Why Jonah didn't want to preach in Nineveh?

Discussion in 'OT Prophets' started by JTB.SDG, Jul 21, 2017.

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  1. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    A few of the commentators I've read on Jonah believe that the reason Jonah didn't want to preach to Nineveh is that he knew they would be the ones who would be the instruments of God to judge Israel in the exile. This sounds good, but is it true? Did Jonah know that? Did the prophets of Israel know that Israel would be exiled by Assyria the way the prophets in Judah knew they would be exiled by Babylon?
  2. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    Assyria was the bitter enemy of Israel and would frequently rape and pillage. Jonah did not want God to spare them, and thus he did not want them to repent, and thus he did not want to preach repentance to them.
  3. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore


    I'm a little rusty on my history books, but did Assyria rape and pillage Israel before Jonah's ministry?
  4. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Most conservative scholars date Jonah in the early 8th century BC. This would put Jonah's ministry before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. Of course, Assyria had already been involved in Israelite international policies before that time. Assyria already had a reputation of being a rather brutal conqueror. Assyria was the enemy of God's people, and Jonah hated Assyria rather passionately.
  5. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    What's the logic of the proposal? That by going to the enemy of Israel and preaching judgment, it would bring on their attack? That seems illogical.

    Or that Jonah wanted this predestined judge of Israel to be preemptively judged itself, and disappear? Take world history down a different timeline? That seems impossible.

    Or that Jonah was simply motivated by nationalism, infused with covenant-superiority (a kind of besetting sin); and wanted nothing to do with foreign-service assignments, least of all to those menacing Assyrians?

    Ch.4:2 seems plainly to describe Jonah's reluctance. "I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil."

    Jonah didn't want to go to Ninevah, because he was afraid those Gentiles would hear and believe; and he wanted them to be annihilated under divine judgment. There's contempt there, for those not in covenant. There's fear, of a threatening and implacable world-power (no precognition necessary).

    But also, there's resentment, that God seemed slow to turn the heart of Israel, even with Jonah's preaching at home. Why should the Gentiles have grace reserved for them, when Israel needed it so much, and was so resistant to the message?
  6. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    Because they would slap people with fishes! :p
  7. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    Jonah knew that Yeshua was a God of mercy and Grace, and would forgive even the enemies of Israel, so He wanted to make sure they got what he saw their justly deserved of being judged and destroyed.
  8. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    The book of Jonah records two prayers by the prophet. In the first, from the belly of the fish he expresses appreciation for God's mercy toward him. In the second, he expresses anger over God's mercy toward the people of Nineveh.

    We are meant to see the irony. Jonah's second prayer tells us he didn't want to go to Nineveh because he knows God is merciful. Jonah likes it when God is merciful to him, but wishes no mercy for Nineveh. The book hints at the city's violence in 3:8, but history and the rest of the Old Testament give us enough background to conclude that Jonah's hatred for Nineveh likely comes from their status as a ruthless threat to his countrymen. The way God in 4:11 points out that some in Nineveh are innocent is further evidence that Nineveh's evil behavior was angering Jonah.

    In pondering this question, we should notice how the Prophet who is greater than Jonah (Luke 11:32) has come to us who, like the people of Nineveh, deserve judgment rather than mercy. Unlike Jonah, he came not in anger but full of compassion.
  9. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    2 Kings 14:25 tells us Jonah's message from God, while in Israel, was to prophesy that the Lord would expand Israel's borders during the reign of Jeroboam II. I suppose it's possible that God also let Jonah know about the later destruction at the hand of Assyria, but this would be speculation. And since it doesn't really fit with what we do know about Jonah's message, it feels like too big a stretch to assume Jonah had that knowledge.
  10. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    I think you're right Jack, that it would be speculation.

    I think we can draw out with greater certainty the reality of Jonah's resentment, as Bruce said, or maybe you could call it fear: If these Gentiles repent after being warned ONE time about God's impending judgment for sin, what are the implications for my people who have been warned countless times in exactly the same way for hundreds of years with zero change?

    I'm wondering if it's more about this than somehow knowing Assyria would be the ones to exile Israel. I also think it's probably more about this than the fact that Assyria were great enemies of Israel--I hear the claim but I struggle to see it very much in the text. I think you read a tiny bit about the Assyrians being at battle with Israel a few hundred years before Jonah; can't quite remember. But at the actual time of Jonah, the Arameans were their great enemies, and while in another generation or two the Assyrians would certainly become great enemies of Israel, I don't really see it during Jonah's time.

    Also, I remember Scripture talking about how brutal the Assyrians were, but are any of those Scriptures before the time of Jonah, or are they all in the context of the exile, which would be after the time of Jonah? IE, maybe they weren't so brutal at this time but became so later.

    Which is also really interesting to me thinking about Nineveh's repentance. From all we know in Scripture, it seems it was legit. Jesus said the Ninevites would stand up at the judgment and accuse his generation. But how was it that within 50 years, this same people, who had been gloriously converted, became so brutal and were the very ones to exile Israel--in such a brutal and horrific way?

    I guess one reason I'm wrestling is that it seems when you preach on Jonah 1:1-3, the question of WHY is Jonah running away is a pretty important one, and dictates where your sermon goes. But at the same time you don't want to build a sermon on speculation. Maybe the solution is to spend very minimal time on the few "why" possibilities but focus more on the WHAT, that Jonah simply ran away.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
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