The Book of Jonah

One highlight in Philip Peter Jenson’s commentary in Obadiah, Jonah, Micah: A Theological Commentary is his interpretation of the human condition. He states, “Human beings have both a capacity for evil (1:3) and for repentance and right behavior (3:8)” (Jenson 37). The Book of Jonah consists of characters including the sailors, people of Nineveh, and even Jonah himself, whom can be analyzed through their relationship with God. The sailors can be seen as tough men, who end up being the ones to repent for Jonah’s doing; The Ninevites are brutal people who ask God for forgiveness and Jonah is not so happy with the fact that God will forgive his enemies (Jonah 4: 1). To understand this in terms of the human condition, we can say that we all have bad in us, however, it does not translate to an evil in disguise as some might think. Based on each person’s relationship with God, we are able to understand why people act in certain ways, and in Jonah’s case, why he didn’t understand what he was told. Throughout reading, the reader is able to catch onto the unusual circumstances being laid out in front of them. If Jonah is a prophet, why isn’t he in compliance to God’s instructions while others of weaker character are?
Jenson also mentions the significance of the limited conversation between God and Jonah throughout The Book of Jonah: “The brevity of the account and the emphasis on action omit a great deal, particularly the content of the message Jonah is meant to proclaim…” (Jenson 42). Jonah’s first action, running away, emphasizes the unusual dynamic: a prophet disobeying God’s order. Later, God confronts his action with another and sends him into the fish (Jonah 2:1). No verbal discussion takes place between God and Jonah, but one still understands the other. In the end, God’s actions allow not only Jonah, but the reader to see and understand why God had been doing all of these things to Jonah. When a conversation finally strikes up, God’s final question resonates with the reader and makes them wonder, are they playing the role of Jonah in their own story?
Irene Nowell’s commentary in Jonah, Tobit, Judith furthers the reader’s understanding of Jonah’s actions. A question is posed at the end of the book but is left unanswered (Jonah 4:10-11). Nowell explains how this question is intentionally unanswered and left to the reader’s interpretation (“Jonah’s Anger and God’s Reproof”). We see how different people in the story respond to God, but what about us? This final thought completes their analysis of the truth behind Jonah’s actions in relation to God’s commands. We can also question whether Jonah’s actions against God are justified and whether God’s justification for his forgiveness is something Jonah can understand given his self-defined character. The idea of the gourd plant being given to Jonah and then being taken away in an instant shows God’s power over all things. So, why then did Jonah become angry when what was given to him had been taken away, when God had his followers in Nineveh, and they had then been turned astray (Jonah 4:9-11)? This shows that God allowed them to repent in order to restore their worship, what will Jonah do to restore his faith?
The Book of Jonah represents the selfish nature of the people in this world and how their actions affect those around them. For example, Jonah had selfishly taken another route opposite of Nineveh and in return God sent a storm affecting the entire ship’s crew. People then and now are still looking out for themselves and only pay attention to their own beliefs rather than adapting to other’s lifestyles. We, as readers, can learn a lot from this book and apply it to our everyday lives. Instead of staying inside that little bubble of beliefs, expand it and allow yourself to indulge in this new world.
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