The Rebellious Prophet: An Exegetical Commentary on Jonah

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Introduction

Background1

Determining date and authorship of Jonah remains problematic, as explicit references do not exist within the narrative. Consequently, scholars must consider linguistic and historical factors to approximate such information.2 Traditionally, many ascribe authorship to Jonah son of Amittai (cf. 2 Kings 14:25), placing the book somewhere in the eighth century (BC).3 However, some scholars note literary and historic features which appear to suggest a much later date, prompting them to postulate a publication between the sixth and fourth centuries (BC).4 Nevertheless, Jonah references Nineveh as a “great city” (Jonah 1:2), suggesting the events take place before the city’s destruction in 612 BC.5 Accepting an early date means that the city would not have reached its apex of prominence, yet Nineveh was still one of the major metropolitan areas in Assyria with a perimeter of about three miles.6 Geographically, the city sat on the east bank of the Tigris River, in the area of modern-day Mosul, Iraq. Establishing the literary genera remains a point of contention among scholars as well. Conventionally, theologians classified Jonah as a historical narrative; however, certain literary features (and the extraordinary events which transpire throughout the account) cause contemporary scholars to conclude the story is fictional.7 Nevertheless, none of these considerations justifies one in discounting the historicity of Jonah, and since the book’s didactic and satirical nature are undisputable, it appears best to classify the narrative as didactic history.8

 

Identifying Prevailing Conditions

In the opening chapter, God causes a great storm as a result of Jonah’s disobedience (Jonah 1:4), providing dire conditions for both Jonah and the sailors. Transitioning into the second chapter, Jonah resides in the belly of a giant fish (Jonah 1:17) where he remains for three days. Conditions within the city of Nineveh (Chapter 3) significantly change after Jonah preaches of the impending doom. For this point forward, the city remains in a state of humble repentance, actively hoping for God to relent (Jonah 3:7-9). Finally, Jonah’s conditions are uncomfortable (in Chapter 4), as God disciplines him and reveals a fundamental aspect of His character.

 

Main Characters

God and Jonah comprise the main characters of the story. God remains the central character of the narrative, demonstrating His sovereignty by directing the story with His actions and accomplishing His purpose despite Jonah’s rebellion. Jonah is an ironic figure who stands in contrast to the rest of the characters in the story. Considering the historical context, Jonah serves as a microcosm of disobedient Israel as he is presumptuous of God’s mercy while remaining bitter, lazy, and rebellious. Rather than fulfilling his mission to be a light to the nations, Jonah is nationalistic and self-absorbed, eventually accomplishing his prophetic assignment begrudgingly.

 

Major Argument

The primary purpose of Jonah is to demonstrate God’s character, mainly his grace, mercy, and compassion for humanity, while demonstrating that “Salvation belongs to the Lord,” (Jonah 2:9). Within the historical context, the book would have also served as incitement of the original audience, highlighting their narrow-minded, nationalistic worldview, and their active disobedience in the pursuit of prosperity and idolatry.

 

Major Themes

In short, the phrase “Salvation belongs to the Lord,” (Jonah 2:9) serves as the primary theme of the narrative, while God’s compassion and human repentance remain supporting themes. Throughout the narrative God saves the sailors (Chapter 1), Jonah (Chapter 2), and the Ninevites (Chapter 3), underscoring both God’s character and the importance of genuine repentance in the life of every person.

 

Exegetical Outline

1.       Jonah disobeys God’s command, attempting to flee His presence (1:1-17).

1.1       Jonah flees the presence of the Lord, traveling to Tarshish (1:1-3).

1.2       God exercises discipline against Jonah, sending a tempest to hinder his efforts (1:4-6).

1.3       Jonah’s guilt is exposed to the sailors, and they recognize him as the cause of their troubles (1:7-9).

1.4       Jonah confesses his sin, admitting the tempest is a result of his rebellion against God (1:10-14).

1.5       Jonah experiences the consequences of his actions, as he is thrown into the sea where a giant fish swallows him (1:15-17).

