Lessons from the Book of Jonah
A special sermon by Don Burgess, a wise and faithful missionary friend! July 18, 2010
"...the word of the Lord came to Jonah.... 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.' But Jonah arose to flee... from the presence of the Lord."
Emphasis added in bold letters below
Introduction: "...as a way of review, let's remind ourselves who the participants are.
There is, of course, Jonah, the reluctant prophet running from God who in the process gets swallowed by a fish before he is convinced to go to the evil city of Nineveh where he preaches and then is upset with God over the results.
captain of the ship in the first half of the book and the pagan sailors who come to a knowledge of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Then you have the
And in the second half of the book, there is the King of Nineveh and the evil Ninevites who experience a great salvation after Jonah's preaching.
And then there is the main participant of the book, God himself. He is the one who sends Jonah to Nineveh to preach, who pursues Jonah and sends the storm and the fish. It is he who saves the sailors and Jonah and the Ninevites. And it is he who shows such great patience with his reluctant prophet.
There are other participants in the book, or perhaps we can call them props. There is the ...the east wind and the hot sun and the vine that shades Jonah and the worm that kills the vine.
The book of Jonah is different from other prophetic books, as many have noted. The others are about what God taught the people through the prophet and Jonah is more about what the prophet himself is being taught.
Jonah was already a successful prophet when the events of this book took place (II Kings 14:25). He had prophesied that the Northern Kingdom under Jeroboam II was going to expand and it did. It was extended north to beyond Damascus to where it was during the time of David and Solomon. So, having been quit successful in his last assignment, Jonah must have felt a little twinge of pride and excitement when he heard God speaking to him again. But when he realized what God had in mind, he did not want any part of it. Expanding the Northern Kingdom was one thing, but going to the greatest city of one of the most powerful and cruel nations in the world and prophesying against it was another.
Jonah was not the only reluctant prophet in the Bible. Moses, for example, complained to God that he could not speak well: "Oh Lord, I have never been eloquent...I am slow of speech and tongue" (Ex 3:11, 4:10, 13). Jeremiah said that he was too young to do the job: "Ah, sovereign Lord...I do not know how to speak, I am only a child" (1:6). And there were others, like Gideon (Judges 6:11-15), but they talked it out with God and God convinced each of them they should go, and they went. Jonah, on the other hand, did not say anything when God called him. There was no discussion about it, he just took off—in the opposite direction.
Divisions: The book can be divided into two major sections which in turn divide into two other sections. Chuck Swindoll  put it quite succinctly. He said:
In chapter one Jonah runs from God. [This is the part about the ship that Jonah gets on.]
In chapter two Jonah runs to God. [This is the prayer-psalm that Jonah comes up with from the belly of the fish about how God helped him.]
In chapter three Jonah runs with God. [This is where Jonah obeys God, goes to Nineveh, and the wonderful results—perhaps the greatest revival in history.]
In chapter four Jonah runs up against God. [This is where Jonah bitterly complains about what God has done.]
Taking this a little further, you can see that chapter one is parallel with chapter three. There are many similarities. For example the pagan sailors of chapter one correspond to the pagan Ninevites of chapter 3. And chapter two has a number of parallels with chapter four. Or you can analyze the book with a chiastic structure of ABB’A’ because the first and last chapters are very complex structures with a lot of commands and questions and dialogues, and the middle two chapters are much more simple and idealistic.
Another interesting way to analyze this book, as one of the Jewish commentators came up with, is to divide it into seven scenes, each of which can be analyzed as a unit (Simon, p. xxv), and what I noticed is that in each of these you can find something to do with the number three. In the first one (1:1-3), the place name Tarshish is mentioned three times, in the second scene (1:4-16) three accusations are leveled against Jonah, and in the third one (2:1-11), Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, and so on.
So, there are many ways to look at this book, numerous levels on which you can approach it and analyze it, and when you think you have exhausted them all, someone comes up with another one.
Themes: There are also numerous themes which run through this book and you will have a hard time finding just one that expresses what the whole book is about. One is the idea that God reaches out to all peoples, not just the Israelites. And another is the conflict between God's justice and his merciful grace—Jonah wants the Ninevites punished and can't handle it when God forgives them.
