The current manual combines the mission accomplished by Jonah (not his time in the belly of the fish, but his fulfilling of his mission afterward) with the mission of latter-day Israel (interpreted as the Latter-day Saints) prophesied by Micah. These lessons from 1944 survey the full known stories of Jonah and Micah with emphasis on the same points stressed in the current manual.
Jonah – The Prophet Who Tried to Run from God
Our Knowledge of the Prophet. – We know little of the life of Jonah, but that little is more than we know about some of the other prophets. In the first verse of the book under his name Jonah is said to be “the son of Amittai.” The book of Jonah is not the only Old Testament book in which he is mentioned. In II Kings 14:25 we are told that Jeroboam II, king of Israel,
Restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath unto the sea of Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke by the hand of His servant, Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher.
There can be little doubt, therefore, that Jonah was an historical person and was engaged in prophetic activities. The prophet’s home, Gath-hepher, according to Joshua 19:10-13, was located I the territory of the tribe of Zebulun. According to monastic tradition, it was the same as the present Arab village of El-Mesed some three miles northeast of Nazareth, where one of the many Moslem tombs of Nehi Yunus, the Prophet Jonah, is pointed out. St. Jerome (circa 400 A.D.) also speaks of Gath-hepher as being situated two Roman miles from Sepphoris toward Tiberias.
Jonah’s name means “dove” and that of his father, “truthful.”
Since Jonah lived during the reign of Jeroboam II, it is possible to date him at approximately 788 B.C.
The Book and Its Literary Form. – The Book of Jonah consists of only four short chapters, but contains the most profound religious message in the Old Testament. In reality it is not a prophecy but a story about a prophet. The obvious intent of the book is to drive home a religious lesson whether or not we agree that its details are historical.
In relation to its literary form the book has been classed as simple religious history, a myth, a prophetic parable, an allegory, and a Midrash. A Midtash “was the expansion, doctrinal or homiletic, of a passage of Scripture, and frequently took the form, dear to Orientals, of parable or invented story about the subject of the text.” due to the problems that arise concerning the book, few people seem to be able to agree on its literary type. But whatever the type, the significance of its teaching can in no wise be affected by the diversity of opinion. We can agree, however, that most of the little book is prose, remarkable for its simplicity of style. The only poetry is found in the prayer continued in chapter 2:3-9, which possesses considerable spirit and force. the text of the book has been preserved in very good order.
Jonah Refuses God’s Call to a Mission. – a call on a mission! And direct from the Lord1 it was no surprise to the prophet to be called, for he had probably carried out many missions for the Lord in Israel before. His surprise lay not in the fact of the call but in the kind of call, and rebellion arose in his heart. It was a call to go to Nineveh, “the great city” of Assyria, and preach to its heathen inhabitants, for their wickedness had come up before the Lord.
Jonah had bitter recollections of Assyria. Not that she, indeed, had been a serious menace to Israel in his lifetime, but because her cruelties were proverbial and her inhabitants given to idolatry and every manner of wickedness. A generation or so before his time, Assyria had defeated a coalition of kings including Ahab, king of Israel, at the battle of Karkar (853 B.C.). Some years later, 841 B.C., Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria, forced Jehu, king of Israel, to pay tribute humbly to him. These defeats of Israel did not help Jonah’s temper any, for even prophets are human and subject at times to recriminations. Then the prophet’s mind went back to Abraham’s day, and he recalled that God had sent the Father of the Faithful out of the general region where the hated Assyrians lived. The emotions that arose in his heart were hot and defiant. Why should the Lord select him, of all men, to go preach to these idolatrous and corrupt heathen who were not worth saving1 There were plenty of backsliders in Israel who needed preaching to without one’s going to Nineveh. Jonah had an intuitive feeling that if he did go to Nineveh God would do something to save her inhabitants. Past experience had taught the prophet something of the Lord’s patience and tender mercies toward all men.
“I knew that thou are a gracious God, and compassionate, long suffering, and abundant in mercy, and repentest thee of evil.” (4:2.)
