This chapter brings our second climactic meeting with the Assyrian king. It reveals a repentant monarch, one reluctant to accept reports of intrigue within his ranks, yet ready to believe Jonah’s testimony. In deep irony, Jonah offers to overlook and forgive his own imprisonment and torture – “It matters little,” the Dove tells the king; “The future is in our grasp, not the past” – but could not forgive what the Assyrians would do to his people.
Have you ever found it easier to forgive attacks against yourself than those targeting your friends or loved ones?
The break between Ashur-nirari and Pulu reveals a father/son rift, one elevated by power and prestige. The king brushes off his protesting advisors and orders his people to repent, as outlined in Jonah 3:6-9. The order for animals to wear ashes and sackcloth follows these verses. As suggested in Chapter 23, Jonah and Benjamin see the citizens of Nineveh embrace the king’s ruling – which brings the Dove no joy. That’s when Benjamin learns the Lord’s timeline will soon end.
Recognizing how his people honor Jonah, the king sends the prophet to them. Benjamin finds himself enjoying the attention and praise, but Jonah seeks to get away. He sees everything he feared of this ministry, everything he resisted, coming to a head. “A new world is prepared for us, and I have no part in it,” the Dove tells Benjamin. “I cannot change so.”
Have you ever found yourself (or someone you love or respect) so set in their ways or beliefs that they cannot adapt to changing times or realized truths? What resulted from this?
This human weakness proves especially disruptive for Jonah –his hardened heart refuses not just the truths revealed in God’s visions, but the truth he sees with his own eyes. He refuses to accept God’s forgiveness of the Assyrians, even though he acknowledges his own sin in making this choice.
Have you ever knowingly sinned against God, regretting your actions as you did them? What happened afterward?
“Oh, Lord,” Jonah cries out, “must you mock me with kindness?”
What does this mean to you? Have you ever felt such a sentiment?
In most cases, God offers people new chances to repent even as they sin. Here, the king uses a child to give Jonah a new kinnor. The child hopes the music will soothe the Dove, but the prophet knows his own heart.
The Dove’s next words echo the first verses in Jonah 4, capturing the prophet’s motives throughout this novel. But the boy has a simple answer: “God loves you. Play for us, and you will find peace. Play!”
This refers to several basic truths. When we remember and focus on God’s love, it becomes far easier to overlook our worries and anguish. Music is an easy way to accomplish this, for few things reach our hearts faster than melodies and harmonies.
For a moment this tactic seems to work. Jonah agrees to play “a song of the new covenant… a tale of what the Lord prepares for us.” Which brings us to an interesting quandary.
Some readers may question this song’s references to grace under Christ. These elements as described in the tune are certainly not in the Bible’s Book of Jonah, and its inclusion establishes this book as Christian fiction, while Jonah’s namesake scripture has elements that may apply to many faiths. However, as noted earlier in this study guide, the novel establishes Jonah not just as a seer and prophet, but as a contemporary of Isaiah – who did experience detailed visions of Christ, as recorded in his namesake Old Testament book. As the missionary God sent to Nineveh, Jonah could have learned of these visions or received them himself from our Lord. In either case, such widespread use of forgiveness and grace – which play obvious parts in Jonah’s ministry, both biblical and in this novel – would have enhanced the Dove’s resistance and nationalism.
It may be hard for believers today to understand this, with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross almost 2,000 years in our past. Hundreds of generations have lived and died knowing of Jesus and His love, whether they believed in it or not. But in this ancient world – remember, Jonah lived more than 700 years before Christ – these new covenant concepts presented revolutionary paradoxes. Their striking promises could cause even a deeply devoted prophet to question or reject this message.
To sing such words of love and repentance suggests Jonah fully understood God’s intentions and may even have embraced the concepts. But when he finishes this song, the Dove’s close-held love of his nation and people settle back in. He walks away from this ministry and opportunity, as noted in Jonah 4:5.
How often have you run into ideas that sound great in theory, but may not be practical, fit your resources, or simply not work when put into practice? How do you respond to them?
This may be an undeniable truth for mankind. Human frailties may ever keep us from accomplishing any utopia built on universal love, forgiveness, or grace. Only God and His Son have the heart, will, and wisdom to make His new covenant work in all situations, for all people.
Benjamin offers his own perspective on this: “Perhaps, in this new world God prepared, an untainted mind was more ready to accept such revolutionary teachings than one raised or trained as I had been.”
What do you think?
Side note: I wrote that last song, called Grace, independent of this book. I decided to insert it with the last edit of this novel. Its use of the word “hell” reflects my appreciation for Johnny Cash, while the reference to “life support” draws from my love of Star Trek and other such science fiction tales.
Both seem to fit this occasion, at least in my mind. Do they in yours?