Some have suggested that the most common theme is that of salvation, and this has a lot of merit. There is the salvation of the sailors, the salvation of Jonah from the sea, and the salvation of the Ninevites, and in the background there is always the idea of the salvation of the Jews. And the whole book hinges on Jonah's statement at the end of his psalm, right in the middle of the book, that salvation comes from the Lord.
I think that one of the main purposes of this book is to simply challenge our stubbornness and our pride and our self-centeredness and our prejudices. As we say in Spanish, "Somos muy burros." In English that would be more like "we are as stubborn as a mule." Wasn't that Jonah's problem? He thought he knew better than God, and he wasn't about to give in, and he was concerned more with his own comfort than the salvation of thousands of evil Ninevites. And when the end of the book comes we find that Jonah is still dealing with these matters. He has not resolved them. But just the fact that the book was written, shows us, I think, that he did eventually deal with them, as must each one of us. Either today or in fifty years, we will all have to come face to face with what Jonah had to deal with.
A look at the text: When Jonah heard that God wanted him to go to Nineveh, he was perhaps at his home town of Gath-Hepher about 3 miles from Nazareth. Or he might have been in Samaria, the capital of the Northern Kingdom. Where ever he was,he headed in the opposite direction from Nineveh, down to the Mediterranean port of Joppa which is about 35 miles from Samaria  Normally that would be about a two day walk.
At the port, he found a boat going to Tarshish and bought a ticket. For him to have paid for this fair, he must have had a considerable amount of money with him. This ticket would not have been cheap. Assuming Tarshish is in Spain, we are talking about a long trip. Taking into account all the stops along the coast and waiting for good winds, the trip could have taken a whole year, or more.
One of the Jewish commentators, by the way, thinks that the way the verb "to pay for" is used, indicates that Jonah bought up all the tickets. He was in a hurry and did not want to wait around for other passengers to show up before the boat took off (Simon, p. 6). I am not sure if that is right or not, but I do know that when we are running from God, we are willing to go to extreme measures in order to pull it off. And haven't you noticed, as Ray Stedman pointed out, thatwhenever you are running from God, there is often a boat sitting there waiting to take you.
By the way, there was another man in the Bible who was trying to get to Spain, the Apostle Paul. His motive, however, was somewhat different from Jonah's. Paul wanted to preach the gospel where it had not been preached before (Romans 15: 23-29). Jonah was trying to get away from all that.
The boat leaves Joppa and very soon a huge storm comes up. Jonah, however, does not seem to be bothered. He is down below deck asleep. The sailors, however, are upset. They realize this is not just an ordinary storm—the ship is in danger of breaking up. The captain of the ship is desperate. He goes down to where Jonah is and confronts him. "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we won't perish." This is the second monologue in the book. The first is where God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. In both of these cases Jonah does not reply.
Then the sailors get into the act. They think the storm is caused by something someone on the boat has done and they cast lots to find out who it is, and it falls on Jonah. So they fire a number of questions at him and this time he answers—one of the questions anyway. He says:
"I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land."
Can you imagine what those sailors are thinking: "Is this guy stupid, or what? He worships the God who made the sea and he tries to get away from him by getting on a boat!"
Literary devices: We are less than a chapter into the book and we begin to see the careful way this book was put together and some of the important literary devices used in this book. Words are very carefully chosen. Notice specifically the two words used for God. Jonah said, "I worship the Lord (Yahweh) the God ('Elohim) of heaven."
It is a very interesting exercise to go through this book and mark all of the uses of these two words and try to figure out how they are being used. It appears that
'Elohim is used in the sense of the God of justice, the creator who punishes and rewards, and
Yahweh, the name of the God of Israel, is used in a more intimate sense, that of the God of mercy.
In the last chapter, the two words are used together as a compound. It says: "Then Yahweh 'Elohim provided a vine...." This double usage seems to reflect God's mercy when he sent the vine to give Jonah shade, and God's justice when he took it away. And it is interesting that when Jonah was with the sailors, he talks about Yahweh and the sailors begin to worship Yahweh, but in the dealings with the Ninevites the word Yahweh (the God of mercy) is never used, only 'Elohim (the God of justice).
