Chapter 3 of Jonah illustrates Jonah’s second chance to give the Ninevites a second chance. God sets Jonah back on track to warn the Ninevites. Jonah complies this time, and the Ninevites are fairly warned. The king of Nineveh responds with extraordinary piety when word reaches him, committing himself and his entire land–including the livestock–to fast for three days.
The first discussion turned on why the king would respond this way. It is an impossible reaction. We thought of how soon the mayor of New York City would declare a fast should someone declare on those busy streets that God would condemn the city. (One child suggested that someone probably already did–even multiple times!) The king’s extreme reaction to such a simple statement overwhelmed us.
Next, the breadth of the fast troubled us. The students asked how it could be fair that everyone would have to fast. Had every single individual sinned? One student suggested that they were not only punished for their sins, but also their intention to sin. In this way the universal fast was justified. I countered that the animals also had to fast; what could they have done? Some children argued that even animals could poo on someone maliciously. I disagreed; an animal poos when it has to, not by intent. As a result, the fact that animals had to fast proved that both the guilty and the innocent had to fast.
Sometimes you have to “take one for the team,” one child said. We had to consider why innocent people had to fast. We know that sometimes in the Bible, a family is cursed because one child sins. The reaction of the king of Nineveh to God’s declarations expands this paradigm out to the city level. Everyone had to fast because everyone was cursed–whether he or she did something individually was irrelevant.
Since the king showed such compunction, the students could see why God forgave him. Should the kids, knowing that they were about to be punished, offer a sincere letter of apology and voluntary grounding from the TV, their parents might let them off the hook. Their parents may have, however, punished the child regardless out of fairness, or held them up to the atonement they set up for themselves. God was particularly kind to let the Ninevites off the hook.
Finally, we noticed a continuum of obedience among three characters: Jonah, the sailors, and the king. The king came out on top, having immediately responded to God’s word. The sailors came next, because they resisted God, but finally submitted. Jonah comes up last, since he fought hardest against God’s will.
I asked a question in the end. If their sister had offered the same letter and voluntary grounding for an infraction that they had already been punished for, would it be fair for the parents to let the sister off the hook? How would they feel? Would they support their parents’ decision? We will see how they answer this question next week when we read ch. 4.