For an introduction to this series, click here.
Nov. 11, 2006In many ways this is one of the most familiar books in the Bible. Everyone knows the story of Jonah, or at least they think they do. I honestly identify a lot with Jonah. Maybe that's sad. I certainly can't understand people naming their sons Jonah, because not only is it a curse to hear endless comments and stupid jokes, but Jonah is one of the most anti-heroic characters in the Bible.
We can only assume what his motivation was. The most likely cause was racism. He did not want the people of Nineveh to receive any mercy from God. One amazing thing I had never noticed before is that Jonah told the ship people that he was running from God. 1:10 reads, "Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, 'What is this that you have done!' For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, for he had told them." What was Jonah thinking? Why would he tell the people on the ship that he was running away from God? I would have told them a lie and said I was going to pick up a shipment of gold or something.
On a completely different topic, as I was reading this I found a reason I use different translations for Bible study. I know this is a minor point, but it is a good example. Jonah 3:3b-4a reads in the English Standard Version, which is the translation I am using right now for this Bible study: "Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the the city, going a days journey." The King James Version reads: "Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey. And Jonah began to enter into the city a days' journey." Maybe you don't see the difference, but if you grew up in a KJV-only culture like I did, you might. I have heard preachers and teachers my whole life say that Nineveh was three days journey away, but Jonah was either providentially enabled or he was in such a hurry that he made it in one. That is not true. Look at the map in the back of your Bible. Nineveh is 350-400 miles from any point on the Mediterranean Sea, which is the body of water Jonah was in. 350 miles is an impossible distance to walk in a day, or three days for that matter. It took Jonah at least two weeks, likely a month or more, to make it to Nineveh. It is practically impossible to walk straight east to Nineveh across the desert. He probably walked north into what is now Turkey and then south along the Tigris River to get to the city. The city itself was three day's journey across. You can see that the King James says the same thing when you read it after reading the ESV. But you get a different impression otherwise. I often tell people that I understand my KJV better when I read other translations, but I usually can't think of any concrete examples. This is a good one.
Then we get to Chapter 4. Jonah was angry at God for doing good for the people of Nineveh. Now before we get too judgmental, stop and think about the times when you (and I) have gotten mad at God for doing (or allowing) good in other people's lives. Jonah was so blind that he could not see beyond his own hatred when he complained to God. Yet God is at work in our lives and in the lives of people around us, and He does things that we may not like based on our vision of things here and now. Something to think about.