Introductory Information: While there probably was a prophet by the name of Jonah – referred to in 2 Kings who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II - the Book of Jonah is not historical; it is a literary piece written probably in the 5th century BC, post-exile. My Jerusalem Bible says it is “intended to amuse and instruct; it is a didactic work and its doctrine marks one of the peaks of the Old Testament” (1141). “It rejects a too rigid interpretation of prophecy, asserting that even the most uncompromising of threats is an expression of the merciful will of God, who pardons at the first sign of repentance. Rejecting, too, the narrow racialism into which the post-exilic community was tempted to withdraw, it proclaims an astonishingly broadminded catholicity. All the characters of this story are likeable, the pagan sailors, the kind, the populace, even the animals of Nineveh, all except the only Israelite on the stage—and he a prophet. But God is merciful to all, even to rebellious Jonah. The lesson of humility and sincere repentance comes to the Chosen People from their bitterest foes” (1141).
“Jesus will cite the conversion of the Ninevites as an example of repentance, and Mt 12:40 sees Jonah inside the great fish as a prefiguring of Christ in the tomb” (1141). He is not citing the stories as “history” but as a familiar parable.
Jonah 1 – Jonah is told by God to get up and go to Nineveh, the great city, and tell them of their wickedness.
Jonah decides this is not what he wants to do. Instead he runs away and tries to hop a boat to the end of the world as they knew it then – Tarshish, at the westernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula.
But God sends a great storm. The men on the boat all turn to their gods and try to find out by lot who the guilty man on board is – there must be some man guilty for the forces of nature to have turned on them so violently. Jonah sleeps through this all. But when he is the one the “lot” reveals is guilty, he is interrogated. Surprisingly, it is Jonah who suggests to the others on the ship that they should throw him overboard. He accepts that it is his fault that the ship has come into this storm. They seem reluctant to do it, but they finally do.
The sea grows calm again and they are all “seized with dread of Yahweh” (1:16). They offer sacrifice and vows to Yahweh too.
Jonah 2 – A great fish is in the sea for the purpose of swallowing Jonah. He is in the fish for three days. In the fish, he prays to Yahweh.
‘Out of my distress I cried to Yahweh and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried, and you have heard my voice” (2:2-3). And his prayer includes these lines, which I love because it is what I feel I do every time I pick up the scriptures: “The waters surrounded me right to my throat, the abyss was all around me. The seaweed was wrapped round my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down into the countries underneath the earth, to the peoples of the past” (2:6).
He swears he will return to faithfulness, and Yahweh has the fish vomit him up.
Jonah 3 – A second time, Yahweh comes to Jonah and gives him the job of going to Nineveh. This time he goes and prophesies there that they have 40 days before God will destroy them. But here, unlike the many cities prophesied about in the other prophetic books, Nineveh completely repents”[T]hey proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least” (3:5). They do it in hope that God will change his mind and “renounce his burning wrath” (3:9), and he does. He “did not inflict on them the disaster which he had threatened” (3:10).
Jonah 4 – Jonah gets indignant when God does in fact relent. This was why he tried to run away from the start. “I knew that you were a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, relenting from evil” (4:2). He thinks it is not just that he is made to feel humiliated.
Jonah goes out of the city and makes himself a shelter where he can sit and mope. God makes a plant grow high to give him shade, but the next day God arranges for a worm to destroy the plant and the sun to come up strong that day, causing Jonah to be angry over loss of the transient plant. God tries to use his (Jonah’s) experience with the plant to teach him a lesson. If Jonah can be so upset at the loss of a plant that he had not given any time or attention to, then he should understand that the loss of a city like Nineveh – a great and highly populated city – would be VERY UPSETTING to God. Jonah should rejoice at the salvation of the city, not worry about his own image.
Jonah is the reluctant prophet, the prophet to the foreigners of Nineveh. Like Jonah, Jesus too will be sent to the “nations,” those people outside the Mosaic covenant with God. He is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the fulfillment indeed of every divine promise. The key to responding to Jesus (as it was to Jonah) is complete and sincere repentance. This is the door through which individuals (and nations) come to God.
Revelation 22 – Then angel shows him the “river of life, rising from the throne of God and of the Lamb and flowing crystal-clear down the middle of the city street”(22:1-2). On either side are “the trees of life” (22:2).
“It will never be night again and they will not need lamplight or sunlight, because the Lord God will be shining on them. They will reign for ever and ever” (22:5). The angel assures the prophet that all of this will soon take place “very soon now” (22:7).
“Meanwhile let the sinner go on sinning, and the unclean continue to be unclean; let those who do good go on doing good, and those who are holy continue to be holy” (22:11). Life will go on as usual. But “Happy are those who treasure the prophetic message of this book” (22:7).
These revelations are sent for the sake of the churches. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Happy are those who will have washed their robes clean, so that they will have the right to feed on the tree of life and can come through the gates into the city” (22:13-14).
The book ends with these words: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to make these revelations to you for the sake of the churches” (22:16). “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come’, Let everyone who listens answer, ‘Come’. Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free” (22:17).
I do “treasure the prophetic message of this book.” While I claim no sure knowledge of anything, it ties up the narrative in a spiritually coherent way. It makes this “library of books” – this Bible [both Old and New Testament], a unified narrative/vision of what our lives ARE/CAN BE on a spiritual plane. The creation story sees us humans as created to be the beloved spouse of our creator; but the conflict that arises when we DO NOT LISTEN to his voice, a conflict which we can follow through the history of “his people,” is seen as coming to an end that will realize His original intention. And if we engage ourselves in that story, really engage ourselves in it, we can be joined with ALL OF THOSE who have done so. The narrative is not meant to be interpreted literally. It is accessible our through our imaginations and our faith in the words [Word].
The vision communicated in this book will never die in the hearts of men and women. We KNOW that we were created to live nourished by this water and to live in a “forever” we cannot really explain.