Monday, June 1, 2015

Jonah: The resurrected prophet

At first, he was sure he was dead. His final memories were just fragments: being thrown; the wind; hitting the water; sinking. The storm had seemed dark, but now he found himself in utter blackness. Cold. Silent. Dead.

The thought of death was almost calming. The slow realization that he was still alive was puzzling. Understanding that he was trapped inside something was ... terrifying! He thrashed. He screamed. It made no difference.

His mind raced. Of course he knew that God was displeased with him. He had known that before he got on the boat. The sudden storm confirmed it. When the sailors said they would throw lots, he knew that it would identify him. He knew he was guilty. That was why he had had them toss him overboard. But he still wasn't sorry. He didn't want to go Assyria. They were a bloodthirsty people. They deserved God's judgement for all they had done. They did not deserve mercy.

So he lay there in the darkness, shivering. One day passed, and then a second, although Jonah could not tell that sun sank or rose. Jonah's could feel his skin soften and pucker, but he could not see its skeletal in the dark.

With time his heart softened too. From deep within his grave in the deep and the dark, Jonah prayed. He began with a note of faith: "In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me..." As he finished, he felt movement. A rushing, shaking, constriction, propulsion, and then...


Jonah would not make the list of Top Ten Most Exemplary Prophets. In the four chapters of the book that bears his name, Jonah reveals himself to be rebellious, stubborn, ungrateful, and petulant. I find him quite relatable. Yet God is able to use Jonah —despite his obvious animosity toward his listeners— to bring many Assyrians to repentance. I find this encouraging.

Still, I wouldn't naturally hold up Jonah as a picture of the Lord Jesus. Christ was obedient and submissive. He wept over Jerusalem for the people's obstinancy. Jonah set up camp outside Nineveh in the hopes that God would still destroy the city.

So it is curious that twice in the book of Matthew Jesus identifies himself with Jonah. When the people demands a miraculous sign, He responds that the only one He would provide that was the one of Jonah the prophet: three days and nights in the heart of the earth. Jesus too brought a message of salvation. He too would rise again after three days.

Jesus then puts the onus on the inquirers. Jonah was not a model prophet. He half-heartedly preached his message while half-hoping for vengeance. Despite the limitations of the messenger, the people of Nineveh still repented in sackcloth and ashes. Now one greater than Jonah stood before them and they were without excuse. How would they respond?

(Jonah 1—4; Matthew 12:39—31, 16:1-4)