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"Then Jonah prayed..." (2.1). Why must it be that human beings turn to God only from the depths of despair? Jonah admits, "I called to the Lord out of my distress, " (2.1), and lo and behold, "he answered me." What we expect in chapter two of Jonah is a complaint; what we hear is a psalm of thanksgiving. With respect to Jonah himself, one could always wonder about the psychology involved; here is a man in the depths of human despair, and what we hear is thanksgiving. This should be hint enough that the book of Jonah is about bigger things: it is about the kingdom of God which extends beyond the Israelites.
Yes, Jonah will pay what he has vowed: he will learn that "Deliverance belongs to the Lord" (2.9). This chapter begins with "Jonah prayed," and it ends with "Jonah...spewed." Jesus says to Nicodemus, "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit" (3.5). The combination of water and spirit here is far from accidental; immediately before Jesus, John comes baptizing with water; Jesus is baptized by water but anointed by the Spirit of God descending upon him in the form of a dove. This combination of water and Holy Spirit is found again in Acts 10, at Joppa, where Peter reveals what God has shown him : "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean" ( 28). While Peter is yet speaking, the Holy Spirit falls upon the uncircumcised; "The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even onto the Gentiles" (45). How short of marvelous is it that Joppa is where Jonah, fleeing from the presence of God, departs for Tarshish; God's universal plan for the non-exclusionary redemption of humankind is already present. For Jonah and Jesus, the message to humankind is "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him [them]" (3.17). John tells the story most completely, returning again to the water and spirit motif; at the crucifixion, the soldiers did not break the legs of Jesus, but "Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out" (19.34). John tells his readers that this had to occur in order that the scriptures be fulfilled. One needs to remember that John wrote for entirely one purpose: to convince his readers that "Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God" (20.31).
Even as he finds his "life ebbing away," Jonah is mercifully rescued from his distress: he "remembered the Lord." and his prayers came before God in the temple. Jonah resolves, "what I have vowed, I will pay" (2.9). God holds us to our vows, and Jonah is no exception. He must, as God tells him, "Get up and go to Nineveh" (3.3). Even Jesus in Gethsemane prayed, "Abba, Father, remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want" (Mark 14.36). Jesus well knew the weaknesses of flesh: "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mark 14.39).
Jesus himself experienced the utmost in human alienation, blackness , and despair: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani," translated becomes, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15.34). Jesus, unlike the reluctant Jonah, really did sacrifice himself; Jonah could only make an about-face and proclaim I will pay my vows. The Roman centurion watching Jesus die can only exclaim, "Truly, this man was God's Son" (Mark 15.39). As much as the reader may extend allegorically the comparison between Jonah and Christ, one startlingly important difference must be noted: Jesus willingly embraced the reality of self-sacrifice, embodying and leaving his example; Jonah's selfish offering of himself is "spewed out," revealing its insincerity and self-motivated concern.
One needs to recall that the Pharisees in John 7:52 missed entirely the pattern of God's redemptive history: they speak derisively, sarcastically, to Jesus: "Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee." How wrong could scholars be: not only Jonah, in whom God's mercy extended itself to the Ninevites, but also Nahum, who prophesied Nineveh's destruction and God's sure justice, are prophets from Galilee; they are followed by Jesus who combines prophet, priest, and king into God's redemptive plan for humanity. As Nahum says, "The Lord is slow to anger but great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty" (1. 3). In time, the people shown God's mercy under Jonah are to know "a shatterer has come up against [them]" (2.2) and they will not have escaped: "For who has ever escaped?" (3.19). Through it all though, all the piles of the dead and heaps of corpses 3.3), "the Lord is restoring the majesty of Jacob, as well as the majesty of Israel" (3.2).
History culminates as Paul knows in universal mercy: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Romans 9.14). As Jonah pouted and felt God resentment for God's delivering the Assyrian enemy of Israel, Paul asks, "Has God rejected his people" (Romans 11.1), then answers himself: "By no means! I myself am an Israelite." Paul goes on to say that it is only through a sluggish spirit (11.7) and stumbling of Israel that "salvation has come to the Gentiles" (11.11); he goes on to say this has happened to "make my own people jealous and to save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead" ( 11.15).