IronyThe book and story of Jonah is one that has many scratching their heads - and I'm not even talking about the big fish!
(For the record - I have no difficulty whatsoever in believing that the God who created the Universe could provide a fish-submarine to transport a stubborn prophet to where he needed to be.)
But the story of Jonah has many layers. One of the key layers is that while God used Jonah to reach the hearts of the people of Nineveh, the other layer is that his attitudes and actions are a reflection of the hard hearts and attitudes of the Israelites.
In chapters 1 and 4 we see an angry and rebellious Jonah who has no love at all for other nations and who pouts and rebels against God at the slightest provocation. In chapter 3 he is the chastened prophet who preaches God's message out a sense of duty. But it's in chapter 2 that things get weird, because in the belly of the fish Jonah sprouts (or is it spouts?!?) the most pious prayer. If we didn't know better we'd think we were in David's school of Psalmody: the imagery, the passion, the eloquence!
But the contents of the prayer don't match the behaviour of the prophet and the text itself provides the answer: "And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land."
Jonah's prayer may have been eloquent - but it wasn't real. In verse 8 he even takes time to take a potshot at other nations and portray himself as holier. There is a disconnect between his words and his actions and the actions of the fish are an even more eloquent response to the value of Jonah's empty eloquence. ("Uggh" says the fish "I can't stand this belly-aching in my belly any more!")
There is a warning for us. I have attended events where someone has been asked to thank a speaker or presenter and turned the act of thanksgiving into a show all by itself. Or what about extravagant thank you gifts that imply payment instead of gratitude? Or what about prayers of thanks prayed in public but sulky ingratitude that's revealed in private. We should be sure that our thanks are sincere.
|The engulfing waters threatened me, |
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD."
10 And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (Jonah2:9-10)