Texts for the Day
This week, spend some time reading the book of Jonah. It is not long, but it is surprisingly complex, with some interesting themes for our time. The book is traditionally divided into four chapters. Chapters 1 and 3 tell stories of episodes in the life of Jonah, while Chapters 2 and 4 give Jonah’s reaction and response to each of the episodes. As you read the story, think about Jonah’s responses and how you think you would react.
Chapter 1: This is the familiar story of Jonah and the fish. Here is a little bit of background. Jonah probably lived sometime around the year 750 BCE in the northern kingdom of Israel. There is a prophet of the same name in the court of Jeroboam II at that time who could be the same person. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, an empire much larger and stronger than Israel and its main enemy. Tarshish is probably in Spain, but the main point is that it is as far as Jonah can go in the opposite direction.
Chapter 2: Jonah says a prayer of thanksgiving from inside the fish. Here is something to think about. Why was this a prayer of thanksgiving, rather than a “get me out of this fish” prayer? What has been you “in the fish” moment? What were your prayers like?
Chapter 3: Jonah goes to Nineveh and the people repent. This is wildly implausible and these events have no analogue in the historical record. In fact, certain details such as the exaggerated extent of the city and the animals in sackcloth indicate that perhaps this is not to be taken literally. Israel was destroyed by Assyria mere decades after the time in which this story is set.
Chapter 4: Jonah is angry that God has mercy on the Ninevites. In part, this is because he cannot comprehend that God can show mercy to Jonah’s enemies. He also feels that he has been made a fool and a false prophet. When have you had this conversation with God? When have self-centered attitudes or hatred for enemies blinded you to God’s merciful work in the world?