Book Summaries

Fifth of the so-called Minor Prophets. Ancient Jewish tradition attributed the book to Jonah, a position uniformly rejected by modern critical scholarship. The book nowhere claims the prophet Jonah as its author, but reasoning by analogy from the fact that other prophetic works of the OT bear the writer's name as the title, there is no valid reason for assuming the book of Jonah to be an exception to what is otherwise the general rule. Of course, the title of the book might be considered simply as the name of its principal character, which would not challenge its authenticity. On the basis of certain Aramaic words and expressions, many modern scholars have suggested a postexilic authorship, though without necessarily denying its historical basis. However, recent discoveries have proved that the supposedly late Aramaic words and expressions were actually in use centuries before the time of Jonah. There is no objective evidence to indicate that the book of Jonah could not have been written at the time the prophet himself lived. Jonah's use of the 3rd person personal pronoun is in keeping with the style of other prophets, such as Isaiah (see Is 8:3), Jeremiah (Jer 20:1 ­3), Daniel (Dan 1:6 ­12), etc., and by numerous other ancient writers, such as Xenophon and Caesar. According to 2 Ki 14:25, Jonah prophesied the restoration of Israel's northern boundary in the reign of Jeroboam II. Accordingly, his ministry may be dated in the early part of the 8th cent., probably during the early part of the reign of Jeroboam II (c. 793 ­c. 753 b.c.). The record in v 25 also makes clear that Jonah bore a message to his own people as well as to the Assyrians in Nineveh. For a century and a half the northern kingdom had been separated from Judah, and the course of its history was characterised by ever-deepening apostasy and national corruption. The long reign of Jeroboam II witnessed a revival of prosperity and an extension of the boundaries of Israel to include all except Judah that had belonged to the Hebrew kingdom during the golden age of David and Solomon. Jonah had pictured this state of affairs, it apparently being God's intention to grant the nation a period of favour as an inducement to return to the true God. Nevertheless, Jeroboam "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (v 24), as did his successors, and some 30 years later the kingdom came to an inglorious end.

The book of Jonah differs from the books of all the other OT prophets in that its only message was addressed to the people of a foreign nation. Furthermore, the book is strictly narrative in form, and contains no direct message from the Lord except His command to the Ninevites to repent. The question naturally arises as to why the book of Jonah was accorded a place in the sacred canon. The answer doubtless lies in the fact that the narrative contained a lesson of value to Israel. In the first place, it condemns the intolerant prejudice of the Hebrew patriot, who refused to admit that non-Israelites could be considered eligible to salvation. It is certainly not likely that Jonah would have related a story that places him in so unfavourable a light unless, later, he came to realise his error and to sense that a report of the experience would help his fellow Israelites. In addition, the book lays stress on God's great mercy, demonstrated in sparing the lives of the heathen seamen (Jon 1:15), in sparing Jonah's life despite his disobedience (chs 1:17 to 2:10), in giving the Ninevites an opportunity to repent and in averting punishment when they did so (ch 3:2, 10), and in His patient dealings with Jonah (Jon 4:1 ­11). The narrative also reveals the simple means God often employs to accomplish His will (see chs 1:4, 17; 2:10; 4:6 ­8).

The book of Jonah has doubtless attracted sharper criticisms than any other portion of Scripture. From a human point of view the account is incredible, despite recent documented instances of similar character, since in the natural course of events Jonah could never have come through his experience alive. However, the question is not whether Jonah's experience can be demonstrated on a scientific basis, but whether God ever acts in supernatural ways to accomplish His purposes. For those who accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God, our Lord's simple declaration that the prophet "was three days and three nights in the whale's belly" (Mt 12:39, 40) is sufficient documentation of the miracle.

Summoned to announce the doom of Nineveh--obviously with an invitation to repent (cf. Jon 3:5 ­10)--Jonah sets out in the opposite direction, intending to flee "from the presence of the Lord" (ch 1:2, 3). The seeming hopelessness of the mission to Nineveh and of the prospect that its non-Israelite population might repent, led Jonah to shrink from the commission. His escape is thwarted, however, by a great storm, and as he is thrown overboard his life is spared by "a great fish" (vs. 4 ­17). Now repentant, the prophet prays for deliverance, and is returned to land (ch 2). Bidden again to go preach in Nineveh, Jonah complies (ch 3:1 ­3), and the people repent (vs. 4 ­10). Strangely enough, however, Jonah himself remains perversely impenitent, and is, in fact, so angry because the Ninevites heeded his warning that he implores the Lord to let him die (ch 4:1 ­3). His distorted sense of values is evident from his utter indifference toward the Ninevites and his great concern over the gourd that has withered. To God's question, "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" he petulantly replies, "I do well to be angry, even unto death" (v 9). The story closes abruptly with God's affirmation that the lives of the people of Nineveh are of infinitely greater value than the gourd (vs. 10, 11).

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.

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