2.       Jonah praises God in the midst of his tribulation (2:1-10).

2.1       Jonah prays from inside the fish (2:1-9).

2.2       God responds, rescuing Jonah from the fish (2:10).

3.       Jonah finally obeys God’s command to preach in Nineveh (3:1-10).

2.3.1    God gives Jonah a command and a message (3:1-4).

2.3.2    Nineveh repents as a result of hearing Jonah’s message (3:5-9).

2.3.3    God demonstrates mercy to Nineveh as a result of their repentance (3:10).

4.       Jonah’s hardened heart contrasts God’s compassion and mercy (4:1-11).

4.1       Jonah reveals his anger in light of God’s gracious and merciful character (4:1-3).

4.2       God disciplines Jonah as he sulks (4:4-8).

4.3       God’s abundant compassion is revealed to Jonah, contrasting his anger (4:9-11).

 

Interpretation and Exposition

1:1-3. Commencing the account, the narrator introduces the main characters (Yahweh and Jonah), as God issues an imperative and provides an explanation to Jonah. Although the narrative does not specify the mode of communication, the Old Testament employs the phrase “the word of the Lord” at least 390 times to denote a divine communication—introducing the majority of prophetic writings—and Jonah clearly understands the content and recognizes the originator of the message.9 Contemporary scholars recognize Nineveh as “the capital of one of the cruelest, vilest, most powerful, and most idolatrous empires in the world,” and other Old Testament prophets recognize the city’s immorality (cf. Nahum 3; Zephaniah 2:13).10 Accordingly, both Jonah and the original audience could identify with, and would likely welcome, God’s fury toward Assyria. Moreover, the original audience would likely draw a comparison between Nineveh and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as both cases involve the depravity of particular cities which has become so great, that God can no longer delay judgment.

However, as a commissioned prophet of God (and a main character of the story) the original audience would never expect Jonah to flee in response to God’s command, as Jonah emphatically announces his unwillingness to obey God’s command, challenging His authority with tenacious rebellion. The expression is idiomatic, suggesting Jonah’s desire to abscond Israel, to a place where Yahweh is not worshiped, perhaps hoping God would select someone else for the task.11 Additionally, the passage underscores the futility of Jonah’s actions and the incongruous nature of the situation in light of God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.

 

1:4-6. As Jonah begins the journey to Tarshish, God disciplines His prophet by sending a great storm to thwart his efforts. Unexpectedly, the account presents an ironic role reversal, as Jonah continually represents a negative example, while gentile pagans offer an exemplar. Describing the unfolding events, the narrator underscores the stark contrast between the actions of God’s prophet and the sailors by recounting the sailors’ frantic attempts to escape the storm—actively petitioning their gods and fervently seeking their divine intervention—while Jonah rests in silence. Recognizing the ineffectiveness of their efforts, the captain approaches Jonah, vaguely hoping the religion of this obscure passenger might assist them.12

Eloquently elucidating the passage, professors Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page write, “There is extreme irony here: a ‘heathen sea captain’ pleaded with a Hebrew prophet to pray to his God. It is sobering to see one who might be termed an ‘unbeliever’ pleading for spiritual action on the part of a ‘believer.’ The ‘unbeliever’ saw the gravity of the situation while the prophet slept.”13 Additionally, the scene emphasizes Jonah’s indomitable taciturnity and staunch rebellion toward God, while his “stoic indifference to death” reveals the “magnitude of his crisis of faith,” and his utter disregard for the lives of the people aboard the ship underscore his disdain for the Gentile world.14

 

1:7-9. Seeking to determine who is responsible for the calamity, the sailors cast lots, potentially hoping to determine 1) which deity is the cause of the storm and 2) what has been done to arouse the anger of that particular god.15 Although God causes the lot to fall on Jonah, the information remains unspecific, requiring the sailors to question him further.16 Answering their inquiry, Jonah ironically claims to be a fearful worshiper of Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth. The elaboration Jonah “appends to the name of his God is meant to eliminate all doubt concerning that deity’s absolute dominion over the entire universe,” and implies His sovereignty over the storm.17

 

1:10-14. Responding to the sailor’s questioning, Jonah confesses his guilt and recognizes his disobedience as predicating the terrific storm. Becoming increasingly fearful of death, the sailors seek to appease Yahweh, asking Jonah’s how they might convince Him to relent. However, they appear to recognize the value of human life and initially refuse to throw Jonah from the ship, continuing to fight against the wind and waves instead. (Again, this exemplifies the ongoing dissimilarity between the pagan sailors and Jonah—as they exhibit more compassion and regard for his life, than he does for theirs.) Realizing the futility of their efforts, the sailors finally concede, humbly petitioning Yahweh before hurling Jonah into the sea. Surprisingly, the pagan sailors pray for protection against the storm, seek vindication before sending Jonah to his death, and recognize the ascendency of Yahweh in the situation.18