So, Jonah tells the sailors what God is doing with him and then goes on to say that they should throw him into the ocean so that the storm will stop. Much to their credit they do not want to do that. They try to row harder to get back to land. In accordance with historical descriptions of other boats of that time, there could have been between 30 and 60 oars on this boat, one row on top of the other  but even with all that power, they can't get back to land and so they throw Jonah overboard—they have no choice. The sea calms and the sailors, out of awed reverence to Yahweh offer a sacrifice to him and make vows to him which we assume they would complete when they get back to land.
One of the literary devices we can see here, very characteristic of this book, is one called ironic inversion. What we expect to happen often does not, rather the opposite happens. Jonah instead of going where God tells him to go, goes in the opposite direction. Instead of praying for calming of the sea, like a good prophet should, Jonah is down in the hold sound asleep. Pagan sailors and evil Ninevites act in exemplary ways that put Jonah to shame. Jonah's prayer is interrupted by his own anger. And we expect Jonah to eventually get things straighten out, but he never does, not in this book. He never acknowledges his own responsibility in getting into trouble, rather he puts it all on God. Even back on the boat he won't take responsibility for his own death by jumping into the sea like a "real" man would. He gets the sailors to throw him in—he makes them responsible.
Another literary device I want to point out is that of the use of conversation or speech. The book is basically narrative—there is a progression of time and space. But the real meat of the book is to be found where someone actually talks. And this is true of much of the Old Testament. The spoken words are what are important.
To illustrate the importance ofspeech as opposed to narrative in the book of Jonah, notice that the narrative part where the fish is mentioned is only three verses, but that the prayer Jonah offers to God while in the fish is eight verses long, and that the three verses of narrative are used to form brackets around the prayer--two just before the prayer, and one after. The spoken part is obviously what the author is focusing on.
Now look at the use of questions in this book. In chapter one, Jonah is asked one question by the captain and five questions by the sailors. And in chapter four he is asked three questions by God. And they areall questions that are just as relevant today as they were back then. "
What do you mean sleeping at a time like this?" Reminds us of the question Jesus asked the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. "What have you done to bring this awful storm upon us?" Sounds like the political discussions going on concerning the recent oil spill.
"Who are you?" Every psychiatrist in the country is asking this. "What is your work?" What country are you from?" "What is your nationality?" Sounds like immigration problems.
"Oh why did you do it?" We are always asking each other that question.
And God asked Jonah: "Have you any right to be angry?" I suspect that hardly a day goes by that God does not ask everyone in here that question in one form or another.
"Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" Think of all the trivial matters that we get angry over. The word angry, by the way, is used four times in this last chapter. And if you want to learn more about anger, that is a good place to look.
And then there is the last question by God: "Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?" And we have to ask ourselves: Why do we worry so much about our physical well-being when thousands upon thousands are dying without a saving knowledge of God?
The story has progressed to a certain point, the storm has calmed and the sailors offer sacrifice to Yahweh and make vows to him, but now the author has to go back and pick up what is going on with Jonah. It says: "But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights." And inside the fish Jonah prays, a prayer that is presented to us in the form of a psalm.
This psalm has been looked at in different ways by different people, and I am just now starting to get a handle on what I think is going on and we don’t have tome to get into that, but it seems to me that it expresses Jonah’s thankfulness to God for getting him out of the deep, and Jonah’s recognition that God can save whomever he wants, and that those who cling to “empty folly,” as Jonah did when he was trying to run from God, and as the Israelites were doing in their turning to idols, forsake their source of mercy.
Anyway, Jonah is vomited out of the fish, perhaps right on the beach at Joppa where he started his voyage, and it appears to me that he thinks he is on his way back home, and maybe he did get back there, but Yahweh is not through with him yet. Again he says: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you."
And here I want to point out the importance of repetition in this book. This is thesecond time God has given this command, and notice the word "great". Some form of it is used about 12 times—four times of the great city of Nineveh, the great wind, the great fear of the sailors, the great fish, the great ones of Nineveh (who were the king's counselors), and Jonah's great anger, etc. Repetition is all over the place. It is a major feature of the book.
Back to the story…this time Jonah goes. He gets to the city and on the first day of walking through the city Jonah proclaims: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." He does not say "If you don't repent you are going to be destroyed." There is none of that. He just tells them they've had it.
