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I would add a couple observations. First, the Ninevites (Assyrians) were extremely cruel. Historians tell of their conquests in the most vivid terms. When a city surrendered, without resisting, Ninevites would reward them by beheading the governor and all the leaders of the city, before mounting their heads on the city gates. The people would commonly be sold as slaves. Cities who resisted them and fell, on the other hand, would have every surviving male buried in the ground up to their necks in the plane before the city, followed by the Ninevite cavalry trampling them. The fates of women and children were often worse. Such base cruelty might seem unworthy of God's mercy, even to the most humble soul, especially if he had family or friends who had suffered such fates. One thing is certain, every soul anywhere near the Levant was fully aware, if not outright terrified of the Ninevites, so it is no wonder Jonah would begrudge them mercy. The heart of the matter, though, is that Jonah, whether through human bitterness, logic or self-righteousness, rebelled against God's command, because he believed he knew better than God, what was best for the Ninevites and the world, rather than following God's command. By Jonah's ultimate obedience, 1. God demonstrated true justice by not condemning a population of ignorant humans, without a chance to know and repent of their wicked ways. It also spared their animals. (Jon 4:11 NAS.) 2. God demonstrate His omniscience. Since God knows the end of a matter from the beginning, (is 46:7) He had already chosen the Ninevites as a tool to chastise the 10 tribes of Israel, but He could not use them as they were. If he had, there might have been a genocide rather than a dispersion. In fact, although the Ninevites did fall back into idolatry and pagan worship, history ascribes no more of those extreme atrocities to them, as were practiced before Jonah's visit. Thus we have a powerful example of why we must not lean on our own understanding, in following God's commands (Prov 3:5-6).
Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord, Jonah 1:3, 10. Later in Jonah 4:1-2, Jonah said he was angry because he knew God was gracious and merciful. He wanted Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which was hostile to Israel, to experience the judgment they deserved. To avoid having to preach to them repentance as God directed him, he fled in the opposite direction to Tarshish. Commentators believe Tarshish was a place in Spain or Great Britain. The form of the name Tarshish, ‘smelting,’ is found in many places such as Tartessus at the Bay of Gibraltar and Tarsus in Cilicia of Asia Minor. One viable candidate for the location is suggested by Brent MacDonald in his article, “Legendary Tarshish? Searching for a Real Place.” He identified Tarshish as Utica in Tunisia on the North African coast, as commentator Isaac Abravanel noted. It was a Phoenician outpost. Utica means ‘Old City’ and Carthage means “New City.” Due to major silting which made the port city Utica 7 miles farther from the coastline, Carthage was founded on the coast to replace it. For this reason, the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, has Karkhedon or Carthage for Tarshish. Tarshish was some kind of great international trading post, I Kings 10:22 (merchant ships), II Chronicles 9:21, 20:36-37, Jeremiah 10:9, and Ezekiel 27:12. I Kings 10:22 suggests a shopping expedition involved a round trip of about two years. The length of time would be in part to traveling to and from during the right seasons. Solomon’s ships went in a convoy with the ships of Hiram of Tyre. The fact that Jonah paid fare on the ship meant that there were regularly scheduled trips from Joppa to Tarshish. If Jonah had been able to get to Tarshish, he could easily have hidden at this busy port city. But God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. At the Barbo National Museum in Carthage is one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. According to experts, mosaics of North Africa depict sea life and fishing scenes with astonishing accuracy. One depicts a fish eating a man. In Matthew 12:40, the Greek word for fish is ‘ketos’ which according to historians is considered a ‘sea monster.’ The Biblical account of the fish swallowing Jonah is very possible. Given the second chance, Jonah went to Nineveh and preached to them God’s message, at which point they prayed and fasted, and put on sackcloth. They believed God, which does not mean they were saved, but that they believed disaster was impending, and they repented, as Jonah feared they would. Jesus spoke of Nineveh’s repentance in Matthew 12:41. What an amazing roundabout and diversified journey Jonah had! What is even more amazing is that the Lord used Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish to indicate it was the sign of His being held captive at the hands of the Roman rulers, as well as His burial and resurrection, Matthew 12:40.
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