“The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying “Arise, got to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish…” (1.1-3)
At first glance these verses can make Jonah look like a jerk especially if you’ve heard the story before because most people who talk about Jonah LOVE to point out that Nineveh and Tarshish were in totally opposite directions. They were about as far apart as two places could be at the time.
That makes Jonah look like a rebellious teen who is purposely trying to do the opposite of what he’s told because he has some kind of authority complex at worst or at best he’s just a lazy bum who just doesn’t want to do what God asks.
But what if I told you there was something more going on here?
In the book of 2 Kings we read that an army from Assyria invaded, laid siege to, and then deported Jonah’s people.
These Assyrians were not good to Jonah’s people. Can you think of a time that a people who had been invaded, laid sieged to, or deported were happy about it?
The Assyrians were the jerks here.
They were mean.
And it lasted for years.
What does this have to do with Jonah?
Nineveh was in Assyria.
Jonah had the job of a prophet which often included having strong warnings from God to his people. There was usually a call to repent and change or there might be an old-fashioned smiting.
He was used to delivering bad news so it wasn’t the message that bothered Jonah, it was the people he had to take the message to.
Those no good, violent oppressors from Nineveh in Assyria.
I honestly don’t believe that Jonah’s disobedience is the point of the first part of the story, that narrative of “See? This is what happens when you disobey.” doesn’t quite fit for me anymore.
In fact, I believe the earliest audiences (who also would have hated the Assyrians) would have cheered Jonah on because why would you go to the enemy with grace and forgiveness?
They don’t deserve it.
. . . at least in our opinion they don’t.
Let’s try to make this real:
Imagine God calls you not to some place like Africa or Haiti, or he doesn’t call you to serve the homeless or work with kids but instead he calls you to offer grace and forgiveness to your greatest enemy, the ones you believe don’t deserve it.
The oppressive rulers.
The hate mongers.
Would you do it?
Or would you run as far away as you could in hopes that you’d never have to do it or tell those who are also oppressed that you’re offering God’s grace to the enemy?