Most of the translations and commentaries suggest that Jonah started preaching as he entered Nineveh and preached that whole first day. But others suggest that he walked for one day into the city and there proclaimed his message, perhaps just one time. A Jewish translation (Tanach) says: Jonah started out and made his way into the city the distance of one day's walk, and proclaimed: 'Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" (3:4)
Chronological sequence: The events that follow Jonah's preaching, interestingly enough, do not seem to be in chronological sequence. In fact, a number of times in this book (at least seven) the author takes us up to a certain point and then circles back to pick up some details that he wants to point out. I already mentioned this out back when we were still on the boat, where the author took the sailors up to where they made a sacrifice before going back to pick up what was happening to Jonah.
And here, after Jonah preaches, the author first states what happened with the people at large. He says: "The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." And then the author talks about the king and what his part was in all this. He declared a fast and that everyone should put on sackcloth and change their evil ways. I want to suggest that what the king did came prior to what the people did -- that the author, after telling what the people did, circles back to pick up what the king did.
The main reason I suggest this is that several times in this book the author used what is called the pluperfect form of the verb, one of which is right here. This means that what is being described at the moment could have happened simultaneous to the preceding act, or prior to it. So, the king's making his declaration could have happened prior to the people putting on sackcloth and repenting.
The author is weaving a story and bringing to the foreground what he thinks is important. And to do that, he sometimes uses a fast forward and sometimes a flashback. I bring this up so that we can appreciate the creativity and artistry that has gone into the writing of this book. It is a masterpiece of literature, just as the rest of Scripture is.
Jonah's attitude: Let's go on now to a rather weighty matter that comes up in this book, one that many people are having to deal with in our modern world. It has to do with the question: How are we to understand Jonah's attitude towards the Ninevites? Jonah wants the Ninevites destroyed. Period.
To try to understand this, one thing we could talk about is the eastern cultural idea of saving face. If Jonah's prophesy did not come true, he would be considered a false prophet. He would be in trouble back home.
We could also look at Jonah’s attitude from the viewpoint that the Ninevites were among the most cruel people of the earth. For several hundred years the Israelites had had to deal with these people. And if God did not wipe them out, what was going to happen to the Israelites in the future? And it was not very many years later that the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and many of the Israelites deported.
Let me turn to a modern day example as to what could have been going on with Jonah, at least in part, taken from the book Things We Couldn't Say --A dramatic account of Christian resistance in Holland during World War II by Diet Eman (pp. 232-233). Diet was in a Nazi prison camp, and one of her jobs was to wash her captor's clothes, but one day they started bringing her cloths with a lot of blood on them and she realized that they were from Dutch prisoners who had been executed, and that they might have been from people she knew, including her fiancée. She writes:
"It was terrible. At that moment I began to be filled with hatred, absolutely filled with it. And then I lost something: I simply could not ask the Lord to help me to love my enemies anymore. I was praying, instead, for God's damnation on the Nazis, for his curse on them. I couldn't face the evil anymore; I had no strength to go on. I couldn't brace my mind anymore, couldn't hold it up with my strength, because I had none. After all those years in Underground work, and then the entire year they were constantly searching for me, terrifying my parents; after Hein's arrest [her fiancée], and then mine; and then waiting forever for a hearing that never came. Then the bloody clothes of men I might have known and loved—at that moment life was unbearable. The relentless fear and tension and anxiety overcame whatever meager power I could muster when I found my hands red with blood."
The rest of the story (just so you won't be left hanging): As Diet was being taken to her hearing before the Gestapo, one of her fellow inmates hurried by her and whispered: "Willie, I am going to storm the gates of heaven for you." And just before Diet got to where the hearing was to be, she says:
"...God's promises came to me: "Don't worry, If you appear before authorities and kings, I will give you the words, and not a hair of your head will be harmed without the will of your heavenly Father."
"Okay," I thought, "I have often broken my promises to you, Lord, but You'll never break Your promises. You take over now. You have promised it—now You have to do it." I said it to God as if I were confronting Him: "I am going to my hearing, and You have said that You would be my God. Now I'm going to hold You to it."
"Right then, while walking through the camp, my hatred disappeared. Don't be afraid, a little voice said. They can't hurt a hair on your head unless it's the will of your heavenly Father. At that moment I found comfort. I knew that whoever I would see there, no matter how cruel they might be, nothing and no one could touch me unless my God were to allow it. I went into that building in that frame of mind, with that assurance of that faith."
