Let’s revisit the story of Jonah. The linguistic scholars tell us that the original Hebrew text for the Book of Jonah abounded in sentence structures and idioms that were in use only in 400 b.c. So, it was conditions in Jerusalem in that decade that had God inspiring the writer to make up this story of Jonah.
We know that around the year 450 b.c. the city of Jerusalem had fallen into physical and moral decay, and to bring the people back to a healthy Judaism, God sent the priest Ezra and the diplomat Nehemiah to straighten the people out.
Those two succeeded beautifully, by getting the people to take the Law of Moses as their civil law. Working on the Sabbath and marrying foreigners became crimes.
The trouble was that the reformers overdid it. Jews came to regard foreigners as less than human, no longer God’s children. So, God inspired an unknown author to compose this ridiculous story. If the Bible had a Comic Section the Story of Jonah would go on the Funny Page.
When God told Jonah to go to save the people of Nineveh, Jonah, who hated all foreigners, hated the Assyrians of Nineveh the most. So, thinking that God’s rule was restricted to the Holy Land, took a ship west to get away from God.
When God sent a storm to stop the ship, the crew threw Jonah overboard, and a whale swallowed him. (When I was eleven my father saw in the paper where they had shipped a complete whale from New Orleans on a train to St. Louis. He brought my sister Peggy and me down to see the whale, and we crawled inside his mouth, but we couldn’t see how Jonah could have fit through the throat.)
The whale urped Jonah up on his home shore, so Jonah saw he had to take off for Nineveh. He marched through its streets, chuckling, and calling out, “Three more days, and Nineveh will b destroyed!”
To Jonah’s disgust, the people repented, and were saved. Jonah went off to a hillside where he pouted under a big leafed gourd that guarded his skull from the sun. That night a worm ate the gourd, and Jonah was furious over the loss.
God asked, “Have you reason to be angry over the plant. Should I not be concerned over Nineveh the great city in which there are more than a hundred twenty persons who cannot distinguish the right hand from the left, not to mention their animals?”