My take on Jonah…a guy with real hutzpah

Posted: July 2, 2011 in Christian

Jonah is one of my favorite prophets, partially because of the encouragement I draw from this brave fellow that has the gall to cop an attitude and ignore a direct command from The Lord and instead of receiving what he deserves, we see the patience The Lord displays with him. I also like it because it’s a funny narrative. Of course most everyone knows the story of Jonah and the whale, but that is actually only a small portion of the story.

First of all, what is a prophet? The description of a prophet, as taken from I Samuel Chapter 3, says that a prophet was a seer that derived their prophecies (or definition of prophecy) directly from the Lord to share with the people so they may know and prepare for the future, or to reveal their future punishment to them if they don’t repent.

Jonah,, which means Dove, was a son of Amittai (Truth) and was born in Gath-hepher *1, a town in Galilee located about five miles from Nazareth. Jonah prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, the fourteenth king of Israel which ruled from 786 BC – 746 BC and was contemporary with the prophets, Amos, Joel and Hosea.

1st Part…Stupid Decision

The first three verses of the Book of Jonah sets the stage for the rest of the book, for here we find that the Lord told Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, and inform them that the clock is ticking and their time is almost up.

Jonah 1:1-3 The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. (NASB)

So here we have Jonah, a prophet of the Lord, a man who receives his walking orders from the Lord of Israel; a man who, when he received the directive from God to go east toward Nineveh, he hightails it west toward Tarshish, in what is now Spain. Why?

It is implied that Jonah knew of previous prophecies that foretold that Assyria would become a scourge to the Kingdom of Israel*2 and I would guess that, plus the fact that they were gentiles, stirred up his patriotic fervor. Maybe he thought that if he delayed long enough the clock would run down and God would go ahead and wipe out Nineveh, thus solving a couple sticky issues for him and his beloved Israel. So Jonah, in a fit of humanity, thumbed his nose at his boss, the most powerful being ever, and tried to call in sick, in a sense. Now we, with the perception of a few thousand years of hindsight, tend to think this was, at the least, stupid. But do we do any better? Hasn’t God called us to teach and make disciples of all nations, to love him and be devoted to him, forsaking all else and placing him above all, above family, above patriotism. In the book of Luke he tells it like it is and doesn’t mince words.

Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (NASB)

For me, that is a tall order and one that is sometimes difficult to comprehend, for I feel I am like the people of Hebrews 5 whom the writer chastised.

Hebrew 5:12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. (NASB)

As it often happens in our lives, it didn’t take Jonah long to realize things weren’t working out exactly as he had planned, for the Lord sent a supernatural storm that caused havoc aboard the ship. Apparently the ships crew worshiped different gods and the scriptures imply that the sailors recognized that this wasn’t a natural storm and they started trying to find the source of the evil that was causing them harm. It seems that Jonah told them why he had skipped town and told them to throw him overboard to stop the storm. To the credit of the crew, they tried everything they could think of first because they didn’t want to kill him, but they eventually acquiesced, and tossed him overboard. Even this experience had a purpose, other than punishing Jonah for verse 16 tells us that the ship’s crew became believers.

Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. (NASB)

This tells me that the Lord used Jonah’s recalcitrance and unfaithfulness to his advantage to find others to fear, or hold him in awe, and to worship him.

The rest of the chapter tells the story where the Lord prepared a Sea Monster*3 to swallow Jonah, and where a humbled Jonah stayed for three days in prayer to the Lord until the Lord had the creature eject Jonah onto dry land.

2nd Part…Second Chance

After his punishment for straying and not following orders, when the Lord told Jonah, for the second time, to go to Nineveh, the scripture doesn’t elaborate, but I speculate that he didn’t argue this time, though it implies that he did the least he could to fulfill God’s Word and decree so he wouldn’t have to see in what other ways the Lord could punish him. Chapter 3 of Jonah tells us that Nineveh, the capital of Assyria was so large that it took three days to walk across the breadth of it. So how does Jonah fulfill God’s commandment? He goes racing in and in one day, proclaims that in forty days they would get theirs (Jonah 3:3, 4) and left. To his chagrin, as we find out later, they believed him and his prophecy left such an impact on this ancient superpower, that, not only did all the people and the King repent and wear sackcloth and ashes, as was the custom of the day to show deep sorrow, but they put sackcloth on all their animals, just for good measure, I suppose…now that’s dedication. Jonah 3:10 says the Lord recognized their repentance and spared them from destruction that he had threatened them with. What makes their repentance even more surprising to me is that these hordes of Assyrians didn’t worship the God of Israel, but they worshiped a god called Ashur, for which Assyria was named.*4

3rd Part…Still Clueless, Still Complaining

We find out in chapter 4 that the Assyrians repentance and the Lord’s decision to spare them because of Jonah’s message really took Jonah by surprise and he simply couldn’t understand why the Lord used him as the instrument of salvation to his enemies, the Assyrians. He was so distraught about this he prayed for death and left the shelter of the city to sit out in the desert and pout. The Lord responded by causing a plant to grow up overnight to provide shade over him from the sun. Jonah enjoyed this and kicked back, still stubbornly pouting, but comfortable. The next morning, however, the Lord cause a worm to wither the plant in short order and then blew a hot wind from the east onto Jonah where he started to get faint from the heat and the sun’s rays. Once again the clueless and unappreciative Jonah started whining and asked the Lord to let him die. At this point, the Lord asked him if he thought he had the right to be angry because the plant died and Jonah responded that he did have the right to be mad about the plant dying. Now comes the climax because the Lord said, to paraphrase, let me get this straight, you say you have the right to get angry and care about a plant that you didn’t cause to grow, but I shouldn’t care about 120,000 people who don’t know their right hand from their left? *5 (I personally think the right hand, left hand statement was jab by the Holy Spirit at the Assyrian’s lack of intelligence over their choice of gods…)

I get comfort and encouragement from the story of the Prophet Jonah. Here is a guy who skips out on his duties, a guy who thinks he can outrun the Lord and delay the inevitable. A man who shows and demonstrates that even in the best trained of us, that sometimes human emotions take precedence over logic. A guy that even after the Lord has given another chance to do his will, he does it while mumbling about it then complains about the positive outcome later to the Lord, still pouting and thinking selfishly about himself. Even through all this self-interest that Jonah is displaying while testing the Lord’s patience, the patience of the Lord for his servant shines through. Also in the Lord’s explanation to Jonah is the fact that the Lord cares for the Jews and Gentiles alike. The story of Jonah show me that even with my fallibility, my self-indulgences and my pity-parties, the Lord is still patient with me. I think it also shows the Lord has a sense of humor…(he would have to to put up with me). Jonah was one of God’s chosen messengers, but tried to shirk his duties while the Lord demonstrated remarkable patience with him. The story of Jonah reminds us of the passage in Romans 3 :23 “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”.

Jim Bussell

1-20-11

There is a footnote that that I stumbled across that I believe relates to this story, and that is the fact that the Assyrians were the first nation to accept Christianity and the Assyrian Church was founded in 33AD by Thomas, Bartholomew and Thaddeus.*6

I believe the seed of the fear of the Lord that Jonah planted seven centuries earlier, still had root in their legends and history and was waiting for the right spark to reignite. Way to go Jonah, we can never know what a spark of information, even if it’s given in disgust and haste, might one day grow into.

(*1) II Kings 14:25

(*2) Book of Jonah, Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray

(*3) Matthew 12:40

(*4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashur_%28god%29

(*5) Jonah 4:11

(*6) http://www.aina.org/brief.html#Religion

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