Workshop Leaders’ Bible Study

This workshop leader’s Bible study is a historical, theological, and contextual introduction to the Jonah rotation of Kirk of Kildaire’s Faith Quest workshop rotation program.  It is intended to provide workshop leaders with:

·        A historical context for understanding the Bible story.

·        A Biblical context for reading and teaching the story.

·        The theological basis for the concepts to be taught to the children.

In Kirk of Kildaire’s Faith Quest program, workshop leaders attend a one-hour Bible study two weeks prior to the start of a new rotation.  This Bible study helps workshop leaders understand how the concepts to be taught to the children are derived from the Bible story and how the lessons in the rotation fit together to reinforce the concepts.  It also provides an opportunity for the workshop leaders to grow in their own faith and understanding of the Bible.

It will be helpful to have a chalkboard, whiteboard, or flip chart for writing down questions or observations during the Bible study.

Note:  This is not a comprehensive study of the text, but only a few notes to help provide context and background for workshop leaders.  Consult titles cited in the reference list at the end of these notes for more information.



            Book of Jonah

Memory verse for this rotation:

            “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalm 86:15 NSRV


¨     Even if we don’t understand God’s purpose, we should still obey.

¨     God will not give up on you even if you disobey.

¨     God is merciful and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.

¨     God has power over all of nature.

¨     Jonah was a reluctant prophet and had trouble accepting God’s mercy and love for his enemies.

¨     God wants everyone to turn to God and know God.

Prayer Concerns & Prayer

·        If workshop leaders do not know each other, give them an opportunity to introduce each other and say which workshop they will be leading.

·        Begin the Bible study by praying for God’s guidance as teachers begin a new rotation.

Reading the text

Ask a workshop leader to read the text aloud. Ask the workshop leaders what questions came to mind as they heard the story or read it before the Bible study.  Write down any questions that arise and will need to be answered during the Bible study.


Historical, Theological, and Biblical Contexts
The Book of Jonah


            The book of Jonah does not offer any information about its author or date of composition.  Unlike other prophetic books “it tells a story about a presumed prophet rather than relating oracles spoken by a prophet” (Phyllis Trible, 466).  There is no scholarly consensus on the date, author, purpose, or genre of Jonah.  The boundaries for the date of composition fall between the 8th and 2nd centuries BCE (Trible, 466).  Every possibility imaginable has been proposed for the genre from autobiographical to satire to parable to history and so on.



            In her commentary in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, Phyllis Trible offers the following basic outline for Jonah.  Chapters 1 and 2 constitute scene 1 in Jonah and can be divided into 4 episodes.  Chapters 3 and 4 are scene 2 with 4 episodes.  We will note several connections, repetitions, and corresponding elements between the two scenes.

I.                 Jonah 1:1-2:10, Narrative of Flight, Strife, and Return

A.    1:1-3, Yahweh’s Command and Jonah’s Response

B.    1:4-6, Yahweh’s Storm and Human Responses

C.    1:7-16, Efforts of the Sailors to Avert Disaster and the Result

D.    1:17-2:10, Yahweh, a Fish, and Jonah

II.               Jonah 3:1-4:11, Narrative of Mission, Repentance, and Dissent

A.    3:1-4, Yahweh’s Command and Jonah’s Response

B.    3:5-10, Efforts of the Ninevites to Avert Disaster and the Result

C.    4:1-5, Jonah’s Reaction, Yahweh’s Reply, Jonah’s Departure

D.    4:6-11, Continuing Struggle Between Yahweh and Jonah


Many questions surround whether the psalm Jonah prays in Chapter 2 is original to the story or added later.  For our purposes we can simply accept it as part of the story.


Trible also comments that “Jonah is a literary gem” having “exquisite properties in its structure, characters, plot, and style” (474).



            Trible notes that one cannot “derive one consistent message from Jonah” (488).  If we attempt, as interpreters, to wrangle one theology from the many ideas found in Jonah then we will fail to gain an honest and true understanding of the story or of God as presented there (Trible, 488).  That said there are a few running themes to watch for in Jonah.

  1. Differing views of God – destroyer vs. savior (Trible, 508); merciful vs. angry and unrelenting;
  2. Role of nature – storm, sea, fish, wind, bush, worm, sun, animals in Nineveh.  God uses nature to control Jonah yet also shows that he cares about the animals in Nineveh.
  3. Repentance – Nineveh turns back to God and God turns away from destroying Nineveh
  4. Prophetic call – Many prophets resist God’s call at first but Jonah blatantly disobeys.


