Several years ago I had the opportunity to be involved with producing a weekly
foreign language program through the local Christian radio station. Which provided
me the opportunity to help members of the broadcast prepare for their “Missions
Emphasis” service based in part on the story of Jonah and the Whale. It was a lot
of fun and kind of uncanny since I didn’t speak their native language, but seemed
to have a sixth sense about mispronunciations, after layering in the sound effects
for their presentation, they insisted that I come watch the performance. Arriving
fashionable late with every intention of just slipping in the back pew, my wife and
I found our selves being escorted to front row seats as honored guests. A simple
wire across the platform suddenly transformed the church into a ship on the high
seas as Jonah was literally thrown off the boat, and reappeared against a dark
maroon back drop decorated with seaweed, until he was of course spit off of the
stage once again. The story of Jonah and the great fish are standard fare in Sunday School programs the world over, but do we really know the rest of the story?
The other day while making a mad dash to the store, I was listening to a pastor on
the radio talk about why Jonah was so reluctant to go to the capital of the Assyrian
empire. Nineveh, was located in the modern city of Mosul, Iraq. Which in recent
history hasn’t been a trendy destination. In the midst of all this I had an epiphany,
there must be more of a back story to Jonah’s life.
The book of Jonah starts out with a single sentence. “The word of the LORD came
to Jonah son of Amittai” While other books of the Old Testament start out with the
calling of the prophet, or some explanation of what was happening in the life of Israel,the story of Jonah starts out with an implied relationship between God and the son of Amittai. After the drama of Jonah going to preach in Nineveh reaches its anticlimactic finish, here again we find a very intimate conversation between God and Jonah.
“When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah's head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, "It would be better for me to die than to live." But God said to Jonah, "Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?" "I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."
Obviously Jonah must have made it back to Israel, or we probably wouldn’t have
the incredible story of how God used a great fish to carry Jonah back to dry
land so he could complete his mission. When we look at the dialog between God
and Jonah there has to be a certain level of relationship between them for
Jonah to be so honest about his feelings. While the story of Jonah captures
the imagination, we need to keep in mind that the real back story is one of God’s
mercy for both Nineveh and Jonah.