THE BOOK OF JONAH 3

A Study by Reverend Christopher Cooke

The walls of Nineveh today

CHAPTER 3

Jonah 3:1-4: Jonah Prophesies in Nineveh.

How do you think Jonah felt proclaiming his message in Nineveh?
James Limburg believes there are two vital questions:
• What will happen to a prophet who disobeys a command from the Lord? and
• What will happen to the wicked city of Nineveh?
The first is resolved here. God manoeuvres Jonah so that he is in a position to have a second chance. Jonah is spewed out by the fish on land and straightaway Jonah is called again by God to go to Nineveh. This time the prophet obeys and his life begins again. It was a long and arduous journey across the desert to get to this city. What is described is “greater Nineveh” with its suburbs. Nineveh was far bigger than the neighbouring city of Mosul of today. Other commentators believe there is an element of exaggeration here. A day’s journey into Nineveh, Jonah begins proclaiming his message. He was, no doubt, frightened and feeling foolish. His message was: “Forty day’s more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” It was not likely to be a popular message! David Gunn wonders whether this was God’s message or whether Jonah had over-interpreted. The original message did not specify ‘forty days’. Or was this part of the second instalment promised by God in verse 2?

“Jonah disobeyed God, and when he did, his whole relationship with God fell apart to the extent that he could not pray even when his ship was in the middle of a storm. When Jonah mended his relationship, his only option was to obey God. Closeness to God and doing what he says go hand in hand; if we reject one, we lose another”. Paula Gooder.

Was Jonah worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?
Are we worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?

“The call of God is simultaneously a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy, and also a sign of greater purpose, his concern for those nameless masses whose drab and daily existence has not yet been illuminated by the divine light”. Peter Craigie

Jonah 3:5-9: Nineveh’s Response.

What do you think about the response of the ordinary people?
What do you think about the response of the king?

The second of James Limburg’s questions begins to be answered here. A pious Jewish listener or reader of this book may well have been very surprised about the developments in this section. He may have been quite content that God condemns the alien Ninevites. Jonah’s message is that Nineveh will be ‘overthrown’. That reminds us of Genesis chapter 19 when God overthrew the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when he rained brimstone and fire upon them. The prophet Nahum also condemns Nineveh as “the bloody city, all full of lies and booty” and announced its fall in chilling terms (chapter 3). Surely, no one would feel sorry when Nineveh met its end.

“Who cares for the city in the story to this point? Certainly not Jonah, the insider, representing the people of God. The answer is that God does – and God has gone to great efforts to see that a prophet is sent to the people of the city”. James Limburg.

The pious Jew then would be surprised that the Ninevites actually listen to Jonah and respond appropriately as does their mighty king. Indeed, the Ninevites, like the sailors, are portrayed in a very positive light. The people believed in the message of God, announced a fast, humbled themselves, and did something to clean up the terrorism and violence in their city (James Limburg). This was not just the reaction of a few but of everyone including the animals. Even the king takes note and his rhetorical question “Who knows?” suggests that he does not presume what God will do. The king is humble before God and concerned for his people. The storyteller delights in telling us this comic twist in the tale.

“The important feature here is that the people of Nineveh did what the people of Israel, particularly Jonah, could never do. They saw the error of their ways, repented and escaped God’s wrath”. Paula Gooder.

If the so-called evil people of Nineveh can repent, why can’t we?
What does the Church really think about the Calcuttas, Karachis and Sao Paolos of our own day?

Jonah 3:10: God’s Response.

Are we more like Jonah, more concerned about ourselves, than being ambassadors for Christ?
God is impressed and God repented of the evil he had intended for Nineveh.

“So God had indeed intended judgement against the city, although it is still unclear whether Jonah was told this explicitly”. David Gunn.

The narrator is quoting from the story of the golden calf in Exodus chapter 32. In that story the unrepentant Israelites are spared when Moses intercedes for them. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is also relevant. Then Abraham played the role of intercessor between God and the cities. In contrast to Moses and Abraham, Jonah is not an intercessor but a judge pronouncing sentence. And it is the actions of the people of Nineveh which cause God to change his mind not Jonah.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise… How does that relate to the way God acts here?

Questions

Jonah 3:1-4: Jonah Prophesies in Nineveh.

How do you think Jonah felt proclaiming his message in Nineveh?

“Jonah disobeyed God, and when he did, his whole relationship with God fell apart to the extent that he could not pray even when his ship was in the middle of a storm. When Jonah mended his relationship, his only option was to obey God. Closeness to God and doing what he says go hand in hand; if we reject one, we lose another”. Paula Gooder.

Was Jonah worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?
Are we worthy of the privilege of doing God’s work?

“The call of God is simultaneously a sign of mercy, in that he is willing to employ the unworthy, and also a sign of greater purpose, his concern for those nameless masses whose drab and daily existence has not yet been illuminated by the divine light”. Peter Craigie.

Jonah 3:5-9: Nineveh’s Response.

What do you think about the response of the ordinary people?
What do you think about the response of the king?

“Who cares for the city in the story to this point? Certainly not Jonah, the insider, representing the people of God. The answer is that God does – and God has gone to great efforts to see that a prophet is sent to the people of the city”. James Limburg.
“The important feature here is that the people of Nineveh did what the people of Israel, particularly Jonah, could never do. They saw the error of their ways, repented and escaped God’s wrath”. Paula Gooder.

If the so-called evil people of Nineveh can repent, why can’t we?
What does the Church really think about the Calcuttas, Karachis and Sao Paolos of our own day?

Jonah 3:10: God’s Response.

Are we more like Jonah, more concerned about ourselves, than being ambassadors for Christ?

“So God had indeed intended judgement against the city, although it is still unclear whether Jonah was told this explicitly”. David Gunn.

Immortal, invisible, God only wise… How does that relate to the way God acts here?

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