Such was the prophet’s statement at a later time.
Jonah was torn between his loyalty to God and the whip of his emotions. The latter were at a fever pitch and in the end determined his actions. He couldn’t face the mission call, so he determined to flee the country and get away from the responsibilities of it. He did not intend to lay down his prophetic office, he merely wanted to absent himself without leave for a time until an unpleasant situation adjusted itself.
“Jonah arose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord; and he went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare thereof, and went down unto it, to go with them unto Tarshish, from the presence of the Lord.” (1:3.)
Herein Jonah displayed his human weakness. Let us not judge him too harshly. Remember how many folk at this critical period in our own history are already to let their emotions rise to the exploding point when the Germans, Italians, or Japanese are mentioned. Let the Assyrians be substituted for these people and we have a situation closely analogous to the one in which Jonah found himself. Modern Christians can hate as fiercely as the Hebrew prophet in his worst moments. Men often become irrational and devoid of brotherly feeling in times of stress. all the more reason, therefore, why the Book of Jonah should be carefully evaluated and reconsidered by the world of today.
Jonah learned what so many of us learn sooner or later – God is not mocked, neither can we get away from His power and influence. God “hurled” a great wind into the sea, and soon both ship and passengers were in trouble. Note that the mariners, despised heathen also, did something about. First they prayed to their gods, then set about throwing the ship’s tackling into the sea to lighten her. but Jonah slept through it all. The ship’s master called upon him to wake up and pray.
“What meanest thou that thou sleepest? Arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.” (1:6.)
In this and succeeding passages there is most delicious irony. Instead of Jonah’s preaching to the heathen, God preaches to Jonah by means of a heathen. Imagine one of these despised people calling upon a Hebrew prophet to pray! The watchman on the tower of Zion has fallen asleep at his post. Lots are cast and it is determined that Jonah is the cause of the trouble to the ship. Jonah’s conscience smites him and he asks to be thrown into the sea – all will be quiet then. Like the Prodigal Son he “came to himself” at last – at least in part. What a fine thing it is when men find their better selves! “The awakening of the conscience,” says Victor Hugo, “is the grandeur of the soul.” But the seamen, out of fear, reverence, pity, and respect, refused to sacrifice one of their fellow men. they rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but to no avail.
Only when all measures to save Jonah and the ship had failed did they finally consent to throw the Hebrew prophet overboard. The miraculous cessation of the storm seems to have convinced the sailors further that Jonah’s God was the true “God who hath made the sea and the dry land.” They were ostensibly converted to Him for the record says:
“Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly; and they offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.” (1:16.)
Jonah Accepts God’s Second Call to a Mission. – Through bitter experience Jonah learned that life is much sweeter and better if one runs with God rather than from Him. God repeated the call to Jonah and this time he accepted by going to Nineveh.
In this great district Jonah began to preach and apparently relished the message he delivered.
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” (3:4)
Presumably, the prophet had learned the letter of the lesson recently taught him, but had not imbibed its spirit, for when the king and the people of Nineveh received the prophet’s message – greatest miracle of all – and repented of their evil deeds with God’s blessings and approbation. “It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.’ (4:1.) Therefore the Lord had to teach His representative another lesson.
God Teaches Jonah a Profound Lesson. – Jonah went out of Nineveh and sat in a safe place on the east side of the city, sulking and still hoping that God’s judgments would descend upon the repentant heathen. So God appointed a gourd to shade Jonah from the sun. Soon, however, a worm cut down the plant and Jonah fainted by reason of both a hot east wind and the sun. He requested that he might die. The Lord gave the famous answer:
“Should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” (4:11.)
It is apparent throughout the story that Jonah could not stand to see God’s love, so much promised to Israel, and cherished by her, bestowed on others, particularly her heathen oppressors.
The Abiding Lessons of Jonah. – Many competent critics think that Jonah “stands preeminent as the noblest, broadest, and most Christian of all Old Testament literature.”
