Taking it In
Jonah is a kind of an “anti-prophet.” He refuses to work for the future that God desires. Jonah fears the future that God desires because it is a future in which Nineveh is spared instead of being destroyed. In v. 2 we have another “prayer” if you could call hateful defiance such a thing, but even in this there is still some humor being presented if you listen/look carefully. Jonah is “burning with anger” and God is super gentle with him, perhaps even a bit amused. There is more irony being expressed here in a couple different ways. First, the last time Jonah prayed he was singing God’s praises of salvation at the bottom of the sea in the belly of a giant fish. Now, he’s complaining about that very kind of salvation. Second, Jonah has become one of those people who “forsake their loving-kindness” like he prayed in 2:8. Back then he was in Sheol, the realm of the dead, and now he is alive and well but would rather die. It’s worth noting and perhaps you’ve noticed already, but the name “Israel” is never mentioned in Jonah. It is always “my home country” or something like that. It’s almost as if Jonah is ashamed about how Yahweh is doing things, and could be ashamed, therefore, about where he’s coming from. Jonah interprets his own motives in a way that brings us back to the start, but by now, we should be wary of Jonah’s words. The best way to interpret Jonah’s story about his own motivations is to call it what it is: a lie. Jonah is lying to God. We can make anything sound good when we’re in that state and maybe even believe it. Jonah is trying to paint a picture that renders himself more tough and merciless than God. Having this in mind really puts God’s patience for those God loves in perspective. God’s love knows no boundaries.
Working it Out
Jonah seemed convinced that he had the word of God interpreted accurately and precisely, albeit narrowly and exclusively, and all to his satisfaction and bravado. Then, God turns around and undermines Jonah’s entire effort by fulfilling God’s word in a surprising way that was much broader and redeeming than Jonah had thought. We should all sympathize with Jonah here. Not out of pity, but out of familiarity. Mysteries and inconsistencies are one thing, but Yahweh tells Jonah he is wrong through a pun which is pretty funny! Sometimes even our biggest points of missing the mark of what God is up to in our lives, communities, and the world have massive implications. God still has a sense of humor about how we not only screw things up, but try to justify them with our own faulty, shallow impressions of God’s character. And if God can have a sense of humor about that, we should be able to as well. We all come up short, and we all go head-first into things that months or years down the road we’ll regret and think to ourselves, “What on earth was going through my head saying those things?” All of our life is one big praise to God, even the nasty parts we don’t like to admit. But the ability to see those things with humor has the potential to take their power away. Let’s remember to not take ourselves too seriously!