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Challenging God: Why Did Jonah Run?
Video 3 of 6
Jonah already had shade. If you look at the immediately preceding verse it says “ that Jonah had made himself a sukkah, made himself a little hut. Vayeshev tachteiha batzel, “and sat in the shade of the hut”. So, what was God doing providing him another source of shade?
So if you look carefully at the text, you’ll find something interesting. The plant was there to provide shade; but it was also there to provide a second thing. Vayeman Hashem Elokim kikayon, “God created this kikayon,” vayaal meal leYonah, “and it went above Jonah,” lihyot tzel al-rosho, “to be a shade for his head,” lehatzil lo meraato, “but also to save him”. Save him from what? Raah usually means evil. The problem is, translating in context, what does it mean? The plant was doing what to save Jonah from his evil?
So, to discover what it means, you need to really focus on the word raah and notice that it is used throughout the text; it’s actually almost like a train of raah that continues one after another after another. And actually, the occurrence of raah which I’ve just pointed out to you, the gourd, saving Jonah from raah, that’s actually the last occurrence of raah.
Let’s go back and look at the first one and trace it all the way through. The first raah is the raah of Nineveh. God wants Jonah to go out to Nineveh to call against it because the people of Nineveh has done raah, they’ve done evil.
The next time you have raah is the storm. The storm comes and threatens Jonah and the sailors say baasher lemi haraah hazot lanu, “why is this storm coming?”
The next time you have raah is again with reference to Nineveh. When the people repent, they repent from their raah they changed their evil ways.
The next time you have raah is when God sees the people having repented from their raah, ki shavu midarkam haraah. And then what God does is vayinachem haElokim al-haraah asher diber laasot-lahem, God changes his mind about the raah that he is going to do to this people. So you can see what I’m talking about in terms of this chain of raah. The people were doing raah, therefore they were going to be destroyed. Raah, evil, was going to come to them but they changed their ways and therefore God changed his mind about inflicting raah upon them and then there is a final domino effect and that is the very next verse, chapter 4 verse 1, vayera el-Yonah raah gedolah, “And Jonah felt a terrible raah” . Why is it that Jonah is angry that he has this great feeling of evil, of raah, upon him? It’s because he explains to God, nicham al haraah, “you have changed your mind about doing raah to the people”. And then we get to the very final car on the train, which is the one we started with - the leafy plant, the kikayon. It there lehatzil lo meraato, to save Jonah from his raah, and now we know which raah. Just look at the next train car up in the train of raah.
When God gives him the leafy plant to save him from raah, it’s to save Jonah from the feeling of terrible evil that he had because God was nicham al haraah, “because God changed his mind about doing evil”. There is something about this plant that will do more than shade; it’s going to explain everything. We just have to figure out how. Let’s look at the end of this train of raah a little bit more closely.
Jonah had complained to God that you are nicham al haraah, “ you changed your mind about doing evil”. Those are very crucial words because in those words we actually have the Book of Jonah’s own answer to the questions we began with - why did Jonah run away? It turns out that Jonah had himself explained to us why he ran away - just not at the beginning of the book where we might have expect to have seen it. There, it’s mystery; but at the end - at the beginning of chapter 4 - Jonah reveals his motivation.
After the people of Nineveh are forgiven, Jonah lodges a complaint to God and in his complaint he says al-ken kidamti livroach Tarshishah? “ why do you think I ran away to Tarshish? It’s because I knew this would happen. It’s because of...” And now the next thing he is going to say, we’ve heard these words before - the quote from somewhere. I‘m going to read those words and you’re going to tell me where have you heard those words before?
Here is why I ran away to Tarshish. Ki yadati ki atah Kel chanun v’rachum, “I knew you were a gracious and merciful God,” erech afayim v’rav-chesed, “slow to anger, full of compassion.” You’ve heard those words before. Where do they come from? It turns out they come from the Book of Exodus. These are the famous yud-gimel middot harachamim - the thirteen traits of compassion that God revealed about himself to Moses in the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf. God tells Moses, “I’m the gracious and merciful God”. And that grace and that mercy becomes that which saves the Jews from destruction after worshipping the Golden Calf at the foot of Sinai.
But now, for some reason, he is throwing these words back to God. So one interesting thing is that Jonah is quoting these things from the Book of Exodus, but the tone in which he says them is entirely different. Instead of these words being wonderful; an oasis of compassion, they are that which brings Jonah to a state of wrath. They are, in the mind of Jonah, a source of terrible evil. The last key to understanding Jonah’s motivation, comes from the very next word that he says. Because when he continues, he actually changes the yud-gimel middot harachamim. What were the next words? Ki yadati ki atah Kel chanun v’rachum erech afayim v’rav-chesed… v’emet, “that I am a God of truth”. Johan leaves out that word and replaces it with a different phrase. In Jonah’s version, v’nicham al haraah. And there is the caboose in the chain of raah. “ You changed your mind about doing evil”. Fascinating! Jonah has replaced the word emet, “the truth,” with nicham al haraah, “changing your mind about doing evil”. Now, why would he do that?
Well, in the next video, we are going to explore that. But before we get there, I want to give you a clue. There is a hidden connection between this verse at the very end of the train of raah and the very first verse of the book. Take a look at that very first verse in the book. Who is Jonah? Vayhi devar-Hashem el-Yonah ben-Amitai “ the word of God came to Jonah the son of Amitai.” Jonah, the son of Amitai. Jonah is the son of emet and he just happens to leave that one word out of God’s own explanation of himself. What is this son of truth really saying? Let’ come back and talk about it.
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