The greatest lesson of the book is that God’s divine grace is universal. In it is conveyed the lesson that all men are precious in God’s eyes but acceptable to Him only if their hearts turn toward Him. Jonah as the representative of the Chosen People had the responsibility of being the bearer of salvation to all men, but by reason of his unrighteous antipathies and irrational lack of love, he was put to shame by the Lord. The loving providence and heartfelt sympathy of God is shown to embrace even the countless heathen, “so that for the sake of their many children, who have done no wrong, and their cattle, which are irresponsible, He does not desire their death, but that they may turn and live.” This is the type of teaching so frequently driven home by the New Testament. Another and obvious lesson of the book is that of obedience. To this may be added the lesson that prophecy is conditional. “Judgment, indeed, through repentance may be exchanged for salvation.” Finally, another lesson lies in the spirit of higher patriotism which pervades the book.
In this day when the clash of arms and the engines of war are heard in the nations, in an hour when narrow loyalties and hatred are rampant in the world, the Book of Jonah stands like a beacon in the darkness showing that God is loving and merciful and that all men are brothers.
Micah – Prophet of Judgment, Comfort, and Salvation
Some Facts about Micah. – From the opening verse of the Book of Micah it is apparent that the prophet’s ministry was during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. His preaching, therefore, took place during the years from approximately 740 B.C. to 607 B.C. We may assign to him an approximate date of 725 B.C. This date reveals Micah as a contemporary of the great Isaiah and possibly also of Hosea and Amos.
The name Micah is an abbreviation of Micaiah, as the prophet is called in Jer. 26;18, which in turn is probably a contraction of Mikayahu, “who is like unto Jehovah?” The prophet is to be distinguished from the leader prophet Micah the son of Imlah (I Kings 22:8 ff.), as well as from ten other persons of the same name in the Old Testament. The fact that Micah is called the Morashtite would point strongly to his being a native of Moresheth-Gath, which is mentioned in the text. the name of the town means Territory or Property of Gath and seems to have been located in the Shephelah or low hill region of Judea some twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem. Micah was, therefore, a product of the open hills and valleys and seems to have had no special love for the cities.
Since Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos, the problems he faced were much the same as theirs. Micah was not a statesman like Isaiah; consequently, he was not so much concerned about his nation’s political sins. The prophet was more like Amos in that his grievances were social in character. He was especially concerned with the attempts of the nobles to build up large estates by ejecting small property owners. Corrupt judges assisted their greedy friends in robbing the weak; even widows and orphans without means of defense were deprived of their goods by force and ofttimes sold into slavery. The common people were kept in bondage through high taxation and creditors were unmerciful with their victims. Micah held the nobility to be responsible for the terrible moral and social corruption among his people. He likened the nobles to cannibals, who eat the flesh of the people and chop their bones in pieces for the pot. There was no end to their greed and rapacity, and decisions were given to those who paid the largest bribes.
The Content and Literary Style of Micah. – The Book of Micah divides quite naturally into three sections. 1. Chapters 1;2 to 2, deal with coming judgments upon Israel and Judah – whose capitals were Samaria and Jerusalem respectively – their sins and punishment, and a brief promise of eventual restoration of the remnant of Israel. 2. Chapters 3 to 5 have to do with the sins of the two nations’ leaders, the destruction of Jerusalem, the glorification and blessing of Zion and Jerusalem in the latter days, the restoration of Israel to her former dominion, the Babylonian captivity and subsequent rescue, the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem and, finally, the beneficent and terrible power of the remnant of Jacob among the nations in the latter days. 3. In chapters 6 to 7 the Lord shows Israel the way to salvation by the expedient of a very dramatic controversy or law-suit. She has repaid His loving care and benefits with ingratitude, her worship is mistaken if not insincere, and here social sins point to her doom. The Lord will again have compassion on His people and show forth His marvelous works to the nations if Israel will but confess her sins and turn to Him.
Each of these sections begins with the words “Hear ye.” A beautiful prayer and doxology conclude the book.
