Category Archives: Inductive Bible Study

Jonah’s Tree

The short book of Jonah “struck” me this time through.  Here are some thoughts, aided by the ESV Study Bible (be sure to get to the end, where God gets sarcastic).

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. – Jonah 1:3

Ah, Jonah, nice try.  But the Lord isn’t a local God; He is everywhere.  “Where shall I go from your Spirit?  Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).  You can’t escape Him by getting out of town.  Tarshish might be a reference to somewhere in Spain or in Carthage, so Jonah would be going from Israel to somewhere in the far West.  But crossing the known world doesn’t put a dent in God’s power.

What happens when you flee God?  Death.  Images of death and descending to Sheol abound in the first two chapters:

  • He went down to Joppa…
  • Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and… was fast asleep [during a fierce storm – as one dead].
  • Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish [a tomb-like place]…
  • [Jonah says,] “…out of the belly of Sheol I cried…”
  • “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.  I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit…”

Jonah’s flight from God was a foolish one that led towards death.


Some neat thoughts on structure:

  • Jonah 1:1-3 parallels Jonah 3:1-3: The Lord calls to Jonah and Jonah goes somewhere (Joppa or Ninevah).
  • Jonah 1:4-16 parallels Jonah 3:3-10: The pagan (sailors or Ninevites) responses to God’s judgement – in both cases, they turn to God.
  • Jonah 1:17-2:10 parallels Jonah 4:1-4: Jonah prays (from the fish or from Ninevah) and the Lord responds.

For those of you following along at home, that leaves out Jonah 4:5-11.  This structure means that the final section of the book is its climax, and it’s a doozy.  (It’s puzzled me for many years, but now I feel like I understand it.  Somewhat.) (Go read it; I’ll wait.)


Here, Jonah is upset that God saved the wicked Ninevites when they repented, and God is responding to him.

God gives Jonah a shade tree that grows up out of nowhere.  Jonah enjoys it greatly, but then it withers and dies.  Jonah is angry at God.  “Why’d you kill the plant?!”

Then, God pulls the twist on him.  He says [my translation], “You’re sad and angry that the tree died, but the tree means nothing to you.  It’s just a tree.  If you, then, feel pity for a dying tree that you didn’t even plant or take care of, how much more then should I have pity on people?  People that I created and love?  That’s why I had mercy on the Ninevites.”

(Matt Walsh is using the same technique here.)

God adds that the Ninevites “do not know their right hand from their left.”  They don’t know.  They don’t get it.  So when God – through Jonah – tells them they’re in the wrong and they immediately repent, shouldn’t He have mercy on them?

Let this be a reminder to those of us who follow the Lord to share His compassion on those who are far from Him.

And then, verse 11.  The strangest end to a Biblical book: ” and also much cattle.”  Here’s God’s sarcasm for Jonah.  God says, “Well, even if the fact that there are 120,000 people in Ninevah who didn’t know they were doing wrong doesn’t make you happy with my mercy, you obviously care for other living things, like that plant.  So, there’s a whole bunch of cows in Ninevah.  Now can I have mercy on the city, for the cows’ sake?”


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Daniel 6: Daniel in the Lion’s Den

I’m starting to blog notes and thoughts from our weekly graduate student Inductive Bible study. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, but had gotten overwhelmed with establishing a consistent format and starting from the beginning of a book. Today, I’ve decided just to dive in. We mostly follow an Inductive method of Bible study, explained here, which is my favorite method of Bible study ever.  Essentially, it encourages us to first figure out what the passage would have meant to its original audience, and only then to ask how it applies to our lives.  Its basic steps are Observation, Interpretation, Application.  We’re currently in the middle of Daniel.

6 It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; 2 and over them three high officials, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. 4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. 5 Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”

6 Then these high officials and satraps came by agreement[a] to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! 7 All the high officials of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction.

10 When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. 11 Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and plea before his God. 12 Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the injunction, “O king! Did you not sign an injunction, that anyone who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered and said, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” 13 Then they answered and said before the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or the injunction you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”

14 Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel. And he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. 15 Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”

16 Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king declared[b] to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” 17 And a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.

19 Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 As he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish. The king declared to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 And the king commanded, and those men who had maliciously accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. And before they reached the bottom of the den, the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.

25 Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. 26 I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,

for he is the living God,
enduring forever;
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
27 He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions.”
28 So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.

