What the people of Nineveh must have thought when Jonah strolled into the town! After three days and three nights with a fish’s digestive juices working on him, his skin was blanched and bleached, wrinkly and covered with sores. Seaweed twined around him a time or three, and clothes were likely ragged and torn if he had any at all.
Imagine if a prophet in such a condition walked into your town and proceeded to pronounce the judgement of God on you. I would wager you would write off the old boy as some kind of religious crank. Who wouldn’t?
Well, the people of Nineveh wouldn’t. They listened to this strange looking prophet and his message because God in his wisdom knows how to reach people. The people of Nineveh worshipped Dagon the fish god, so when a prophet shows up who happens to be transported to these people by means of a very large fish, they are going to listen.
It’s a safe bet that God wouldn’t use a Jonah-like prophet to reach the United States of America. Our cultural context, even if it were a godly one, simply would not take such a person seriously. If God were to send a message to America, he would use our cultural milieu in a way that we could understand. Maybe, given this country’s natural suspicion of religious charlatans, the person would not even be a religious leader in the traditional sense. And maybe, given a healthy wariness many Americans have of strongman-type leadership and hero worship, it wouldn’t be one single voice at all, but many. Maybe the messenger wouldn’t be a prophet, but a very strong-willed prophetess.
The point is this: God used the culture of the day when he sent his prophet to the Ninevites. It should lead us to ponder how God would warn 21st century America.