Jonah 1:1–2 reads as follows in the NET Bible:
The Lord said to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.”
As I mentioned in a prior post, these two verses assume a powerful theological truth about God: He acts as judge over humanity, rightfully calling our sin and wickedness into account. Hermeneutically, this is a fundamental, constituent part of the worldview of the biblical author. This interpretation attaches itself to the very meaning of text when it reads יְהוָה, the Hebrew word for the name of God, translated here as “the Lord.” This worldview fundamentally informs the words of the text and provides an important religious and cultural context for these verses.
Theologically, this text presents a fundamental truth about the nature and action of God. Contemporary Western culture, even evangelical Christians, find it hard to accept. Our desire to self-determinate and self-actuate means we refuse anyone who judges us to be in the wrong. If I’m in charge of me, no one has the right to do anything but get out of my way. But if God created humanity—if we are not the final author of our existence—then God indeed stands in authority over us, calling us to account as he sees fit. God as judge is also hard to accept because we normally understand God as entirely motivated by love. Even if we affirm that God judges, it receives only minimal real estate in our theological land grabs. “God judges you and will call your sin into account” wouldn’t even survive the first round of edits for a revised Four Spiritual Laws pamphlet. Our innate sense is that someone who loves doesn’t judge; rather they accept people for who they are without restrictions. In a world where the self is king, that makes sense. But in reality this misunderstands both love and justice. These are inter-dependent aspects of God’s character. God’s love is not separate or disconnected from his justice. Instead he always acts in perfect character with both, and each reflects the other and requires the other for full expression. The fundamental theological truth of this passage is that God does indeed judge sinful humanity; as the rest of the book and Bible shows, we should seek his mercy in Christ, who took our judgment so that we might live to God.