A reluctant hero

Katy’s grandma was bombed during the Second World War. Her mum was a small child & both mum & grandma hid under the dining table while the rubble fell around them. Grandma vowed never to like the Germans and she never did. Given all that the Germans did to her and her family it was a reasonable position to take. But that kind of bitterness can eat away at a person, or a nation.

On the other hand, it’s perfectly right that there should be punishment of wrongdoing and justice. When God sent prophets to proclaim a message of judgement there was always a chance that the bad guys would repent.

Prophets are sometimes not the most willing of God’s servants. Moses asked God to send someone else. Jeremiah complained he was too young. Micaiah lied rather than bring the bad news God had given him.

Of all the stubborn people in the Bible, Jonah is perhaps the most bitter. He comes from a village called Gath-Hepher. It was only a mile from Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. Maybe the wine came from Gath-Hepher. After all, it’s name means ‘winepress’ in English.

Jonah’s home town is important. It was a border village, and the city of Nineveh would send out raiding parties and decimate towns and hamlets like the one where Jonah lived.

The book of Nahum says they are ‘like a lion seeking out prey and dragging it back to the lair (Nineveh) for the family to devour’. He says ‘Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!’ When God brings his judgement on Nineveh everyone will be pleased. It’s a ‘good riddance to bad rubbish’ kind of message.

And so God sends Jonah, a prophet who’s probably seen the rough end of Ninevite bully boy tactics, to go and proclaim judgement. And he doesn’t want to go. He runs in the opposite direction. And God has to send a big fish to swallow him up and spew him up on the shores … near Nineveh.

You’d think he’d be delighted to tell them they’re getting their comeuppance. But no. He knows God is loving and compassionate. And with God’s judgement is always the possibility of mercy for any who heed the message and change their ways. And sure enough, Jonah’s worst nightmare happens. They repent. God forgives them. The judgement doesn’t come, and Jonah has a big part to play in helping his enemies. Jesus’ message to love our enemies continues the age old message that runs throughout the Old Testament.

But Jonah doesn’t want them forgiven. He wants to see them suffer and bleed and die. Like they deserve.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that God would speak to Jonah? That he would use a bitter and twisted contrarian like Jonah? We all know them, the people we avoid. The ones who will say black is white just to prove a point. The people who seem to delight in other people’s misery. Jonah is a great example of a difficult man. And yet… Sometimes it’s the difficult men, the hard men, who can make the most progress.

I’ll never forget seeing Yasser Arafat and Yitshak Rabin shake hands and make peace. Rabin, the general who led the 1967 war against the Palestinians and Arafat, the leader of the Interfada to destroy Israel in light of that war. Both men of violence reluctantly seeking reconciliation. It was a beautiful moment in the history of Israel.

God uses a belligerent man to speak to a belligerent nation. Jonah seems to not just be a cracked pot when you look at his motivations. He is a pot in little pieces. A charred pot. He is an angry pot.

But when he was in the belly of the fish he cried out to the Lord. He recognised God’s salvation. He promised not to turn his back on the love of God. And so, as he speaks to the people of Nineveh, Jonah is still an angry, belligerent man. But he’s also a man who has, albeit reluctantly, said yes to God.

I’m impressed that God can use even a man like Jonah. We may not all be nice, easy to get on with, naturally charming. But God sees past that. All that he requires of us is to acknowledge we need his salvation. It really is all about what God is like and very little to do with what we are like. There is a place for all of us in God’s economy.

The book of Jonah is really short, only four chapters. You can read it all here.

This post is a part of the Cracked Pots series of posts.