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The wicked world

Any of the Israelites of Jonah’s time would have jumped at the chance to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness (1:1-2).  The capital of Assyria, the empire responsible for the woes of so many, Nineveh would now experience what it was like to be on the receiving end of judgment.  Who wouldn’t be up for that?

Possibly a few, but we know of just one --- Jonah.  As a prophet of God (2 Kings 14:25), he knew enough about the Almighty to know that His intentions were not about executing Nineveh, but rather extending mercy to them (see 4:11).  This fact alone was difficult enough for him, but the second edge of the sword was that God wanted Jonah to be the one through whom He made this offer.  That was too much to reasonably expect from him (although God didn’t think so).

Jonah purchased a ticket on the Seafood Express headed for Tarshish (believed to be somewhere around Spain), and not at all in the direction of Nineveh.  God caused a storm (1:4), and then things really started to get interesting.  The sailors on the ship were clearly not Jewish since Jonah identified himself and his God to them (1:9).  Yet, the Israelites who would later read this book would learn that they were Gentiles who sought God as much as any Jewish person did and were as concerned about righteousness as they were.  The evidence of this is all over chapter one.

The storm threatened to destroy the ship so the sailors prayed to their gods (v. 5).  The captain went down and woke up Jonah and encouraged him to pray (v. 6).  When that didn’t stop the storm, they cast lots.  This was no casino cruise; the lots were another way of calling on deity.  And to Israel’s amazement, they would see that God intervened as the lot fell to Jonah, identifying him as the cause of the storm. 

The sailors asked Jonah for his full story.  He had already disclosed to them that he was running away from God (probably so that he could get the frequent flee-er discount).  Jonah told his story and they asked how they might stop the storm.  To his credit, Jonah told them to throw him into the sea.  But they didn’t want to do this and tried to row the ship back to shore.  There’s a rich irony here.  The Jewish prophet who didn’t want to share God’s mercy with the “unworthy” Gentiles of Nineveh, watched as the innocent Gentiles he had endangered worked fervently to save him.  Was there no message for Israel here?  Is there none for us?

Left with no alternative, the sailors throw Jonah into the sea where he was swallowed by a fish.  But even in this, the faith of the sailors shines through as they pleaded with God not to hold the deed against them, offered sacrifices, and made vows.    A Jewish prophet morally superior to a group of sailors?  Outsiders unworthy of learning about God?  These are not truths you will get from the book of Jonah! 

“The wicked world,” some believer says, shaking their head in unbelief at the latest depravity.  And they’re partially right (just as the world is partially right when they speak of the hypocrisy of Christians).  The book of Jonah would have us to be careful not to over-estimate our own righteousness or the wickedness of others and never to under-estimate our Father’s love for all!
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