The book of Jonah has always been a favorite of mine. It seems so outlandish and mysterious. A man swallowed by a whale? Alive for three days inside its stomach . . . in the depths of the ocean? Seriously? That can be a little tough to swallow (pardon the pun). I believe it nonetheless. And here's why: God can do anything and the Bible is full of outlandish stories and that's part of what makes God so amazing and great.
Over the next several posts, I'm going to take you through the Book of Jonah. We'll look at the man, the unbelievable truth, some innocent bystanders, and a nation under judgment. We'll discover just how much we have in common with Jonah and with the Ninevites. More importantly, we'll get another beautiful picture of God's amazing grace (my current favorite subject).
Let's start by reading Jonah 1.
Make a list of all the characters in this chapter.
Here we go!
Long ago in a land far away near the city of Joppa there lived a man named Jonah. Jonah tried to run and hide from God. He was a person not unlike you and me. He knew God but didn't always understand His ways. (Sound familiar?) God gave Jonah a very important job to do. He told Jonah to go to Ninevah and tell them to repent or suffer judgment. Jonah was less than enthusiastic so instead he paid considerable fare for passage on a ship to Tarshish. It's important to understand Jonah's state of mind regarding God's request. For Jonah to go to Ninevah and tell them to repent or face God's judgment would be like sending a Jew, Jonah in particular, into Nazi Germany with the same message. You can understand why the Jew might think it more acceptable for Nazi Germany to simply face God's judgment and be destroyed. It would be difficult, even today, to find a Jewish person who possessed any compassion for Hitler and his armies. This was what God's request felt like to Jonah. Jonah knew God, however, and suspected that God was going to show mercy and have compassion on this enemy of Jonah. Jonah was severely conflicted.
Ninevah had a long history of cruelty to the Israelites. It was the flourishing city of the Assyrian Empire (probably located in present day Iraq). The people were wealthy, modern and full of pride. The Ninevites worshiped many gods all demanding sacrifice for appeasement. They were infamous for their sacrifice of children. The Assyrian armies were constantly waging war with the Israelites and making treaties with and allies of neighboring countries against Israel. Cruelty was their specialty. It was well known amongst Israelites that to be captured by an Assyrian soldier meant a long, torturous death. The Ninevites knew nothing of mercy or compassion.
Now, Tarshish, on the other hand, was a quiet little place kown for its trade exports. It was neither lavish nor wealthy, and certainly not infamous (possibly located in what is now southern Spain). Joppa (located just south of modern Tel Aviv) was a harbor town for merchant ships of various sizes transporting grain, wine and oil. A ship like the one Jonah boarded would have had a crew of no more than a dozen sailors.
Jonah was a man who desired to see justice served on his enemies. Wouldn't we all? He probably was not without mercy and compassion, he just had his limits that's all. Like most of us, he had a difficult time understanding God's ways. He tried to refuse God, but, well . . . we all know how well that works. He tried to hide from God even though deep down he knew he could not hide. "He could run, but he could not hide," as the saying goes. Jonah got angry at God like all of us do from time to time.
I'll continue this next week in a new post. Before then consider the following questions:
1) Why did Jonah flee to Tarshish?
2) Has God ever asked you t do something you did not understand or just did not want to do? What did you do? Did you follow through or did you flee?
3) Do you feel mercy and compassion easily for those you consider enemies? Or is it difficult for you?
4) Are there people in your life for whom you have a hard time feeling compassion? Why or why not?
5) Do you ever try to hide from God? Why or why not?