4 October 2010

Jonah 1:1 - 2:20

"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai, saying 'Go at once to Ninevah'... But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord." (v.1, 3a)


This is the beginning of a story about God relating to a human being and their resistance to God's call.

The name Jonah means dove. Many names in the Bible have particular meanings, and they are often important to the story. A dove features in the story of Noah and the flood (Genesis 8:8-12) and Mary and Joseph offered a sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or pigeons when they took Jesus to the Temple (Luke 2:24). Jonah certainly experienced the chaos of stormy waters, and he was sacrificed to the storm at his own suggestion.

God's call came to a number of people in the Old Testament, the prophets Joel (Joel 1:1) and Micah (Micah 1:1) for example. The call to Jonah is specific however - go to Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, which was Israel's deadly enemy.

Joppa was an important seaport in ancient times - it is now the port of Jaffa in modern-day Israel. It was in Joppa that Saint Peter had a vision which led him to realise that even if he disapproved of people, God welcomed them (Acts 10:9-16).

Storms were seen as indicating the absence of God. Here it represents God's displeasure, and the sailors knew something had caused that. Their great efforts are no use against this mighty storm, and in the end they throw Jonah into the sea and make sacrifices to God. The storm subsides, but just as God has taken care of the sailors, Jonah is also in God's care - in the belly of a large fish!

Some people say that the story of Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish reminds them of the time Jesus was in the tomb, between the crucifixion and the Resurrection.

Many of the psalms in the Bible express the human plight and trust in God. Jonah indicated that he trusted in God to deliver him. God called Jonah, and although he was running away, God continued to care for him.

To Ponder

Have there been times when you felt like running away from God? Why? What happened?

Why do you think God chose Jonah to go to Nineveh?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.