Sometimes, comedy is just a matter of saying or doing something different from what the audience expects. For instance, there’s an old Sesame Street segment from 1973 where a little girl (Joey Calvan, according to the Internet) is saying the alphabet with Kermit the Frog, but occasionally, instead of saying the next letter, she says, “Cookie Monster”.
That’s an adorable skit (in my opinion), but saying or doing the wrong thing – or an unexpected thing – isn’t always funny. Sometimes, it’s embarrassing, offensive, or just falls flat. Other times, it can lead to real tragedy, such as when a person doesn’t do the job for which they are responsible, and another person gets hurt.
In another situation (not having aired on Sesame Street), having been told by God to preach against the city of Nineveh, the prophet Jonah does something that we (especially those of us who have an appreciation for God’s authority, power, and sovereignty) might not expect:
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
Jonah 1:3 NIV
Jonah’s choice isn’t a comedy skit, though, and there were consequences of Jonah doing the wrong thing.
Now, we might try to give Jonah the benefit of the doubt and suppose that he was in fear for his freedom, his well-being, or even his life in Nineveh (especially if he preached against their wickedness), but later in his namesake book it sounds like his main problem was in his dislike for the people of Nineveh.
In contrast to those who did what God told them to do (like Abraham…at least most of the time), Jonah falls into the category of those who push back when God gives them clear instructions. Moses did this at the burning bush as he pushed back on God’s calling (see Exodus chapter 3 and 4). We might consider Gideon’s hesitancy (like in Judges 6:33-40) a milder form of Jonah’s resistance.
Conversely, the centurion described in Matthew 8 [verses 5-13] and Luke 7 [verses 1-10] understood the principles of authority, where he expected his commands to be obeyed, and understood that Jesus could do the same with the illness of a sick person in the centurion’s household.
For reference, Nineveh is generally east and north of Israel, while the Mediterranean Sea (the body of water where Joppa is located) is probably westward from Jonah’s location (if he was from Galilee, as the Lookout – cited below – suggested). Now, the specific location of Tarshish isn’t known for sure today, but even if we don’t know where he was going geographically, we can appreciate the point about where he was going spiritually.
While not comedy, the latter part of verse 3 is kind of (ironically) funny, in that Jonah was trying to “to flee from the Lord” (NIV), or to go “away from the presence of the LORD” (NASB). Like Psalm 139:7-12 reminds us, there’s no getting away from God in this world.
Maybe Jonah associated God with the land of the Jewish people or Jerusalem, though. Maybe he subscribed to the idea of gods being associated with particular nations, cities, or peoples. He could have even considered the idea that there were gods of the land and gods of the sea. We might think of that as an ancient idea, but I believe that this concept still remains active today in some faiths, especially in certain regions of the world.
We must be careful to avoid thinking the same thing: that Jesus has somehow chosen a country or a group of people as uniquely His, for instance; or that God doesn’t love those in countries that are largely secular or practice another faith. God so loved the world (see John 3:16), and even when Israel was selected to be His chosen people, this was for a purpose, which we learn – in Romans, for instance – was to bring salvation to everyone. Nobody gets a free pass just because their culture is influenced by other Christians, and nobody is beyond the scope of salvation through Jesus Christ.
So, let’s keep our eyes, our ears, and our heart open to ensure that we’re not trying to foil God’s plan. Trying to get in God’s way is just asking for failure on our part.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for June 5, 2022
- The Lookout, June 5, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Minor Prophets Volume 1: Hosea-MIcah, by Harold Shank. College Press Publishing Company, © 2001.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volumes 1 and 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996, 1998.