Bible Reading Plan – May 14-20
Bible Project Reading Plan (May 14-20):
Jonah 1-4, Micah 1-7, Nahum 1-3, Habakkuk 1-3, Zephaniah 1-3, Job 1-3, Psalms 129-135
Jonah is a well loved prophetic book. Part of the reason for this, no doubt, is because it makes for a wonderful children’s story: a man eaten by a gigantic fish, vomited out to fulfil the calling of the Lord upon his life. It might not be a pretty picture, but it is a wonderful, and wonderfully told, story.
Yet, familiarity can breed contempt, or perhaps in this case, indifference. What ought to be most stunning about Jonah is not a man who lived in the belly of a great fish, and has the smells to prove it, but the backwards nature of the story.
It is hard to think of another prophet who comes out looking as poor as Jonah does here. Other prophets have their moments: Moses strikes the rock (Num 20:2-13) and Elijah pities himself (1 Kings 19:9-18), but none compares to Jonah. Jonah is the anti-prophet, seeking to avoid his responsibility, running away, not announcing the Word of the Lord until it is clear he has no choice.
It is not the prophet alone who works against the trends of Scripture, however. Those who receive the prophetic condemnation (“Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” [Jonah 3:4]) do not harden their hearts against the prophet, but repent before the Lord, hoping without hope that “God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:9). And, what is more astounding yet, God does indeed relent from his judgment on the great city, whose sin was great and had come up before him (Jonah 1:2). Beyond this, these were not his called people Israel, but they were the northern enemy Assyrians, who were bloodthirsty and stood as a constant threat to the people of God (Isaiah 36-37).
So, villain of our story is the prophet of God, the hero is actually a large fish, and those being saved are God’s enemies, upon whom he has great compassion even in their sin. Truly, this story is running against all expectations. Even the fact that the book of Jonah is more of a narrative than a straight-forward prophetic declaration seems off.
One of the reasons why I love this book so much is precisely that it runs against all of these expectations. This is what our God does: he knows precisely what we, as sinful and arrogant humans think he ought to do, and turns it on its head.
“God should judge and condemn!” And he shows himself full of compassion, even to his enemies.
“God should just forgive!” And he shows himself a great judge.
It is no wonder why Jesus refuses to give any sign to the scribes and Pharisees but the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:38-42). Not just because for three days and nights he will be in the belly of the earth, only to have it throw him out at God’s command, but also because he will be a Messiah no one expects: rejected, despised, crucified, yet resurrected. He takes our expectations and proves his own plan not only to be vastly different, but vastly greater.
And all so that God the Father, through the sacrifice of the Son, might be kind to his enemies.
Such a story is, indeed, good news!