This was one of my favourite stories when I first began to read the Bible, I received one for getting good marks in Sunday school and used to read it during the sermon.
I was enraptured and used to ponder which whale it was that could swallow a man without the man being dissolved in acid. I knew God was Omnipresent and so wondered why a prophet could try to run away, when surely he would know better. God was in that whale right beside Jonah, did Jonah think about that? Well he made a pretty prayer about it and got spewed up and had to do what he was sent to do anyway. God’s Omnipotence in play?
God is Omniscient too and so knew exactly what Jonah would do before he did it, but had to allow him to choose. O I wasn’t really such a well written youngster but was in-dogmatated during my later years in Sunday School.
Anyway, growing right up to my University years with Theology and Philosophy and some Psychology – to probe the Jonarian (Has a twitter account and one at You Tube) depths,I came to the horrendous, for some, concept of Biblical Un-literality .
As I mentioned in my departed ghost of a Post ,by this same title, there are three ways by which or in which people deal with scripture.
- To believe it implicitly, literally so that there was a man called Jonah swallowed by a whale and every aspect of his story is true.
- As a library containing many Books, in this case a play with 4 Acts with a prologue to set the scene. To translate the parables and analogies into the Message of God
- In the Sociology, cultural and historical context of Scripture to determine its veracity. Scripture in context – very helpful when Scripture needs clarifying.
The Message is that the Lord Saves, the Lord delivers because
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Psalm 103 : 8 (N.I.V).
And JONAH was the son of Amittai, of Gath-hepher in Zebulun, says the scriptures, therefore he really existed since he has already been mentioned in Kings –23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. 25 He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea,[a] in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. 2 Kings 14:23-25 New International Version (NIV)
With that little pearl tucked away for our literally tribes, here is the prologue of the Play.
1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me. 3 But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.” Might be read from a scroll – maybe. Jonah 1.1-3 NIV
So the drama which unwraps its self is the dramatic interchange between Jonah, God and the wicked city of Nineveh.
Now the play may or may not have been written by Jonah but if you notice it is in the third person all the way through, said to be a sign of Prophecy.
Jonah flees the presence of the Lord and goes to Joppa where he hopes to find a merchant vessel to take him to Tarshish, future birthplace of Saul ,Great Lion of God and consumer of Christians. He boards a vessel and it sets sail for Tarshish, Jonah , sleepyhead ,spends his time in the bowels of the ship, practising to be a whale’s dinner.
God sends an horrendous storm especially for Jonah which buffets and tosses the boat about until the captain tells everyone to pray to their gods’ note possession of gods by humans. The storm is so terrible that they conclude someones god is rather cross, the lot falls to Jonah, (so they had time to caste stones or whatever) which indicate that Jonah’s god is the angry god. Jonah had told them ,when he boarded, that he was running away from a mission his god wanted him to do. When the captain found him, in the bowels of the boat, he asked Jonah who his god was because it seemed to be responsible for the terrible danger they were in he demanded who Jonah was, what he did for a living and where he had come from and who was his god.
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” at this they were terrified because this god was the most high god:no one called upon the most high god, Ya, unless they were really in danger, it was sort of a last resort.
Even though they lightened the load the boat continued to flounder and so they said what must we do to be saved?
Toss me over board, he told them and then you will be safe, Jonah was now ready to face himself and to realise that he couldn’t run away from doing God’s will since God was here with him and had sent the storm.
I am a sinner Jonah says.
Unlike Jonah, the crew were good and honest men even if their god’s were handmade and sort of wooden, they tried their very best to out run the storm until Jonah says that the only way for them to be saved is to throw him over board. Ready for death was he?
Jonah is thrown overboard and the good men that they were asked forgiveness from the Lord “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Jonah 1:14b
“O no” says the Lord “now we are going to get wet, of course I saw this coming it was right on cue, just as I knew, but being thrown into icy water is taking omnipresence a bit far.”
The omniscient, omnipresent Lord joins Jonah in the watery depths because God is ever present with us even to our deaths. The whale summoned by God swims dutifully up and swallows the errant prophet, and Jonah, realising the Lord is with him, sits in the stomach of the creature surrounded by the huge rib cage and repents.
Jonah was in the belly of the obedient creature for three days and nights, the sign that was to be given to the Pharisees concerning the death of the Savior , some centuries later. Our stories are like knitting, all united with the pins of time, interwoven, past and present alike. An aside from the wings.
His prayer contains smattering of the words of others but it is still his prayer- some one might take centre stage to read this while Jonah sits in a cage of ribs.
1 [a]From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. 2 He said:
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,[b]
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
7 “When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 “Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
9 But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
Well, said the Lord, “I don’t exactly remember being so lyrical when I preserved this prayer in my eternal Word, he seems repentant, because that is the demeanour I knew would come to him” “It is also a wee bit of plagiarism, but I saw that coming”
And the great fish spewed Jonah onto dry land.
Again the Lord sends Jonah to preach against Nineveh, they were sworn enemies of Israel, ‘why,” thought Jonah “does the Lord send me to my enemies’
Dutifully Jonah takes three days to preach to the city because it was very large and he spoke this “repent for in ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’” Jonah 3:4b
And of course they repented and put on sackcloth just as he had told the Lord they would do. The King of Nineveh believed and said “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”” And the Lord saw that they repented and “he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”Jonah 3:10b
And Jonah was ANGRY!!!!
Jonah prayed to the Lord in a conversational manner, drawing the Lord to attention concerning what, he, Jonah, and known from the beginning, that the lord is kind and compassionate and would save Nineveh and claims that in fleeing to Tarshish, he Jonah was attempting to foil the repentance and forgiveness.
Now Jonah sort of gets all theatrical, throws his arms up and wishes God to kill him, to go with God into the bowels of the earth.
“Jonah, “says the Lord “are you sure you should be angry, is it right?”
Jonah stomps off in a huff into the east and sits under the shelter he had made,glowering at the city to see what would happen to it.
The Lord makes a plant to grow overnight to shade Jonah from the heat and Jonah was very happy about the plant.
Enter stage right one worm, and worming its way into the plant sucks the vitals from it and it dies.
And Jonah was ANGRY!!!!
Just like the storm at sea, the Lord provides a scorching east wind and Jonah suffered a bad case of sunstroke and fainted, again he wishes he was dead, familiar words heard from an angry petulant 21st century child?
Again, the Lord asks Jonah whether he had a right to be angry.
“You cared so much about the plant, you loved it, even though it grew up from the morning and went down in the evening. It gave you shelter. Then why should I not have mercy on my people in Nineveh?”
I love them and desired them to come to ME and just as you told me, they did.
But not without, you, my prophet, whom I called and sent to your enemies, for they, too, are of me. Like all people they rise in the morning and set in the evening of their lives, and are loved with the love with which you loved your plant…..”
All come out to receive their applause, whale with vomit bag and sick plant and worm, and all the rest who were saved to the kingdom.