12 September 2018Jonah 3:1-5
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ (v. 1-2)
Psalm: Psalm 136:1-9
It has taken two chapters, but Jonah finally makes it to Nineveh. We might ponder the fact that the story of a more normal prophet could easily start here – the word of the Lord comes to Jonah telling him to go to Nineveh, so Jonah goes. Look closely, however, and the message to Jonah changes slightly from “cry out against it” (1:2) to “proclaim the message I will tell you” (3:2).
Nineveh was an ancient city and the largest city in the Assyrian Empire – and the Assyrians had been enemies of Israel. They invaded and annexed the northern kingdom in 721 BCE and the southern kingdom continued to live with a fear of invasion until Nineveh itself was defeated by the Babylonians. The Assyrians were not just old enemies, they had a reputation for being brutal as they burned and plundered cities, taking away not just property but also people. The book of Jonah is difficult to date, but it is likely that the original readers would still have carried the memory of being humiliated at the hands of the Assyrians. They would not have wanted to know that Nineveh was a large city – it had grown large at their expense.
In fact, it is not unreasonable to think that the original readers might have had some sympathy with all of Jonah’s attempts to escape his commission – not Nineveh! Why send a prophet there? So, at this point in the story, they probably settled in and expected the customary ending to the story of a prophet sent to a wicked people – the people will not listen, obviously. Verse 5 must have been something of a shock. Jonah has walked for just one day out of the three it should take to cover the entire city and the people respond almost immediately.
- Why do you think the word of the Lord changes between 1:2 and 2:1?
- What are the modern-day equivalents to Nineveh?
- Do you have any sympathy with victims of brutality who believe that their abusers are beyond being forgiven? Why?