“I worship the Lord, the God of heaven,
who made the sea and the land”
(Jonah 1:9 NIV)
Once I was looking for a fun way to introduce Jonah and thought that showing adults the VT version of Jonah might be the ticket. According to Veggie Tales (VT), Jonah is a story about a prophet who got a second chance. After viewing it, I chose not to use it because the book of Jonah is not really about second chances.
Jonah may be the oldest critique of tribalism and prejudice we have. But I’m jumping ahead of the story.
The Jonah story comes in four scenes: on the sea, in the sea, in the city, and near the city. Furthermore, there is a symmetry to the story with chapters one and two paralleling chapters three and four (compare 1.1 with 3.1).
In chapter one, Jonah hires a boat to take him to Tarshish which is about as far as one can get from Nineveh. Nineveh, in the context of Jonah’s time, was the capitol of the imperialistic empire Assyria. To Jonah, the people of Nineveh was the enemy.
The suspense of the story is built around contradictions and ironies. Jonah knows he can’t flee from the God because God made the sea and the land, still he tries. Jonah is asleep while the pagan sailors are seeking to save him. The sailors even feel guilty in throwing Jonah overboard. They care more about Jonah than Jonah cares about the people of Nineveh.
In the second scene (and chapter), Jonah cares more about his salvation than that of the Ninevites, which becomes clear in v. 8: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8 NIV). No point of wasting ones time on the Ninevites, then! Jonah proves the maxim: “you will never evangelize those whom you hate or fear.”
With the third scene, Jonah seems to be repent, but a closer reading reveals that he does the bare minimum to warn the city. In his fire and brimstone preaching, Jonah leaves no room for the people to repent, yet, they do.
Finally, in the last scene, Jonah seeks a comfortable place from which to enjoy the destruction of the city. When God takes away his comfort, he remains more concerned about his fate than he does for the city below.
The story concludes with punch line: “Should I [God] not be concerned about that great city?”
Well, should he? Should we?
If you are interested in a more detail investigation of Jonah, see my friend Bobby Valentines’ blog: http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2010/07/jonah-gods-heart-his-struggle-with.html#links