– Daniel 6, ESV

Assorted observations/insights from a commentary:
– v1. Darius is the new king – a Persian or Mede.  Scholars think Darius may have served under Cyrus as king of the region.
– v1. Satraps – officials or administrators
– v4.  There may have been some racial/ethnic envy here.  The Persian officials might have been offended that Daniel, a Jew, one of the peoples brought into Babylon in exile, was going to be placed over them.
– v7.  The officials tell Darius that all the officials agree, even though Daniel was not consulted.  Darius, who seems to like Daniel, may have assumed that this proposal had Daniel’s approval, too.
– v8.  The decree may have appeared political to the new king Darius.  He might have seen it as a good way to cement his authority over the people he’s just conquered.
– v10 and 16: “as he had done previously,” “continuously” – Daniel doesn’t change anything he was doing when he heard about the decree.
– v12 – 27 tell the story from the king’s perspective, not from Daniel’s perspective as we might have expected.
-v13. “Daniel…pays no attention to you, O king” – the officials misrepresent the truth here.  Daniel continued to serve faithfully as one of the three high officials of the kingdom; I think Daniel could have properly served the king without disobeying God, aside from this decree.  The officials here are trying to convince Darius that he has no choice but to throw his favorite official to the lions.

Bigger Observations/Interpretation:
– God’s law vs. the king’s law.  God’s law is true and worthy to be followed, no matter the cost.  The king’s law claims to be immutable, but, for Daniel, it’s subject to a higher law.
– God’s rescue vs. the king’s rescue.  The king “was much distressed and set his mind to deliver Daniel.”  He labored all day to free Daniel, but in the end the best this powerful king could do was shout down into the lion’s den, “May your God… deliver you!”  God’s rescue, however, is powerful and complete.  Daniel emerges safe from a night spent with lions, lions that we find out later overpowered the officials before the officials had even hit bottom (I like the inclusion of a control for a test of the lion’s ferocity).
– Jesus.  (There is so much Jesus in Daniel!)  One common interpretation of this story (often when it’s told to children) is this: Daniel is a good man, Daniel obeys God even when it’s hard, and God rescues Daniel.  You should be like Daniel.  However, I think further examination of the passage shows that we’re not supposed to put ourselves in Daniel’s place.  I think that in this story Daniel represents Christ (and Darius might possibly represent us).
In literature, we typically identify with the person from whose point of view the story is told.  In this story, the most interesting bits are told from Darius’s point of view, not Daniel’s.  (It would have been so interesting to hear the details of the lion’s den from Daniel’s perspective, but we’re not given that.)  We also see numerous parallels between Christ and Daniel.  Daniel has “no error or fault,” like Christ is blameless.  Daniel and Christ are falsely accused by leaders who feel threatened.  They are both left in a cave/den/tomb whose entrance is sealed with a stone.  They both emerge in the morning fully alive by the power of God.

– In some sense, I think we’re meant to identify with Darius.  He sinned, however foolishly, by signing the decree.  His efforts to save are ineffectual.  By God’s grace, Daniel’s rescue from the tomb enables Darius to praise God, like Christ’s resurrection enables us to praise God and be in right relationship with him.  Darius’s ability to worship at the end is a gift of God.  So, too, any righteousness we show is a gift of God.  Viewed through this lens, I think it’s fine to identify with Daniel – Christ is sanctifying us and making us more like him, so that we will be able to stand firm and obey God, even when it’s hard.  However, this steadfastness isn’t something we muster up inside ourselves – it’s a product of living and walking with Christ.

– This chapter wraps up the story portion of Daniel.  We discussed what the stories might have meant to Daniel, the kings, the Jews, the Babylonians/other foreigners, and to us.  Many of these stories show that obedience leads to fruit.  Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego each obey God’s law when it looks pointless – it looks like they will be killed for obedience.  However, God uses their obedience, saves them, and demonstrates His Glory to the foreign kings and the people.  For the Jews, these events were likely an encouragement in the midst of the exile as they show that God still listens and is still working.  The Babylonians and other foreigners get to see God’s power and a prefiguring of Christ.  Displaying God to the nations was the reason Israel was chosen to be special to God, and they are performing this function now in exile. Multiple kings have wrapped up a chapter of Daniel with a decree of Jehovah’s greatness.  For us, I think the stories are enjoyable as stories – they develop our imagination and show us the character of God.  They demonstrate to us what a righteous man acts like when surrounded by non-believers, and the prefigurings of Christ in the stories remind us that we are not asked to muster up this righteousness on our own.

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