In this four-week study, we read through the story of Jonah. At its core, Jonah is a polemic against a nationalistic retributive understanding of God who destroys our enemies in favor of a universal understanding of God abounding in such great mercy as to require us to not only love our enemies but to intercede for their redemption. Jonah holds us to account for our selfishness which causes us to flee from the love of neighbor and delight in the downfall of others. For the background of this study, I am using Tyndale’s Old Testament Commentary on Jonah (academic approach), Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz’s Jonah – A Social Justice Commentary (modern application approach), and Dr. Robert Alter’s Strong as Death is Love (academic and application).
Jonah – A Difficult Story of God’s Mercy
The story is about Jonah’s response to God’s call of redemption and reconciliation of the enemy. Our story is about the depth of God’s grace and mercy towards his disobedient servant Jonah and his rependant enemy Assyria.
Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
Jonah flees from God and God’s instruction into a tempestuous chaos. Like Jonah, the natural and consequent result in fleeing from God is that life becomes chaotic, and we are tossed like a ship caught in a tempest upon the sea.
As we read through Jonah’s prayer, it is a prayer that we can make our own. It is a prayer of deliverance and thanksgiving said in the space between the chaos ending and restoration being obtained.
The sign of Jonah goes beyond simply the understanding that Jesus, like Jonah, will spend three days in the belly of Sheol. The Sign of Jonah is only complete when the fish vomits the incorruptible Jonah out.
It is the king of Nineveh and his subjects who fulfill the perfect fast of repentance as described in Isaiah 58:6.
In his wish for death, however, Jonah is simply stating the obvious that a refusal to change is a choice for death.
Jonah finally meets his God in his silence to God’s final question to him.
Is the foreign policy the result of our need to avenge American honor or American deaths, as Jonah advocates, or is the policy rooted in the mercy and loving-kindness of God?