I hope you have enjoyed our wander through Genesis and the early parts of Exodus over the last month. We’re going to take a break from that now and look at the Book of Jonah. The Rev’d Janet Tollington is now retired but for many years was the Old Testament tutor at Westminster College. She will be guiding us through Jonah and writes:
“I am writing these devotions at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic while we remain in lockdown across Britain. Nonetheless I am approaching the book of Jonah in a way that I hope will highlight its humour; and also its challenge to us, as the people of God, to see the bigger picture of God’s grace and mercy from God’s perspective, rather than our own.
“Jonah appears in one other place in the Old Testament, in 2 Kings 14:25 as a faithful, true, prophet to King Jeroboam II of Israel, which would make him a near contemporary of the prophets Amos and Hosea. However, the book of Jonah was probably written at a much later time (after the Exile, during Persian rule over Judah) as a fictional story built around that otherwise little known prophet. It is often described as a didactic story – intended to teach – and it conveys God’s living word to each and every generation that listens to, or reads, it with open hearts and minds.
“It is a book full of exaggeration and comic features that verge on absurdity. The author caricatures the prophet, who represents the inward looking, narrow nationalism, attributed to the long-lost Northern Kingdom of Israel. It speaks to a small community of God’s people, after exile, who were struggling to establish a new sense of identity and to work out what their role was in a world of empires under a fairly benign government that had no interest in the Jewish faith. The book challenges any mistaken understanding of being chosen by God in terms of ‘favouritism’, while emphasising the extraordinary length, breadth and depth of God’s love towards the recalcitrant prophet – and to all the other inhabitants of earth, both human and animal.
“Enjoy the story; but be prepared to learn some things about yourself and God as it unfolds over the next 10 days.”