 

1:15-17. Serving as agents of divine justice, the sailors toss Jonah overboard, where a giant fish swallows him. Immediately, the storm ceases, and the sailors witness the supreme power of Yahweh first-hand. As a result, their fear of death transforms into submissive awe, apparently manifesting in repentance, as the sailors begin sincerely worshiping Yahweh.19 As the sailors exit the story, they again represent a stark contrast with God’s prophet. Ironically, Jonah has inadvertently brought the message of Yahweh to a group of Gentiles—the very task he sought to avoid at the beginning of the chapter.

Although the narrative does not specify the type of fish that swallows Jonah, Bible scholars believe it to be a mammal, sperm whale, or whale shark.20 Additionally, the phrase “three days and three nights,” does not necessarily designate a 72-hour period, but may represent a 24-hour period, bracketed by part of the previous and succeeding days.21

 

2:1-9. Suffering the consequences of his rebellion, Jonah prays from inside the stomach of the fish. Corresponding to the events of chapter one, Jonah’s experience ironically parallels that of the sailors, as he 1) faces a crisis at sea, 2) prays to Yahweh, 3) receives deliverance, and 4) offers sacrifices and makes vows.22 Jonah’s prayer represents a standard poetic phraseology, comprising a song of thanksgiving for divine deliverance.23Although Jonah seems to recognize his disobedience has severed his fellowship with God and initiated God’s disciplinary response (vv. 3-4; 1:10-14), there is no indication that Jonah is genuinely repentant.24  While Jonah remembers the Lord (v. 7), petitioning Him for help and offering thanksgiving for His assistance, Jonah never admits wrongdoing or asks for forgiveness. Instead of realizing the moral reprehensibility of rebellion, Jonah only seems to recognize its futility.

Emphasizing this point, Old Testament scholar John H. Walton writes, “[There is not] a single line that suggests Jonah has recognized the error of his ways and is anxious to pack his bags and head for Nineveh. . . . Furthermore, the attitude he demonstrates in ch. 4 suggests the contrary is true. The lesson Jonah seems to have learned is not that it is wrong to disobey the Lord and try to escape one’s commission, but rather that it is fruitless.”25 Incongruously, Jonah remains grateful for God’s mercy, yet actively objects concerning God’s extension of mercy to the Ninevites. Thus, professor Robert B. Chisholm Jr., comments, “One would hope that his bout with death might give him some sympathy for the Ninevites’ plight and a greater appreciation for the task God gave him. However, the disdain he showed for the pagans foreshadowed the attitude he would display in the story’s final scene.”26

 

2:10. Despite Jonah’s lack of repentance, God demonstrates compassion and mercy by rescuing the undeserving prophet from death. Additionally, God’s sovereign itinerary will not be hindered by creaturely rebellion, as Jonah’s tribulation results in reluctant obedience. Accordingly, God commands the fish to deposit Jonah on an undisclosed beach so that he can begin his journey to Nineveh.

 

3:1-4. Commencing chapter three, the story progresses much as the original audience would have expected at the beginning of the book, with God issuing a command and His prophet immediately complying without hesitation or objection. Although the text does not specify where Jonah began his journey, many commentators assume the fish deposited Jonah in Joppa—the port from which Jonah attempted to flee to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3). If this assumption is correct, Jonah would have to travel 500 to 600 miles, a journey taking approximately a month to complete.27 However, some see a possible contradiction, as verse three references a “three days’ journey.”28 Accordingly, we must recognize that Jonah’s departure from Joppa is merely conjecture, and it is impossible to be dogmatic about the location.29 Additionally, when consulting the original language, it seems the author is attempting to convey the fact that Jonah’s prophetic ministry would take approximately three days to complete.30 Clarifying this point, Walton writes,

The city gate was frequently the location of business transactions as well as of public proclamations or decrees. Sennacherib’s Nineveh had more than a dozen gates around the city. Jonah’s itinerary would have included many if not all these gates, plus perhaps the palace, the temple courtyards, or other public places. . . . I interpret the comment not as a reference to the length of the journey or the size of the city, but rather as a comment on the temporal scope of the project. The task set before Jonah was expected to take him three days to complete.31

Alternatively, the author may employ the verbiage as a simple means of communicating a general, not specific, size of the city.32 While the former explanation seems superior, both remain viable solutions, and neither alters our understanding of the text nor undermines the Joppa assumption.

