- Structure of the book of Jonah. As we enter chapter 3, something becomes apparent upon a close reading of the story: chapters 1 and 3 begin the same way (the command to Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh) and must have some kind of connection with each other. Chapters 2 and 4 also begin similarly (Jonah prayed to God). Should we attribute this to coincidence or is there a reason the inspired writer packaged the story of Jonah in this creative fashion? What might it suggest in terms of the role of human poet/storyteller in relation to God in the inspiration process? What does it say about the care with which biblical speakers/writers left the legacy of their stories? What clues should we watch for in our close reading which will help us understand and appreciate the story more? Can theology actually come to us by means of literary structure and pattern?
- Second chances. The story of Jonah is filled with second chances. List these and see how they relate to each other. Who deserves second chances? Who gets them in this story? What does it mean to the story that Jonah here has a second chance, an opportunity to go northeast to Nineveh again rather than southwest to Joppa? Should the Ninevites have more than one chance? Should foreigners have more chances than Israelites like Jonah? What does all of this say about God’s grace: who controls grace? to whom “should” it be given? to whom should it be denied?
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Read through the entire book of Jonah.
- Jonah 2:10. God speaks to the fish. So far, God has “tossed” and “appointed” in the story. Now God talks. The story has God speaking only to the fish (to disgorge Jonah in mercy and deliverance) and to Jonah (to quit complaining about the mercy and deliverance he has offered the Ninevites). Something ironic about this!Speaking in the ancient world carried with it power, especially if vows, blessing or cursing are involved. Words, once out, were active and worked toward the fulfillment of their meaning. They could not easily be changed, as the stories of Balaam and Balak (Numbers 22-23), and Jepthah (whose rash vow in Judges 11 cost him his daughter’s life) demonstrate. This is a different world from the one where most of us reside. Here we have a command. Not just any command, but a command by the creator of sea and dry land. And the command results, like the creation commands in Genesis 1, in movement away from the watery chaos to the security of dry land. God commands and it stands fast, according to the creation hymn of Psalm 33. How much did creation images bounce around in the heads of ancient hearers of this story? What significance would it have carried?
- Jonah 3:1-2. A second chance in the second call to preach in Nineveh. Preaching, because it was oral communication, also carried with it a kind of power. If indeed God was speaking through the prophets, then an audience ought to pay attention.
- Jonah 3:3. From the archaeological record (a recent Bible dictionary would be helpful here), we know that the walls surrounding Nineveh at the time extended nearly 7.5 miles around the well fortified city. What would this have meant to a small-town prophet from Galilee?
Contributions to the study of Jonah
- Part of the message of the story of Jonah has to do with second chances. How do they play out in the account as a whole?
Lessons for Life
- It might be interesting to consider second chances we sense God has extended to us. Then we need to move, as the story of Jonah suggests in the prophet’s case, to think about extending second chances to others.