Jonah is a familiar character from our childhood Bible stories. We remember him because the story says, “he was swallowed by a big fish (1:17). He spent three (3) days inside the fish. I’ve given little or no thought to Jonah until recently, and I’ve been bombarded with references to Jonah everywhere, it seems, for about a month.
Now that we’re all grown-up and our Biblical knowledge is increasing with continued study, let’s revisit Jonah in a brief study that I call, “The Jonah Complex”.
Like most ministers/prophets, Jonah received “the Call” from God. You’d think that Jonah would be excited to be used by God to preach, however, he was called to preach to the Ninevehites. God told him specifically, “Go to the great city and preach against it, because its’ wickedness has come up before me.”(Jonah 1:2)
Because Jonah, knew of Nineveh’s reputation (3:3) he “ran away from the Lord…”.The prophet Nahum (Nahum 3:1) refers to Nineveh as “the city of blood.” NIV footnote: “City of blood –Nineveh’s bloody massacres of her conquered rivals were well-known. Nineveh was never without victims. The Assyrians were noted for their ruthlessness, brutality, and terrible atrocities. Many of their victims were beheaded, impaled or burned. (3:3) piles of dead. The Assyrian King Shalmaneser III boasted of erecting a pyramid of chopped-off heads in front of an enemy’s city. Other Assyrian kings stacked corpses like cordwood by the gates of defeated cities. Nahum’s description of the cruel Assyrians is apropos”. Are we getting a sense of why Jonah disliked the people of Nineveh?
Jonah’s speedy exit on a ship headed for Tarshish (Jonah 1:3) shows us that he had no intention of obeying God. This blatant disobedience cost him his freedom, could have angered God, and put others in harm’s way. “Why”? We aren’t told the answer until chapter 4:1-3: “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity”. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live”.
Is Jonah’s complex very common today? We are called to preach the Word to bring others to salvation. The apostle Paul teaches us in Romans 1:14-16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Do we take it upon ourselves to decide who should be saved or even more challenging, who should be restored after that person has fallen into sin; repented, and is striving to live a better life? Jonah was a self-appointed judge, jury, jailer, and executioner of the people of Nineveh. God only asked him to: “go” and “preach” (1:2). Jonah also wanted to see what would happen to Nineveh (4:5). He seems to want God’s wrath to ran down on that city. In his anger, Jonah endangered his life (4:8).
God confronted Jonah because he demonstrated more concern about a plant than the “hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left (4:11)”in Nineveh. Jonah could not show less compassion to the people he was commissioned to preach to. He showed the contempt he felt for them.
Let’s thank God for His faithfulness towards each of us, when we don’t know our “right from our left” and ask for more compassion toward others when they demonstrate the same.
Reverend Glenda Brunson