Fish catches Jonah
Runaway prophet1The LORD gave an assignment to Jonah, Amittai’s son.
2“I want you to take a trip to the big city. Go to Nineveh and condemn the people for their sins. Let them know I’m aware of what they’re doing, and they’re in trouble.”
3So, Jonah booked passage on a ship going in the opposite direction, to Tarshish. He quit his job of delivering messages from God. He went to the port city of Joppa paid his fare, boarded the ship, and left for Tarshish, away from the LORD.
Cue the wind4But the LORD turned on the wind and dialed it to high. The wind and the waves pummeled the ship hard enough that it looked like the ship might break apart.
5Terrified sailors started praying to their gods. They tossed cargo overboard to lighten the ship so it would ride higher in the sea. Jonah was below deck, laying down and sleeping deep.
6The captain caught him. He scolded Jonah: “What are you doing sleeping? Get up and get busy. Pray to your god. Maybe your god can save us and keep the ship floating.”
Jonah admits guilt7The sailors hit on an idea. “Let’s throw dice to figure out which one of us caused this punishing storm.” The dice identified Jonah.
8Sailors started interrogating him: “What did you do to cause this storm? What’s your line of work? Where do you come from? Who are your people?”
9Jonah said, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the LORD, who created the sky, land, and sea.”
10Well, that didn’t calm the sailors one bit. They became more terrified than ever. They said, “What have you done to us?” They knew he was on the run from his God because he told them earlier.
11Wind and waves continued to build. Sailors asked Jonah, “What do we need to do to calm the sea?”
Splash12He said, “You need to throw me into the water. That will stop the storm. This storm is my fault, and now it’s threatening you.”
13That sounded like a solution of last resort, so the sailors tried to muscle the ship back to land by rowing hard. It didn’t work and the storm grew worse.
14The sailors prayed to Jonah’s God: “Please, LORD, don’t hold us accountable for killing this man. This is what you want. So, you’re forcing us to do this. We don’t want to kill an innocent man.” 15Sailors picked up Jonah and threw him in the sea. The storm died. 16The sailors grew even more afraid of God. So, they offered him sacrifices and made promises to him.
17The LORD sent a large fish to catch Jonah. The fish swallowed him into its belly. Jonah stayed there for three days and nights.
This is the name of the prophet in 2 Kings 14:25. He ministered in the northern Jewish nation of Israel, which kept its capital in Samaria. Jonah was from the city of Gath Hepher, further north, in southern Galilee. He ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II, who died in 742 BC. That was about 20 years before Assyria wiped Israel off the political map and deported the Israelite survivors. The deported Israelites became known as the Lost Tribes of Israel because they didn’t return. Jonah may have been among the dead or the deported survivors.
. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, one of the most vicious empires in Bible times. Population 120,000 (4:11). Distance from Samaria by caravan trails, roughly 700 miles (1125 km). Traveling 20 miles (32 km) a day, that’s a month-long trip in each direction. Assyrian rulers would eventually display on their palace walls stone carvings that showed Assyrian soldiers impaling Israelite citizens of Lachish, a city south of Jerusalem. To understand why Jonah ran away, we might compare his assignment to that of a world leader in the 1940s sending a Jew to Nazi Germany to give Hitler and his enablers a good talking to. It sounded like a suicide mission.
Location of Tarshish is unknown. But wherever it was, it was west of the Jewish homeland. Nineveh was east. Scholars often guess that it was a city in Spain or somewhere else at the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea from the Jewish homeland. Some say it was a Phoenician colony called Tartessus, in Spain. Phoenicians were native to what is now Lebanon, but their merchant ships sailed through the Mediterranean Sea.
Known today as the twin cities of Tel Aviv and Jaffa.
Some scholars say there’s a hint here that Jonah may have considered the LORD as the God of only Israel, not of the world. Many people in ancient times seemed to believe their local gods specialized in selected fields of interest and in selective locations. Some cities had their own gods dealing with matters such as health, prosperity, and victory in battle. One reason many of the first Israelites seemed to worship God as well as the local Canaanite gods is because the Canaanites may have been better farmers. The first-generation Israelite adults had just come from growing up in the desert south of Israel when Moses was still alive. They may have presumed that Canaanites were more prosperous because of their gods. Some Israelites also may have considered God as a specialist in war, since they had so much success fighting, especially in the Judean hills. Not so much in the coastal flatland, where Philistines and others had the military advantage of cavalries and chariot corps. Those were the ancient equivalents of today’s tanks, which have terrorized infantry and rolled right through them.
1:7. More literally, they were to throw or draw “lots.” The “lots” may have been stones or animal bones marked in a way that produced random outcomes for “yes” or “no” answers, or for determining who goes first in a group. The idea is like throwing dice, with the high number identifying the person on the ship who caused the storm by upsetting a god. Throwing lots is also a little like “heads” or “tails” from a coin toss.
Also known as Israelites and later as Jews. The word “Jew” came from the name of the tribe of Judah, which also became the name of the southern Jewish nation after the country split in two.
And the sailors figured Jonah did, too.
In the Jewish Bible, this is the first verse of chapter two. This verse is where Jonah’s story begins to sound incredibly unbelievable to many Christians—metaphor perhaps, but not history. It raises questions like: Why would God put sailors like that in the position of murdering a prophet? What fish could swallow a man whole and host him for three days? Who could survive three days in a fish when many can’t survive three days with their in-laws? Many Christians consider this story history. But others say it’s a kind of parable. That’s partly because of characteristics like the concise storytelling and the twisted conclusion. Parables of Jesus often ended with a zinger of a surprise.
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