With the exception of the superscription (1:1), all of the Book of Micah is in poetic form. The prophet had the ability to write excellent Hebrew, and his thought and language amply justify his statement that he was full of power by the spirit of the Lord (3:8). His style very often equals that of Isaiah in boldness and sublimity; it is concise and yet perspicuous, nervous, vehement, and forceful. Rapidity of movement, vivid description, picturesque phraseology, and directness are characteristic of the prophecy. Micah is rich and beautiful in the varied use of figurative language, indulges in word plays, is regular in the formation of his parallelisms, and exhibits greater emotion and tenderness when administering threats and conveying promises. He has keen insight, clearness of vision, and ability to give logical development to his discourses. The later chapters in Micah, especially four to six, possess a greater variety and unevenness of style than do chapters one to three. The prophet’s description of the gracious character of the Lord (7:18-20) is unrivaled by any contained in the scriptures.
An Apostrophe of Judgment to the Nations of the Earth. – In vivid language reminiscent of the opening lines of Isaiah, Micah commences with a sublime apostrophe of judgment to the nations of the earth. (1:2-4.)
These lines are preliminary to a more specific announcement of the Lord’s coming judgments.
The Announcement of Judgment Upon Israel and Judah. – Micah proceeds to disclose the reasons for the Lord’s anger (1:5). The prophet identifies the sources of apostasy or transgression of Israel as the capital cities of the Northern and Southern kingdoms respectively. The reference to the “high places” is an allusion to the sinister and immoral Canaanite religious practices adopted by Israel and put into operation upon high or elevated spots on mountains and hills. The prophets constantly attacked these foreign elements in Israel’s religion. And what will be God’s judgment upon Samaria? The answer comes forcefully and without equivocation (1:6). In the process of Samaria’s destruction the prophet is very careful to note the end of certain religious equipment and practices taken over from the Canaanites (1:7). How are Canaanite religion had penetrated Israel the reader may judge for himself. The lesson to modern Israel is obvious.
A Lament Over the Coming Devastation of Judah. – Nor does Micah spare Judah and Jerusalem. In a lament the prophet wails over the coming devastation of Judah that shall reach the gates of Jerusalem itself (1:8, 9).
From this point Micah continues with a dirge containing an ominous series of puns or word plays on Judean towns (1:10-16).
Woe Upon the Haughty Nobles Who Oppress the People. – We are today in the midst of a world revolution. It is due in part to social wrongs that have constantly beset the poor and innocent in every country. Micah felt keenly the social injustices that plagued Israel in his own day. Coming as he did, from the country, he no doubt felt these wrongs more acutely than he would had he come from the city. He could not help but cast his invective at the wealthy, greedy land grabbers, who descended upon the rural districts and made the poor their debtors. Even today, the agricultural communities in our own nation could well take a leaf from Micah’s note book and beware of letting their properties go into the hands of money lenders (2:1-5).
Micah was not so much concerned about the taking of mere chattels. What ground his soul and made him righteously indignant was that unscrupulous men were allowed to commit wrongs so easily and put human beings in their power. personal independence was lost and the security of home and family was put in the hands of a few capricious men.
The Prophet’s Censure of Those Who Cannot endure the Truth. – The prophet’s words meet with violent opposition on the part of corrupt men in high places as well as from false prophets. Micah replies (2:6-11) by showing that these men abuse the patience and mercy of the Lord; that by defrauding or robbing the poor, the widows (women of My people), and the orphans, they are bringing about the inevitable captivity of the land. Such preaching on the part of Micah does not please the corrupt great men, for they imagine that his threats are irreconcilable with the goodness of the Lord. Micah interposes (verse 7) by pointing out that God is not wrathful and has no love for chastening, but that he is stirred up to anger by the nation’s sins and is obliged to punish. When the prophet has overthrown (verses 7-9) the objections to his prophecies by pointing out the transgressions of the people, he repeats the prediction of punishment in the form of a summons to Israel (verse 10) to depart out of the land because it cannot bear uncleanness and abominations. To this Micah adds the point that the people only want to hear predictions of good, that they would rather hear the lies of false prophets who pursue the wind (i.e. emptiness and nothingness) than to be impelled by the Spirit of the Lord.
