Minority Report: Jonah
That distance required a journey of more than a month, if Jonah traveled the normal distance of 15–20 miles a day. The great city was second in size only to Babylon
The reason God sent Jonah to preach “against” Nineveh (i.e., to pronounce its doom under God’s judgment) is that its wickedness had come up before Him, that is, the people were relentless and persistent in their sins.
The Call is Intimidating
I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountains I slaughtered them; with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool. With the rest of them I darkened the gullies and precipices of the mountains. I carried off their spoil and their possessions. The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city; their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire!… I built a pillar over against the city gates, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar.
The Call makes us want to run
For God alone of all things cannot be escaped from or contended with. If he wills to seize and bring them under his hand, he outstrips the swift. He outwits the wise. He overthrows the strong. He cuts down the lofty. He subdues rashness.
God is the principal person in the narrative, not Jonah. He takes control immediately
God doesn’t give up on the Call
Trying times turn people to God
And they drew lots between them, and so forth. Neither because of this example, nor because the prophet Jonah was found out by lot, are we to believe indiscriminately in lots, “since the prerogative of individuals,” as Jerome says, can in no way “make a general law.” For in that instance pagan men were compelled by a storm to seek by lot the source of their danger.
In utter relief and gratitude, and with overwhelming awe at the sovereignty of Yahweh, the pagan sailors offer an animal sacrifice to Yahweh and make vows, verse 16. There has been some discussion among commentators about how it would have been possible to offer such a sacrifice on a ship, but again, those who are familiar with the history of sailing know that animals were often carried on ships to provide fresh meat for the crew, and the fire of a sacrifice could easily be contained. The notice of a sacrifice really is not unbelievable.
We are not told what the content of the vows was or what the future relation of the sailors to Yahweh would be. In fact, the sailors now disappear from the story and are not mentioned again. But certainly the Lord of the world has used Jonah to convert one small group of heathen, and so Yahweh’s purpose has begun to be fulfilled. The focus of the story now shifts to Jonah, who is sinking to his deserved death.
That Jonah makes such a confession of faith is totally ironic. He says that he “fears” (NIV: worship) Yahweh. “To fear God,” in biblical usage, can have two meanings. It can mean simply “to obey” (Deut. 5:29; 6:2, 13, 24; 10:12, passim), and Jonah certainly has not obeyed Yahweh. “To fear God” can also mean to stand in awe of God (Ps. 33:8; Lev. 19:14, 32, etc.) or to reverence or honor God (Exod. 1:17; Ps. 55:19; 66:16, etc.), and Jonah has not been in awe of God; he has deliberately disobeyed Yahweh and then gone soundly to sleep, with not a disturbing worry. So Jonah is an Israelite who knows all the right words but who pays his God lip-service only (cf. Isa. 29:13). He is an orthodox believer who is not acting according to his beliefs, a message that the author undoubtedly wants to convey to his readers.
The Lord provides for the Call
The fish event occupies only three of the forty-eight verses in the Book of Jonah. Obviously the author did not see this as the main emphasis of his book. G. Campbell Morgan observed that “men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God” which is the main burden of the book.