Taking it In
Why would we start a devo about Jonah with a passage from 2 Kings? Well, because that’s when Jonah is first mentioned in the Bible! It seems like a boring, straightforward passage with nothing but historical data. But, history always goes deeper than we expect and always has something to teach us. Jonah is first mentioned in the section of the narrative of 2 Kings that addresses the reign of King Jeroboam II. It doesn’t have the best things to say about him, because he’s one of those leaders that “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” or “didn’t keep God’s statutes.” However, with a closer look there are some good things said, even if indirectly. Jeroboam II’s great achievement was the recovery of a bunch of territory in the North that Israel had lost in its disputes with Syria, recalling fond memories of a greater time during King Solomon. But, this is exactly the point. It wasn’t Jeroboam who did these things, but Yahweh through him. Yahweh’s action in the world is accomplished by empowered humans be they good or bad. Jeroboam’s military and political success linked with Yahweh’s influence is taken on by the work of Jonah the prophet, not quite a noble character himself as we’ll see. He’s only mentioned in this verse and the book of Jonah can be seen as a commentary on this single verse in 2 Kings 14:25. Jonah connects political realities with Yahweh’s intentions for the world and Israel/Judah.
Working it Out
The kings of Israel are living in the political and military world of power, violence, aggression, and suffering no matter how glorious their reigns are recorded. They paint a picture of how faith operates in a world of real power, even though Jeroboam II isn’t painted as a man of deep faith. It’s not about the person or character of such a person but the theological insistence that history is an arena in which God governs and acts. These verses are a great description of events because Yahweh is credited with all success of the Northern king, and because Yahweh is gracious toward the very North that the narrator of Kings condemns. It’s God, represented by Jonah, who sees the “bitter distress” of Israel (probably caused by Syrian harassment among other nations) and responds. What is absolutely astounding here is that the heart of God is specifically and powerfully loving, and turns up in places where we would think God would stay as far away as possible. Places like, as we’ll see, Nineveh. But, like the kings and prophets of old, including Jonah himself, we too are imperfect vessels by which God can do great things. And if we’re uncomfortable about where we are being “sent” by God, we’re probably heading in the right direction or on the right track, to some degree or another.