Promise of Eventual Restoration of the Remnant of Israel. – The thought of the prophet suddenly shifts from his own wicked generation to the distant future. He still has in mind his own people, but his eye is especially upon the righteous remnants of their descendants in the latter days – the dispensation of the fullness of times – when the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be restored to the earth for the last time. He comforts the righteous people of his own time by showing them that although God shall bring dire punishment upon both Israel and Judah for their sins, still, at that great future time, their descendants shall be gathered and blessed in order that God’s promises to Abraham may be fulfilled. The Lord had long ago decreed that through Abraham’s descendants should all nations be blessed with the Gospel. (See Abr. 2:8-11.) Micah knows that all of Israel should not be destroyed in the coming punishments otherwise the Lord’s predictions to the Father of the Faithful could not be fulfilled. The predictions of Micah regarding the remnant of Israel are of special interest to all Latter-day Saints since many of us are descendants of men and women who were gathered out of the nations for the Gospel’s sake. (s:12, 13.)
Condemnation of Israel’s Civil Rulers. – At the beginning of the next section of his discourse Micah turns back to the immediate situation confronting him and threshes Israel’s civil rulers with one of the bitterest denunciations to be found in all prophecy. They do not know justice. They hate good, love evil, and in their administrative capacities are like cannibals eating up the people instead of acting as their servants. (3:1-4.) What Micah said in his day often applies with equal force today.
Micah Denounces the Hireling Prophets. – We have already noted I the reading of the Book of Amos that the prophet of Tekoa protested he was no “prophet nor a son of a prophet”; that is, he was not a professional or hireling prophet. Micah also makes reference to the hireling prophets. It seems that in the generation of Amos and Micah the leaders of Israel – tyrants would be a better name – used professional prophets and seers to cloak their misdeeds. Religion, unfortunately, lends itself, or rather its cloak, very easily to the uses of the hypocrite. So the rich and unscrupulous leaders of Israel found it easy – for a price – to hire professional religionists to cover their actions by flattery and falsehood. the hireling prophet depended upon his rich clients for a living. He could not, therefore, be independent in his thinking and in his judgment. He was high-pressured into siding with the rich, and consequently shut his eyes to the real conditions among the people. Naturally he could not attack the sins of the day that made it possible for his clients to exploit Israel’s common people. Micah exposed the pseudo-prophets vigorously. (3:5-7.)
On the other hand, Micah shows that he as a true prophet has the spirit of the lord with the accompanying insight, vision, and courage to tell the people of their sins. (3:8.)
The Glory of Zion and Jerusalem in the Latter Days. – After denouncing Israel’s leaders (3:9-12), Micah makes another sudden transition in his thought and looks once more to the glory of his people in the latter days. Many nations at that time are to come up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob, to be taught divine law. Micah has practically the same views in this respect as are to be found in Isa. 2:2-4. As a result of divine judgments, nations shall not learn war any more, and every man shall sit in security under his own vine and under his own fig-tree with none to make afraid. Latter-day Saints believe this glorious prediction of Micah is now in the process of fulfillment. Eventually the law and word of the Lord shall go forth to the earth from two capitals, Zion (the New Jerusalem) in America and Jerusalem in Palestine. (4:1-5.)
The Mormon people think that in the past one hundred and twenty years they have assisted the Lord greatly in the work which was foreseen by Micah and that in the future they shall take an ever increasing part in bringing to pass peace and righteousness in the world.
Micah also sees the Lord reigning over his people and the restoration of Israel to her former dominion. (4:6-8.)
The Power of Gathered Israel in the Latter Days. – After foretelling the invasion of Judea, the Babylonian captivity, and the subsequent liberation of the Jews (4:9, 10), Micah points out that the nations who are enemies of Zion shall be threshed as sheaves on the threshing floor by Israel, the daughter of Zion.