At this point, the reader also receives the content of Jonah’s message, which specifies God’s intent to exercise divine judgment over Nineveh, resulting in its destruction at the end of forty days. It is vital to avoid eisegetical interpretations, as Jonah does not appear to preach a message of repentance nor one of monotheistic religion.33 Instead, the extent of Jonah’s message appears to be the imminent destruction of Nineveh; nothing more and nothing less.

 

3:5-9. Astoundingly, the Ninevites—like the pagan sailors before them—respond positively to Jonah’s message, heeding the warning and desperately humbling themselves before God by calling for citywide fasting, dressing in sackcloth, petitioning God, and forsaking immorality. Again, there is no indication that the Ninevites equate repentance to salvation, as the king’s decree indicates a remote hope of obtaining God’s favor and the possibility of Him relenting. Additionally, believing God’s message does not indicate a fundamental shift to monotheism or a radical conversion to Judaism; rather, it merely signifies the Ninevites trust the threat of pending judgment is valid, thus prompting their humble repentance.34 In fact, the original language uses the word אֱלֹהִים (ʼĕlôhîym), a generic term for God, in the sentence: “And the people of Nineveh believed God” (v. 5). This fact reinforces the notion of Jonah’s unspecific message of condemnation. At this point, the Ninevites only believe 1) an unnamed God has the power and authority to punish the city, and 2) the judgment will occur within forty days. In other words, the people understand they must turn from their evil practices, but the narrator does not explain if they realize a moral obligation to turn to Yahweh.35 Nevertheless, the Ninevites present a striking contrast to Jonah in the first chapter, as they immediately, positively, and sincerely responding to God’s simple message.

 

3:10. As a result of Nineveh’s humble response, God demonstrates mercy, delaying judgment upon the city and saving it from destruction.36 Regrettably, some view this passage as an indication that God changed His mind; however, the passage 1) demonstrates the purpose of prophetic warnings, 2) underscores God’s compassion and mercy, and 3) reinforces the fundamental role of repentance. Firstly, prophetic warnings purpose to elicit repentance, not communicate an absolute destiny.37 This principle receives foundation in Jeremiah 18:7-8 as God says, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.” Accordingly, God’s prophetic warnings demonstrate His compassion for humanity, expressing His desire for everyone to come to repentance rather than destruction (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). Finally, God’s mercy in the case of the Ninevites highlights the fundamental role of repentance, as God relents on the basis of the Ninevites humility, rather than a legalistic moral adherence, exemplarily faith, or religious devotion.

 

4:1-3. Transitioning to chapter four, Jonah’s anger presents a stark contrast with God’s compassionate and merciful character, as Jonah reveals the reason he fled in the first place. Understanding God’s character and steadfast love toward humanity, Jonah knew His actions would correspond with His divine attributes. Accordingly, Jonah foresaw the repentance of Nineveh as their only logical course of action and concluded that God would honor their humility by sparing the city.38 Consequently, Jonah is consumed with anger, objecting to God’s grace and mercy, and desiring what he considers the only just outcome—the complete destruction of Nineveh. Wonderfully encapsulating the scene, professors Hoyt, et al., write,

Jonah’s judgment of Yahweh’s mercy as unjust results in Jonah growing very angry. He perhaps views his anger as righteous indignation. Jonah has a strong conviction about what should happen (judgment not relenting), and it conflicts with Yahweh’s actions. Jonah, whose job is to communicate with humans on Yahweh’s behalf, has the audacity to condemn Yahweh’s actions. This gravely unjust act, this perceived great evil, makes Jonah furious.39

Jonah’s prayer demonstrates his self-righteous and arrogant attitude, and pointily explains his vehement disobedience at the beginning of the book. Furthermore, it illustrates the fact that Jonah’s prayer in chapter two was not a genuine prayer of repentance. Although Jonah praises God for his mercy and grace in the wake of his rebellion, the prophet ironically deems these same attributes unjust when they benefit Nineveh. Ultimately, Jonah’s anger is with God, not the pagans, as he remains “unable to reconcile his desires with Yahweh’s. Instead of accepting Yahweh’s mercy toward wicked people, he would rather no longer be part of such a world where Yahweh’s actions do not fit into the black-and-white grid of right and wrong that Jonah has established.”40 Jonah’s actions and attitude continue to represent a contrast with the pagans, as he actively continues in his wickedness while desiring death, whereas the pagans humble themselves before God and petition Him for salvation.

