Monday, May 18, 2009
Jonah's Reluctance and Jesus' "Sign of Jonah"
Why did Jonah flee after the Lord told him that he was to go to Nineveh and warn the people that if they did not repent they would be destroyed? Was it cowardice? Was it laziness?
What is often overlooked by commentators is that Nineveh—the city in story of Jonah which repents―was at the heart of the Assyrian Empire. Of course, Assyria was a huge threat to the northern kingdom, i.e., the house of Israel. In fact, the prophets foretold that God would destroy Israel by their hand.
The news that God was about to destroy Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, would have been welcomed by the people of Israel.
Thus Ancient Israelite readers would no doubt see Jonah’s hesitance to preach there as patriotic--he gladly anticipated the destruction of Israel's enemy and did not want to prevent their destruction by preaching to them.
The story is ironic--Jonah saves the Assyrians at Nineveh from destruction through calling for repentence. The Assyrians repent and are saved. The northern Israelites however persist in their sin and are eventually destroyed.
In the Gospels Jesus speaks of himself as Jonah, specifically speaking of performing the 'sign of Jonah' (e.g., Matt 12:39-41; Matt 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). Of course, Matthew and Luke’s readers would have been aware that the preaching of Jesus, rejected by the Jewish leadership, was being accepted in Rome. They knew of course that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and, of course, it was well-known who the destroyer would be--Rome!
No one wonder then Jesus is linked with Jonah!