January 2, 2014 by AJ Briones
Discovering the Man Eaten by the Big Fish and the Peelers
Everybody knows Jonah. He has entered our folklore. People who have never read the Bible know enough about Jonah to laugh at a joke about him being swallowed by a fish (Introduction to Jonah – NIV/THE MESSAGE Parallel Study Bible). But there is something deeper about who Jonah is and what was really behind this person that made him such a well-known character in the Bible. We are about to dig into the story with an unknown writer in the Bible.
Earlier in the day I was reminded of a place in the mentioned in the Bible called Nineveh. It was actually one of my favorite places mentioned in the Bible because of maybe my fondness of the Assyrians when I studies ancient civilization during my collegiate years. They were brutal people and they were well known for their sadistic treatment of prisoners and torturing their enemies. They were for me one of those civilizations that actually caused pain for the generations they existed in. It was interesting that it was evident in God’s Word that God was aware of whom the Assyrians were and what they were doing (Jonah 1:2, NIV). It was even said in another translation of the same Word that because of their evil or bad ways God could not ignore it any longer (Jonah 1:2, MSG). Because God could not handle it anymore, He called for a guy named Jonah who was known for being a person who prophesied during the days of Joroboam II (793-753 B.C.).
Character Check on Jonah
Jonah was an interesting character. He was not one of those super righteous characters in the Bible who was obedient to God and followed God. I actually see him as a mean kind of person. When God asked him to God to the heart of the Assyrian Empire (Nineveh) did otherwise. He ran away. Well, that’s one thing I know about Jonah; and that is that he ran away. In my idea, he ran away because of his fear of the people. The Assyrians were ruthless. They literally peel off the skin of their victims and hang the skins to the walls of their city to create fear in the hearts of their enemies of people that would try and attack them. I actually though Jonah feared those people and that caused him to choose to escape, not until this time I decided to read the Word again.
At the very end of the Book of Jonah, we could actually see a conversation and bargaining between God and Jonah (Jonah 4). It was a conversation about God’s mercy on Nineveh. You see, when the people of Nineveh heard the message they immediately wore sackcloth and repented; that acts caused God to have compassion over them and forgive them (Jonah 3:10, NIV). That was an act that Jonah appeared to not like. This truth of how he conversed with God show me a big deal of what his character was. Here is his conversation with God:
Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at God, “God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were sheer grace and mercy, not easily angered, rich in love, and ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness! (Jonah 4:1-2, MSG)
When I read that, I saw the true intentions of Jonah. He did not flee out of fear. He fled because he knew what kind of God we had. He knew that repentance can lead to forgiveness. He knew that if the Word of God would reach the Assyrians (Ninevites), God would have mercy. He understood who God was and he decided that he would make his own way and allow punishment to fall upon Nineveh without giving them a chance to be free from their sinful ways. It reminds me of a song of a band I listened to about the character of Satan.
`Coz I don’t tell you
Bout the God in heaven
Who loves you
Who yearns for you, no
I don’t tell you
`Bout the freedom of forgiveness and truth
Why would I tell you?
Why would I tell you, the truth?
You see? That’s Satan working there. I’m not telling you that Jonah was a worker of Satan or something. It was not actually mentioned if Jonah was a super righteous guy or otherwise. All I know is that he was like us, human. He in some sort of way had a stubborn heart that eventually lead him not to look at people through God’s eyes. It led him to a sinful act of wanting pain or suffering to fall upon others. Yes, sinners are sinners but it does not mean we have to judge them as people who have no chance to change. All of us were given a chance for repentance and forgiveness.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Jonah. What we can say is that he obeyed God but delayed or incomplete obedience is not obedience at all. He did it but his heart wasn’t in to it. How about you? A question that was running in my mind for me was this, what are those things in my life that God wants me to do something about but I would rather not follow or obey with a heart not fully committed to trust God in? Let’s check our hearts if we have obeyed God with something or if we have followed God with a heart not truly convinced that God was right. DON’T ACT AS IF YOU KNOW BETTER THAN GOD.
Character Check on the Ninevites
When the Ninevites heard the message and call for repentance from Jonah, there were three actions I believed that they can do. Any of these three things: Escape from Nineveh, Do not believe Jonah (probably killing Jonah by peeling his skin off) or repent. What was amazing was that the said people chose to repent and fast (Jonah 3:5, MSG). It was an amazing gesture to do. It was a nationwide turn around. You would see in the study of ancient civilization about a certain character that was even mentioned once in the Bible (Ezra 4:10). His name was Ashurbanipal II (884/883-859 B.C) and he was the proof of a great turn around in the history of Assyria. He was among the two Kings of Assyria along with Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.) who were known to have resided in Nineveh. He was known for being the last Assyrian King of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. He left a great marker of being a leader who shifted the ways of Assyria. The people of Nineveh/Assyria turned from being the skin peelers into knowledge seekers. They became people who sought knowledge. Ashurbanipal was known in the ancient civilization that left a large stone tablet library.
Though this effort of the Assyrians to search for knowledge eventually was viewed as one of the reasons for their downfall as a civilization by the hands of the Medes and the Babylonians, we could see a great point about what the Ninevites/Assyrians can share to us and that is REPENTANCE LEADS TO A CHANGED LIFE.
Character of God – God’s Eyes
But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11, NIV)
God thinks about us his children. He saw the Ninevites and what evil they did. He saw how much pain the people saw how much trouble the Assyrians were capable of but here is one thing I’d like everyone to remember, “God does not treat us according to our past but treats us according to our destiny.” (Pastor Erwin “Sky” Ramos – Victory Metro East, Philippines 01-01-2012). God saw the destiny of the Assyrians and had compassion over them.
As the Ninevites/Assyrians, I believe that God has so many amazing thoughts concerning us (Psalm 139:17, NLT). He knows and has a great plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11, GNT). In His eyes we see our future and hope.
As I end this, one thing I would like to my readers is that we as people should never underestimate what God is doing and is seeing in us. OUR PAST AND PRESENT CAN NEVER HINDER GOD FROM DOING SOMETHING AMAZING IN OUR FUTURE.
- The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
- New International Version 1984 (NIV1984) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica
- New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation.
- Good News Translation (GNT) Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society
- In the Words of Satan by The Arrows Band