Recently I heard a pastor say that Jonah was misnamed because of his strident nature. In Hebrew, the name Jonah actually means dove. This pastor contended that Jonah was anything but a dove. Now, it’s easy to judge a biblical character without their living context. And while we’re doing that, we might as well take it all the way back to Adam and Eve and demand their accounting. “You had it all, why did you fall?” But for the grace of God, anyone?
I feel like this pastor misjudged Jonah in his statement. I believe Jonah’s strident attitude was in fact proof of his “dove” nature. Who other than a dove could carry such fiery and fervent conviction with deep passion. A gentle dove is someone with a soft, open heart, but even the gentlest soul in the face of great evil can be tempted to turn that openness to bitterness.
I could see this pastor’s point if Jonah’s resistance to God’s call was just hatred for those dirty Assyrians in Nineveh. Sure, if he had just a “NO, God!” because of some kind of prejudice, but to be committed to his refusal to the point of his own death? I don’t think so. He was ardently convicted for some reason beyond mere repulsion or prejudice.
Here is a clue from the archaeological background of the Assyrians of his time.
“The merciless cruelty of his campaigns is the constant boast of Ashur-nasir-pal II: ‘I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the midst of the mighty mountain I slaughtered them, with their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool. With the rest of them I darkened the gullies and precipices of the mountains. I carried off their spoil and their possessions. The heads of the warriors I cut off, and I formed them into a pillar over against their city, their young men and their maidens I burned in the fire.’
“’I built a pillar over against the city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar; many within the border of my own land I flayed, and I spread their skins upon the walls; and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled.’” (Light From the Ancient Past: The Archaeological Background of Judaism and Christianity, Jack Finegan, Princeton University Press, second printing, 1974, p. 202-203.)
Jonah gave his hatred merit because of acts of satanic evil. This wasn’t just people with a different ideology or contested border. These were barbarians with a demonic taste for blood. They didn’t maintain any Geneva conventional standards of war. They took it over the top, beyond any rational reason. These were monsters!
Jonah, Bitterness of a Dove
While we’re in the last stages of getting Martha’s newest book Altogether Forgiven ready to go to the printers, I am highly cognizant of forgiveness and unforgiveness. It’s like a high-beam is shining forth for me on the subject. I just can’t wait for you to get this book in your hands. But as far as this pastor’s assessment of Jonah, I heard it deeply and loudly through the lens of unforgiveness.
When we know the apparent reasons why Jonah resisted going to Nineveh, then we understand why a man named dove could be so ‘strident.’ Jonah was deeply wounded by what had happened to his Jewish brothers and sisters. How could a man named dove with a gentle nature, not be deeply wounded because of his dove-like heart? But God didn’t put limits on His willingness to show mercy and forgive, not for the evil Assyrians or us.