Sunday’s sermon was from the first four verses of Jonah. Most everyone knows the story. God commissions Jonah to go to Nineveh and cry against them because their wickedness has come up before Him. Jonah takes off in the opposite direction. It’s obvious he wants nothing to do with it. He winds up being swallowed by a big fish and spit out three days later. It’s also obvious God is not throwing in the towel so Jonah relents and goes to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. He goes there and delivers God’s message. The Assyrian king takes it seriously and the city repents.
A little background is needed. Jonah went to Nineveh and may have spent some time there. The best dates available are around 785 to 775 B.C. By then Israel was already split into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom which was referred to as Israel or Samaria (its’ capital) and Judah. Jonah was born in the northern kingdom of Israel, not far from Nazareth, and grew up well acquainted with the troubles involving Assyria and Syria. In addition to that, Israel was idolatrous. First Kings 12:28-31 tells of the first king setting up golden calves to worship. This resulted in fighting with Judah, the loss of territory, and the continuous threat of battles with both Syria and Assyria. Jonah definitely had an attitude about these two empires.
The book of Jonah is one of the books of the prophets. However, this book is different in that it tells a story that is not like the oracles of the other books of the prophets. But the story itself is unlike anything else in the Bible. For openers God tells Jonah he wants him to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. God wants him to warn the people of Nineveh that their wickedness has come up before Him. This is around 785-775 B.C. These events are important for several reasons. Jonah is Hebrew and made a missionary trip to Gentiles. God used Jonah to extend his mercy beyond the Jewish people. Jonah shows the hostility he feels about going to these people who are not Jews, but Gentiles. God is relentless and insists on Jonah carrying out his mission. Thus, Jonah becomes a missionary servant. This definitely sticks in his craw as evidenced by the rest of the book. God is patient with Jonah but He’s also making a point. Narrowness, prejudice, and exclusiveness was not what He intended for His chosen people.
A little historical perspective is always good. But even better is how our pastor, with the blessing of God, can take a biblical event and make it relevant for today. It was a good sermon and one worth listening to. You can hear it here.