It was just after Succot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and before the Yoreh, first rain, that Nethanel bumped into an old friend.
“Yonah! Shalom! Haven’t seen you in a long, long time!” Nethanel embraced the haggard-looking and dusty man.
“Been away for a few months.” Yonah responded curtly.
Judging from the way Yonah clutched his staff, Nethanel knew his friend was seething with anger. He wondered why.
“Want to tell me about the journey?” Nethanel probed.
“Might be a good idea,” Yonah wiped his perspiring face. “Rather share it with a good friend than my wife.” He rolled his eyes. “Let’s go find a quiet place.”
“The Lord sent me to Nineveh,” Yonah began as they squatted down under an oak tree. “I made a little detour, which turned out to be rather harrowing.”
He told Nethanel how the Lord had thwarted his plans after he boarded a ship heading for Tarshish.
“I looked so weird after that huge fish spit me out on dry land.” Yonah grinned. “My hair was patchy and bleached and my skin looked like parchment.” He glanced at his bronzed arm. “At least the skin’s back to normal.”
Nethanel laughed. “Did you end up in Nineveh? That’s a long journey.”
“More than 500 miles on foot, via the caravan trail.” Yonah got a faraway look in his eyes. “An enormous city, Nineveh. Around 600,000 people living there. Can you believe it?”
“In one city?” Nethanel found it hard to imagine.
“It’s more a city-state, comprised of Rehovot, Calah and Resen,” Yonah explained. “The moment I arrived I started preaching in the markets. Wanted to get the job over and done with as quick as possible.”
“What did you have to tell them?” Nethanel was all ears now.
“What do you think? ‘Repent and live’, that was the extent of the message.” Yonah grinded his teeth. “And you know what? Those wicked unbelievers listened!” He shook his head. “Put on sackcloth and fasted, even the king and the animals.”
“Amazing! A revival among heathen!” Nethanel was awe-struck.
“Humph!” Yonah scowled at him. “I looked forward to their downfall. Assyrians are cruel and wicked, I hate them!” He spat in the sand.
“But they didn’t know any better, and repented!” Nethanel exclaimed. “It doesn’t happen very often that a prophet’s words are heeded. Weren’t you glad they listened to your message?”
Ignoring the question, Yonah continued, “I found a spot overlooking the city, made myself a booth and waited for judgment to begin.” He swatted a fly. “I was pleased with a plant miraculously growing up near the booth, it gave me additional shade. But then the Lord thought it necessary to teach me a lesson and the plant withered. In addition to that, I suffered through a sharav, heat-wave. I wanted to die!” Yonah wiped his brow. “I just knew Adonai would change His mind! That’s why I refused to go there in the first place. Why bother?” Yonah balled his fist.
“But weren’t you glad for those people? And those animals?” Nethanel looked at Yonah. “After all, God had showed his love and mercy to you as well. How can you be so callous, my friend?”
Yonah mocked in silence.
“You know it’s impossible to hide from the Lord, Yonah. You ran away, but He found you. You were instrumental to our enemies’ salvation!” Nethanel pressed Yonah’s arm. “But you didn’t want them to hear that Adonai loves them, isn’t it? Instead, you preferred their downfall. You’re still mad they repented of their sins.” Nethanel shook his friend’s arm. “Yonah! Adonai loves all of us, Jews and gentiles!”
“Can’t help it,” Yonah shrugged. “I just hate those Assyrians.”
He jumped up when a child came running towards them. “Abba! You’re home!”
A broad smile lit up Yonah’s face and he spread out his arms. “Tirzah! My precious daughter! I’ve missed you!” He embraced the flustered girl.
Yonah quickly bid Nethanel goodbye and took his daughter home.
From under the oak tree, Nethanel stared after his friend and let out a deep sigh.
“Even King David knew you couldn’t hide from God,” he mumbled. “Such a pity Yonah refuses to accept the fact that Adonai will be found by those who seek Him with all of their hearts.” Nethanel sadly shook his head and walked back to the city.
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