Jonah 1:1-2, The Message of Jonah

Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

//The book of Jonah is a wonderful, humanitarian story about universal love. You know the story: God says to Jonah, “go, preach to Nineveh.” Jonah balks, for who could be sympathetic toward the hated Assyrians and their capital city of Nineveh? Jonah runs the other way. He winds up on a boat tossed by a powerful storm, is heaved overboard by the sailors when he is discovered to be the cause for God’s wrath, and is swallowed by a big fish. When the fish coughs him up three days later, Jonah has had enough. He repents and does what God commands, preaching to Nineveh.

The whole city of Nineveh repents (Jonah must have been one heckuva preacher) and Jonah is miffed because God decides to pardon them. Jonah goes and sulks under a big “gourd” to escape the hot sun and contemplate the unfairness of life. Before the next day dawns, however, God creates a little worm who eats the gourd. Jonah is miffed all the more. God explains his lesson: Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

This tale might be considered no more than a fun bedtime story, were it not for its timing. Scholars date the writing of this book precisely to a period in time when Jerusalem was undergoing a severe ethnic cleansing, shortly after a wave of Jews returned from captivity in Babylon. In an attempt to purify God’s race, all non-Jews were being banished outside the walls of Jerusalem, even though it meant breaking up marriages and families.

Enter the anonymous book of Jonah, a bit of protest literature, with its plea for tolerance for all nations. The man Jonah, readers would recognize, is a portrayal of the Jews’ own bigotry.

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