This chapter starts with something I often pondered as a child, reading biblical tales and wondering what unwritten events those people experienced. Benjamin reveals one example in this quote: “It was times like this I wished for sandals. These grasslands raised a vast number of thorns and sharp, prickly weeds, and as we joined in the efforts to pack, my feet must have found them all.”
Have you ever felt like that? Perhaps it wasn’t thorns that continually came your way. Perhaps it was something worse that plagued you again and again. How did you deal with it?
Chapter 19 tells of the problems and perils faced by travelers in those times. Through our two fish-out-of-water, we learn more of Israel’s surrounding lands, cultures, values, and conflicts. This chapter ends with a confrontation of grievances and faiths that seems to bring all these issues together. We also get a preview of Jonah’s Nineveh ministry, through a translator.
Two elements here play on this author’s fancies. Alport’s personal faceoff with his tribal opposite expands on different texts I’ve read from those ancient societies. This chapter also features the first appearance of the sirocco (that volatile eastern wind) mentioned in Jonah 4:8, though well ahead of its biblical appearance. My inspiration for this was also biblical: the pillar of clouds and flame in Exodus 13:21-22. The sirocco plays a similar role here, for since God ordered Jonah to make this dangerous trip, He certainly would look out for the Dove along the way.
Like Elijah confronting the priests of Baal, Jonah asks their would-be attackers, “Who here obeys God?” The Dove takes his dumbfounded audience back to Noah and Nimrod, who settled the Assyrian lands after the great flood. “The ancient god?” scoffs the tribal chieftain. “He departed with the flood before the fathers of my fathers.”
That jab continues a central question of this book: why would an all-powerful god be so little known outside the Holy Land? It also provides a teasing reminder of just how much time has passed from the last time a biblical hero visited these lands. Do you think those two points might reflect each other?
The bandits’ mocking answer gives Jonah the chance to declare just how wrong they were. A brutal sirocco rises in that instant to confound the tribesmen. Benjamin calls it the Hand of God.
Common sense tells us such deliberate demonstrations of divine power rarely happen. That’s a bedrock belief of skeptics, unbelievers, and atheists. In truth, it also plays a role in Judaism, Christianity, and other faiths, which is one reason why believers put so much emphasis on the Torah, the Bible, and other sacred texts – they provide historic, accepted evidence of God in action.
That rarity also provides another hint of why these tribesmen had such a hard time identifying the source of this storm, even with God’s prophet staring them in the face.
But when people honestly open their minds and pool their memories, the realities of God at work prove far more common. The Letter to the Romans begins by reminding everyone how the miracles of nature and life reveal God’s frequent actions each and every day.
Beyond that await far more personal examples. Sometimes God is just too subtle for us to notice, or we’re not capable of recognizing Him at work. After all, His sleight of hand could fool anyone.
Sometimes we’re too caught up in ourselves to see God’s handiwork. Sometimes it takes hindsight to recognize Him. And sometimes it depends on whether we are willing, or brave enough – in the midst of our doubts, fears, wounds, pride, or peer pressures – to acknowledge God working in our lives.
Have you ever witnessed or identified God’s presence or activities in your life or environment? How did this impact you? Did you tell anyone?
Jonah listens as these nomads run through a checklist of heathen gods. Indeed, the Dove adds to it. Why do you think these people refuse to listen to this Hebrew prophet, even when none of their false gods come to their aid?
As the conflict ends, Jonah forgives the cowed brigands – which is just what he fears God will do with the Assyrians. But as is often typical of an embattled mind, the Dove’s parting words may reveal his preference: “your wicked ways are a blasphemy in the eyes of God, and His wrath is quick!”
Do you often find yourself torn between anger and mercy? How do you resolve such trials?