The book is very interesting. I hope you will read it.
Application to missions: Now, to bring this study to some application and conclusion, lets look a little more at how this might apply to missions, at elements of what a missionary might go through as seen in the book of Jonah.
And let me remind us that a missionary is not just someone who is in a special category of a Christian who goes off to a foreign country or to a different culture. Anyone who is a born-again Christian should be a missionary. Location is beside the point. Your mission field might be just across the street. I have been toying around with the idea that a missionary is someone whom God gets out of his comfort zone in order to do something that God wants done--someone who denies himself in order to help others....
Anyway, thinking about what we see here in the book of Jonah, let me pull out some things that I have experienced:
1. Long days of travel and physical discomforts— Nineveh was more than 500 miles from Jonah's hometown. Walking 15-20 miles a day, that would be a journey of more than a month (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, "Jonah"). But note that the place he was trying to flee to, Tarshish, was a whole lot further away. Do you know how far Spain is from Israel? From Tel Aviv to Madrid is 2,205 miles. And here is the point: It might be a long, hard row to hoe when you are doing what God wants, but don't try to go the other way. It is a whole lot further and you might end up in the belly of a fish. (And we have not said anything about Jonah's sitting under a rickety shelter for 40 days.)
2. Language problems—There are three languages involved in this book—Jonah spoke Hebrew, the Ninevites spoke Assyrian and the sailors probably spoke Phoenician. All three of these are Semitic languages related to each other, but even so, there must have been some difficulties in understanding. Perhaps that is why Jonah preached such a short message. Only five words in the Hebrew. (od arbaiym yowm v'ninveh nehpaaket) And I have a question here. Did he preach it in Hebrew or in Assyrian?
3. In many cultures you will not look like the natives—There is no way that most of us will ever look like people in cultures different from our own, even if we dress like them. We might be at least a foot taller than they are and not the same color. Jonah probably would have fit right in with the Ninevites if he had dressed like them....
4. You do not have to be perfect for God to use you as a missionary—You will find out as you go along the path where God is leading that He is as interested in straightening you out as he is the people to whom he is sending you. God will put you in difficult circumstances to reveal what is in your heart.
5. When God opens a door, Christians should take advantage of it—The whole Ninevite culture was changed. A huge door was opened, through which Jewish missionaries could have walked. What would have happened if Jonah himself had stayed in Ninevah and taught the people? When Jesus stayed a couple of days with the Samaritans, "many more believed because of His own word." (John 4:41) Would not Jonah's personal message have deepened the reliance of the Ninevites on not just 'Elohim, the God of judgment, but on Yahweh, the God of mercy as well?
Some think it was only about 37 years later that the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Perhaps that would have been delayed many years more if Israeli missionaries had done their job.
6. Be careful about playing down short-term missions. Missionaries who have been in missions most of their lives have a tendency to do this. But this book gives us a little different perspective. Jonah's mission was definitely short term. It would have only taken a few months, and he only preached, perhaps, once and his sermon was only five words long, perhaps memorized in a language he might not have understood, yet he had what was probably the most successful ministry of anyone in the Old Testament. We need to remember the verse upon which the book of Jonah hinges, right in the middle of the book: "Salvation comes from the Lord" not from you and me. And however God chooses to bring it about is his business.
7. The missionary effort of God is built on prayer—How do I get that out of the book of Jonah? It suddenly dawned on me one morning that this book is a book about prayer—it isfull of prayers.
It starts out with God talking to Jonah (with Jonah refusing to participate).
Then we have the pagan sailors crying out to their gods, and then to Yahweh.
Then we have Jonah's prayer from the belly of the fish.
Then God's talking to Jonah again, telling him again to go to Nineveh, which he does.
Then you have the King of Nineveh ordering the people to urgently call upon God.
Then we have Jonah praying, complaining to God about what he had done, with God coming back at him: "Do you have any right to be angry?"
Finally the author tells about Jonah sitting outside the city pouting: "It would be better for me to die than to live." He is ticked off and God is listening in and calls him on it and they have quite a conversation:
"Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?"
"I do," said Jonah. "I am angry enough to die."
But the Lord said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?"
And that is how the book ends. God has the last word. We can learn a lot about prayer from this book.
