I have been reading a book called Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. I came across it reading a review. It has led me to read, think and dialogue within me (and even with God) the book of Jonah. I will not be reviewing the author’s book, there are many out there. But I will present some of my thoughts and some point of views contrary to what I am reading in the book Surprised by Grace.
It is interesting that Jonah means dove. A dove according to the ESV is a symbol for “Israel as silly and senseless.” Much like Jonah. Son of Amittai means “son of my faithfulness.” It is as if God was already telling Johan how He saw him.
The book opens very briskly. God speaks to Jonah to go to Niniveh and tell them about their evil. Niniveh was the capital Assyria and was North of what is now Baghdad. We know that God is a compassionate God but we also know He is just. Why Jonah refuses to go and immediately decides to run away from God’s presence is something we are not told. I find the tenor of these verses comical. I can picture this in my mind. God says go to Niniveh and Jonah goes the opposite way to Tarshish. He runs as fast as he can and gets on a ship. Comical because who is he fooling? He knows he can’t run away from God. It is very childlike, or maybe he is just acting like a dove, silly and senseless. What does God do? He could have taken care of him. He could have punished him; instead he will teach him a few lessons and make him see his foolishness. Very much the way God deals with us when we act silly and senseless. We think we can run away from Him, that we can hide from Him.
Jonah gets in the ship. But God raises a great wind (God is sovereign, Lord of heaven and earth) that causes the ship to almost break up. The mariners are not believers in Yahweh (God) but at this point they all start praying for their lives. In their desperation they turn to chance and superstition. They roll the dice to figure out whose fault it is what they are facing. And you guess it. It falls on Jonah. While they do this Jonah is sleeping like a baby. They wake him up and begin to question. Jonah admits he is a prophet of God who is running away from Him. He realizes it is his fault. I believe Jonah is a believer in Yahweh. He is not a pagan. He has been a successful prophet (2 Kings 14:23-28). But he has rebelled against God. He doesn’t agree with what God wants to do. I think he knew that if he spoke the Word of the Lord in Niniveh, people would turn to Him. He was full of prejudice. He should have understood God’s grace. But we are like him as well. We think we know better than God. We think we know who deserves to be a Christian and who doesn’t.
They ask Jonah what they ought to do. He tells them to cast him in the ocean. I don’t know what he is thinking. But I think he wants to die. The men don’t do that immediately. They try to get away from the tempest without resorting to throwing this man in the ocean. Then they pray to Yahweh. It is my belief that these men have become believers of Yahweh at this point. They ask forgiveness for “killing” this man who they will throw into the ocean. They offer sacrifices to God. As soon as they do this, the tempest stops.
It is interesting to me how God uses those who are called his “servants” or followers even when they are foolish. He uses Jonah in his rebellious state to proclaim His name to the sailors. He uses us even when we are rebellious. God also uses those who are not believers to show us mercy and compassion. The sailors cared for Jonah and tried to save him. But Jonah didn’t care about them or about Niniveh.
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