Jonah: Chapter 1:1 - 3
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai. Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh; go and denounce it, for I am confronted by its wickedness. But to escape from the Lord Jonah set out for Tarshish. he went down to yaffo, where he found a ship bound for Tarshish. He paid the fare and went on board to travel with it to Tarshish to get away from God.
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, the most powerful country in the world. The Assyrians controlled most of the Ancient Near East. They were aggressive an arrogant. In 721 BCE they conquered the northern land of Israel; carrying off the ten tribes living there (hence the legends of the ten lost tribes). Assyria was the hated and feared archenemy of Israel.
1. Why is Jonah sent to Nineveh?
2. Why is Jonah sent to Nineveh?
3. Tarshish is thought to be identified as a point in or near modern day Spain. Nineveh is located in modern day Turkey. Jonah debarked from the current Israeli port town of Yaffo. In which direction did Jonah travel?
4. How do you interpret the phrase "to get away from God?"
5. In these first verses, who is God? Contrast Jonah to God.
Jonah is told to go to Nineveh to tell them to repent. God is displeased with the Ninevites and cares enough about them to send a prophet to correct them. But Nineveh was the capital of the nastiest, meanest and most feared group of people on earth at this time. Jonah's mission makes no sense. At the time of its reading, these first few verses of Jonah were meant to shake up the reader. We learn several very important messages:
1. God is supreme over all the earth.
2. God cares about all the people on the earth, no matter who or what they are.
3. Jonah, as a jewish prophet, has a responsibility to the non-Jewish nations as well.
4. Atonement and repentance are available to all, regardless of religion or nation.
These first verses are meant to surprise us, as they did Jonah. Janoah is asked to to the capital city of a people he hates and fears and give them the opportunity to repent. And Jonah must go because he is a prophet of God. He goes to establish God's sovereignty in the heart of the enemy. God is universal.
It is also significant that Jonah, a prophet from a conquered nation, is sent on this mission. Perhaps this is meant to show that although politically weak, Israel is unbowed and spiritually unbeatable.
But Jonah travels in the opposite direction, away from Nineveh. It would not be possible for Jonah to more blatantly ignore God's orders. How can anyone "get away from God?" Does Jonah believe that God is land locked? The God of only the Land of Israel? Another more logical explanation touches upon Jonah's humanity. Just as we, when faced with a disagreeable task, procrastinate even to our own harm, so Jonah fled from God. It may not be rational, but it is human.
These verses show that God is concerned about everyone. Jonah is God's way of offering Nineveh the opportunity to repent. In contrast, Jonah is unforgiving, stubborn adn willing to see them suffer for their iniquities.
This is not just a story of a man swallowed by a big fish. The text has established in these few verses a confrontation between God and His chosen prophet which will cause us to question our own values, our relationship with God and our views of those outside our community.