Sometimes I cannot read the Bible without other ideas swirling in my brain. Most of those ideas are just vapidity. Yet every once in a while, an idea coalesces with the Scriptures that is intriguing. It happened this morning.
In reading Jonah, this stood out.
Jonah 3:7–9 (MEV): Then he made a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By decree of the king and his nobles:
No man or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not eat or drink water. Both man and animals shall cover themselves with sackcloth and cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change His mind. He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we will not perish.”
To give some context, Jonah was sent to Nineveh because of the wickedness practiced in the city. It is said that the wickedness itself came up before God.
Of course, Jonah didn’t heed God’s command to go and purposed to go to sea traveling in the opposite direction away from Nineveh. God sent a storm on the ship, Jonah persuaded the shipmates to throw him overboard. God appointed a fish to swallow Jonah. In that fish, Jonah came to his senses and was spit out on dry land.
The fish must have brought Jonah very near Nineveh as God commanded Jonah yet again to go and give them His message.
Upon this second command, Jonah complied and did as God said. He preached the coming destruction of Nineveh to the inhabitants of the vast city. The message was heard, even by the leaders of the city. That takes us to the passage above.
Aside from the repentance and crying to God for mercy, there is a tacit confession of sin in the decree. Not only that, all people and animals were to participate in this plea for mercy.
That is where ideas collide. Sometimes, I read scriptures with the objections of skeptics in mind. In this instance, clearly the animals are involved in the plea for mercy. That says to my way of thinking, that the animals are also complicit in the evil of the city, most likely not of their own volition.
The objections skeptics raise are sometimes centered around the genocidal portions of the Old Testament where God wiped out entire nations that included men, women, children and animals. Why “innocent” animals is what some ask.
Implicit in this king’s decree is that animals are used in ways perhaps to perpetrate calamity on others.
It was a passing thought on encountering that, and I pushed on thinking that was probably a fancy imagination.
There is a biblical principle, on the testimony of two or three witness a thing is established. I tend to apply this to what Scriptures say. But God wants to make sure we understand.
After God relents in bringing judgment to Nineveh because of their confession, Jonah disdains the compassion of God. God gives Jonah a practical lesson in compassion. He uses a plant to comfort Jonah in his angry grief.
God concludes that lesson in a succinct summary.
Jonah 4:10–11 (MEV): The Lord said, “You are troubled about the plant for which you did not labor and did not grow. It came up in a night and perished in a night. Should I not, therefore, be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people, who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
It was this last interaction recorded between God and Jonah. The very last phrase is a second witness to that what I thought was my fancy imagination.
Somehow animals are involved in perpetrating evil.
Some commentators think that herds would be destroyed as collateral damage. That is why they are mentioned. I don’t think that is why.
Suffice it to say, cattle… Especially bulls were venerated in the pagan cults. The motif is clear in the Bible, even when Aaron say “these be your gods” for the Israelites. Baal is depicted as a mating bull.
Much of these ancient cults (religious systems) used practices that would upset or modern sensibilities. These cult practices involved sex with animals as well as burning their own children.
It’s easy for a skeptic to reject the Bible on a sophomoric surface level not understanding the contexts in which it is written.
I get this is a bit controversial. But I think that the ideas included in Jonah’s text demonstrate clearly that God is just.