 

4:4-8. Despite Jonah’s defiance and disrespect, God gently begins disciplining Jonah, asking a probing question to expose his theological misunderstanding. Nevertheless, Jonah is unwilling to repent of his attitude, stubbornly ignoring God’s question and positions himself to observe the fate of the city—seemingly hoping for its destruction. As Jonah waits, his improvised shelter becomes inadequate to protect him from the sun, so God produces a plant to shade him and provide relief. Although relief from the heat of the Mesopotamian environment would have been a justifiable cause for Jonah’s joy, some commentators speculate he may have seen the miraculous growth of the vine as an “indication of God’s favor and thus a vindication of his own feelings of disappointment at Nineveh’s repentance.”41 In any event, God quickly removes the protection of the plant, before causing harsh weather conditions, as He continues to discipline Jonah and eradicates any notion that Jonah’s attitude is justified. Remaining unrepentant, unable or unwilling to recognize his fault, Jonah continues to sulk while continuing to pray for death.42

 

4:9-11. Using the object lesson of the plant, God contrasts His mercy with Jonah’s anger and His abundant compassion with Jonah’s lack thereof. Exhibiting an utter lack of regard for the value of human life, Jonah actively welcomes the destruction of Nineveh, becoming furious at the notion of God extending mercy to the city. At the same time, the prophet demonstrates greater concern for the miraculous plant than the Ninevites. The fundamental principle is that God’s creation—especially people made in His image—remain exponentially more valuable than the plant, and their destruction would elicit far more grief to God than the plant’s death brought Jonah. Consequently, professor Smith concludes,

Yahweh then pointed out how inappropriate Jonah’s anger was. Jonah had “compassion” on the plant which he did not plant, cultivate and make grow. In that plant, he had invested nothing. His concern for the plant was dictated by self-interest, not genuine love such as a gardener might have for his plants. That plant was here one day and gone the next. It had no lasting significance. Yet Jonah was sorry it had died. Should not then Yahweh have compassion on Nineveh? He created all those people. He loved them. That Yahweh should show compassion on them would be most natural.43

Jonah’s attachment to something so fleeting provides a small insight into the tremendous attachment God has with His creation, while his attitude and actions provide a stark contrast with the nature of God, especially His compassion and mercy. Although the story appears to end abruptly, the story ends with a clear contrast between God and Jonah, while God’s rhetorical question empathizes His great compassion and promotes self-reflection of both the prophet and the audience.

 

Application

 

As a didactic narrative, Jonah presents numerous theological, moral, and religious principles for practical application of both the original audience and contemporary Christians alike. First, the story underscores our moral responsibility to obey God’s directives by presenting Jonah as a negative example. When the narrative begins, the original audience would have been shocked and appalled as Jonah vehemently disobeys a divine command and refuses his assignment. In other words, Jonah remains unreconciled to the will of God.44 Unsurprisingly, as Jonah contumaciously misuses his free will, God demonstrates His supreme authority by appointing a great storm and a giant fish to discipline the prophet. Ultimately, the audience is to understand the moral responsibility to adhere to God’s commands, while recognizing the futility of insubordination against the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Sovereign. As Christians, we must heed Jonah’s negative example, seeking to obey God’s instruction in an attempt to 1) honor and serve Him, 2) experience meaningful fellowship with God and other people, 3) enjoy God’s blessings, and 4) avoid the negative consequences of sinful behavior.45

Second, the story accentuates God’s divine characteristics of compassion, mercy, and grace. As a commissioned prophet of God, Jonah’s rebellion does not arise from religious ignorance; instead, his insurrection is a consequence of his theological understanding. Jonah recognizes God’s abundant compassion and profuse mercy (experiencing it himself in the narrative), yet he wants God to withhold grace from Nineveh and exercise unyielding judgment instead. Essentially, Jonah has a shallow faith—knowing theological facts about God, but not identifying with His attributes or understanding His will. Theologian James Montgomery Boice puts it this way: “[Jonah] knew something of God, it is true. But he did not know God well enough to grieve over sin as God grieves over sin or to rejoice at the repentance of the sinner. Instead, he was like the older son of Christ’s parable, who sulked while the father celebrated and felt cheated by the prodigal’s return.”46

