Chapter 22 carries readers into the Dove’s Nineveh ministry. The text begins by reminding us of all the logistical problems facing Jonah and Benjamin. It then reminds us of one central truth. “I look back upon it now and attribute such fears to foolishness,” Benjamin admits. “With the Lord at your side, in your heart, you are never alone.”
Is there anyone outside Christ who has not suffered this sort of foolishness? Sometimes our stubbornness may keep us under delusions of control for a long time – until one or more events teach us humility. Have you tales to share on how you encountered or handled such a learning experience?
Benjamin expresses surprise at how many Ninevites accepted Jonah’s complaints against their society. This may reflect the novel’s historical time period. Through the middle portion of that century, the Assyrian empire had fallen to one of its lowest ebbs. Incidents of public dissatisfaction, political dissidence, and active unrest, even revolution, often rise at such times… a human truth you may have experienced in your lifetime. The Assyrians certainly did.
But Benjamin also tells of public doubts and caution expressed towards Jonah: “They knew not our Lord, and so they wondered what interest this distant god had in them, and if he was indeed of such power, why he chose only now to reveal himself.” Jonah explains the historic roots of God and how the Assyrian forefathers abandoned His ways. “And the reason for our Lord’s interest? Love.”
Benjamin marvels at that radical explanation. Many people today might agree, even though recent generations have touted the power of love in faith, philosophy, and entertainment. Do you see many signs of love’s prevailing influence in or on your culture or society?
Benjamin notes Jonah’s problems in explaining God’s love of Gentiles. If social media provides any indication, many people today resist expressing love for people of different beliefs, politics, or races. Have you ever witnessed or experienced this? How did you deal with it?
This chapter delves deep into religious debates Jonah most likely weathered. How did reading these encounters make you feel? Have you endured such events?
Let’s look at some of the points raised.
“Forgiveness is the greatest of gifts,” Jonah tells his audience. “Compassion, the greatest of resources.” Would you agree with this? Why or why not?
“The bond between a man and a woman is a blessing of marriage.” Some people today may find this philosophy dated or archaic. Your thoughts?
“You attack what our law permits and claim it immoral. Does your god teach us to ignore the law?” These statements rose during discussions of fertility rites. Setting aside such specifics, how would you respond to this sentiment? Do you think God endorses civil disobedience?
“The messages of our God are sometimes difficult, never taking shape until we stand in their heart.” Does this match your experiences?
“For the blind, truth is often what you wish it to be,” Jonah tells his audience. How often have you witnessed such willful interpretation in political debate, press articles, or social media posts? Many people apply such logic to government requirements (consider how many drivers ignore speed limits or tax regulations, for example) or biblical laws. Have you experienced such turns? How did you respond?
Benjamin brushes over some debated topics and only hints of others. To some degree this reflects the author's privilege in organizing the potential issues such cultural exchanges may address. The Prophet and the Dove worked many of these anticipated debates into earlier chapters, from Benjamin's talks with Jonah on the foothills of Mount Hermon to his training under Hosea, his search for the Dove and their heated passage to Joppa, inquiries by the sailors, and discussions along the long road to Nineveh. This approach allows us to set the stage and present the scope of Jonah's dynamic calling while freeing us from having to revisit some concerns here. A few more debates await readers in later chapters.
Of all the Assyrian challengers, it took children to visibly put the Dove on edge. This reflects results I've witnessed in my life. The innocence of a child often disarms intellectual jousters.
Let's look at a few examples. Upon asking Jonah when God called him to Nineveh, a child states, “You mean you put off coming, and so we suffer more?”
Have you ever worried who might pay the price if you delayed, failed, or outright refused to follow God’s lead? Did you ever see the results of such actions?
One child cuts the Dove by saying, “You hated us, didn’t you?” Another asks, “Do you still?” Jonah admits, “I hate some things…. There was, is, much that is wrong here. And I… I have been wrong about some things.”
Have you ever owned up to doing, supporting, or believing something you know was not good for you? Did this ever involve something you knew God would not approve of? Do you find these choices easy to overlook or ignore? Does confessing this bring lasting change, or do you find yourself repeating these actions? Have you ever laid such concerns before God?
Jonah acknowledges the children by saying, “People are people, and the Lord is God. That much is true, whether here or Tarshish, now or later.” That thought brings Jonah’s entire calling into perspective and shows he’s still thinking of his old, defiant plans. What do his words mean to you? Is there any other truth to consider?