Jonah 1 (day 890) 8 June 2012
1-3: There is a reference at 1 Kings 14:25 of a Jonah son of Amittai, a prophet who lived during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel. It is tempting to equate him with the main character in the book of Jonah, but scholars don’t generally think much of that idea. There is some animosity expressed toward the Assyrians in the book of Jonah – Nineveh was a capital city of the Assyrian Empire. However, the Jonah in this book is never called a prophet, and it is impossible to tell from the book exactly what relationship exists between Israel and Assyria.
In any case it is a great morality tale, and as such is different from anything else in the collection of prophetical books. God tells Jonah to go cry out against Nineveh for its wickedness. Jonah promptly books passage to Tarshish, which we think was on the coast of Spain. In other words, he headed for the point on earth that was as far away from Nineveh as one could travel in those days.
4-6: A storm arises at sea. Jonah was asleep in the hold when the captain begged him to call out to his God; which reminds me, by the way, of the scene in the gospels when Jesus was asleep in the boat with his disciples and a storm arose at sea (Matthew 8:23-27). They awakened Jesus and he stilled the storm.
7-10: If you want to find out who’s to blame for some calamity, roll the dice. That’s how they thought in those days, and Jonah was quickly identified as the source of their troubles. Once Jonah is identified as the offender, and identifies his God to them, they are certain that Jonah’s God is the cause of the storm.
11-16: They try to lighten the ship, to no avail, so at his behest they throw him overboard, and immediately the sea grows calm. They are so surprised they apparently forget all about poor Jonah splashing around a few yards away.
17: While they offer a sacrifice, God takes care of Jonah by sending a fish to swallow him. The next time you want to ask God to rescue you, remember that God has strange ways of rescuing people.
Jonah 2 (891) 9 June 2012
1-9: A psalm of deliverance is spoken by Jonah while in the belly of the fish. You will recognize elements of Jonah’s prayer that are in common with many of the psalms: a cry of distress and plea for deliverance, a description of the suffering the supplicant has undergone, a description of how God comes to the rescue, and an ascription of praise to God for God’s mighty deeds of deliverance.
10: God tells the fish to spit him out. Luckily, he is spat onto dry ground. Do notice how everybody and everything in the story immediately obeys whatever God says, except Jonah.
Jonah 3 (892) 10 June 2012
1-5: Again God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time Jonah sets out forthwith, and we are not at all surprised. The dimensions of the city, a three day’s walk, are surely exaggerated, but that gives the author a way of emphasizing the response of the Ninevites. Jonah goes only one day’s walk – a third of the way – stops and declares God’s message, and the people immediately repent! Don’t you find it a curious thing is that Jonah has not called them to repentance, has not accused them of anything at all, nor has he mentioned God? Jonah has simply said, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” There is no information about how or by whom the overthrow will happen. It could be anything from a bloodless coup to a prolonged siege to fire and brimstone from the sky. Nevertheless, the people of Nineveh immediately take it to heart as a call for spiritual renewal. Contrast their response to the response of the people of Israel and Judah to all the warnings of all the prophets sent by God through decades and decades. Of course, that may be the point of the story of Jonah. He represents every prophet of God who has no choice but to go where God wants him to go, do what God wants him to do, and say what God wants him to say. The people of Nineveh are the model listeners who are immediately stricken by a word from God even when it is not specifically cited as a word from God!
6-9: When the king of Nineveh hears about it, he also repents in sackcloth and ashes and declares a city-wide fast! He is the ideal king who is willing to give up anything and everything to be obedient to God, unlike all the kings of Judah and Israel who were given so many chances to turn their country around.
10: God changes his mind and Nineveh is spared. What else could God do? (Note that the 40 days have passed.) Just think what might have been if Israel had repented? Just think what might have been if Judah had repented?
Jonah 4 (day 893) 11 June 2012
1: The end of the story of Jonah contains a number of difficulties and is more complicated than it appears upon first reading. There is no explanation for Jonah’s displeasure, so the reader’s imagination comes immediately into play. Is Jonah angry because he wants Nineveh to be destroyed? Is Jonah angry because the thing he has gone through so much trouble to announce has not come to pass, and he feels that God has played a big trick on him? Does he resent the fact that God left him no choice but to carry out the mission, when the word could have been sent through anybody else?
2-3: We learn now that Jonah and God had a bit more conversation over the matter than was revealed before. Even so, why bother to flee to Tarshish? Why not simply refuse to go? It would seem from Jonah’s complaint in verse 2 that he really wished to see Nineveh destroyed, and resisted going because he knew God would be easily persuaded not to carry out the threat. He is so disappointed and/or humiliated that he wants to die, which seems to me to be a little extreme.
4: The question from God in verse 4 is really an invitation for Jonah to examine his motives and his emotions. Should Jonah be angry that Nineveh was not destroyed, or should he accept God’s mercy even for his enemies?
5: Jonah goes out of the city and sits down to watch what will happen. This is a little curious since it seems apparent from his exchange with God that nothing is going to happen. He makes a booth for himself and sits in the shade to wait and watch.
6: This verse is the most curious of all. There is no need for the bush because Jonah is already sitting in the shade of the booth he has made. It is almost as if the author forgot mentioning the booth a verse back.
7: So, let’s forget about the booth. The next day the bush withers and Jonah is left without any protection from the elements.
8: God sends a hot, dry, windy day. Jonah nearly faints, but the situation does fit with his desire to die.
9: The text does not say that Jonah is angry about the bush, but God asks if he has a right to be angry. Jonah believes he is.
10-11: Here comes the moral of the story: The enemy’s city is filled with innocent people. Jonah got all worked up over a bush; shouldn’t God be all worked up over the fate of more than 100,000 people?
Shouldn’t God be concerned about our enemies?