Over the past several weeks we have looked at the story of Jonah. Here is a recap of the story:
Many centuries ago, there was a Hebrew prophet by the name of Jonah. God told Jonah to go the city of Nineveh to warn them that if they did not turn away from their evil ways and seek salvation from the Lord, their city would be destroyed.
Nineveh was one of the great cities of that time and was an enemy of Israel. Jonah was angry that God was willing to show compassion to this evil enemy of His chosen people. Instead of immediately obeying God, Jonah ran in the opposite direction. He boarded a ship that was bound for a faraway destination.
During the voyage, God sent a massive storm that threatened to destroy the ship and all on board. The men on board were afraid and asked Jonah to pray to God to save them. Jonah convinced them that the only way to stop the storm would be to throw him overboard, which they did.
God then sent a giant fish to swallow Jonah. While inside the fish Jonah prayed a prayer of recognition of God's greatness, mercy, and salvation. After three days, the fish expelled Jonah upon the dry land. God once again told Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time Jonah begrudgingly obeyed.
In Nineveh Jonah spread the message given to him by God. The people listened and heeded the warning they were given. Everybody, from the leadership on down, repented and asked God for mercy. When Jonah saw that they had turned to God, he angrily left the city to watch from a distance to see if Nineveh would be destroyed.
As Jonah waited for Nineveh's destruction, he told God that he wanted to die because he was so angry that God was willing to show compassion to evil people. While Jonah waited under the desert sun, God provided him comforting shade by making a large vine to grow over his head. Jonah was pleased with this.
However the following day God provided a worm to kill the vine so that Jonah would no longer have the shade. In his discomfort, Jonah told God he that he was so angry that he wanted to die. God pointed out that if Jonah was so concerned about the death of a vine, why shouldn't God be concerned about the destruction of a large city full of people.
The Book of Jonah is a very short book that covers a couple of pages in four short chapters. There is little in the way of background to the story for one reading the book by itself. Some study notes, such as those found in many Bibles, help provide illumination to the story. However, to begin to fully grasp the context one would have to study some of the other Old Testament books that were written at the same time. Histories and Biblical study books could also be very helpful in filling in some of the information that has been left out of Jonah.
One can read Jonah without the extensive study and still understand the gist of the story. There is not much in the way of detail or description provided. We don't know what Jonah looked like, or what the ship he boarded was like, or much about the city of Nineveh, and we really don't have to have those details. We do have the essentials of what happened. We have important dialogue that reveals the character of Jonah, and, more importantly, the character of God.
Another interesting technique is how Jonah's motivation is revealed to us. At first we don't really know why he is disobeying God. He is a man on the run and this draws the reader into the story. We have hints that foreshadow the character revelations that we get in the final chapter, but only in that last chapter do we learn that Jonah is running because he is angry about God's compassion for sinners. Jonah fails to see the irony of the fact that he too is a sinner and has been a beneficiary of God's compassion. In the end, the lesson is laid before Jonah which we assume results in his transformation. The story ends with a lesson for Jonah and the reader to ponder.
This is great story telling, perhaps not in the style of best-selling fiction that the modern day reader is accustomed to, but in a basic bare-bones approach that delves deep with an economy of words. We are told what is important for us to know with no extraneous material.
The Book of Jonah can easily be made into a longer story, and would make a great novel. There is much back story that could be imagined based on information that we can find elsewhere. The entire Bible is filled with similarly fascinating stories. Some are very standard stories, while others can be perplexing. If looked at with the right approach and right frame of mind, the Bible is the most interesting book that can be found.
If you have never read the Book of Jonah, I encourage you to read it. It only will take a few minutes. If you have read it before, then read it again and again. Reading the books of the Bible, contemplating upon them, and absorbing them into your mind and heart can do amazing things. I encourage you to open your mind and let the words stir your thoughts.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12 (New International Version)