Jonah and the whale story
Most folks are conversant in the broad strokes of the biblical Jonah and the whale story. Many are familiar with Jonah from our childhood attendance in Sunday or Sunday school but perhaps haven’t been prompted to believe far more than the superb account of his stay within the belly of that great fish.
I know my mind attended veer off into imagining the environment he must have encountered in Jonah and the whale story.
But I’m wondering what percentage folks have ever considered Jonah’s motivation for the actions that landed him is his predicament.
Jonah knew the Lord in the Jonah and the whale story. He knew that He was “… a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness.” [Jonah 4:2] he admitted the maximum amount after his three days and night “stay” within the belly of the excellent fish.
But why was he so displeased and angry that the Ninevites headed his message? Jonah acted in Jonah and the whale story as if he’d instead deliver a death decree than a call to repentance.
Shouldn’t he be happy that even the king of Nineveh was receptive to the Lord who had “repented” of the evil that would have destroyed them? Hadn’t he just cried bent an equivalent God to bestow mercy in his situation?
God had an idea for Jonah’s life. Jonah had other plans in Jonah and the whale story. Jonah had to find out that within the end, it’s God’s Will that has got to be done instead of your own.
The book of Jonah in Jonah and the whale story, when seen from this attitude, maybe a challenge to every folk to submit ourselves to the desire of God, lest we discover ourselves thrown off a ship, drowning within the water, swallowed by an excellent fish, and spat call at the direction that submission to the desire of God would have taken us initially anyway.
Even so, as I say, the Book of Jonah and the big fish isn’t a book about fish (nor about whales for that matter [for those that feel a requirement to means that if a whale had swallowed Jonah, a whale isn’t a fish, technically speaking]).
Jonah and the big fish in Jonah and the whale story
Let’s clear the deck of fish and whales – neither of which are significant themes within the book of Jonah in Jonah bible story. But if the maritime adventure of Jonah isn’t the critical theme of the book, what’s it all about? That’s the question!
We might ask this interpretation of the Book of Jonah in Jonah and the whale story because of the pious description. It is a lot useful during this ‘Thy are going to be done’ application of this book.
Still, in my view, as an adult now, the pious interpretation of Jonah is as far faraway in Jonah and the whale story from the central message of the book as is that the maritime adventure theme!
The Book of Jonah was written an extended time ago during a culture far far away from our own. Therefore the issue that upsets Jonah within the book and the effect that might have defeated most of the first readers of the book wasn’t merely that God had an idea for Jonah’s life (in some a general kind of way) but that God called Jonah to prophesy in Nineveh, which was the capital of Assyria.
Both Jonah and therefore, the Book of Jonah’s original readers hated Assyrians! And thus the Jews didn’t just hate the Assyrians because they looked different either. They hated the Assyrians because the Assyrians had a history of killing them!
Assyria was once the world’s most fearsome superpower! From the center of the tenth century B.C. throughout to the top of the seventh, the Neo-Assyrian Empire dominated the center East, and, during the 8th-century reign of Tiglath-Pileaser III most notably, their empire was vast – covering all of what’s modern-day Iraq and Syria, and covering enormous chunks of what’s today Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and, of course, it covered all of Israel and Palestine!
And it had been an Empire built on violence! That in itself is in no way unique, of course, as indeed all the world’s empires are built on violence. Yet, the stories of the savagery of the Assyrian armies do seem particularly horrible.
Nineveh’s military was renowned for being sadistic. If enemies resisted surrender during the siege of their city, once defeated, the entire population would be mutilated and slaughtered.
Their houses and towns would be torn down and burned, and therefore the flayed skins of their corpses prominently displayed on stakes as a warning to others who may need to have been considering resistance.
After their battles, public amusement would be provided for the people of Nineveh via a victory procession wherein enemy survivors were led down the town streets by leashes attached to rings inserted through their lips, with the defeated nobles wearing the decapitated heads of their princes hanging around their necks.
And all of this fun was amid music from bands of minstrels playing merry tunes! Oh, the people of Nineveh knew the way to enjoy themselves!
And they enjoyed themselves like this for quite 300 years! It must have seemed as if the arrogant might of Nineveh would never fade which their power-hungry God, Assur, was unbeatable.
Jonah and the whale summary in Jonah and the whale story
The Assyrian war-machine enjoyed numerous bloody victories over their enemies in those 300 plus years between the 934 and 609 B.C. Still, none was remembered within the Bible more clearly and more bitterly than the sacking of Samaria and therefore the destruction of Northern Israel in 721.
The Jews didn’t hate the Assyrians because they looked funny or ate strange foods or didn’t make an attempt to combine in with the locals. They hated the Assyrians for much more visible (and undoubtedly much more valid) reasons.
They hated them because the Assyrians had destroyed quite half their country. They hated them due to the countless number of their kinsfolk who had been slaughtered, imprisoned, enslaved, and humiliated by the Assyrians.
And that they hated the Assyrians because in 721 B.C. it seemed that their God, Assur, had been victorious over the God of Israel.
That day in 721 B.C. would forever be remembered by the people of Israel, not even as each day of mourning, but as each day of national humiliation.
Their people had been butchered, half their country destroyed, and their temples desecrated.
It was all done by the Ninevites, and then Jonah hated the Ninevites because the readers of Jonah hated the Ninevites in Jonah and the whale story.
And now God asks Jonah to travel to Ninevah to evangelize to the people there, and turn them to repent! And Jonah didn’t want to go there in Jonah and the whale story. Why would he? The sole Jews that visited Ninevah were dragged there in chains!
He prepared a gourd and made it get older that it’d be shade for Jonah within the heat of the day in Jonah and the whale story.
Then God prepared a worm that it’d destroy the gourd and thereby show Jonah how his concern had been misplaced in Jonah and the whale story.
While Jonah pined over the loss of the gourd that he had not labored, as a person of God should he not have considered the condition of the 120 thousand inhabitants of Nineveh whose wickedness had come up before God and who desperately needed His mercy?
In His chastisement of the scribes and Pharisees and their “evil and adulterous generation which seek after a sign”, Jesus referenced the repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of the prophet, Jonah (Jonas). He likened Jonah’s stay within the whale’s belly in Jonah and the whale story to the Son of man within the heart of the world.