I love Jonah.
Out of all the prophets, I love Jonah the most because I can relate to that man.
When God called upon him for service, what did he do?
He ran, that’s what he did. I think the text should have read like this: “Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and… Jonah? Jonah??”
That’s right. Jonah beat feet outta there when the Lord came calling. He skedaddled, and that’s a response I can relate to. When responsibility comes knocking, especially big responsibility, then my knees start to knocking as well. I understand this man. He’s so very human.
The other prophets, they seem like heroes to me. They’re always, “Yes Lord, yes Lord” when God calls them – they stay their ground, even though they are usually on their knees by that time – such is the fearsome power of God. And I wonder if that’s not the true reason Jonah bugged out, because it’s said to be a terrible thing to stand before a living God. If I ever have the chance to meet Jonah, that’s the question I’d most like to ask him. “Jonah, why did you run?” Did he think it would work? Did he think he could hide from his creator? I laughed out loud the first time I read that.
He runs away, repelled by fear or great responsibility, and jumps aboard a ship bound for Tarshish.
Yup – out of the frying pan and into the fire. Good one, Jonah. You just made a bad situation much, much worse.
And again, like him, I’ve done the same, too many times, thinking my actions would improve my situation, but oftentimes, they only amplified the problem. This is often the result when we rely on our own minds instead of waiting on God to answer. When we think we’re in control, we are actually in danger of making things worse, like Jonah, because that is a lie – we are not in control. God is. And God had unfinished business with this man.
“But the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea…”
Here we go…
The mariners freak out and pray to their gods, then begin to jettison cargo in order to lighten the ship and raise the freeboard, hoping to prevent the ship from sinking. It’s chaos. And what, I ask, is Jonah doing during all of this?
He’s sleeping. Amazing. What a putz.
First he thinks he can out run God, and now that he has endangered the life and property of others, his conscience is clear enough that he can sleep through a tempest. Oh, that’s right; he must have been exhausted from all that running. Poor Jonah.
Astonished at Jonah’s brassiness, the shipmaster wakes him up: “Hey! What’s the big idea?” he says – I’m paraphrasing, but I think that’s the modern vernacular. “We’re praying to our gods for help, maybe you could do your part and pray to yours also!”
So they cast lots in an effort to pinpoint the guilty party for bringing this mess, and the lot falls squarely upon Jonah.
Busted. Sorry buddy.
So Jonah comes clean. He’s a good guy after all. If he weren’t, God wouldn’t have tapped him in the first place.
He admits that he is the cause for all this, by means of his God. For his sake the sea was troubled.
And here is where Jonah broke from his predictable path; he suggests that in order to calm the sea, the mariners should toss his problematic carcass overboard.
To their credit, they restrain themselves from this great temptation, fearing consequences from his god. They pull hard on the oars in attempt to reach the shore, but it soon becomes apparent they will never get that far. So they accept Jonah’s kind offer. They say a quick prayer to the god of Jonah – “Please forgive us for what we are about to do,” something like that – and it’s up and over for Jonah. Zing! Splash!
The sea immediately calms.
And there’s Jonah, bobbing in the water. I bet he really felt like a chump then. I bet he thought “I’ve really done it this time.” Then, CHOMP! Belly of a fish for three days. Time to change your attitude, Jonah. Time for affliction to deal with your hardheadedness – God’s tried and true method.
It works, of course. Jonah repents. The fish regurgitates him onto the shore, and he finally goes to Nineveh to deliver God’s word. The people there hear this word, and, amazingly, they comply. From the greatest to the least, they don sackcloth and ashes, repent, and turn back to God. That time was clearly different from this time, because I cannot imagine anything like that ever happening now. But then it did, and God was pleased.
Jonah was not pleased. He was displeased “exceedingly” with this result. He was angry with God. Oh Jonah, dear, dear Jonah. Will you never learn?
What I love about this part is the patience, the tolerance God displays in dealing with this knucklehead. He clearly adores Jonah, and he speaks to him as a loving Father would.
Jonah is mad because after all he has endured, God did not punish Nineveh. He forgave Nineveh, but he had pursued Jonah relentlessly. Somebody call the wahmbulance.
But I’ve been there so many times myself, so I can’t judge. I know the feeling – “It’s so unfair! Where’s the justice??” Waaaaaahhhhh!
It’s pathetic, but true.
“There, there” God says. “It’s alright, little buddy. Is it good for you to be angry? Would you have me kill all life in Nineveh after they have done what I asked?”
The book ends with these calming questions from God to Jonah, and we never get to know how Jonah responded. Even though Jonah is probably one of the most hardheaded believers to have ever lived, I would like to think that he turned from his stubbornness and accepted God’s will for Nineveh in his heart.
And, above all, I’m sure that he was relieved to have completed his task so he could just go back to his home and his life. Who among us could blame him for that?