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Sometimes it seems that the obvious is not the obvious... From a surface reading it appears as though the prophet was just running away because he didn't want to do what God told him. But, after going through a 'Jonah' experience of sorts myself I am not sure running away is what the story is about. Why he ran away is what I think is important. Does anybody have an indepth but concise answer as to why Jonah ran away at first and yet when he does obey, he does it begrudgingly (I do well to be angry even unto death)?

Thanks in advance.

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  • Please see the Tour and the Help and especially in regard to questions being off-topic which attempt to debate and discuss biblical topics rather than specific verses of scripture. This is an hermeneutic site, not a discussion site.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 24, 2022 at 13:12
  • Hi @NigelJ, my apologies. I am still learning to boil my questions down to the specific verses. Jonah 3:10-4:2 as well as the one I quoted from. They all seem to point to the reason behind Jonah's running.
    – user49416
    Mar 24, 2022 at 13:49

4 Answers 4

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Usually, on Hermeneutics, one particular verse or several linked verses in a Bible book are asked about. I'm not sure if an entire book of the Bible comes under the scope of Hermeneutics and, to answer that question would require a very long answer. Therefore, I'm just going to take the one verse you do quote and look at your question via it.

"I do well to be angry even unto death" Jonah angrily responds to God in chapter 4 verse 9. What was Jonah responding to? God having killed the gourd plant he'd raised up for Jonah's shade, while Jonah self-righteously sulked, awaiting what he thought was deserved, divine destruction on Nineveh. God further sent a blistering east wind to scorch Jonah so that he fainted and said, "It is better for me to die than to live!" (vs. 8) At that, God asked Jonah, "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" And Jonah said he was right to be furiously angry (with God, actually).

And herein lies the lesson - the whole point of the historic account - with God's rebuke of Jonah:

"Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night. And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" Jonah 4:9-11

That is the question Jonah (and we, the readers of the account) are left with. That is what God would have us ponder. Is there not something ridiculous, and insulting to God, in caring more about a plant dying than we do about 120,000 people and thousands more animals dying?

God spares people who repent at his warnings. Jonah was sent to warn. Eventually, he did, but had he learned anything from nearly dying after confessing to the sailors that his God was wroth with him for his disobedience in fleeing the preaching commission God had given him? It seems that Jonah took matters personally, and thought he was more important than the task he was sent to do (4:1-6). Oh, yes, this messenger was glad when God intervened to help him, personally, but he didn't want thousands of other people helped who had repented before God.

Surely the principle behind the historic account is that when God's people are given a task, an errand to do (such as Jesus' commission in Matthew 18:19-20 & 2 Cor.5:20 - we are ambassadors for Christ, beseeching people to be reconciled to God), we do it gladly, and leave the judging and the results to God? Surely Christians have a heart for those who hear their sharing of the good news of the gospel of Christ? Surely Christians will rejoice when sinners repent and are saved? Especially if they have had the privilege of being used as an agent of outreach?

You said: I am not sure running away is what the story is about. Why he ran away is what I think is important. Yes, the reason for running away is important, for it shows Jonah to be a very selfish person, which theme continues to the concluding verses, which I have highlighted. I hope this concise look at those concluding verses will be helpful to you.

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  • Thanks for your answer @Anne, I am still figuring out how this site works to accept your answer but I have up voted it for now... It seems then, from reading what you said, that at the heart of Jonah's running away lies that which Jesus taught in Matt. 18:23-35.
    – user49416
    Mar 24, 2022 at 13:59
  • @Andries Stander Yes, I struggled to get the hang of this site at first. But if you go to your earlier question on typology in the Bible, and see the comment I've just posted, you might be helped. To accept any answer, you just have to click the big tick at the top l.h.s. of the answer you prefer.
    – Anne
    Mar 24, 2022 at 14:11
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    @Anne, you are being too harsh on Jonah. He had good reason for wanting Nineveh to be punished, as many of us today are begging God to punish the evil ones who have been deliberately murdering so many ppl. You might want to read my blog to see the pts I made for Jonah. Also, consider that one of these days we are going to be meeting & speaking with God's prophets & messengers. Can Jonah hear you?
    – Gina
    Mar 24, 2022 at 19:46
  • @Gina Yes, great wickedness had gone on in Nineveh, but the king and the people repented. Yet Jonah threw a hissy-fit, still wanting them destroyed. God's people are called to pray to God to bring vengeance on the wicked who martyr the saints Rev 6:9-11 & 19:1-2 & Lk.18:7-8. The Song of Moses is sung in heaven: ""A fire has been kindles in my wrath, one that burns to the realm of hell below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set on fire the foundations of the mountains... He will avenge the blood of his servants Deut 32:22-43. Does God hear our 'Amen' to that? He judges, not us.
    – Anne
    Mar 26, 2022 at 7:42
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What I can say to you is that the Bible is a Christocentric material which means that it is a book written to reveal one story. From Genesis to Malachi we have one project being spoken by a different man who lived in different times and they delivered the prophecy in diverse manners according to what they understood from what God was speaking. The MESSAGE of the Bible is the prophecy of salvation through faith in Christ i.e. why when you read John 5:39 among others Jesus emphatically told the Pharisees what the scriptures were all about. As you read from Genesis to Malachi, do not try to find out questions about when the world was created, where did Cain find a wife, etc. because the bible is a very biased book which focuses on God's plan for the salvation of man.

