Jonah, that little book in the middle of the Bible about a prophet getting swallowed by a big fish (or a whale if it suits the story better).
That pretty much summarizes the book of Jonah for most of us. A good book for the kids in Sunday School, but not one that has much relevance to us adults. In fact, it’s probably a book you have tried to avoid reading because of that whole thing with the whale.
That’s exactly how I felt about the book; one to skip unless I needed advice on surviving three days in a sea monster (possible, but not likely). I had left Jonah in Sunday School, great for a kids adventure story, but rather useless to me as an adult.
That was until recently. I was listening to one of my regular podcasts when the Rabbi presenting announced that they would be covering the book of Jonah for at least the next five, one-hour podcasts. ‘How could you possibly talk about a man in a giant fish for five hours?’ I thought to myself. He started teaching before I could find another episode. But this sounded like a different book to the one I thought I knew. He spoke about a prophet who hated God. A country who was the most aggressive empire in history. Pagans who began worshipping Israel’s God. A city who would repent with five words. The Rabbi declared that the book of Jonah was a book about Envy, Happiness, Love, Hatred, Depression, Foolishness, Irony, Anger, Compassion, Redemption, Mercy… and… A Huge Fish.
I had to go and read it for myself, apparently, the Sunday school teacher had left a fair bit out. To my surprise, it covered all those things and more.
Yes, there is a story about Jonah and the Huge Fish. But that is by no means the whole story, nor is it the point of the book. As I soon realized, if my focus becomes the fish, I will miss the bigger and far more important themes of this brilliant piece of literature. Themes that are evident right there in the rest of the story. Themes that do have relevance to the post-Sunday School reader. Themes that address the character of God, the attitude of Israel and the nature of all of Humanity. It’s a story that pokes fun at its main character, a supposed man of God, showing his faults in a comical way. But it’s also a story that pokes fun at us and highlights many of the ways that we fail to align ourselves with the character and will of God.
So with all that said, give it a go. Pick it up again. You might be surprised at what you see and what you are challenged by… if you let it challenge you. We can debate and say a lot about a book like this. But what if we took the time to hear what it has to say about us?
P.S. For those that are still stuck on the ‘man inside a huge fish for three days’ thing, don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a few posts time.