Interesting Words/Phrases/Ideas

Chapter 1

1:1       Jonah begins as if in the middle of a story

            Jonah is referred to in 2 Kings 14:23-27 “as a prophet who supported the Northern Kingdom of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE)” (Ackerman, 1375).

1:2       Nineveh is “a major city in Assyria to the east – a nation that conquered the Northern Kingdom in 722 BCE” (Ackerman, 1375)

            God’s command has 3 parts: Arise, go, call

1:3       Tarshish is a city to the West – in the opposite direction of Nineveh.  “a western seaport possibly to be identified with Tartessus in Spain – on the outer edge of the then known world” (Ackerman, 1375).  Note the movement of Jonah down, down, down.

1:4       hurl- multiple references: God hurls storm, sailors hurl stuff and Jonah

1:6       the captain shows hope

1:7       casting lots is like drawing straws

1:9       Jonah’s answer here is ironic given his attempt to flee from God.

1:12     Jonah asks to be thrown into sea – going farther down – is this one last attempt to escape God through death?

1:16     The sailors sacrifice and pray to Yahweh – don’t know if they gave up their own gods

1:17     large fish – not necessarily a whale

            swallow has negative connotations

            3 days/3 nights may be symbolic

            belly of the fish like being in the womb and compared to being in Sheol – life and death symbolism

Chapter 2

  • Psalm of Thanksgiving:  the claims in the psalm do not fit the story so far (Trible, 505).
  • Jonah finally calls out to God – says he calls from Sheol
  • He blames God for his predicament and praises his own piety (!!) (Trible, 506)
  • Seems strange that Jonah claims he has been delivered while he is still inside the fish
  • Finally God causes the fish to vomit (spew = vomit negative connotations) Jonah out – just couldn’t stomach it anymore!

Was the fish really deliverance if Jonah sought to die?

Chapter 3

·       God commands Jonah to arise, go and call again.  This time Jonah goes.

·       V. 3 really translated “a great city to God”

·       v. 4 overthrown can also be translated transformed

·       The people and king of Nineveh correspond to the sailors and their captain.  They believe and repent

·       The words of the King reflect the words of the captain – hope that God will save them

·       V. 10 God “changed his mind” (repent, turn) about destroying the Ninevites

Chapter 4

  • We are given reason for Jonah’s disobedience – He is angry because God is merciful and will save the Ninevites.
  • Jonah quotes from Exodus 34:6-7, God’s words when entering covenant with Israel
  • Jonah would rather die than see Nineveh saved
  • God again uses nature to make his point with Jonah
  • God gets the last word – concerned even with the animals of Nineveh


Workshop Summaries

Ask each workshop leader to summarize his or her workshop.  As they do so, point out the concepts that each lesson reinforces.  Ask workshop leaders if they have any questions about the logistics or practical application of their lesson.

Antioch Arcade: The class will play a game that reinforces their knowledge of the events of chapters 3-4.  Then the children will consider Jonah’s anger toward God’s love and mercy, and how we are like Jonah.

Creation Station:  The children will create batik pictures of Jonah trying to run from God.  They will talk about how we cannot hide from God and about how God loves us no matter what mistakes we make.

Good News:  The children will make forgiveness bracelets as they review the story of Jonah in the belly of the fish.  They will talk about how when we pray to God as Jonah did, God will hear us and forgive us.

Holywood:  The children will view the video The Story of Jonah and the Whale and will list and discuss ways in which God shows power over nature and mercy in the story.

Praising Puppets:  The children will hear the story of Jonah talking especially about how the Ninevites were not obeying God and how God was patient and taught them to obey.  Then they will work with puppets to understand more about obeying.  

Review Questions

Return to the questions that were gathered at the start of the hour.  Have they been answered?  Are there any further questions about the Bible story or about the lessons?

Closing Prayer

Close the Bible study with a prayer.


Ackerman, James S. “Jonah”. The HarperCollins Study Bible NRSV.  Wayne A. Meeks et al. editors. (New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1993).

Trible, Phyllis. “Jonah.” The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 7. Leander Keck, et al. editors. (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1996). (pp.463-509).