The Bible Says What? Jonah is upset that God forgave Nineveh

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The Bible Says What? Jonah is upset that God forgave Nineveh

Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel takes a controversial topic from Jewish texts and looks at a Liberal Jewish response

In a nutshell, the Book of Jonah is the story of a reluctant prophet.

At the opening of the story, God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel’s arch enemy, to warn the inhabitants that because of their iniquities and sinfulness God was about to destroy them.

Instead of heeding God’s voice, Jonah fled in the opposite direction, to what was then the other side of the known world.

Next follows the part we all know. God sends a storm against the boat Jonah had boarded. The crew are terrified. The sailors draw lots to see who is responsible for the storm and throw Jonah overboard, whereupon God sends a fish to swallow him. After he repents, the fish then spits Jonah up on to the land.

What is most interesting to me is what happens next. Jonah rushes to Nineveh in order to deliver his prophecy: Nineveh is wicked and will be destroyed in 40 days! The people of Ninevah believe him and change their lives.

Jonah, however, is very disappointed when God forgives them.

You would have thought Jonah would be happy to see that Nineveh was saved, instead of destroyed.

Was Jonah’s ego hurt when his prophecy wasn’t fulfilled? Was he shocked that God would forgive non-Jews?

Here we are like Jonah. It is a human trait to believe that the world should revolve around our fragile egos, and when we don’t understand what is happening, we get angry because we are afraid.

We can be so inflated with ourselves that we forget our place in the universe: a mere grain of sand in a machine that is so much bigger than us. The Book of Jonah is indeed a lesson in humility.

  •  Rabbi Dr René Pfertzel serves Kingston Liberal Synagogue

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