- The role of biblical prophets appears primarily to have focused on judgment, on calling people to accountability, to responsible living. How one relates to God (avoid idolatry) and how one relates to fellow human beings (avoid social injustice) were the two major questions they addressed. Some of the writing prophets paid more attention to one than the other, but overall, these two messages, like Jesus’ two great commands and like the two major emphases of the ten commandments, provided the prophets with their marching orders. While they did give messages of comfort and encouragement, especially the later prophets hoping to help their congregations recover from the Babylonian destruction and captivity, they tended to sharpen their homiletical skills on oracles of judgment.
- The idea of judgment is not a favorite of modern readers of the Bible. We are not used to the acute cutting edge of prophetic hard-talk. What kind of charges were leveled against Israel/Judah by the prophets? In comparison and by way of contrast, what kind of charges did the foreign nations face (including Assyria) in the “oracles against foreign nations”? (See, for example, Isaiah 13-23; Jeremiah 46-51; Ezekiel 25-32, 35; Amos 1-2, Obadiah and Nahum.) Was it good news or bad news to hear judgment messages? For whom?
- In this context, what is Jonah’s task? Was it to preach judgment or grace and mercy? His five Hebrew words (translated into English as: “Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”) were good news or bad? Delight or doom? Positive or negative?
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read the entire book of Jonah.
- Nahum. Again, the whole book is against Nineveh and will provide an open window onto the feelings of Israelites against the hated Assyrians.
- Jeremiah 18. An interesting passage on human and divine repentance. Does God change his mind? What does this thought frighten us? What does this chapter tell us about the conditional nature of at least some predictions? What are the conditions? What characteristics of God make this possible?
- Ezekiel 18. Another text on repentance and punishment.
- Genesis 6; Genesis 18; Exodus 32, etc. A number of biblical passages introduce us to the idea of God’s “repentance.” What does it mean that
God repents or relents? How should we understand references to God’s changing his mind or being sorry he did something? Has our concern that “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6) painted us into a corner with little wiggle room for us and for God? Would a look at the context of the Malachi passage make a difference? In what ways could God change and we not be overly bothered?
Contributions to the study of Jonah
- Jonah’s message appears to be judgmental. What did that mean in the context of Israel’s feelings toward their arch-enemy – good news or bad? What did it mean for Nineveh?
Lessons for Life
- Are there occasions when speeches of judgment are necessary, when people need to be called to accountability? What occasions would we include here? And would we accomplish this task in the same way as in the Old Testament? Or are there ways more fitting to the modern world by which we might call people’s attention to wrongs they are doing against God or other people?