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V. Jonah
(The Bible)

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The Book of Jonah: God's Concern for All People

In addition to being one of the best loved stories in the Bible, the
Book of Jonah presents a timeless story of a man's unwillingness to do
anything that might cause his enemies to prosper.

To best understand the writing, one must appreciate the precarious
position of the nation of Israel in the ancient Near East. Providing a
land-bridge between such powers as Egypt and Assyria, Israel often felt
an oppressive conquering hand by virtue of its geographical location.
In spite of this, the people of ancient Israel often saw themselves as
a special people, especially in the eyes of the God of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. They steadfastly believed in the power of God's providence
and protection from all enemies.

In the text, Jonah is called to preach to the the inhabitants of
Nineveh, which was the capital of Assyria. Jonah is not interested in
preaching to his enemies because he knows, as we find out later in the
story, that the Lord God of Israel is merciful. Instead of going to
Nineveh, Jonah boards a ship bound for Tarshish (probably Tartessus, in
Spain).

When the ship is tossed in a Mediterranean storm, Jonah finally comes
forward and says the storm has arisen because of his own disobedience.
After hesitating at first, the sailors reluctantly cast him into the
sea where is he swallowed by a large fish. In the fish's belly, Jonah
prays to be delivered and, after being in the fish's belly for three
days and nights, the fish spits out Jonah onto dry ground. When the
voice of the Lord comes to him again, this time Jonah is obedient and
heads for Nineveh.

As Jonah might have predicted, the Ninevites listen to his preaching
and repent in sackcloth and ashes. This angers Jonah greatly. When the
Lord asks him about his anger, Jonah responds that he knew this would
happen because God is merciful. Jonah didn't want his enemies to be
spared desctruction; he wanted them to perish.

Jonah remains outside the city where he is shaded by a gourd vine from
the heat of the sun. The next night a worm destroys the gourd vine and
once again Jonah is angry. The Lord contrasts Jonah's concern for the
gourd vine, which grew up overnight, with Jonah's inability to
comprehend God's concern for the Ninevites. The unspoken point is that
God is concerned for all people -- even those who might be considered
enemies. In this way the message of the Book of Jonah is timeless.



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