Regrettably, many contemporary Christians suffer from the same spiritual apathy as Jonah. We know specific facts about God, and perhaps even enjoy the benefits of being a Christian, but we make diminutive attempts to reconcile our will with His and rarely extend His offer of salvation to the lost and hurting. Accordingly, we ought to recognize Jonah as a practical demonstration of God’s compassion, grace, and mercy, remembering the grace God extends to all humanity through the person and work of Christ, and seeking to emulate His compassion in our daily lives. Jonah’s story ends with a rhetorical question, designed to promote self-reflection on the part of the audience. Ultimately, each Christian must ask himself the same question: Do my thoughts, attitude, and behavior correspond with God’s character?

Third, the narrative draws attention to the importance of repentance and humility toward God, contrasting the respectful actions of the pagans with Jonah’s self-righteous, arrogant, and complacent attitude. Because God is compassionate, He provides instruction and correction, warning the Ninevites of their detrimental behavior and providing them with an opportunity to repent. As a result, God’s warning produces its intended effect, prompting the Ninevites to humble themselves before God and turn away from their evil actions. Because God is merciful, He responds to human repentance by extending grace, ultimately sparing Nineveh from destruction.47 Accordingly, we see that repentance is a fundamental prerequisite to experiencing God’s mercy. Lamentably, we often harbor an attitude similar to Jonah, failing to understand the depths of our depravity and arrogantly expecting God’s grace. Accordingly, we must recognize the extent of our moral decadence in contrast to God’s holiness, actively seeking to turn from our wickedness while simultaneously appreciating the tremendous grace God extends to us through the person and work of Jesus.

Finally, Jonah subtly reinforces the Scriptural tension between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, emphasizing the essential nature of both. Jonah expresses an orthodox theological understanding, yet his behavior runs contrary to Scriptural principles and the fundamental nature of God. Discussing the aspect of the narrative, professors Hoyt, et al., comment,

Jonah is a paradox. He has orthodox theology, but his actions are in direct contrast to his theology. . . . We must also be careful not to segregate our head knowledge from the rest of our lives. Too often one is elevated, and the other is minimized or completely ignored. We must strive to grow in both. Do not fool yourselves into thinking head knowledge is superior to a growing spiritual obedience—or vice versa. We need both. Neither can exist in isolation. Be very cautious; having good theology does not mean you are following Yahweh. As Jonah shows us, one can have good theology and be in full rebellion against Yahweh.48

Our culture is becoming increasingly sensitive to religious hypocrisy, and it seems that some of the most religious people are also the most immoral. Consequently, we must continuously engage in honest self-reflection, acknowledging the significance of both theological understanding and practical application, while actively working to progress in both areas.

 

 

