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13th May

Jonah 1-4; Psalm 128

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
13th May

Jonah 1-4; Psalm 128

Bible in a Year
6 minutes


While the other prophetic books are the sermons and visions of the prophet, Jonah is a story about a prophet. Jonah also appears during the reign of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-25), making him a contemporary of Hosea and Amos. Interestingly, Jonah’s prophecy was that God would have favour on Jeroboam II and help restore Israel’s borders despite being a wicked king.

Jonah 1 - Jonah and the Sailors

Jonah 2 - Jonah’s prayer of almost repentance

Jonah 3 - Jonah and the Ninevites

Jonah 4 - Jonah’s prayer of frustration

The book of Jonah uses larger than life stereotypical characters and then gets them to do the opposite of what they would normally do to make you laugh before it brings in the punch line at the end that makes you think. We have a prophet of God fleeing from God, and then we have a rag-tag bunch of sailors and a city of wicked Ninevites turning to God.

Jonah 1-4

The book starts with God asking Jonah to go to one of Israel’s greatest enemies, the Assyrians in Nineveh, and speak out against their wickedness. But rather than do what God has told him, this prophet runs away from God. Rather than go east to Nineveh, he jumps on the nearest boat to go west. People commonly assume that this is because Jonah was afraid and didn’t trust that God would protect him, but we see from the end of the book a different reason for why Jonah fled.

While out at sea, God sends a storm to attack the boat. The rough-and-ready sailors, who were often seen as godless folk, immediately recognise that a god caused this storm, and get to praying. Meanwhile, the man of God, Jonah, is asleep.

The sailors wake him up and ask him who he is, and Jonah responds with a load of nonsense about him being a Hebrew who fears the Lord. Except we know he doesn't fear the Lord. He's running in the opposite direction, so he doesn't have to obey what God tells him to do.

The funny thing is that these godless sailors do fear God, so they ask Jonah what to do. Jonah says to kill him, which might seem noble, until you realise that's still disobeying God. You can't preach to Nineveh if you're dead.

But by now, the sailors are so afraid of God that they refuse to harm one of his prophets, so they continue to try to get out of the storm. Eventually, they realise there's nothing they can do; they pray to God for forgiveness and throw Jonah into the sea.

The storm stops, and in response, the godless sailors make sacrifices and vows to God. Can you already see the contrast between the supposed man of God and these sailors who are meant to be far from God?

While in the sea, Jonah gets eaten by an enormous fish, which should kill him, but by God's protection, he survives three days in the belly of this fish. So Jonah prays to God. And at first, this seems like good news. Jonah is finally turning back to God.

But then you read through the prayer, and while Jonah speaks of God's authority and faithfulness to him, Jonah never actually repents for his behaviour. Either way, God is clearly satisfied that Jonah has learnt his lesson and so has the large fish vomit Jonah out on dry land. Once again, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time Jonah goes.

Upon arriving at Nineveh, Jonah shouts, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”. It's a brief message, and even shorter in the original Hebrew where it is just five words.

And it's a strange message. There's no mention of why Nineveh will be overthrown. Jonah doesn't mention a specific sin that Nineveh have committed, or even that they have committed any sin. There's no call to repentance like the prophets normally do, and there's no mention of God at all. It's like Jonah has done the bare minimum to satisfy what God has asked of him.

And yet, despite this, the people of Nineveh repent. The king immediately calls for the entire city to fast, including the animals. This is one of the most powerful and godless kings on the planet, humbling himself and doing everything he can to appease God. A little different to Jonah's bare minimum. God sees the actions of the people of Nineveh and turns away from destroying them as he had planned.

At this point, Jonah is furious. He yells at God, saying this was the very reason he didn't want to come to Nineveh. He knew that God was merciful. This was why he fled in the first place. Not because he was afraid, but because he didn’t want to see God forgive his enemies. Which makes sense when we pair this with the mention of Jonah in 2 Kings 14:23-25. There too, God sent Jonah to send a positive message to a wicked king, because he cared for his people and didn’t want to see them destroyed.

He quotes one of the most referenced passages in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:6). But while the rest of the Bible celebrates this as part of the character of God, Jonah hates him for it. And so he asks God to kill him. He would rather die than live in a world where God would forgive his enemies. God asks Jonah if he thinks his anger is justified. Instead, he ignores God and leaves the city, waiting outside in the hope that Nineveh might go back to their old ways and end up still being destroyed by God.

So God attempts to teach Jonah a lesson by providing him a plant to protect him from the heat of the sun, and then the next day, killing that plant. Jonah is once again furious and cries out to God to just kill him. Again God ask if he thinks that his anger is justified, and Jonah, like a petulant child, says yes, just kill me. 

And this is where the punch line comes in. So far, we're meant to be laughing at the stupidity of it all. Here's a man of God that hates God and disobeys him, and here are godless sailors and a godless king and his people turning to God and giving him their everything. The whole story is absurd.

But then God points out to Jonah that he feels strongly about a plant, that he didn't grow, and only enjoyed for one day. He asks Jonah if it is then okay if he, God, is allowed to care deeply for a city of people and their cattle, that he created. And the book ends there.

While we were busy laughing, God hit us with a hard truth. The people that we hate, our enemies, were lovingly created by God, who cares for them and wants to bless them. Are we okay with that? Can we humble ourselves and submit to God's will, like the sailors and the people from Nineveh?

Or are we going to be like Jonah, professing to be people of God, but actually far from him because we can't bear to see those we hate being blessed by God?

Psalm 128

This psalm isn’t attributed to anyone in particular and is named as a psalm of ascent. These psalms were sung by worshippers as they ascended to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Festival of Weeks, and Festival of Tabernacles) or possibly by the Levites as they ascended the steps of the Temple. Psalm 120-134 are all psalms of ascent.

Psalm 128:1-2 - Blessed are those who fear the Lord

Psalm 128:3-4 - Their families will flourish

Psalm 128:5-6 - May the Lord bless you

In this ascent journey we’ve gone from being far from God's presence (Psalm 120), to seeking God’s presence (Psalm 121), and then to reaching God’s presence (Psalm 122). From there, the psalmist has asked the Lord for help (Psalm 123) and then praised the Lord for his protection (Psalm 124).

From within Jerusalem, they reflected on the nature of righteousness and wickedness (Psalm 125). They thanked God for how he has restored his city, but also ask for more (Psalm 126). This leads the psalmist to reflect on the importance of God being first and foremost in our live (Psalm 127) and fearing God (Psalm 128).

The psalmist opens with a declaration that those who fear the Lord are blessed. They will flourish and life will go well for them. This flourishing will bleed into the family. All members of the family will flourish and support one another. And so the psalmist prays that this flourishing will spread out into the community so that Jerusalem will prosper, and that there will be multiple generations enjoying one another.

Now that the psalmist finds themselves in Jerusalem, they are reflecting on their relationship with God and how a proper relationship with God can lead to flourishing in our live. We know that this idea, taken in the context of all the Bible, does not mean we are guaranteed to have a perfect life where everything goes right. But we do see a strong correlation between those who appropriately fear and follow the Lord and flourishing. We also know that the Lord is with those who suffer and struggle.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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