After much prayer, I felt we needed to study an entire book of the Bible together so you could learn a tried and proven method of study that you can use to study any book of the Bible on your own. For the next three months we are going to inductively study the Book of Jonah–a man I’ll call “Wrong-Way Jonah” because he didn’t know God as well as he thought!
Has it occurred to you that God’s Word–His revelation of everything we need to know about Him, about life, about the past, about the present, and about the future&mdashhas been put into a single Book? The Holy Bible is “holy,” set apart and consecrated by God, because it is absolutely different from any other book in the world that has ever been written. The Bible is the very Word of God, given by Him to men who faithfully wrote what God wanted them to write, then preserved and protected by God down through the ages despite the many attempts to destroy it. God’s Book is pure, unadulterated truth and has the answers for all of life’s situations. In Billy Graham’s autobiography, he writes that the decision to follow this Book wholeheartedly shaped his entire life and ministry.
If you want to know God, if you want to know truth, you’ve got to know His Book–all the 66 books that comprise it. That is our duty and our calling as children of God. When you interact with God’s Book, then you are interacting one to one with God!
How do you study a book of the Bible yourself? Begin by asking for the Author’s help. Talk to God and tell Him you want to know Him, understand His words and ways, and order your life according to them. Next, discover exactly what God is saying by observing the text–discovering what it says. Interpreting it, or learning what it means, will come as a result of careful, thorough observation. The best way to observe the text is to ask the 5 W’s and an H: who, what, when, where, why and how. How many of those questions does the text answer?
Inductive study (going directly to the text itself rather than to books about the text) is like peeling an onion. You begin with the obvious and then “unlayer” the text one insight after another until you get to the core and you’ve seen all there is to see. Since people are the easiest to see, start with who, and then see what the text tells you about them.
Let’s do this with Jonah. Read the first chapter and list the people or groups of people mentioned in this chapter. Then, starting with the most important people, including the Lord, see what the text tells you about them. So you don’t miss a thing, I suggest you color code them. Color-coding helps you identify and remember what you read. I color all references to the Lord God yellow and Jonah orange. (When I do a New Testament epistle, I begin by reading the entire letter and coloring every reference to the writer blue, and every reference to the recipients orange. However, when I study an Old Testament historical or prophetic book, I take it chapter by chapter as it unfolds).
Once you mark the Lord and Jonah (always include pronouns and synonyms), make a list of what you learn from marking them. You can make two columns and fill them in side by side, or fill in one side at a time, whichever works for you.
THE LORD …
1) … speaks to Jonah
and tells him what to
… seeks to flee from
presence of the Lord
and goes to Joppa (1:3).
Now, you continue the list. I know this takes time, but remember, Beloved, this is God’s Word, and you are interacting with God Himself–honoring Him by hanging on His every word. When you finish your list, take time to think about what you learned. For instance, what do you learn about God? It’s awesome! Think about it. If you have truly received Jesus Christ as your Savior, then this is your heavenly Father. Think about His power, the extent of it! And think about how God responds to Jonah’s fleeing from obedience to Him. Apply this by living according to these truths.
Since repeated reading of the text will lead you into careful observation and accurate interpretation, read Jonah 1 again. Watch for anything that tells you when, any references to time or sequence of time. I mark time with a green circle. Also, watch for anything that tells you where–geographical locations. Double underline them in green. If you are not familiar with where something is, consult a map. Look up Joppa, Nineveh and Tarshish. To give you some perspective, Nineveh is 550 miles northeast of Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Jonah was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 14:25). No one is sure where Tarshish was, but many believe it was near Spain.
If Jonah were to go to Nineveh from the region of Samaria, and if he covered 15-20 miles a day, it would take him about a month to get there. What did you see? Jonah didn’t want to go. And what happened as a result? Read through Jonah 1 again. As you do, look for any key repeated words or phrases. Many times you see these as you list what you observe about the people.
Key repeated words or phrases help you unlock the meaning of the text. Let me help you in this first chapter, and next month you can do it on your own. Mark the phrase from the presence of the Lord by putting a cloud around it and coloring it yellow. Mark calamity by putting a red cloud around it and coloring it red. (I always mark occurrences of calamities in my Bible. See Amos 3:6-7.) Now, stop and think. What was this particular calamity? Since it was the storm, mark storm the same way you mark calamity. Are there any references to prayer or calling on God? I mark all references to prayer (including synonyms and pronouns) by coloring them pink and drawing a symbol around them.
Now having done all that, take a look at the captain of the ship and his sailors. What do you learn about them from Jonah 1? Did anything happen in their lives as a result of this great calamity? Did you see any changes? What can you personally learn from this? How do you apply what you have seen? People are watching, and they want to know if our beliefs shape our behavior. What do they learn from the way you think and behave?
Finally, Beloved, have you gained any new knowledge about God and His ways from this study? Will it affect the way you live and relate to God? It should, for this is what knowing truth is all about. If it doesn’t, watch out for big fish! God has His way of getting our attention.