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Background Considerations:

  • Jonah’s name means “dove.” Check this out in a good Bible dictionary to see how the prophet’s name functions in the story. His father’s name, Amittai, is tied in some way to “truthfulness” or “faithfulness.”
  • As we continue the story with Jonah’s precipitous response to the demanding preaching task laid out for the prophet, to what literary features should we pay attention? Although we lose some of these in the English translations, it might prove interesting to watch for certain repetitions and ironies on which the story hangs:
    • Up and down – The evil of Nineveh has “come up” before the face of the Lord (1:2), but Jonah keeps “going down” from the face of the Lord (he goes “down” to Joppa [1:3]; “down” into the boat [1:3]; into a deep sleep [1:5 – in Hebrew the word resembles the verb “to go down”]; “down” to the land whose bars closed upon me forever [2:6]). Yet, God has “brought up” his life from the pit (2:6).
    • Big (gadol can mean “great,” “loud,” “large,” “massive,” etc.) – When read aloud and heard, this feature stands out better than when we simply read the book silently to ourselves. The book of Jonah has 14 gadol things, including a big city (1:2), big wind, big storm (1:4), big fear (1:10), big storm (1:12), big fear (1:16), big fish (1:17), big city (3:2), big city (3:3), from the biggest (3:5), king and his ‘big ones’ (3:7), big anger (4:1), big gladness (4:6), big city (4:11) (James Limburg, Jonah: A Commentary [Louisville: Westminster/John Knox], p. 27).
    • “A special variation of repetition is the extension or diminution of phrases. Again, such repetitions are most effective when the story is heard rather than read silently. In Jonah 1, the increasing intensity of the storm is described by the increasing length of each description (1:4, 11, 13). Another series of ‘growing phrases’ describes the increasing fear of the sailors (1:5, 10, 16). The winding down of the storm is effectively described in 1:16 with three clauses that become progressively shorter.” (Limburg, p. 27)

Relevant Biblical Passages

  • Read through the entire book of Jonah.
  • Jonah 1:3. This verse provides the account of a most remarkable response by God’s prophet to God’s call. Two notes of interest:1) Response to the divine invitation to take up the mantle of prophecy was never overly positive as the stories of Moses (Exodus 4), Isaiah (Isaiah 6), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1), Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1-3), Amos (Amos 7:14-15) indicate. Why is this the case? Why would people hesitate to do what God asked them to perform? Why the wish to retreat, to back away, to run like Jonah? Was it the job description? Was it the standard low approval ratings? Was it the lack of success most prophets experienced? Was it just a reticent personality?

    2) A number of prophets fled the scene after they had delivered scorching sermons; Jonah, called to go northeast, headed southwest even before he had begun his prophetic task or spoken a word to his intended audience. What makes Jonah’s reaction so memorable? Had other prophets been asked to contribute to the rescue and saving of mortal enemies? Was his case unique?

Contributions to the study of Jonah

  • There are literary and theological features at the very beginning of the story which add to its delight and its disaster. How much attention should we pay to literary considerations surrounding biblical books and stories? What do we gain by doing so? Lose by not reading carefully?

Lessons for Life

  • Is our response to what we sense God wants us to do based to some degree on our own personality? On our fears of failure or reticence?

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