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Archive for the ‘Old Testament’ Category

Earlier today I came across an article on Yahoo! which was reporting the reaction of a Westboro Baptist Church official to the death of Steve Jobs.  Shortly after my disgust subsided, I had to read Jonah for my OT Survey class.  In light of the above article, I am compelled to briefly discuss the book.  (Before continuing, check out the article and read through Jonah…it’s short, like a ten minute read.)

The book opens with Jonah’s call to go to Ninevah, the capital of the ancient superpower Assyria, to “announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention” (NET).  Jonah, however, has other ideas, and he went to the coast and boarded a ship for Tarshish.  The text is very clear that Jonah is being disobedient here, twice stating that Jonah was fleeing “from the Lord’s presence.”

When a terrible storm puts the lives of all those on board in danger, Jonah is found to be the issue and is promptly tossed overboard at his own command.  Jonah spends three days and nights in the belly of a “great fish.”  Finally, Jonah repents and prays to the Lord, who causes the fish to spit Jonah out on the dry land.

When Jonah arrives in Nineveh, he pronounces judgment against the city and, to his great dismay, the king orders his subjects to immediately fast and repent of their evil deeds.  They turn back to the Lord, this terrible city of Assyrian pagans!  There is no deliberation; the text presents the Assyrian repentance as immediate.

Jonah was furious.  The message of an Israelite prophet was hardly ever well received by fellow Israelites, who had received God’s covenant and Law.  From Jonah’s perspective, how much less should these evil Assyrians heed the prophet’s warning!

However, this is precisely what happens, and it is the basis for Jonah’s contention with God in chapter 4.  Now, we learn that Jonah did not flee God’s presence because he was afraid of the Assyrians or unsure of his calling or whatever.  He fled because he did not want to give the Assyrians even a chance to repent.  Essentially, Jonah says to God, “You see!  This is exactly what I was afraid of!  You and all your compassion and mercy!  I’d rather die than witness this!”

So God causes a tree to grow and provide shade for Jonah.  Then, the next day, He destroys it, and Jonah is angry.  This sets up God’s closing statements, which drive home the main theme of the book:

Jonah 4:10-11 (NET)

So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow.  It appeared in a night and perished in a night.  Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?”

God’s point here stems from His being the Creator: “Jonah, you were concerned about a plant in whose existence you played no part.  How much more should I be concerned about all these people and animals, each of whom I myself created!”

I think the takeaway here is this: the same God who, as Creator, has the prerogative to execute judgment on evildoers is also fiercely compassionate towards the nations, even the supremely evil ones who live apart from His commands.

If the Creator Himself would mercifully offer a warning to Nineveh and, in fact, relent from bringing His judgment, what sort of attitude should we have towards people who have allegedly “[given] God no glory & taught sin”?

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