Jonah Overview

Such a great book about loving your enemies. So well told.

How good a starting place is Jonah’s attempt to escape his God-given mission?

How great an ironic picture of winding up with nothing but God is his prayer from the belly of a fish?

Then the rhetorical conclusion: aren’t you glad when I show mercy to your enemies? Your brutal oppressors? Sure I took away your umbrella, but that’s not the important thing here …is it?

I LOVE THIS BOOK. What it shows of God’s patience and mercy.

To the wicked… and to those who supposedly love him. To the proud: Jonah, and anyone prepared to be humbled: king of Nineveh.

So gentle, so funny really. Ending with God’s lesson in how to preach to the converted: just ask questions.

Its comes back to me often, it’s a really acutely clear, easy to follow yet nuanced, counterintuitive, revelation about God’s love.

1 Jonah, unwilling prophet, escaping God on a boat. A wild storm from God: he realises he must be thrown overboard, and the fish gets him.

2 prayer from a fish, from anything but God to nothing but God, praise as life ebbs away, then vomitted to dry land

3 Jonahs message saves Nineveh, the Assyrian capital He hates it, he’d rather love God’s justice than his mercy.

4 Jonah, camped out for the schadenfreude show of Israel’s enemies destroyed, instead witnesses mercy plus God kills the plant giving him shade! Ends with God rhetorically questioning his ‘right’ to anger


Jonah 4

The Russians love their children too

No one could accuse this bit of the Bible as bashing. The tone is rhetorical, the book literally ends with a question.

Jonah is a neo con. A conservative fundamentalist who wants to carpet bomb Iraq in the name of God. He has unwillingly done gods will under considerable coercion and perfunctorily proclaimed gods judgement and the need to repent.  He sits out in a mountain to watch the show of gods destruction of Nineveh and feel the schadenfreude.

But it doesn’t happen because they improbably and spectacularly repented.

Double whammy, the plant God caused to grow in the desert and provide him some shade dies and he is burning up in the sun. Is he angry with God!  He wants to die for the heat, and he wants to die for the mercy being shown to his enemies, who he thought were gods enemies. So angry with God right now!

God asks a series of questions back, doesn’t really preach at him. Does Jonah really think God should care more about one plant than all the children and animals in the city?

And with great economy we are left to ponder the nature of gods mercy. End of book, curtain down.

When we pray father, may we be open to your perspective, may we not try to use you for our own petty and self serving agendas.

Jonah 3

What is Jonah about? Jonah’s character is strange. It seems to be more about God, which is appropriate, given this is the Bible. Certainly the extraordinary repentance of Nineveh seems a bit tossed off.

Accepting that he must proclaim gods message Jonah does the crazy prophet thing… walking though town and shouting that the end is nigh. And it works, big time.

They all repent, the king makes a proclamation telling everyone to ask God for forgiveness, they do and God forgives them.

This is the capital of Assyria. The ruins are still there today, right outside Mosul in Iraq. The Assyrians were merciless in their treatment of the Hebrews. Jonah may even have witnessed atrocities at their hands, who knows.

And they were not gods people. The whole self definition of the Hebrews was that they were the ones god chose. It is an extreme case of love your enemies.

It makes sense of why Jonah ran when God told him to bring a chance of avoiding destruction to them. He wanted them destroyed. His sense of justice was affronted. Not them lord, they deserve your wrath not your mercy.

Being told to love his enemies, he ran. Jonah’s challenge was to love gods mercy, not just his justice.

The challenge for me is as much to remember here how important gods justice is. I’m your classic western liberal slacktivist who wouldn’t really mind if everyone had a second chance. But to people to whom life has been a lot less fair, and much more harsh, gods justice is more precious.

It is certainly an example of the topsy turvy calculations of grace.

I praise you father for your grace.

Jonah 2

A prayer from a fish.

I spent a bit of time yesterday reading theories about whether it’s practically possible to live inside a live fish or whale. There are, predictably, supporters of the natural theory who argue it could actually happen, and doubters who say nothing short of a magical supernatural miracle could make it happen.

Jonah, praying to God from the belly of the fish is definitely in the latter camp.

He’s obviously a flawed character, he ran from God.  And he knew better, because his prayer shows  knowledge and a deep love of God. It takes you through the drama of the water around him, seaweed tangling his head. As the tempest gave way to nothingness, as he sank to the “roots of the mountains” he went on a spiritual journey, from feeling (ironically) abandoned and cut off from God, eventually to the clarity of realising God was the only thing of any value, how worthless idols are. In the last moments of conscieseness he remembered and praised God as the only source of  salvation.

Maybe in those moments when everything is stripped away, those moments of complete loss of control, we need to think “oh, I’m in a fish”.

And he is vomited up onto dry land.

I’ve sketched out a song lyric about it:

(storm music)

Run away!
Sail away!
Row away!

(can’t) run away
(can’t) sail away
(can’t) row away

So throw away, throw away, throw away…

Thrown into god’s chaos,
It swept all over me,
Then silence and abandonment
And sinking in the sea,

tangled in the weed and down,
Down at the mountains bottom
I left God, then he left me,
Panicked and forgotten,  

I s’pose it had to come to this, praying from a fish,
Thought I could run from it, now I’m hoping I’ll be vomit,

Spew me where you will my God
Or leave me with the krill my God
No pride left, fight left, idols too,
There’s nothing left, there’s only you

One final flickering clarity
The only hope I’ve got
As life ebbs to the cold
nothings left, only God,


Jonah 1

I love Bible stories! God, the creator gives them great creativity. We have spoilers of course. we know that Jonah will wind up in a big fish. But it’s still so unexpected and delightful.

The narrative couldn’t be better, it builds and builds the dilemma like the storm. The attempts to row out of the storm by human effort. Jonah’s acceptance of the failure of his God escape while the sailors still work though their denial: we couldn’t possibly throw you over? The weird faith of the apostate that is only just beneath the surface.

Then the 3 nights in a fish, just for a Dadaist touch to end the chapter.

I hadn’t realised how nicely the sailors on the ship come off. They try very hard not to throw Jonah into the sea, and it becomes their moment with their creator.

But how can they not put two and two together, Jonah told them he was running away from God before the storm started. The God of the Hebrews. The amazing God of the Hebrews.

I still regularly spend part of every week running away from God. I still wonder if I should bring things to him in prayer. What am I thinking. He’s there! He knows!