How can such a short story, with so few plot points, be so confusing? The more I read about it, the more confused I become.
Jonah the reluctant prophet flees rather than do what God asks. At first, we don’t know why he flees, but later we learn it is because he knew his prophecy would not be true. Would he rather than be right than save the Ninevites? One sermon suggests he didn’t want them to know mercy; in fact, he wanted them destroyed. Another commentary asks why he should give pagans advanced warning, when his own people never get one – not from their own God, not from his prophets. So he runs, and doesn’t feel bad about it. Even when a storm threatens, he admits it is God looking for him.
The fish either devours or rescues him, depending on who you read. Scripture is clear that God sent the fish, but since this is a story about God’s fickleness, we can’t be sure what his intention was. But Jonah prays inside the fish and acknowledges that God can both cast out and deliver. Both of which Jonah knows.
So Jonah preaches repentance to the pagans and they do repent and God does spare them, and Jonah says, “See?! Why couldn’t you just do that in the first place?”
And why couldn’t he? Why harden Pharaoh’s heart, when Pharaoh might have freed the slaves on the first request?
And Jonah asks to die. One source says he is too humiliated to live. I think he is tired of trying to figure out what God wants. Worldly life is hard and the messages are conflicting. And God changes his mind, and tricks us with prophecy to make us do what he could have just asked us to do in the first place. Why harden our hearts?
Take me now, says Jonah. I give up.
God grows a shade plant that gives Jonah some comfort, then takes it away the next day. And here we hear God’s frustration with us, his creations. You are sad you lost your plant, he says to Jonah, and you didn’t even work to create it. You barely got to know it, but you are sad all the same. So what’s that like….. Jonah?