nineveh. The people would accept what he said. They would *repent. Then God would forgive them (4:1-2). Jonah did not want this to happen.

Some people have good Bible beliefs. They are sincere and loving. Other people can have the same beliefs. But they have a different way of thinking. They are not kind to those who have other opinions. They can even be cruel to them. They are full of prejudice. This way has brought trouble in each century. It might stop people who want to become Christians. Read Ephesians 4:14-15. Paul wants them to have good, correct beliefs. That is sure. But he says something else in a very firm way. It is that they need to love. His words are for us too.

There are true *believers who do not agree with each other. In every age, there are things that we need to discuss. I have an appeal to make. We should all clearly know something. It is this. We can have our own opinions. We may not agree about some subjects. Perhaps they are important matters. But they should not divide true *believers. We must trust one another.

We must all study the Bible and pray. We will discover many things in that great book. We must follow all these truths. But, let us realise a fact about some subjects. Our understanding of Bible passages can be different. We must not be certain that we are always right. This would mean that those who do not agree with us are wrong. People like this act like a judge. They say things before they think. Their words can be very cruel. This can lead to groups that oppose each other in a bitter way. All this is very much against the Bibleís teaching.

There will be times when we cannot agree with other Christians. Then we must remember something. They will not agree with us! We must be careful about our attitude to other true *believers. We can easily say things about them that are not with love. We can say bad things about them. But just remember something. They belong to the same *Lord. So, we would be saying bad things about our *Lord too.

Our beliefs have great value for us. This is right. But we must all have Godís love for other people too. They may express their beliefs in a different way. They may not understand some Bible passages in the same way. But this does not mean that their beliefs are dangerous.

Jonah had strong beliefs about a certain truth. Parts of that truth were essential. It was right that they were valuable to him. But God desired to say something more to Jonah. Another truth was just as important. It was the truth about Godís *mercy and patience. Jonah would not listen to Godís appeal. He preferred the easy parts of Godís truth at that time.

Let us notice something else:

2 Godís truth has demands

It calls for certain reactions. We often need a powerful meeting with God to see this. It can even be a painful meeting.

Nineveh was a very wicked city. Jonah refused to take Godís message there. This was because it was against his own special opinions. So he ran away. This was such a foolish thing to do. But we have all tried to do this at times. We cannot escape from God. (Read Psalm 139.) The events in Jonah 1 show this clearly. Jonah is very unwilling to declare Godís message. But God will not let him escape.

It can take trouble to make us realise the truth. It is rare to learn Bible truth by just reading it. We need a true understanding about Godís nature. This often comes in a hard way. It often comes as we have great pain and suffering.

3 We may be ready to suffer anything rather than deny our beliefs

But this may not be a holy quality. Some people are eager to guard the truths in the Bible. These people have great determination. We all admire people like this. We want to be like them. But we must not neglect Paulís warning. It is in 1 Corinthians 13:3. We may be ready for someone to burn our bodies. But, without love, even this has no worth at all.

Jonah was certainly not a coward. He did not want to go to Nineveh. He was trying to escape on a ship. There was a terrible storm. The sailors thought that they knew the reason for it. God was angry with somebody. Jonah agreed with them. He said: ĎThrow me into the sea. Then the sea will become calmí (1:12). He would rather drown than see an enemy *repent. This was certainly not a holy attitude!

4 We may have much prejudice

We might behave in a bad way. We might not obey God. But God refuses to leave us. This wonderful story has a great subject. It shows the provision of God. He provides for Jonah. Jonah is a servant who refuses to accept Godís authority. God prepared:

           a fish (1:17)

           a plant (4:6)

           a worm (a small animal that lives in the ground) (4:7)

           a wind (4:8)

He is the great all-powerful God. He was eager for the people in Nineveh to *repent. But he was eager for Jonah to be loyal. He wanted Jonah to obey him too. Jonah is in the stomach of a huge fish. He calls to God from there. He cries: ĎI will look to you againí (2:4). He obeys God in the end. Then he feels upset when the people *repent. (Read Jonah 3:10-4:2.)