Now in answering your question, as you read any story in the bible do not go with a preconceived ideology of what you want to know but allow the message to interpret itself because the message of the Bible can never mean today what it never meant when it was written. Every story is a pointer to The Message, so as you read try to find Christ because he is the message of scripture. The story of Jonah is all about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, it's not a story of motivation or anything but it's a Message of Christ. I can write more and more, but I hope this will bless you.

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  • Welcome to Bible Hermeneutics SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others.
    – agarza
    Mar 24, 2022 at 19:38
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    The underlying Messianic message does shine through, but there is also a direct message for us about Jonah, too.
    – Gina
    Mar 24, 2022 at 20:22
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There are precise stages here:

  1. Jonah wants to avoid the mission, because he does not want to do good to people who are political enemies of his compatriot Jews, but rather his hope is that God will crush them like worms and this will give sweet satisfaction to him and all Jews. The divine mission threatens this prospect of delectation through vengeance - by far sweeter than lewdest sexual pleasure and delectation, by far! - and so Jonah runs away from it.

  2. It all escalates during the storm. Here Jonah decides to kill himself and also God, which is stupid, for the Immortal cannot be killed, but suicide means that God's will shall be killed at least, thus it is both suicide and deicide, for Jonah cherishes his own prospect of just vengeance over the enemy Ninevians to the extent of disobeying God who at all evidence for Jonah does not at all comply to his prospect.

  3. In fish's or whale's stomach Jonah starts repenting his doubly murderous action of suicide and deicide and decides to comply to the command and fulfill the mission. He is thrown out by the whale and fulfills the mission formally, just thinking about not angering God but not about really helping the Ninievians.

  4. Eventually Jonah is given the final lesson, when he confessed that he wanted Nineviah to still be flooded notwithstanding his preaching for its inhabitants' repentance; moreover, he also confesses that the reason for why he escaped the Mission was that he suspected in depth of his heart that God was not sharing his agendum for the vengeance over the political enemies of Jews, but that God was unbearably merciful and kind and would forgive in His lovingkindness even the Ninevians. Thus, the final lesson he got was that he must have been compassionate and forgiving also to his enemies, and help them not only formally, but also really desiring their salvation, with the same intensity with which he previously desired their being crushed like worms.

Therefore, the Book of Jonah comes closest to the New Testament, for like the latter it also speaks about the loving and forgiving enemies, even if it speaks about it not in a form of a clear and unambiguous commandment, but provides a foreshadowing of it.

That is why the Lord Jesus Christ considers Jonah as having experienced the greatest of all miracles (Matthew 16:4), the miracle of repentance and transfiguration of heart from justly vindictive to beyond-justly compassionate, for divine mercy wins over His justice (James 2:13).

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Those of Nineveh were very wicked people who terrorized the neighboring nations, including Israel. Jonah wanted those wicked people of Nineveh to receive the justice they deserved. He knew God would be merciful and forbearing if those in Nineveh repented.

Excerpt from my post "...The Jonah and the Whale Syndrome" :

"While some commentators speculate that Jonah’s reluctance to go to Nineveh was due to fear of the king and his violent military generals, I believe Jonah’s anger is a more prevailing indicator of his attitude. He just did not want God to have mercy upon those very wicked people. He would rather that God had struck them down. He even told God, in so many words, that he had predicted the outcome.

Jon. 4:1-3, ” But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. 2 So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” ” (NKJV)

Paraphrasing….. See, I knew this would happen! I told you so.

Jonah was so angry that God had shown mercy upon those wicked people who were deserving of death, that he went out of the city to sulk and pout.

God created a plant to provide shade for Jonah while he sulked and pouted. Some translations say a “gourd plant”, others a poisonous castor bean plant. While there might be some merit in the contrast of Jonah’s benefiting from a poisonous plant, the real point to consider is his reaction to its withering away.

Jon. 4:10-11, ” 10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”” (NKJV)

Jonah had more compassion and pity for a plant that had provided him shade than for any of the innocent children in Nineveh."

See the rest of the post here: ShreddingTheVeil

The story of Jonah is about God's mercy.

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  • Hi @Gina, thanks for your answer. Indeed it is a story about how terrible God's grace makes our selfishness look.
    – user49416
    Mar 24, 2022 at 14:03

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