Summary: Jonah as both an unwilling and angry prophet, filled with self-pity.
Over the edge. That is where so many employers seem to be pushing their workers these days. Perhaps you have felt it yourself. You work hard, sometimes too hard in what seems like 24/7 and even then the work just never stops. Your job drains you, mentally, physically and even spiritually. You put in long days to the point of exhaustion, struggle with workplace stress and wind up tired, irritable and uninspired. It feels as though your job is killing you.
Of course, things could always be worse. In the May-June 2005 issue of “Mental-Floss,” that is a magazine and business journal, they published a list of jobs that really do kill. Using statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job familiar to our little corner of the world, “timber cutter,” ranked as the most dangerous job in America, with an annual fatality rate of 117.8 per 100,000 workers.
But timber cutters are only part of the story. Between 1980 and 1887, more than 100,000 people died in work-related accidents and these deaths occurred in the construction industry (19 percent), the transportation industry (17 percent) and in manufacturing (15 percent). Mining, agriculture, trash collecting and job related auto accidents also ranked quite high.
The ten most dangerous jobs in America are: timber cutters, fishers, pilots and navigators, structural metal workers, drivers, roofers, electrical power installers, farm workers, construction laborers and truck drivers. What it seems to boil down to is, working can be hazardous to your health.
No figures exist – at least no figures I could find – telling us just how dangerous it is to be a pastor these days, although considering my health insurance premiums it must be pretty hard to keep us healthy and reliable anecdotal evidence suggests that lingering too long at food-laden tables during church potluck dinners could be a huge problem as well. In reality, all joking aside, preachers who live and serve in parts of the world beyond the United States, probably have a far better idea of how dangerous it is to be a pastor than I ever could.
To this list, however, we would be remiss if we forgot to add the category, “Biblical prophet.” I don’t think you could find very many jobs in the Biblical era more dangerous than being a prophet. They frequently got killed as a routine part of doing their day-to-day jobs.
Jonah knew those scary statistics, well scary reality at the very least, all too well. He knew how hazardous and difficult it could be to speak for God to a bunch of people who claimed to be people of God and yet didn’t live as people of God. Perhaps Jonah, and maybe even other prophets as well, thought God should give them hazardous duty pay.
As a result, Jonah was far from being an enthusiastic participant when a word from God outlining his next mission crosses his in-box as it were. I think Jonah might have even heard the old words from Mission Impossible, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” The only problem is, God doesn’t put in that clause saying, “should you choose to accept it.” God tells us what to do and when we are to do it.
It must have sounded a lot like an impossible mission. You can almost hear the Mission Impossible theme playing in the background. God is sending Jonah to the capital of Assyria, one of Israel’s most powerful enemies and God was asking Jonah to preach against that city. Jonah probably thought he needed more than hazardous duty pay of this assignment.
Think about it this way, it would be like God telling one of us today to fly to Baghdad, Damascus, Riyadh or Kandahar, then we are to walk the streets, calling out to the Muslim extremists to repent of their sins. Make sure your life insurance is up to date before you leave. Would any of us really want that job? I didn’t think so. I can promise you I wouldn’t want it either.
So Jonah does what most of us would do under the same circumstances and bolts in the opposite direction, taking off for Tarshish in an effort to escape the presence of the Lord. Psychologists tell us we all have a basic instinct to fight or to run away. Jonah’s fight or flight instinct, as the psychologists refer to it, is working really, really well and he chooses flight. I don’t blame him. So, he hops a boat, encounters a storm, is thrown overboard, and is swallowed up whole by the now famous fish, or whale whichever you prefer that we now teach our children about. Finally he is spewed out as fish puke on dry land.