Campbell Morgan was a great Bible teacher. He wrote books too. He speaks about Ďthe last pictureí of Jonah. He is still not in agreement with Ďthe *mercy of Godí. Then there is Ďthe last pictureí of God. He is full of pity and sympathy. He cares very much even for a city like Nineveh. He is ready to save the people as they *repent.

How selfish we can be. Jonah feels angry about the death of a plant. There was a selfish reason for this. It was because it affected his own comfort. But he did not care for the lives of people. Many of them were innocent. Many in the great city did not understand about God (4:10-11).

The *Lordís love for us all is wonderful. We do not deserve any of it. He is so generous to us. He is so patient with us. We have done nothing to deserve it. We could certainly never earn it.

The God of Jonah is the one who appeals to us too. He urges us to realise the value of his truth. That truth will always be there. He urges us to listen to his voice. Then he urges us to think about other people. We should look for people who are waiting to hear his word. That word can change their lives.

For Discussion

1.    Read Jonah Chapter 1 again. Look carefully at the story. And pretend that you were one of the sailors. (Remember that they did not know the true God.) There was a terrible storm. You thought that you would die. Your passenger told you to throw him into the sea. Eventually, you did this. And, suddenly, the sea was calm. What might you have learned from your shipís unusual passenger?

2.    What does this story tell us about God? Think about:
ē his complete control over everything
ē his kindness to the citizens of Nineveh, who did not know
  him, and his pity for them
ē his patience with Jonah, who knew God, but did not want to
  obey him.   

3.    When he was in trouble, Jonah prayed (Jonah 2:1). What great truths comforted Jonah as he prayed to God (Jonah 2:2-10)?

4.    Jonah praised and thanked God (Jonah 2:9). Read his prayer (Jonah 2:1-10). Of course, Jonah was very grateful that God had rescued him. But, perhaps he was especially thankful for something else. What was it?

5.    Jonah was grateful that God saved his life. That was when he was on the sea (Jonah 2:6-7, 9). Later, when he was back on land, he wanted to die (Jonah 4:3). How do you explain such a huge change of attitude?

6.    Jonah seemed to have problems with the control of his anger (Jonah 4:1, 4, 9). Pretend that you were with him. He needed to understand things differently. How would you have tried to help him?

7.    Even when he was angry, Jonah still prayed (Jonah 4:2). That was better than to run away again. Jonah had much prejudice. [He had strong ideas and he refused to think about anybody elseís opinions.] What other lessons did God teach this man after he had prayed (Jonah 4:2-11)?

For More Discussion

1.    God commanded Jonah to do something. And it was obviously the opposite to what Jonah wanted to do. It might be the same for us. God might be asking us to do something. But we do not want to do it. We must respond to God. But what is the right way and the best way to do that? And how do we check if we have understood Godís message to us correctly?

2.    God asked Jonah for the reason why he was angry (Jonah 4:4). And Jesus was angry at times too (Mark 3:5; 11:15-18). So, are there times when it is right to be angry? And are there other times when it is wrong to be angry? (Read Ephesians 4:26, 31; Psalm 4:4 and James 1:19.) Or is the problem more about the way that we show anger?

3.    We can have firm beliefs. And we are sure that they are in the Bible. Other believers can be just as sincere as we are. But they think differently. How can we deal with this situation in the best way? What advice do we find in Romans 14?

Word List (Words with a *)

believer ~ a person who knows and accepts the *Lord Jesus Christ; another name for a Christian.

Hebrew ~ a nation, a people and a language; Jew is another name for a Hebrew person.

Lord ~ a name that we call God or Jesus; we call God or Jesus Lord when we do what they say.

mercy ~ kindness to someone who does not deserve it; a very strong word; there are several meanings in it; there is love and pity; to have mercy means to forgive.

religious ~ about religion; a person can be religious; but he may not really know God; (read Acts 17:22; 2 Timothy 3:5; James 1:26, 27).

repent ~ to turn away from evil and towards God; this choice will mean a complete change of life.

sin ~ not reaching Godís standards; not obeying Godís rules; it can speak about a state (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23; 5:12-17); it can also be an act; so, the word can be a noun or a verb.


By full permission of author

EasyEnglish TRANSLATION: Mary Read


© 1999-2014, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

June 2003

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