Summary: A first person narrative of the life and ministry of Jonah. Best done with a bit of a sense of humour. Told from the perspective of a Ninevite.
I. Not every fish that swallows a man is a curse from God. Sometimes it is the very token of God’s mercy that sends the fish, especially when the alternative is drowning.
II. Sometimes the best news is bad news before it is good news. Sometimes a blessing looks first like a curse. Sometimes mercy takes the form of judgment. Sometimes hope comes from a hopeless situation.
III. We were in a hopeless situation and that was that. Our empire had grown up in leaps and bounds under the leadership of many great and powerful kings and our name had come to strike fear into the very hearts of our enemy. We were the Assyrian hoard, known for doing to other peoples the things you would expect a pillaging army to do. When we captured a city we would lead the prisoners away like fish with a hook driven through their cheek and tied to a great rope pulled by a horse. Hundreds would be drawn along on one of these cords, writhing in agony.
IV. We had many tortures far worse, but some things are not worth remembering, especially with the children present.
V. That was why we were surprised when the prophet arrived. He was clearly a Hebrew. We had invaded Israel a number of years ago and left in our trail nothing but devastation. Under the leadership of Sennacharib the armies of Assyria had broken down the walls of Israel and carried their men and women away as slaves. The atrocities would be well remembered by any who lived in recent years, and Jonah had good reason for hating our nation. I’m sure he lost relatives and friends in the great dispersion.
VI. When Jonah arrived he created a great stir, because he stunk. He smelled like a bucket of fish gut left out in the sun. His clothing was discolored and bleached, and his skin seemed splotchy. The rumor we had heard was that he had been spit onto the shore by a great fish. It seemed like a tall tail, until we saw the man, then it seemed altogether likely.
VII. Jonah did not take time for formalities. No introduction seemed necessary, he simply entered the city gate, paused until he had the attention of those around him and then in a vehemently angry voice said, “In 40 days Nineveh will be overthrown.” That was the message, he continued through the city, pausing periodically to repeat it. He delivered it with pleasure, he delivered it with glee, he delivered it with such gusto that we were terrified. He delivered it in obedience to the command of God Almighty. But he had tried to avoid delivering it at all.
VIII. When God sent Jonah to Nineveh he ran. He went straight to Joppa and hired a boat for the furthest point West. He had no interest in delivering a message to our people. I’m sure he hated us so much he couldn’t bear to even look upon our city let alone speak to our faces.
IX. But God is not to be trifled with, and only a short way into the voyage a tremendous storm overtook the boat and the entire crew despaired that they would ever see land again. Each man on board prayed to his particular God, and when Jonah was found sleeping in the bottom of the boat he was roused and told to pray also.
X. On the deck of the boat the men cast lots to see if they could determine who was the cause of the tempest, the lot fell to Jonah. Jonah then revealed to them that he was running from God, that he was a Hebrew and that his God was indeed the only true God.
XI. Such a fear gripped the men that they did not know what to do. Surely a man whose God was so furious at his running away would not be less furious if they drowned his messenger, so they rowed for shore, digging deep with the oars, but to no avail. Finally with a prayer for mercy they followed Jonah’s advice and cast him into the sea. No sooner had Jonah sunk from sight than they were floating peacefully beneath the stars.
XII. Deep below the waves Jonah descended, deeper and deeper. Seaweed wrapped itself around him and he seemed almost resolved to his fate. But God stirred in the body of one of the great creatures of the deep, one of the giant sea fish which had been prepared for Jonah’s arrival and with a mighty gulp he was swallowed.
XIII. I cannot imagine the fear and discomfort that would occur being trapped in the gullet of a fish for three days, hovering even on the edge of life, praying for a miracle, hoping against hope. But God heard Jonah’s prayer and on the third day he was spit up on the shore. Clothes tattered and corroded from stomach acid, skin splotchy and burned and smelling like a pile of fish gut. Without pausing Jonah set off for Nineveh.