Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Jonah’s one of those easy books to read – four chapters with a beginning, middle, end and moral. As with Esther, some see this as evidence of fiction, but again, a storytelling style is hardly a conclusive indication of whether or not a story is true.

God tells Jonah to tell the evil people of Nineveh to repent. Eventually, Jonah goes there and tells them that they are going to be destroyed. They repent. So God doesn’t destroy them. So Jonah looks like he’s either mad, or a liar.

Jonah is absolutely devastated. He’s overcome all his fears to go right into the heart of an evil city to testify honestly to what God told him. And now no-one will ever trust him again. Even today, his story is still considered by many to be fiction.

God grows a plant to shade him from the sun, and then kills it to elicit some feelings of loss. Jonah needs to see the bigger picture – saving the Ninevens was more important than his reputation as an honest sane person.

And God doesn’t always do what he says he will, if people change.

Curiously, in the versions I’ve read, God never actually says that he’s going to destroy the Ninevens, but as that’s the message that Jonah preaches, I believe that is indeed what God told him to say.

Tragically, afterwards I reread Nahum and Zephaniah, by which time the people of Nineveh had backslid, and were again facing renewed warnings of destruction from God. Which later happened. (assuming the order on Wikipedia is correct) (I know, I know...)

The last verses of The Message version sum up Jonah’s story quite neatly, and also re-open my theory that people in general just didn’t know right from wrong back then...

God said, "What's this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can't I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don't yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?"

- Jonah 4:10-11


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