Narrative :: Jonah: Introduction Notes on ch:  3  4  

Study Notes on Jonah (including Hebrew narrative) by Tim Bulkeley


Jonah Disobeys

Setting the scene

1:1 "Now the word of Adonai came to..." this phrase is quite common, especially in Deuteronomistic History, Jeremiah & Ezekiel (otherwise in the Prophets it is only found in Haggai & Zechariah and once in the whole of Isaiah); in some places the prophet is told to "go" 2 Sam 7:4-5; Is 38:4-5 and 1 Kgs 21:17-18 & Jer 13:3-4 (cf. 13:6 where the phrase is the same as in Jonah 1:2 ""Get up, go").

The phrase "Jonah son of Amittai" is surely a reference to 2 Kings 14:25 (or at least to the prophet mentioned there. The names mean 'Dove, son of My Truth'. Doves suggest two things to biblical writers: 

1:2 "Go at once to Nineveh" literally 'get up, go' cf. v.3 "Jonah set out to flee" literally 'Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish'.

1:3 "Tarshish" and even "Joppa" are in the opposite direction to Nineveh.

"went down" cf. 1:5; 2:6. In 1:3 - "He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down on board"; while in 1:5 - "But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep."

Three times Jonah is called to "rise"  
However, he only does so in 3:3, while by contrast in 3:6 the king of Nineveh also "rises", only to sit down in sacking and ashes.
 

Storm at sea

1:4 Ackerman (235-236) notes that the ship is doubly personified grammatically in unheard of ways 
Neither word refers elsewhere to inanimate objects (though in Zech 8:10 "wages/fare" refers to an animal).
 
1:5 "His god" (or gods) at this stage the sailors are simple pagans.
 
Ackerman (235) draws attention to the resemblance between yarketey hassepinah "the innermost parts of the ship" and yarketey Sapon.  This is the  difficult phrase which in Ps 48:2[3] refers to Zion as "the far north") and in Is 14 speaks of vaunting ambition to be like God, but in fact leading to the underworld - at the opposite pole from God's heavenly throne:
12 "How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
'I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.'
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the depths of the Pit.

What does one make of such possible echoes that fall short of being clear allusions? Do they help transfer feelings or attitudes between texts or are they simply examples of modern scholars over-reading?

Is Jonah's sleep a sign of trust in God or of even deeper flight? His motives are often unclear. For example, in v.12 is his request/offer to be thrown into the sea, vicarious self-sacrifice, or self-punishment and refusal of God's grace?

1:6 "Perhaps the god will spare us a thought" at this stage the captain is like most polytheists a pragmatist, any god will do if prayer offered to them "works"!

1:7 "the lot fell on Jonah" does the narrator assume that "lots" always work (magic) or is this another example of Adonai's rule of all? The answer to such questions risks revealing more about our world-view than about the narrator's!

1:8 Five questions tumble over each other before Jonah can begin to answer.

What does this suggest about:
   the sailors' state of mind
   Jonah?

1:9 "I worship Adonai, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." What a ringing declaration of faith! Or is it? Jonah is fleeing "from the presence of Adonai" 1:3, so in what sense does he "fear" him?

1:10 "Then the men were even more afraid" somehow, as well as Jonah telling them "that he was fleeing from the presence" of Adonai, they have become aware of the truth of Jonah's claims about Adonai, in their fear they are part way to faith!

1:11 Half way to faith, but not yet interested in theological issues their concern is "that the sea may quiet down".

1:12 "I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you." Has Jonah at last begun to behave better? Compare however his death-wishes later in the book, and how it is consistent to the last (4:3,9), and note the continued descent implied here.

1:13 "Nevertheless" the Hebrew is even more economical in its contrast of Jonah with the sailors, following straight from his statement it tells us "...and the men rowed hard". Jonah has faith "the God of Heaven" but no suitable works, the sailors work but as yet lack correct faith.

1:14 "they cried out" to Adonai just as Israel so often did in time of trouble, and just as Jonah has apparently failed to do so far!

1:15 For a number of verses the "camera focus" has been on the sailors rather than Jonah, from their point of view the words "the sea ceased from its raging" provide a conclusion to the episode.

At what point do you think the "camera" focuses on the sailors? What textual signs suggest this?

1:16 Having now seen convincing evidence that Jonah's "God of heaven" does indeed control the sea "they feared Adonai even more". Their "fear" leads to appropriate actions "sacrifice" and "vows". While Jonah's fine doctrinal statement of v.9 could produce only an attempt to escape followed by resignation!

1:17 The swallowing of Jonah by a large fish has proved a difficult tale for critics to take literally. Miskotte (426-427) has some wise words on this subject.

"The 'fish' will be strange and miraculous only if one thinks of the whole book, not as a sermon in the form of a novella, but as a historical chronicle of the adventures of a odd character - but even then not so miraculous that it is 'impossible'. It follows from this that it is an advantage to the preaching if the preacher has also learned to put the story, the haggadah, to the service of God's Word and self-witness, but that he who has not yet learned this need not find it a disadvantage, unless it be the disadvantage that he may encumber the whole sermon with the appearance of incredibility, because to many (and not merely 'modern') listeners it is this one point that appears incredible."

The great fish "swallows" Jonah, the action of "swallowing" is seldom neutral, usually it is God's enemies who are "swallowed". The vomiting of 2:10, which will reverse this, is also commonly negative. Job 20:15 is interesting as it has an interplay of "swallow", "vomit" and "belly" referring to the traditional fate of the wicked and godless person:
He swallows down riches and vomits them up again;
God casts them out of his belly. 
("belly" here in Job is beten, while the belly of the fish in Jonah is me'ah, but in Jon 2:2 the Psalm refers to beten she'ol).

"Three days" the parallel here to Jesus is suggestive, however we should remember that its meaning is often similar to the somewhat vague "couple of days" in English.


© Tim Bulkeley, 2003