“Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city.”
I love Jonah.
You know. The guy who was told to go preach to the city of Nineveh in the Old Testament – except he actually bought a ticket to go the opposite direction ‘cause he didn’t wanna go?
Yeah. That Jonah.
God told him to go preach to a city full of Assyrians, and tell them that unless they turned from their wicked ways, He would blast them in a fiery judgement.
Now to understand the context here, you gotta know about the Assyrians.
They were the bullies in the sandbox of the day – a fierce and organized crew who developed iron weaponry while their neighbours were still working in bronze. They used fear to their advantage – and their reputation was deserved. Captives had ears, noses, or hands cut off. And those were the lucky ones. Others were flayed alive or driven over with sledges of iron teeth.
Seriously. Nasty stuff.
So if Jonah had any family members who had any run-ins with these guys – I’m telling you, he would have had an axe to grind.
We don’t find out until a few chapters later exactly why Jonah ditched God and tried to go as far west as he could after he’d been asked to go east, but it’s actually relatable, given the circumstances.
He was afraid of God showing His compassionate side to these barbarians.
These were evil dudes. They did evil, unspeakable things. They were ranked right up there in the list of World’s Most Wanted for crimes against humanity.
It took a little side trip in the belly of a giant fish to convince Jonah he might want to do as God asked…
So. He gets spit up on a beach, hair worn away with gastric juices, skin peeling, reeking of seaweed. He heads to a city full of bad guys (and gals) who – I hope you catch the significance of this – worship a god who is half fish. He tells a weird story about being swallowed and spit out by a fish and the evidence is there. I mean, imagine what he would have looked like.
(And people say God hasn’t got a sense of humour…)
The sight of Jonah is enough to grab their attention.
With ears ready to hear, his words pack a punch. “Forty days from now, and Nineveh will be destroyed!”
And something odd happens.
Their king declares a national fast, and commands them all to abandon their wicked ways. They all change their fancy clothes for sackcloth (a symbol of humility and repentance).
Jonah is mad.
Like the verse says, he climbs a hill overlooking the city and waits for the sky to fall. He wants those people punished. He wants them to burn. He wants them to suffer, as they had caused so many to suffer.
Pretty human, right?
Ask any mama whose son has fallen on a battlefield. Ask any father who lost a daughter to Boko Haram. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one to a drunk driver.
Oh, we want that abuser, that betrayer, that criminal, that perpetrator to suffer.
We want a front row seat to their downfall. We want them to pay.
Yet God, knowing their evil, knowing the depravity and cruelty and wickedness in their midst, sends a prophet to give them a warning – a sneak peak at the consequences of their actions.
What an insight into the heart of God.
How His heart hurts when He sees the injustice, the cruelty, the inhumane way we treat one another down here. We are all His children. He wants all of us to seek His ways, live in peace, work towards unity and love.
There are no easy or pat answers to why there is so much pain and suffering in this world. Which is why this little story of Jonah waiting for the sky to fall on his enemies is so beautiful.
See, the Bible doesn’t shy away from the reality of pain, or the desire for revenge, or the suffering that motivates us to behave in ways we normally wouldn’t behave in. It presents real people with real problems struggling and mucking their way through life just like we are.
There are no pat answers. In fact, this little story may stir more questions than answers. But it does give us a glimpse of the wider story that all of us are woven into – and points to the grace and mercy of God, who showers us with second chances and undeserved forgiveness just because of who He is.
God is in control. He will one day punish those who have broken His code of conduct and behaved cruelly toward others. But all of us have broken that code and deserve punishment for the hurts we have caused.
I’m so, so glad to know that I am forgiven and that my punishment has been taken from me because of Jesus. And I’m so, so glad to know that when the punishments are given out one day, they will be no more nor no less than anyone deserves. He is perfectly loving, but He is perfectly just.
Continue to struggle through issues of justice with me?
Father, we don’t understand pain and suffering. We hate it and want Justice and it hurts to be wronged and the injustice in the world just screams at us. Remind us that Your justice will be served, and that it will be tempered and balanced by grace. Amen.