The metaphor of threshing is often used by the prophets to denote the complete destruction of a people. (See, e.g., Jer. 51:33.) The time when this shall take place is in the latter days when Israel is to have power over her enemies. The prophet continues the metaphor by indicating that Zion’s horns are to be of iron and her hoofs of brass. The allusion is to animals used in beating out grain on the threshing floor. The horn was a symbol of power exercised in subduing and punishing enemies. (4:11-13.)
That the interpretation given above to this passage is correct is attested to in the Book of Mormon and by no less a personage than the risen Savior Himself. After explaining the gathering of Israel in our dispensation He went on to point out to the Nephites that if the Gentiles do not repent, the remnant of Israel shall have power over them. The Savior even quotes portions of the passage from Micah under consideration. (III Nephi 20:17-21.) The statement of the Savior is for all practical purposes a perfect commentary on a part of Micah ofttimes misunderstood.
The Prediction of the Coming of the Messiah. – Micah now rests for a moment from his predictions concerning Israel in the latter days and turns back in time to the little village of Bethlehem. Out of this village, one of Judah’s smallest, he sees coming one who is to be ruler over all Israel. This is to be the Messiah, or Savior of His people. His works, Micah sees, reach back into eternity. He shall stand and feed or shepherd His flock. Moreover, His power and influence shall be great to the ends of the earth. (5:2-4.)
The Power of the Remnant of Jacob among the Gentiles in the Latter Days. – After making a brief allusion to the Savior as the one who would eventually deliver his people from the power of Assyria (5:5, 6), Micah turns once more to proclaim the power that the gathered remnant of Jacob shall have against its enemies in the dispensation of the fullness of times. It is to be as a dew from the Lord, as a lion that stealeth among the flocks, as a power able to cut off all enemies. The Gentiles at that day, except they repent, are to have their power of resistance shattered, their false and idolatrous worship abolished – in short, God will execute vengeance in anger and fury upon the nations. It so happens that ths passage (5:7-15) was also quoted and commented upon by the savior while explaining the great events of the latter days to the Nephites. the reader is urged to study the statements of Micah and compare them with the Savior’s comments. (III Nephi 21:12-21.)
The attention paid by the Savior to Micah’s prophecies is remarkable, and its importance to this generation is – or should be – obvious to every Latter-day Saint.
The Lord’s Case Against Israel. – We come now to the third and concluding division of the Book of Micah. It is like entering calmer waters after a heavy storm. The prophet is not so bitter in his invective and the tone of this division is much more peaceful than the preceding ones. The Lord pleads His case with Israel in a mood reminiscent of court procedure. The mountains are summoned to be present; the Lord presents his complaint and appeals to his past mercies. (6:1-5.)
The Answer of the People. – Because of these loving acts of God, which cannot be questioned, the audience replies (in the first person singular) in a sincere but mistaken way. (6:6, 7.)
This answer, of course, betrays the lack of comprehension on the part of the people of what constitutes the inner demands of true religion. It is true that under the Law of Moses the Lord required sacrifice and other ritualistic practices, but they were all symbolic of principles that were to lead His people to higher and better things. But Israel’s worship had become formalized and the wickedness of the people had rendered their ritual unacceptable to God.
Micah conveyed to the people the fundamental requirements of true religion in an answer that is one of the noblest of all time.
“It hath been told thee, O man, what is good,
And what the Lord doth require of thee:
Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” (6:8.)
In these few lines Micah has summed up the essence of the teachings of the prophets.
Micah Prays for the Lord’s Fulfillment of His Promise. – After promising Israel’s restoration (7:11-13), Micah prays beautifully for its fulfillment. the prayer is distinguished for the poetical elevation of its style and the appropriateness of its petition. Like many other Old Testament prayers it is prophetic in its spirit. (7:14-17.)
A Doxology or Ascription of Praise to God. – Micah ends with a doxology. He revels in the prospect of Israel’s glorious future and breaks out into a strain of sublime praise and admiration for the divine attributes of loving-kindness, faithfulness, and compassion to be manifested by God in her deliverance. (7:18-20.)