A deeper look into the Jonah question


The “Jonah question” is turning out to be tougher than expected.

There’s a difference between God hating what people do –
and hating the people themselves.

Let’s see if that could help with the “Jonah question”.

This is part of a continuing series looking at God in the Qur’an, the Old Testament and the New Testament. 
If you haven’t read it yet, part 1 is here.

Review

[68:48] You shall steadfastly persevere in carrying out the commands of your Lord. Do not be like (Jonah) who called from inside the fish.
[68:49] If it were not for his Lord’s grace, he would have been ejected into the desert as a sinner.
[68:50] But his Lord blessed him, and made him righteous.
[68:51] Those who disbelieved show their ridicule in their eyes when they hear the message and say, “He is crazy!”
[68:52] It is in fact a message to the world

This is the closing for Sura 68 –
telling Muhammad to not be like Jonah.

Looking Deeper

So far, we’ve seen that there was an expectation for Muhammad to have either already known about Jonah from the Old Testament – or else to have done the reading himself to find out what it was about.  We’ve also seen there was no explicit statement from the angel about what the command to not be like Jonah was about.  So – whatever it was – it had to be something so obvious to him that it didn’t need to be stated.  With that in mind, let’s look deeper into the story of Jonah from the Old Testament.

BTW – I have read claims that the Bible was supposedly modified somewhere along the line –
that it doesn’t accurately portray the true word of God – from a Muslim point of view.  
However – and this is a really big however –
without getting into that issue specifically,
I am not aware of anyone who claims the Bible has been corrupted since the time of Muhammad.  
Therefore –
the command to not be like Jonah can and must be understandable to us today from the Old Testament that we read,
since it is the same one that Muhammad would have read from.

 There was really a two part message in the book of Jonah.

BTW – if you haven’t read the book of Jonah yet –
or if you would like a refresher on it –
it’s right here.

So – the first way to look at the message is how it was meant for Jonah – which would correspond to what it should have meant to Muhammad.

Was God’s message not just for the Israelites, but for everyone?

That would be – God’s message was meant for every – not just for the Israelites.
As we see in the very first verse – Jonah 1:1 – God says to Jonah –

Jnh 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai:
2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against them.

At first – this may sound like God hates the people of Nineveh –
but as we find out – this was a warning for them to change their ways and turn to Him –
so he wouldn’t have to destroy them and their city.

Doesn’t sound like hate to me.

It’s what they were doing that God hated –
not the people themselves.

As for Jonah –
Jonah didn’t like the people.  Jonah wanted God to bring ruin to them.  That’s why he tried to run away from God – so he wouldn’t have to bring a message to them that might have them turn towards God – and away from ruin – which is exactly what happened.
(For a time. Eventually they turned away from God and did suffer ruin.)

In any case –
God won’t let Jonah run away from Him –
or from the responsibility of preaching to the people of Nineveh.

After the experience in the great fish, Jonah does in fact end up in Nineveh.  Delivers God’s message.  
The people repent.  Turn to God.
And are not destroyed.

But Jonah –
he’s upset.  Because he really wanted to see God take out His wrath on the people.

We see Jonah waiting in the hot sun one day to see whether God will destroy Nineveh.  
God has a vine grow to give him shade from the hot sun –

Jnh 4:5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.

Well – that lasted for one day.
Then God had the vine destroyed and it no longer gave shade to Jonah –

Jnh 4:7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered.

As one may expect, Jonah wasn’t too happy about the loss of the vine God had given to him –

Jnh 4:8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

And here comes the lesson for Jonah –

Jnh 4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”

“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”

Jnh 4:10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Jonah thinks that God has no right to be concerned about the city of Nineveh.  Or all those people that God created.  All those people that God cares about very much.  Cares about them enough to warn them to change their ways – turn to Him – and save themselves.

Jonah thinks God shouldn’t be doing this for people who weren’t Hebrew.

God tells Jonah otherwise.

God tells Jonah that He cares about all of His people.  Including those that aren’t Hebrew – what we call Jewish today.  In other words – including the people of Nineveh – located in what we today call Turkey.

Today’s message to Jonah would be that God cares about everyone –
including not only Jewish people – but Muslims and Christians as well.
Everyone!

We see that this is true in the very first verse –

Jnh 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

In the very last verse –

11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

And throughout the entire sequence of events.

God has a message to be delivered –
and will not let the personal (and wrong) feelings of His prophet Jonah prevent that message from going out.

Was God’s message meant for the people?  Then as well as for you and I now?

The second way of looking at this is from the point of view of the people for whom the message was meant – us – you and I.

In Jonah’s time, they got the message.  We have no way to know if the King of Nineveh led the way or picked up on what the people were doing but we do know that he was very much involved in changing the ways of his people –

Jnh 3:1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jnh 3:3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

Jnh 3:6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

Jnh 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

Notice what’s going on here

  • Jnh 3:5 The Ninevites believed God.  
    These weren’t Hebrew people.  These are people who had all sorts of pagan gods.  Not unlike the Arabs of Muhammad’s time that he wanted to reach out to.
    But –
    they believed God!  They believed the God of the Hebrews!
  • Jnh 3:5 The Ninevites believed God.  
     They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
    Jnh 3:6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
    Notice – from the greatest to the least
    everyone – from the king on down to the lowliest person in the city was involved in what was going on.  Everyone believed in this Hebrew God.
  • Jnh 3:7 … Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
    And this is where it gets really interesting.  This king – who not only wasn’t Hebrew – but who was an enemy to the Hebrew people – is telling everyone in the city to call out to this Hebrew God.  He’s even telling them that their animals need to be involved in the repenting, so that there will be more for God to hear and notice.
    He’s asking his people to give up their pagan gods and turn to the Hebrew God!
    And he realizes that their must be some reason for the warning.  Realizes that if they change their ways, then the Hebrew God may not destroy them.

This is amazing stuff!
People turning away from their pagan gods to worship the God of their mortal enemy!

The message
from the point of view of the people, 
is that regardless of whether the king initiated the process or he followed what the people already started
it’s important to listen to and follow the True God.

It’s also that there is One God.

There’s not one for each different kind of people.

There’s not one for the sun, one for the moon, several for the stars.

There’s not an individual one for any given thing (or group of things).

There’s one God – one and only one – who’s responsible for everyone and everything.

Do we have a conclusion?

So – if we look at what that warning –

Do not be like (Jonah) who called from inside the fish.

I believe the most reasonable and likely explanation is a reminder of the simple fact laid out above –

There is One True God – and everyone belongs to Him.

Notice the wording there –

It’s not that God belongs to us –
It’s that we belong to Him.

It’s not that He will do what we want –
It’s that we will do what He wants.

He’s God.
He’s our God.
We’re His people.

Any scenario in which these simple statements are true means that one has to have some serious questions about “their god”.

 

Again –

At this time –
I leave it to you to pray to God –
the God of Abraham –
the God who heard Hagar –
the God who protected Ishmael –
pray to Him for insight into this question of what happened with this revelation.

When we honestly pray to Him –
and are open to hearing His answer –
an answer totally in truth –
He will give it to us.


 

This is part of a continuing series looking at The Qur’an and The Bible to see the relationship between Islam and Christianity.
Click here to see a page listing the current posts, with a short description of each.
The plan is to at least start by going through the Qur’an, in the order in which each of the Sura’s was revealed to the prophet Muhammad.


 

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