Jonah is one of the most confusing books in the Bible.
The title character is an utter failure, and is portrayed in the most unseemly fashion. The role of hero is played by an obedient fish in the first act, and at the climax by a willing worm. If we are to believe any of this tale, we must stretch our faith and admit that God is bigger than Christianity.
How Do I Know if Someone is A Prophet?
The answer is normally simple: what they predict actually HAPPENS.
Jonah’s prophecy didn’t happen at all, yet he’s a Prophet and Jesus plans to mimic him.
Jonah’s Pointless Prophecy:
Jonah as Prophet, is an epic FAIL. Old Testament Prophets revealed the word of God in thunderous judgements of fire from Heaven (Isaiah), waters into blood (Moses), and predicted times of national captivity (Ezekiel). A Prophet was someone like Judge Dredd, Rambo, or Dirty Harry.
Jonah foretold God’s certain judgement on Nineveh with a forty day timeline. Since we know how the story ends, we think of this warning as a countdown to a disaster that can be averted, but there were no such mercies in those days. Jonah became angry at God for forgiving the heathen. Jonah admitted he was a failure and leaned suicidal in his disappointment that the disaster was averted.
Much of the Christian faith seeks growth through evangelism, yet in a time when there was no salvation option and no such role as the Evangelist, we find a Prophet who is a failure that became the most successful Evangelist of all time. The justification for missions work, street evangelism, and all church outreach is the philosophy of “How can they hear without a preacher?”, yet here in Nineveh, repentance flows like proverbial milk and honey. A national fast was proclaimed and God decided to not destroy the city. There was no message of salvation, and no altar call. How can this be?
I’ve heard that Nineveh worshipped the god of the sea, and that Jonah’s appearance on the shore with his skin bleached from stomach acids and seaweeds wrapped around his body would have gotten their attention, like a weeping statue of Mary. The eight word sermon leaves no room for repentance: “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”
It’s unreasonable for me to believe that they researched Jonah at all, and even more unlikely that they could learn about the God of Israel in this time of fear and paranoia. They must have turned their focus back to their heathen gods with a renewed devotion to them. It pains me to think this way, but I’m fairly certain I’m thinking clearly.
We’ve heard about “putting God in a box,” but one can’t travel far from this type of thinking without becoming a Universalist and losing sight of ones’ own path. Anytime we see salvation as “in” and “out,” we’ve essentially placed God in that box.
When we think of ourselves as saved and others as lost, we miss the point of Jonah.
We need to find ways to narrow the gap between ourselves and those who feel distant from God. Perhaps shedding the “box” model is the first step. If we examine Jonah’s revival, we must conclude that Nineveh took actions that moved them closer to God, even though they probably aimed their intentions toward other gods. I prefer to look at our relationship with God as whether we are getting nearer or farther away, so that means I can find God actively working anywhere.
Can you celebrate with someone who moves toward God, even if they do not share your perspective or religious brand?