Footnotes

  1. All Scriptural references are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
  2. Jonathan Magonet, “Jonah, Book of,” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1992), 940.
  3. Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Jonah, Book Of,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1988), 1205; Stephen R. Schrader, “Jonah,” in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995), 3:644.
  4. Magonet, “Jonah, Book of,” 941.
  5. Ibid., 940.
  6. Victor Harold Matthews, et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jonah 1:2.
  7. Donald J. Wiseman, et al., Obadiah, Jonah and Micah: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, vol. 26 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 75-84.
  8. Ibid., 84; R. B. Salters, Jonah and Lamentations (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 48.
  9. John H. Walton, “Jonah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel-Malachi, rev. ed., ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 8:469; Schrader, “Jonah,” 3:644.
  10. Elliott E. Johnson, “Nahum,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1494.
  11. Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX: Word Incorporated, 2002), 31:450; Walton, “Jonah,” 8:469.
  12. Hans Walter Wolff, A Continental Commentary: Obadiah and Jonah (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), 113.
  13. Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, The New American Commentary, vol. 19B (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 231.
  14. Uriel Simon, Jonah, JPS Bible Commentary (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1999), 7.
  15. Walton, “Jonah,” 8:471-472; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 460; JoAnna M. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, ed. H. Wayne House and William D. Barrick, Evangelical Exegetical Commentary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018), Jonah 1:8.
  16. It is important to note that not all scholars agree with this interpretation, and see the lottery as definitively revealing Jonah’s guilt. Accordingly, they postulate the following dialogue is an indictment rather than an interrogation. See Simon, Jonah, 11. However, Jonah’s response appears more in line with general questioning, rather than an indictment.
  17. Simon, Jonah, 12; Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 234.
  18. James E. Smith, The Minor Prophets, Old Testament Survey Series (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1994), Jonah 1:4-16.
  19. Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 237; Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 1:16.
  20. John D. Hannah, “Jonah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1467; Schrader, “Jonah,” 3:646.
  21. Hannah, “Jonah,” 1:1467; John Peter Lange et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Jonah (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 25.
  22. Schrader, “Jonah,” 3:646; Hannah, “Jonah,” 1:1467.
  23. Walton, “Jonah,” 8:475.
  24. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 2:10.
  25. Walton, “Jonah,” 8:477.
  26. Robert B. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 412.
  27. Walton, “Jonah,” 8:478; Matthews, et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Jonah 3:1-4; Hannah, “Jonah,” 1:1468.
  28. Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets, 413.
  29. Smith, The Minor Prophets, Jonah 3:1-4.
  30. Ibid.; Chisholm Jr., Handbook on the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Minor Prophets, 413; Walton, “Jonah,” 8:478; Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 486-488; Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 3:3.
  31. Walton, “Jonah,” 8:478.
  32. Brynmor F. Price and Eugene Albert Nida, A Translators’ Handbook on the Book of Jonah, UBS Handbook Series (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1978), 92.
  33. Walton, “Jonah,” 481-482; 484; Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 3:4.
  34. Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 261; Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 3:5; Walton, “Jonah,” 484.
  35. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 3:8.
  36. This verse appears written for the benefit of the reader, as God does not appear to communicate His decision to withhold judgment of Nineveh. Accordingly, after Jonah completes his task, he leaves the city and waits to see the outcome (Jonah 4:5). This nuance is important for understanding the subsequent chapter, as Jonah does not know God will relent, but he understands God’s character enough to anticipate His response in the wake of the Ninevites repentance.
  37. Smith, The Minor Prophets, Jonah 3:10.
  38. Walton, “Jonah,” 486.
  39. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 4:1.
  40. Ibid., Jonah 4:3.
  41. Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 279.
  42. Numerous commentators suggest the narrator intends to convey a symbolic role reversal between Jonah and Nineveh (cf. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 4:4-11). However, this contention appears based on implicit verbiage viewed within the context of contemporary hindsight. Unless publication of the book occurs after the eventual destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC, it does not seem reasonable to expect the original author or audience would equate the plant (i.e., God’s mercy) and its destruction (i.e., God’s removal of mercy) with this event and the future destruction of Nineveh.

    Furthermore, the Scriptures do not specify such an interpretation, and in the subsequent verses, God contrasts Jonah’s compassion for the plant with His compassion for Nineveh, highlighting the fact that Jonah’s more troubled by the death of the plant than the destruction of an entire city. Given God’s discourse concerning this object lesson, it appears remiss to view the plant as symbolic of God’s mercy, and its destruction as the removal of the same. Finally, the ultimate destruction of Nineveh is not a result of God removing His mercy, but rather a consequence resulting from the moral debauchery of future generations. Again, there is no indication the Ninevites converted to Judaism or monotheism, they merely demonstrate a humble attitude in response to God’s message and repent of their wickedness. Indeed, this alteration proves short-lived, as future generations continue in the morally debased actions of the Assyrian culture and never embrace Yahweh as their God.

  43. Smith, The Minor Prophets, Jonah 4:9-11.
  44. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 305.
  45. It is important to remember that sin also affects those within our sphere of influence as well. For example, Jonah’s actions put the lives of the sailors in jeopardy, leaving them with a damaged ship and without their valuable cargo.
  46. Boice, The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary, 306.
  47. It is essential to understand that repentance motivates but does not necessitate God’s mercy. For more interaction with this theological distinction, see Kevin J. Youngblood, Jonah, ed. Daniel I. Block, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 141-143.
  48. Hoyt, Amos, Jonah, & Micah, Jonah 4:4-11: Application and Devotional Implications.

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