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Jonah C: After Jonah - 2 Kings 17:22-23; Nahum 1:1-3a; Jeremiah 51:34, 44-45

The rest of the Old Testament tells us a lot more about what happened between God’s people and Assyria after Jonah. Did Israel learn her lesson and repent like Nineveh? Did Nineveh maintain a repentant heart toward God, or did they take advantage of God’s mercy and return to their evil ways? Did God ever bring justice against Nineveh? How should God’s people respond when God blesses Gentiles and punishes His people? Is Jonah just a quirky story with some good moral lessons, or does it point to something bigger? God’s Word answers all of these questions, and so before we leave this book, we’re taking a look at what happened after Jonah.

In Jonah’s time, Israel is being led astray from God by King Jeroboam II. In light of Deut 32:31, Jonah’s mission to Nineveh appears not only as a testimony to God’s overflowing mercy towards all of creation; it’s also an object lesson for God’s covenant people, meant to make them jealous so that they would return to God.

But from 2 Kings 17:22-23, Israel doesn’t seem to have paid any attention to what God was doing with Jonah, and they refused to depart from the Jeroboam-style sins that were separating them from God and His covenant blessings. As a result, they fall victim to Assyria and end up in exile. So on the one hand, we have Israel not learning the right lesson, and on the other, we see Nineveh quickly forgetting her repentance and rushing right back into evil. Nineveh is being used as the agent of God’s disciplinary wrath against Israel, but because of the godless and cruel way she does it, she in turn makes herself the object of God’s wrath.

And so in the book Nahum, God reverses His initial judgment of mercy, and brings down a great and terrible justice on the heads of the Ninevites. Nahum helps us address a lingering concern from Jonah, because in Nahum 1:3, the prophet finishes the quote from Exodus 34 that Jonah used in Jonah 4:2. Not only is the Lord gracious and merciful; He is also avenging and wrathful, and He will by no means clear the guilty! No one in Nineveh who trusts in the mercy of God will perish, but no Ninevite who rejects God’s mercy and embraces evil will ever escape His perfect justice.

Turning back from Nineveh to God’s people, we see a split in the later part of the Old Testament between the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Through their interconnected histories, they become case studies in obeying and disobeying God, especially in relation to Assyria. And this is where we see that even though the book of Jonah is not just a parable, it is a parable.

When God’s people turn away to the gods of the nations, they flounder out on the Gentile seas, only to be swallowed by the Assyrian “whale”, a disciplinary but temporary host that had been sovereignly appointed by God in part through Jonah’s earlier ministry. But in this history after Jonah, when Israel was in the whale, she ought to have turned back to God from her idolatry. And when Nineveh held Israel in her womb, she should have been protecting her, not devouring her. But Israel refused to repent, and so we never hear of a return from exile for the Northern kingdom. Nineveh never vomits Israel back out onto dry land.

And just like Israel should have watched Jonah’s interaction with Nineveh and repented without ever having to be thrown into the sea and swallowed, Judah ought to have been paying attention to Israel’s fate. But just like Jonah, just like Israel, Judah is too stubborn to repent under preaching alone, and has to learn the hard way. In the intervening years since Jonah, Nineveh was judged like Nahum said, and now another Assyrian province, Babylon, has become the monster. This is what we read about in Jeremiah 51, the clearest explanation of how Jonah serves as a parable. The sea of Gentile nations is battering Judah, and then Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon swallows Judah like a monster (2 Kings 24-25).

But in the stomach of the whale, in Babylonian exile, God preserves His people, and like Jonah, some of them do turn back to God. In light of this, God blesses His people and prepares to return the faithful repentant remnant home (See the book of Daniel). God had promised in Jer. 51:44-45 to punish Babylon and take what he had swallowed out of his mouth, and so in Ezra 1:1-7, after defeating Bel-shazzar, Cyrus the Persian sends the Jews of the Southern Kingdom back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and worship God rightly once again, finishing the story of Judah and the whale.

The book of Jonah sets forth a pattern for God’s display of His justice and mercy, a pattern that reached its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus Christ was cast into the raging Roman-Gentile sea bearing our sins, was swallowed by the grave, and rose again on the third day to reconcile us and bring us back to the God who saves us because of His great mercy. This is the story of Jonah, the story of Israel and Judah, and the story of your salvation.

Posted on Thursday, April 04, 2019 by CJ Bowen