Top Menu

Jonah: How Big is our Love and other Lessons for Today

In this third and final blog on Jonah and love, we explore how to bring the text forward, building on last week’s focus on the world BEHIND the text.   This is the linchpin of Bible Study, the ‘so what’ question? “So what does this have to do with life today?” If we don’t apply the text, we’re just reading history. But if we employ it, we can change history.

Jonah preaches to the Ninevites, Gustave Dore, 1866

Jonah prompts us to probe the difference between ‘religious truth’ and ‘historical truth’,  because of its fantastical elements like the fish swallowing and spitting up a man.  If it’s not about an actual event, then what is the parable’s ‘religious truth’ that has made it one of the Old Testament’s most popular books for generations?

Jonah is classified as one of the prophetic books, and placed in the canon there.  Yet its four chapters are more allusive than dogmatic. With so many details unknown, the text raises more questions than it answers. Could this have been the writer’s intent since he even ends the book with questions?

         Then God said to Jonah,Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?’                                      (NLT, Jon. 4:9)

Exasperated at Jonah’s continued jealous and narrow-minded response to the Ninevites’ change of heart,  God again questions:

        …Should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals? (NRSV, Jon. 4:11)

The reader is left filling in gaps with answers to the many questions raised. In fact, identifying these is a valuable way to explore what otherwise looks like a simple parable on obedience (or not) to God.  Here are a few, and please add to this list for what Jonah prompts you to consider more deeply, sharing through the “comments” section below):

  • Why did Jonah initially avoid God’s call and flee to Tarshish? (What is the state of thought here that is a major alert to us?)
  • How could Jonah sleep while the storm was raging and the sailors working so hard to survive? (What ‘storms’ are raging around us while we sleep comfortably in our ‘boats’ or lives?)
  • Where is Jonah seeking comfort and where is he uncomfortable? (Where do we seek comfort and where are we uncomfortable?)
  • Did he really repent when in the fish, a fact we might assume but the text doesn’t indicate clearly? (If not, what does that mean about our inner motive fulfilling our mission?)
  • What did he tell the Ninevites that caused such an immediate repentance? (Who are the ‘Ninevites’ of our lives and how do we communicate with them?)
  • If God is all about justice, why were the Ninevites forgiven instead of punished? (What is the nature of God revealed in Jonah? How do we think of God in terms of the balance between justice and mercy?)
  • What is the relationship of Israel to the outside world?

It is this final question that is the giant ‘so what’ to me about Jonah. What is my relation, as a Christian today, to the ‘outside’ world, the world that isn’t of my church family or even Christian family?

This was brought home sharply while attending a Presbyterian minister’s friend presentation about his recent trip to Syria. Joining several other ministers in Lebanon, they went by military escort to Homs, a city I had visited and loved when traveling there ten years ago. Their mission was to bring prayer and support (since no other aid is allowed at present) to a city that has been under siege for years. Seeing the bombed out images of Christian churches, learning more of the thousands forced to flee their homes– now refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere–is heartbreaking if we leave it there.

But this minister, along with thousands of other Christians worldwide, is NOT having a ‘Jonah moment’, thinking only of his own comfort and biases. He knows, as do all who take up this call, that we must answer for those in the Middle East through active prayer and whatever specific additional steps come, to meet their needs. Jonah also tells me I have to equally pray and forgive those who have perpetrated their exodus.

Jonah demonstrates how all-encompassing God’s love is, and therefore how inclusive ours must be. The thousands of Christians forced to flee their homes in the Middle East after 2000 years, hope we’ve learned its lessons well.

Checkout some of our related Products

CD – Jonah: Prophet with Attitude

CD – Overview of the Old Testament

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Peggy Limdahl
Peggy Limdahl
May 30, 2015 4:10 pm

Just for fun:
A very succinct telling of Jonah’s story can be found on Utube under Mary Margaret. Choose the one where this six year old with huge white bow is addressing her audience standing at a podium in church. She has the bare bones of the story line down pat. It is a delight because the child’s innocency shines through loud and clear.

And then go deep with Madelon’s comprehensive, incisive, outstanding analysis and expert questioning making Jonah’s journey relevant today. 🙂

May 30, 2015 10:59 pm

I’m asking myself, is it possible to find common ground with not only fellow Christians, but with people in the Mideast whose concepts of God is blinding them to the all encompassing and inclusive God of Love you mention?

How can my image of the oppressors of innocent women, children and their suffering be lifted to support more actively the displaced and homeless people in our community and in other parts of the world who desperately need the comfort of an all powerful God of Peace?

Joy Nack
June 15, 2015 12:31 pm

Prompted by your newsletter for May concerning the story of Jonah, I’ve done more research myself on the story, and it REALLY speaks to me. I have felt so self-righteous and condemning of ISIS and the whole Muslim world over there in the Middle East. I’ve seen these people as simply so blinded by a bizarre religious zeal that I don’t even want to pray for them but only for the poor victims of their barbaric acts of terrorism. I grew up thinking that the story of Jonah was simply an example of our need to be obedient to the… Read more »

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x