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Christianity: Book of Jonah

I find the book of Jonah very interesting as it seems quite unlike most other books of the prophets.

Synposis: I imagine most people are familiar with the story of Jonah. In Ch 1, God calls Jonah to go and preach in the city of Nineveh (an enemy of Israel), because of their sin. He runs away and boards a ship to try and get far away. God sends a storm and Jonah asks the sailors to throw him overboard to calm the storm, so that the others would be saved. This happens, then God sends a fish to save Jonah. In Ch 2, Jonah prays to God from the belly of the fish, and the fish vomits Jonah up onto land. In Ch 3, Jonah then goes to Nineveh as God commands, and the people and king of Nineveh repent, and so God spares them. In Ch 4, Jonah is angry at God, saying he knew this was what would happen, and is why  he ran away in Ch 1.

“Salvation belongs to the Lord”

The verse that stands out for me in this book is Ch 2v9, when Jonah exclaims “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. This comment seems to explain a lot of the book of Jonah. We see a number of salvation events in the book:

  1. Salvation of the sailors. As the sea grew calm after the sailors threw Jonah overboard we see their reaction in Ch 1 v 16: “At this time the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him”
  2. Jonah’s salvation. God sends a fish to swallow Jonah (Ch 1v17) and save him in a miraculous way
  3. Nineveh’s salvation. This is also miraculous, that the city, including the king would repent on Jonah’s message (Ch 3), even though they are not followers of God. As an aside, see footnote 1.

It is amazing to see God’s grace and mercy to all of these different people. Especially to think God still loves Jonah and wants to teach him truths about Himself, even after his first response was to run away. We can be very thankful to have such a merciful God!

Jonah’s reaction

I find Jonah’s behaviour and comments in this book very interesting, as I can not think of anywhere else in the bible we see such a reaction. After Nineveh repents and God relents, we get Jonah’s reaction in Ch 4 v1-3 “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why  I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me””

So we now understand why he ran away in Ch 1; not that he was fearful of doing what God asked, as we may initially think, but because he knows what God is like and will do, and he does not want salvation to come to his enemy.  Jonah knows God is gracious and merciful but seems to be jealous and only want that for his people, and not for others.

God explains to Jonah in the rest of Ch 4 that He has created all things so of course he cares for them all, and so this is why He shows mercy to Nineveh.

Jonah’s response to this isn’t recorded as the book ends then. But from his earlier comments he doesn’t seem to fully understand his own prayer that “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. It depends on God to chose who He will save, but Jonah doesn’t like this when it means saving his enemy.

 

I wonder if we are similar to Jonah in this way. We know God’s grace and love, but do we ever think that we can decide who should hear about it, or who we should share this great news with?

 

Notes:

All quotes are from the ESV bible translation.

Footnote 1: On a tour of the British Museum, we were shown some reliefs from Nineveh which showed their priests wearing outfits with fish scales on. The guide told us that they worshipped a fish deity, and therefore Jonah telling them he had come from the belly of a fish to give them this message may have given extra weight to his preaching.

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2 comments on “Christianity: Book of Jonah

  1. chaddamitz
    January 3, 2016

    I find it fascinating how the sailors reacted to Jonah’s God. When Jonah described Him as the one who controlled the land, sea, and everything else in the cosmos, it shocked the sailors. They were accustomed to polytheistic, territorial gods, not the “Supreme Ruler of the Universe.” They immediately discerned the weight and holiness of God; whereas, on the contrary, Jonah seemed to forget how great and powerful His God was.

    I think Jonah being swallowed by a whale humbled him, but even then, at the end of the book, He still was upset about God’s faithfulness towards the Ninevite Gentiles. Did you ever research why Jonah had such difficulty accepting God’s favor with the Gentiles? Was it because the Gentiles were outside the covenant of God? But then again, even God reconciled Gentiles in the Old Testament, such as Ruth, a Moabite, Rahab from Jericho, and even King Nebuchadnezzar. Thanks for your time and commentary on the book of Jonah.

    Like

    • simon
      January 3, 2016

      Thanks for your comment. You are right, the contrast between Jonah and the sailors is really striking too.

      I think Nineveh was particularly an enemy of Israel, not only as any Gentile outside the covenant. The Assyrians (whose King lived in Nineveh) would later take Israel (ex Judah) into exile and attack Judah. I don’t know enough to know how things were at Jonah’s time though.

      Like

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