Jonah, the prophet who is best known for inhabiting the belly of a big fish, is somewhat of a paradox. When God sent an immense storm that was about to tear apart the ship where he took refuge, he readily offered himself as a sacrifice to placate God’s wrath. His cheeky gamble paid off. The storm abated almost immediately when he was thrown overboard. In the process, he saved numerous lives aboard the ship. Did Jonah grow a conscience? It contrasted with the picture of him sleeping peacefully below deck while giant waves battered the ship as if he had no care in the world. Or did he suddenly realize that death under the waves was his punishment for disobeying God?
The selfless and magnanimous attitude that Jonah displayed at the storm’s height was the opposite of his irascible behavior right after God reversed His decision to torch Nineveh to the ground. It was true Jonah stuck to plan by preaching God’s words with all the sound and fury he could muster. In forty days, Nineveh would be no more. Jonah must have preached so hard that all the one hundred twenty thousand or so inhabitants of Nineveh, including the king, put on sackcloth, beat their breast in despair, and genuinely repented. When God laid down his verdict of compassion to Jonah, he became incensed. He could not understand why God had to bring him to Nineveh but only to relent in the end. Jonah was so disappointed with God that he wanted to die. He wanted to see one hundred and twenty thousand people get their just desserts.
It is truly a big turnaround for Jonah. Whereas he offered his life for a boatload of people, at Nineveh, he wanted to die because the citizens of Nineveh repented and did not perish. What Jonah failed to appreciate because he was so puffed up with pride was that he was only a small part of God’s plan. We can all be riddled with paradoxes because we are human like Jonah but, in the end, we are all subject to God’s enduring will.