With this chapter, the quest to reach Nineveh carries readers in their first step beyond the Holy Land’s farthest reaches. As Benjamin learns, this requires major adjustments for language, food, worship… just about every lifestyle element possible. He discovers that even large caravans face dire threats from wilderness bandits. This experience also teaches the young man how God’s provision may work even through the most unlikely sources.
This reflects God’s universal presence, and the ability for unbelievers – gentiles or otherwise – to recognize His acts, if not His presence. As Jonah learns, the Assyrian faith involved “a mixture of unholy magic, spirit observances, and respect” – respect for God Himself. This would start the prophet and Benjamin on a learning curve that challenges all their Assyrian preconceptions. Both gain help in this from their caravan’s leader, who explains in vivid terms why his long-suffering people fight ever for their safety.
This stuns Benjamin, who admits to never questioning why the Assyrians did what they did. He simply accepted that they were evil, as most Hebrews thought. And Benjamin expresses surprise when Jonah explains, “They do not consider themselves evil, no more than we consider the punishments of Yahweh evil. We believe different things than they do… it is as simple as that.”
Similar incongruities confront and confound believers today. How do you deal with such issues when they arise between family… friends… faiths… cultures…. governments?
Questioning how to manage this quandary leads Jonah and Benjamin to rethink their values. Many believers go through similar steps as they encounter new ideas and cultures. Have you ever found yourself taking such an assessment? Over time, this process both hardens and strengthens Benjamin’s still-youthful faith, though at great risk and hardship – a truism for many believers in leadership roles. Have you ever experienced this? If so, how did you deal with it?
Through this, the Dove confesses his divided heart. Benjamin learns of Jonah’s emotional scars, of loved ones lost to Assyrian swords. “I admit it, Benjamin,” the prophet despairs. “I hate them as no one else. I know it is wrong, wrong to hate… but not for them! It can’t be wrong!”
Do you ever find yourself struggling with old, lingering wounds? How do you deal with them?
“It’s so easy to hate,” laments Jonah. “So easy! But to love… that’s the difficult thing. To forgive… ah!”
Jonah finds relief, and helpful insight, from the Assyrian merchant – and he recognizes God’s hand in this most unusual source of aid. Have you ever found the Lord working in your life through such unexpected paths?