God's use of a bad example.
Why we do not want to be like Jonah
Now if your dialogue with the book of Jonah is anything like mine over the past few years it all about the fish. The discussion of the fish in my experience had paths. This had to happen because it is in the Bible, here is how it is scientifically possible. Perhaps the opposite, this is an impossible thing this book is dumb don’t listen to it. Some have seen as just a secret code for the three days of Jesus in the tomb, and the only function is to hint to Jesus. This 4-page little book is not about the fish, it about Jonah. Specifically about Jonah emotions and feelings about Nineveh.
When I read Jonah, I am reminded a bit Mark Twain, Trey Parker, Stephen Colbert. I see satire, but I will call it “Satire Adjacent.” If I am honest when I close my eyes I see the story in the art form of South Park and Jonah is no doubt Cartman. It may not be theologically or historically accurate to call Jonah a satire, but I find it helpful.
At the very least the goal of the satire and the purpose of the author of Jonah are similar at the best it will help us laugh understand the story. In good satire, the example of the character is used for examination. The logical conclusion of an idea is seen in the story, personhood, or actions of a character. Jonah is this character. The logical conclusion of Jonah’s idea of Israel's exceptionalism and hate for enemies leaves us thinking. Jonah doesn’t end with a speech, with an object lesson, or explanation. It is Jonah cursing God and wanting to die because something good happened to Nineveh. As readers, we are meant to wrestle with this scene, Jonah's emotions and how it relates to ours. What we are not supposed to do, is care about the fish.
I highly suggest you read Jonah, unlike a lot of the examples in this series it pretty short. I’ll even make it clickable if you don’t have Bible handy.
Like South Park or the Colbert Report, if you do not know the context or the references you miss almost all of what is going on. Jonah was asked to go to Nineveh. NINEVEH! When I had this story first explained to me, it was said Nineveh was the city of sin like Las Vegas. But it is not a city where bad things happen, but a city that did bad things to Jonah's city. Nineveh is the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the people who the Jews do not like. For the people first hearing this, they may have even cheered as Jonah refused to help the enemies. God is on the side of his people Jews, not the ones who are evil and hurt the Jews. Perhaps this prophet is thinking, he should not speak to the enemy surely God will not spare our enemies.
The Jews had less political and military clout than modern-day Americans, but as an exercise try to think of some an American political figure going to another nation that we deem as enemies. Viewers of Fox News would likely respond positively if Donald Trump refused to save ISIS, and Viewers of MSNBC would likely respond positively if Bernie Sanders refused to go to Moscow to save Putin. Even if these people said they felt God called them, ISIS and Russia do not deserve grace. This is how good satire, or “satire adjacent” works. Step one is to sympathize with something very ordinary. Then takes us to what the conclusion of the ordinary will be if everything stays the same.
God loves the Jews, and anyone who does wrong to the Jews God will punish. God is on the side of the Jews. These are the assumptions of the Jewish people. Despite the fact that their covenant was to be blessing to other not a blessing to themselves. These assumptions are still made about the Jews today in the form of Zionism and pro-Israel Theology. This Idea has also been reborn in the Christopher Columbus conquering of the new world, in America's Manifest Destiny and treatment of native people, and in anti-refugee sentiment.
What if God asked us to save our enemies? What if God asks us to save the ones who did wrong to us?
The answer is the book of Jonah.
Jonah says I am not comfortable with this idea and I am going to another city. There is a storm on a ship filled with non-Jews Pagans and as the story unfolds the pagans worship the one true God of the Jews and then the fish swallow stuff. About a fourth of the book is Jonah’s Prayer. That is Chapter two or about one page if you didn’t click the link and read. Then Jonah ends up in the city of his enemies, gives a tremendously moving long emotional sermon. “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” He prays for 9 verses and whole chapter, and half a verse is his message. Elements of humor if you ask me. Nineveh instantly listens, they fast and cover themselves with sackcloths, even the animals! They mourn and fast and are moved to repent and stop doing evil because they were asked. This stands in contrast to Jonah whom when was also asked to do something, chose to flee.
Then the final chapter is the crescendo the real point of this astonishing little book. Another fish comes and swallows up all of Nineveh because God loves only the Jews! Just kidding, I was just checking to see if you actually read the little book, here is the link again if you still haven't.
Jonah is upset that God spared the city, we know this because the Bible says so. In the conversation with God, Jonah says that he wants to die because God was good to the enemies. He says it better for me to die than to know the ones I hate have received God’s mercy. God and Jonah talk for about why Jonah is so mad. God asks some piercing questions “Do you do well to be angry?”, “Should I not pity Nineveh,” “What about Nineveh's Animals."
Observing Jonah's response to these question we are left without resolution. Why does the Bible do this? So that we find the resolution ourselves.
The ancient world, along with our modern one see's most things as us versus them. Jonah, this ancient satire adjacent holy book let us know what happens if we think this way. As well as what should be obvious, God does not think the same way Jonah does.