Jonah, chapter 1
The book of Jonah is a kind of story that today we call ‘satire:’ a story using extreme circumstances, humor, and irony to critique the stupidity and character flaws of Jonah—and ultimately to critique the reader. The story is full of stereotyped characters who, ironically, do the exact opposite of what you would expect. The prophet, a man of God, rebels against and can’t stand his own God. The sailors, who are supposed to be immoral pagans, have soft, repentant hearts and turn to God in humility. The king of the most powerful, murderous empire on earth humbles himself because of Jonah’s five word sermon; even his cows join in the repentance.
The story is definitely not about the fish, and it’s not even really about Jonah. The prophetic message of this book is not in what Jonah said or did, but in what God said and did. God’s questions to Jonah are also addressed to us—are we okay with the fact that God loves our enemies? In the end, this book is a message of good news for us, showing us the greatness of God’s love—that he does love his enemies, us, enough to pursue us through death and out to the other side.
God called Jonah to do something difficult—to preach about his mercy to Jonah’s hated enemies—but Jonah tried to run away to somewhere pleasant. This is called ‘escapism,’ the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities. God calls us too to do difficult things in our lives—to love our families, friends, neighbors, and enemies more than we love ourselves. In what ways do we run from being good dads and moms, from listening to a friend’s problem, from putting our best into work or school? Do we turn to drugs or self-medication? How about gaming or sports? Do we try to make our avoidance look acceptable by calling it ‘exercising’ or ‘work’?
Chapter one is all about God’s merciful pursuit of Jonah as he runs away—down and down until there is nowhere lower to go. Jonah went “down” to Joppa, then he went “down” to board the ship at the pier, then he went “down” below the decks to sleep, and finally he was thrown “down” into the sea during the storm. God kept pursuing Jonah, but Jonah kept running. Will God save Jonah? When we go all the way down, what happens next? To what lengths will God go to save monstrous people?
From eternity Jesus was in ’Tarshish,’ the place of comfort, security, and luxury. Unlike Jonah, Jesus answered God’s call when he came down. He left the luxury of heaven came down to earth to be incarnate of the virgin Mary and laid on some straw in a manger. On the cross Jesus went down all the way to Sheol for us. As low as we were, as far as we had run, Jesus pursued us with his grace to capture our hearts. Our own powers were not enough to raise us up again, but Jesus rose to life of his own power and ascended into heaven. We have no need to escape from unpleasant realities because the risen and ascended Jesus is with us in all those circumstances, until he says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come up and share your master’s happiness!”