Jonah is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I am proud of my religious tradition that in it's infancy it was the story of Jonah that the early Church elevated as a formative story. Not Moses. Not Isaiah. Not even the great Amos or David. It is the story of Jonah that we find carved in sarcophagus and on the walls of the early church meeting places.
Recently I re-read Jonah and lead a quick study on the book. There are many things that are worth elevating, and perhaps those will make an appearance on this site. But I want to share one insight that did not even dawn upon me until it just came out of my mouth the other night. I am sure that others smarter than me already knew this, but this insight is new to me.
Jonah's name means "dove". Which is not that interesting on the surface, but when coupled with the idea that one of the most common animals sacrificed in the temple to "appease the gods" were doves, then we have something interesting.
When the "dove" is thrown overboard and sacrificed to calm the storm, it is God who saves the "dove" from death by sending the great whale (big fish). Could it be that God is attempting to overthrow the sacrificial system?
As the story moves along, the people of Nineveh are called to repent. We might expect the people of Nineveh to sacrifice animals to avoid the pending doom. But they don't. In fact all they do is put on sackcloth and cover themselves in ashes. They don't sacrifice a dove like the sailors did.
And then, the pending doom was not to be. The great city is not destroyed.
Jonah is angry that this has happened. How could it be that God would forgive this city if they did not kill anything? How could God possibly forgive such sinners without the sacrifice of an animal (or for those who think Jesus was their sacrifice, remember Jesus was not around yet)?
The entire theological understanding of God that Jonah has is overturned. (Which may be what Jesus is trying to say when he overturns the tables that were in the temple selling sacrifices?)