Jonah is one of those Biblical books that can make me squirm. More than the ‘whale of a tale’ of childhood Bible stories, this parable offers food for thought sometimes tough to digest, not unlike the whale who couldn’t quite swallow this Avoider.
Jonah makes us look closer at hints of self-absorption that make me want to run to the Tarshish-equivalent of today, comfortable homes and lives. That means shutting out the heart-rending news like the hundreds of thousands of Christian refugees run from their once-comfortable homes throughout the Middle East. Does Jonah help me see I have a role in this modern-day forced Exodus? But we get ahead of ourselves.
There are lots of ways to look at a Biblical text, but here are three that BibleRoads will explore this month:
- The world OF the text (plots, characters, setting and themes)
- The world BEHIND the text (concerns, circumstances and experiences of individuals)
- The world in FRONT of the text (how you bring it forward to your life today).
So in this first of three blogs on the short Old Testament book of Jonah, we’ll look at the world OF the text.
Plot: Prophet gets God-given directive to go save others, resists, runs, turns, complies and ends in a snit of self-absorption. Wow! How’s that for a Biblical plot loaded with lessons to teach?
Characters: The prophet, Jonah; the (pagan) sailors; the (pagan) people of Nineveh; a crustacean (with a digestive challenge), and God.
Setting: Israel, somewhere near Joppa, where the prophet lives; Tarshish, farthest western point of then-civilization (in today’s Spain); Nineveh, home to one of Israel’s arch enemies, a major city in northern Mesopotamia and former capital of Assyria until 612 BCE when it was destroyed; an orchard east of Nineveh, containing the Bible’s most famous gourd.
Themes: People can repent and find God, even those who don’t know Him. God cares and loves all people, including animals. God provides and appoints his messengers/prophets to help others but they must be obedient to this call. If we are initially running from God’s call on our lives, we always have another opportunity to turn and be obedient to this call. You can run but not hide from God and your conscience. That despite self-absorption, God provides the opportunity to learn it is never about just the individual, but the individual in relation to community.
If you’ve ever looked at ‘others’ (i.e. those unlike ourselves and our ‘tribe’) with a bit of a downward glance, then you get how much the creep of spiritual insularity must be guarded against. What do you do to stave off the mental isolationism that doesn’t pray for those in the toughest of circumstances? Learning from Jonah is a good place to start.
We’ll keep exploring Jonah’s teachings in part two: the world BEHIND the text (concerns, circumstances and experiences of individuals) next week. Happy digging!