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Jonah’s Enemies: Narrowness & Nationalism

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.

Pieter Lastman, “Jonah and the Whale”, 1621

There are lots of ways to look at a Biblical text, but here are three that BibleRoads will explore this month:

  1. The world OF the text (plots, characters, setting and themes)
  2. The world BEHIND the text (concerns, circumstances and experiences of individuals)
  3. 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!

Checkout some of our related Products

CD – Jonah: Prophet with Attitude

CD – Overview of the Old Testament

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Todd Herzer
May 19, 2015 11:23 am

I so appreciate you opening up this subject. It’s so important to look deeper into this important character and his story which gets so easily dismissed as a Disney-like children tale. I’ve come to really love this colorful character and his amazing chutzpah in his dealings with God. My Bible study included this story a few weeks ago and I found myself looking inward to come clean with the question, when have I been a Jonah? What decisions am I making today that might stem from my “inner” Jonah?

Looking forward to part two, Madelon.


May 19, 2015 1:21 pm

Thanks so much for this blog and those coming. I especially loved that you included the need to keep the broader community in the same prayers we pray for others or ourselves. Just being obedient to this makes our prayers so much more effective. I’ve been tackling the the thought that there are boat people at sea between Thailand and Malaysia that no one wants this week and see no one is unloved or rejected or separated from God’s great love that lays “thy stones with fair colours, and …thy foundations with sapphires.” (Isa:54:11) God’s rich blessings belong to everyone… Read more »

Molly Byers
Molly Byers
May 30, 2015 8:05 pm

Interestingly enough the Jonah story recently took a different turn for me. What became so clear to me was in spite of all the dire circumstances Jonah had to walk through, God knew all along that Jonah would be saved. It’s just that Jonah couldn’t see the end of the story. He had to walk each step cleaning his consciousness of egotism, self-will, and self assurance…..all of which temporariy held him in bondage. The storm at sea was evidence of this blindness, even that of the crew, but GOD WAS STILL ON THE DECK GOVERNING THE WHOLE SCENE. Once the… Read more »

May 30, 2015 10:30 pm

Love your focus on all the ‘selfs’ that would say that our ego has more power than God’s governing hand in our lives.

God IS still on the deck. I like the fact that through what Jonah learned from his experience, he is prepared to save the people who needed a change of heart and direction in theirs. We all can turn from the many self absorbing distractions that would keep us from following God’s will and plan for us!

Carol Keeney
Carol Keeney
June 2, 2015 11:06 am

Our Bible study group has been meeting for a couple of years now, and we are delighted to have some insights into Jonah. We plan to tackle the book later this summer. Thank you so much for your invigorating blogs.

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