Going Down the Path of Life (Jonah 1-2:10)


During the reign of Jeroboam II, king of the Israel, Jonah was called by God to prophesy against the city of Nineveh (Jon 1:1-2). Jonah was the son of Amittai and was living in Gath-Hepher when God spoke to him.[1] Regardless of God’s crystal clear command, Jonah wanted to follow his own ways. Instead of going east towards Nineveh, Jonah went west towards Tarshish (4:2). God, on the other hand, was not satisfied with Jonah’s disobedience. Through a “great wind upon the sea,” God prepared a scenario that ended up frightening everyone on board of the ship (1:4). After a short discussion, Jonah explains to the reason this storm is taking place is himself (v. 12). The prophet then asks to be picked up and hurled into the sea, and his wish is fulfilled (v.15). As Jonah entered the water, a giant fish swallows him, and inside the fish’s belly Jonah repents and calls out to the Lord. After his prayer, Jonah is vomited upon dry land.[2]

The main point of this passage is to show that is impossible to run away from God.[3] In Isaiah’s words: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed and I will do it” (Isa. 46:10b and 11b [ESV]). Jonah tried to do his own way, but God’s plans regarding Nineveh could not fail.

Something that struck me in this passage is the geographical idea behind the author’s words. As soon as Jonah decided to reject God’s command, he started to go down in his life. When he found a ship to Tarshish, he went down into it (1:3). When the storm was taking place, Jonah went down into the inner part of the ship to sleep (v.5). After telling the mariners that he was fleeing from the presence of God, they threw Jonah into the sea—Jonah went down into the sea (v. 15). Jonah cried that God had cast him “into the deep, into the heart of the seas” (v.3). Jonah strongly stressed this “down” idea when, in verse chapter 2, verse 2, he puts himself crying “out of the belly of Sheol.” Again, Jonah cries out to God saying, “I went down to the land,” (v. 6, emphasis added by me). For the last time, Jonah declares that the Lord had brought up his life when he was in the pit—the lowest place one could be (v. 6b).[4] It seems that, after Jonah rejected God, he went down on the path of life. Interestingly, when Jonah repented, the fish vomited him out upon the dry land, and from that point on, Jonah’s life starts to build up again (v. 10).

The pattern used by the author made me think about what happens people reject to follow God’s orders and flee from him. Jonah’s life went down and only got worse, not because God was trying to punish him somehow—even though I would restrain from saying that punishment was not intended by God—, but because away from God’s presence, there is only one way: down. Sheol is used by Jonah to explain where he was, and if someone wants to argue that this is just an allegory, one would have to correct Jesus as well.[5] I would apply this passage by reflecting if I am following God’s commands as they should be obeyed—i.e. diligently (c.f. Ps. 119:4)—, or as Jonah, who was told to arise and go to Nineveh, but who rose to flee from God’s presence. It also makes me think that trying to do something necessarily and inherently impossible is foolishness; Jonah was not able to flee from God, and David would agree that flee from God’s presence is an unreasonable task.[6] To accept his ways is the best thing I can do, for His ways are higher than my ways (Isa. 55:9).

[1] C.f. II Kings 14:25 and Joshua 19:13.

[2] If it was immediately after his prayer or not, this is not specified in the biblical narrative. Fortunately, this information is not necessary to interpret the passage correctly.

[3] One could argue that Jonah did in fact run away, but the end of the story would argue otherwise.

[4] I do understand that my point is not the main idea of the passage, and some would say it is an allegory. However, I think the writer did not emphasize those words by mistake.

[5] C.f Matthew 12:41, when Jesus referred to Jonah as a real person in history.

[6] C.f. Psalm 139:7-12.


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