Jonah was Israel’s bogan*.
He drove a lime green V8 ute* with a bright chrome roo bar, chrome twin exhausts, chrome wheel rims and a CB radio with a tall antenna from which, on important national days, he could fly his country’s flag. The esky* toting vehicle was festooned with bumper stickers – “Love it or leave it”, and “[Beep] off, we’re full.”
Jonah was a great supporter of Ezra’s renationalisation program. When the Emperor of Persia introduced his policy that cultivated cultural diversity by allowing annexed nations to return to their homelands, the exiled people of Israel returned to Jerusalem with great rejoicing.
Here was their chance to rebuild and become a people with a national identity again. Ezra was a dedicated public servant charged with the responsibility of making it happen. He reintroduced people to the Torah, establishing strong adherence to the Hebrew tradition. He legislated against mixed marriages, retrospectively and he enforced the rule with meticulous ardour. The Hebrew line had to be kept pure.
Hebrew nationalism, a corrective to several generations of identity absorption, was on the rise.
“Hebrew, Hebrew, Hebrew, oi, oi, oi!” was the new cry.
And Jonah was there in the stands, initiating the Mexican wave with patriotic fervour.
The sages of Israel looked at all this and were worried. In the fervour to re-establish Hebrew tradition, the actual core of their identity was being lost – YHWH’s promise to Abraham that their ultimate purpose was to be a blessing to all nations.
So the wise ones gave to Ezra, and to the new people of Israel, and to us all, a story where Jonah becomes the reluctant instrument of blessing to their greatest historic nemesis – Nineveh.
Jonah the bogan, fighting and struggling against the Epiphany of YHWH, finding himself in tremendous conflict as his exclusive outlook is turned upside down, finds himself transformed into the Billy Graham of the Ancient Mediterranean world.
People have been responding to such epiphanies ever since.
* bogan – Aussie version of redneck
*ute – sedan like truck
*esky – coolbox for keeping shrimps and chilling drinks