8. We need to reevaluate what is worthwhile—We often think we are not doing anything worthwhile, but there are consequences far beyond what we can see. And in the case of Jonah, Jesus himself used what happened to Jonah as an illustration of his own life. You find it twice in Matthew (Matthew 12:39, 16:4) and once in Luke (11:29). I'll read from the Luke account:
"As the crowds increased, Jesus said, 'This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation....The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.'"
Closing: To close with, let's ask ourselves again a few of the questions we have been talking about.
1) Do I understand God's plan for the nations—his mercy and his compassion?
2) Do I believe that God is leading me in a certain direction, yet I am doing everything I can to avoid that path?
3) Am I more worried over the trivial things in my life than I am the salvation of the multitudes?
4) Do I need to identify the Ninevites in my life? The King of Nineveh characterized them as evil and violent people. Do you know anyone like that? How do you pray for people like that? What does justice demand? How does grace fit into all that?
Anyway you look at our world today, there is a great price to be paid to accomplish God's work. As Elizabeth Elliot said in one of her talks entitled "The Gift of Suffering": "There are worlds to be redeemed...but they can only be redeemed through pain." Jonah is a good example.
"I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction,
And He answered me. ...
When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord
And my prayer went up to You...Salvation is of the Lord.” Jonah 2:2, 7, 9
I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
By Don Burgess
Peninsula Bible Church Cupertino. July 18, 2010
Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1981.
Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, 6. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Baker, David W., T. Desmond Alexander and Bruce K. Waltke. Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Downers Groove, Il: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary, "Jonah". Victor Books, 1985.
Brackman, Arnold C. The Luck of Nineveh (Archaeology's Greatest Adventure). New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1978.
Eman, Diet. Things We Couldn't Say (A dramatic account of Christian resistance in Holland during World War II). Silverton, Oregon: Lighthouse Trails Publishing, 2008.
Licht, Jacob. Storytelling in the Bible. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, 1986.
Price, Brynmor F. and Eugene Nida. A Translators Handbook on the Book of Jonah. London: United Bible Society, 1978.
Simon, Uriel. The JPS Bible Commentary—Jonah. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1999.
Sermons: Ray Stedman (1966), Doug Goins (1993), Ben Woodward (1996), Steve DePangher (2008), John Piper (1981).
Swindoll, Charles R. The Living Insights Bible (NIV). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996
1.Living Insights Study Bible
2. Bible Knowledge Commentary "Jonah", p 1465).
3. The boat, as we said, was going to Tarshish, a word with a very interesting history (Anchor Bible Dictionary, "Tarshish".). There are three persons in the Old Testament with this name:a great-grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:4), a great-great grandson of Jacob through Benjamin (I Chron. 7:10), and one of the seven princes who were advisers to the king in the book of Esther (1:14). The word belongs to a class of names drawn from words for precious stones, thus it is associated with mining, and the large ships that carried the metal were called by the same name, Tarshish ships, some of which were in the service of Solomon. The most likely place that is being talked about here in Jonah is in Spain on the Guadalquiver River, an area with a name very similar to the word Tarshish (Tartessus), and known for its metals. No one, of course, is really sure of the location. The only thing we really know is that Jonah was headed west, the opposite direction from Nineveh, and that he was trying to get as far away as he could.
4. It literally says that the ship "thought intently" about breaking up (the only place in the Old Testament where an inanimate object is used with this verb--UBS, p. 11, Simon p. 8).
5. The New Bible Dictionary "Ships and Boats".
6. See Robert Alter's book The Art of Biblical Narrative, pp. 69-70.
7. They are abandoning the bounty, the hesed, that God gives them. (Some folks, by the way, think that if you study this psalm you can see hints that the fish perhaps swallowed Jonah when he was down towards the bottom of the sea, not right after he fell in. But I will let you wrestle with that one.
8. Robert Alter says, "One of the most imposing barriers that stands between the modern reader and the imaginative subtlety of biblical narrative is the extraordinary prominence of verbatim repetition in the Bible" (p. 88).
9. The United Bible Society commentary for translators points out that this type of thing is going on in this book, and Moffatt's translation actually switches a few events around to put them in a more chronological order. I don't think we need to do that. We don't need to change the order. We just need to understand what is going on.
10. Bible Knowledge Dictionary, "Jonah", p. 1469.
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