In this post we will study the book of Jonah in the Bible, and apply it to modern political polarization. The truth is, the people we have been conditioned to think are our opponents are probably well-intentioned. The police are not our enemies, and neither are liberals, conservatives, atheists, religious folk, corporate employees, YouTubers, school faculties, or capitalists. The real enemies of the people are false pride, and the systems set up by insidious individuals.
The following YouTube video by BibleProject gives an overview of the Book of Jonah. It’s only 4 chapters long, but there are abundant subtle messages in it. For the purposes of this article, it’s important to see that God ordered the prophet Jonah to preach in the city of Nineveh. Nineveh was one of the capitals of the Assyrian empire, who threatened to conquer Ancient Israel many times. Rather than preach to his hated enemies, Jonah traveled in the opposite direction and took a boat ride to sea.
God caused a storm to throw the ship around, and the pagan crew members appealed to God when they learned Jonah was the reason. Jonah preferred to die rather than go to Nineveh, so he convinced the sailors to throw him overboard. The next chapter tells the famous episode when Jonah was swallowed by a giant fish and brought back to land. Jonah finally went to Nineveh and gave a short message to the public. It’s only five words in the original Hebrew, but miraculously, the Ninevites repented from their wrongdoing. Even the king of the city and the cows repented.
The book doesn’t specify whether Jonah chose the words of his message, or God did. But the Ninevites’ drastic reaction tells us that there was more at work than just those words. A common theme in the Bible is God likes to act through his people. Human beings perform amazing feats in scripture, but it’s noted that God empowers them to do so. The spirit of God likely moved through the people of Nineveh, and was waiting for Jonah’s message as the trigger.
The final chapter tells of Jonah trudging outside the city and waiting for God to destroy it. His presumptions prove wrong. Instead, God causes a tree to grow and give Jonah shade, only to be killed by a worm infection the next day. It’s a puzzling sequence, but God says he cares about human beings much more than plants, including the Ninevites. He’s asking Jonah to let go of his prejudice.
The book of Jonah does a lot to disrupt the conventional wisdom of its day. Nineveh and the larger Assyrian Empire were bloodthirsty regimes, but it’s possible their common people and soldiers were caught up in a false ideology. It’s likely the leaders of that empire were evil individuals, and manipulated others into doing their bidding. Today, and in the last 5 years or so, many Americans have moved away from the “liberal vs conservative” paradigm and identified the corrupt elites in our institutions.
We don’t know what will shake people out of their false assumptions, but we should have faith they’ll see through the world’s illusions. Recently an old acquaintance who used to scoff at Bitcoin told me he understands its value now. I used to support America’s invasion of Iraq because of Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorism. Today I understand it was conducted under false pretenses, though not the same criticisms the Far Left used against President Bush. Communism and terrorism are real dangers, but so are the central banks and corporations. Manipulative elites use division and lies to weaken the people. We need to drop our misguided assumptions, humble ourselves, and ask questions rather than yell at each other.