There is a Jewish and a non-Jewish side to the story of Jonah.
The story for the most part has been turned into a cute child’s tale about a man and a whale. When in all actuality it is not about a whale for the species of the great fish is not given in the story. Why? Because that is not important. The great fish was only a tool to get the fleeing prophet back on the right path.
The story of Jonah was put in the Hebrew Scriptures so that Israel and the nations would study it and learn about teshuva i.e. repentance – its about changing lives from doing wrong to doing what is right in the eyes of the Creator.
This blog will only deal with the side of the story for the non-Jewish nations.
What we learn from the story and from the Sages of Israel is that Nineveh is a great city of 120,000 plus souls, a metropolis of its day. The city had become very corrupt and its’s wickedness had reach the heavens. It was a city full of pagan idolatry, robbery and injustice of every kind. The Sages tell us that it was the sins of the flood, the extreme theft and injustice that was about to bring judgement on the city; so the Creator sent one of His prophets to warn them and give them time change their ways.
In the end we find that the city, from the top leadership down had repented and changed their ways – The Creator said after “seeing their deeds” that He would forgive and spare the city.
Several of the Sages of Israel made the interesting point that it was the turning away from the sins of robbery and injustice is what spared the city. Not only did they stop theft but they even returned what they had stolen from one another and where property could not be returned they made financial restitution to the property owner. They began to take care of the poor and needy, setting injustices aright.
What is also noted, is that, not one pagan temple came down, no one left any of their pagan practices and worship – it was the changing of the wrongful deeds done to one another, person to person, neighbor to neighbor that brought forgiveness and salvation to the city. The city had corrected the human to human wrongs being done from the top down. The Creator stated that He saw this and forgave them and spared the city from destruction.
In the Hebrew Scriptures we find several harsh judgements being handed down by the Court of Heaven because of robbery and injustice running rampant among the humans. The great Flood is one of them and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is another.
Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the sin of Sodom, your sister: She and her daughters had pride, abundance of bread and peaceful serenity, but she did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and they committed an abomination before Me, so I removed them in accordance of what I saw.
As we can see here Sodom was filled with injustice that the Creator saw and it was one of the sins that brought destruction upon her.
What we learn from these two examples, Nineveh and Sodom, is two cities overrun by human to human corruption that the Creator saw and it angered Him. The sin of idolatry is not even brought up.
We have two examples, one that repented and changed their human to human conduct and survived destruction and the other one destroyed because there was not even ten righteous men in the city – there was not any of its natural citizens striving to live right by the least of the moral code of humanity.
How is this a lesson for America in the 21st century?
We are a nation of many religions, many false gods and false worship is scattered across our land. But it will not be the sins of idolatry that will take us down – it will be the sins against one another that will lead to our destruction. We must stop using politics and religion as weapons that we wield against one another.
We must stop using politics and religion as weapons that we wield against one another.
As a people, we need to work on ridding our country from theft and hatred – from the top down, we must repent of the sins committed against one another and start making restitution to those in whom we have wronged.
We must stop all injustice to the poor and needy of our land. We have enough – our bread is in abundance to take care of the homeless, jobless, sick, poor, disabled and elderly.
When we do this the Creator will look down upon us and spare us from any evil decree that fall upon us because of our wickedness as a nation.
The repentance of Nineveh is our example [and an example for all peoples of every nation] – it was a non-Jewish city, not held to the higher standard of Israel the priestly nation. Even the Creator said that there was many in the city that did not know their right hand from their left, implying that there were sins that many did not know that they were committing – but it is the rational human to human behavior that He held them to. And it was changes in that area that brought salvation to that city and it too can bring a salvation and peace to our land.
Terry W. Hayes