What is at the Bottom of the Prophet Jonah’s Reluctance?

It is hard to imagine a prophet who has the gall to say no to God. Yet, that is exactly what the prophet Jonah did when God called him to rebuke the formidable Assyrians at their capital city of Nineveh. It is not enough that Jonah turned God down, but he also fled. His reluctance is understandable and born out of pragmatism. God is not asking Jonah to preach against his own people, the Israelites. Instead, he is to invade a foreign shore and face an angry multitude of foreigners carrying only the clothes on his body. Any sane person would be quaking in fear.

The prophet, Daniel made a decision different from Jonah’s. Carried as a captive into Babylon with the threat of death hanging constantly over his head, he resolved to be faithful to God. A foreigner and slave in a strange land, one would expect him to break down and submit to the will of his foreign masters. Instead, he refused to eat food from the king’s table after judging it to be unclean in God’s eyes. Courting the ire of the court official and the king, he asked that he and three of his friends be given only vegetables and water for ten days. His efforts paid off. The Book of Daniel triumphantly relates:

At the end of ten days, they looked healthier and better than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. To these four young men, God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. – Daniel 1:15-17

Daniel and his friends were rewarded. Jonah nearly drowned after some sailors made him a sacrificial toss into the ocean depths. Faithfulness ranks high in God’s eyes. Faithlessness, meanwhile, has its just deserts.

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