Evangelical Lutherans in Mission ELIM Program of Education for Responsible Christian Action PERCA THE BOOK OF JONAH Alfred

von Rohr Sauer Concordia Seminary in Exile The youth of Missouri might say that the objectives of a course in the prophet Jonah should follow the strains of one of their favorite songs: We sail a ship with a man named Jonah! Lord, our God, have mercy upon us! What shall I do when the world is drowning? Lord, send a fish and a resurrection! The fish would thus be the focal point and the objective would be to teach a world that is in process of drowning, how sorely it needs the Christian message of the resurrection. The college English major might point to Herman Melville's whale novel, Moby Dick, and suggest that the sermon preached by Father Mapple shows us how to use language that the reader or listener can understand: Shipmates, the book of Jonah teaches us a two-stranded lesson: It is a lesson to us all as sinful men, because it is the story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment of Jonah. But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe there is a sure delight. Top gallant delight is to him who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God. Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake from his sure Keel of the Ages. Communication would then be the focal point and the objective would be to proclaim the message of Law and Gospel in language that is attuned to the listener. The nurse or physician might be curious about the shadetree in Jonah 4 which many scholars have identified with the castor oil tree. As castor oil is recognized as an excellent remedy for a stomach ache, so the Lord used a castor oil tree to cure a prophet who was afflicted with a spiritual stomach ache. The Hebrew word for the castor oil tree, kika-yon, suggests the paraphrase: Kick Jonah! He needed a swift kick in the pants. He needed it because of his prejudice, because of his antiNeneveh attitude. The Lord proceeded to give him that kick by raising up the shade tree, kika-yon, over him and then taking it away from him.


The book of Jonah closes without stating whether the prophet learned the lesson of the castor oil tree. It is more important to ask: Have people learned that lesson today? Surely it is time for a spiritual purging! Time to be cleansed from pride and prejudice, time to renounce pet peeves and gripes, time to stop being defensive and apologetic. We need to be confident and aggressive in the church's program. We need to thank God that in Christ He is revitalizing his church and filling it with a new sense of its mission. We need to move out under the Spirit's guidance into the world's Ninevehs, to share with them the privileges and responsibilities of our discipleship. The Life of Jonah Many Bible students with conservative training are persuaded that the book of Jonah must be interpreted literally as a series of events that really took place. When committed Christians uphold such a traditional interpretation, they should not be chided. Rather their position should be regarded as an honest effort to understand this Biblical book. But neither should such traditionalists be critical of or antagonistic towards other Christians who have the same commitment to the Word of God, but who hold that there are counter arguments which are too formidable to permit such a literal and historical understanding of the book. Such non literal readers plead for the right to interpret the book of Jonah as a parable or a didactic narrative. A parable is simply a short story that is designed to teach the reader a lesson. Didactic narrative has the purpose of conveying a religious teaching, not necessarily of presenting factual history. The fish incident is really a subordinate part of the book of Jonah. Of the forty-eight verses that comprise the book only three have to do with the fish. It may therefore be preferable to connect the Jonah incident with the conversion of Cornelius in the New Testament, Acts 11:18. After Peter had explained to the Jerusalem church how Cornelius had been converted in Joppa, the Christians of Judaea said, "This means that God has granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles also." What a fine summary that is of the teaching of the book of Jonah! Such God-pleasing repentance of the Gentiles is taught more clearly in the book of Jonah than anywhere else in the Old Testament. With such an accent the Jonah account takes its place beside the second portion of Isaiah, chs. 40-66. Among the so-called twelve minor prophets this teaching of Jonah puts it in closer relationship to the New Testament than any of the other eleven.

Preliminary Questions Why is it likely that the book of Jonah was written at a time much later than the historical prophet Jonah, son of Amittai, the prophet of Gath Hepher in Galilee who lived around 760 B.C.? 1. The book uses many words and phrases that became current in Hebrew literature only about 200 years later, for example, a. the God of heaven, 1:9 e. appointed, 1:17; 4:6; b. give a thought to, 1:6 4:7; 4:8 c. quiet down, 1:11; 1:12 f. decree, 3:7 d. because of me, 1:12 g. labor, 4:10 h. myriad, thousand, 4:11 2. The author's familiarity with the affairs and life of the sea suggests that he must have lived after 538 B.C., the geginning of the Persian Period, because it was only at that late time that the people of Israel learned to know the world of the Mediterranean Sea at close hand. 3. The narrow nationalism and rigid exclusiveness of Ezra and Nehemiah around 444 B.C. marked a situation that called precisely for the message of the book of Jonah. The classic universal world-view of Amos 9:7; Micah 4:2; Isaiah 6:3 had become so dimmed during this late period that it needed to be restored by the little book of Jonah. PERCA -Jonah Preliminary Questions What does the name Jonah mean? 1. Jonah means a dove. The fact that the people of Israel are sometimes compared to a dove (cf. Hosea 7:11 and Hosea 11:11) has moved some scholars to interpret the book of Jonah allegorically or symbolically. They propose that while there was a historical Jonah according to 2 Kings 14:25, the character in the prophetic book was created as a symbol of the people of Israel. This Jonah's activities were merely a mirror of the way the people of Israel acted. 2. Are there other parables or symbolical stories in the Old Testament? Five such accounts have been noted: a. The Tale of the Two Men in One City, 2 Sam. 12:1-4 b. The Tale Told by the Widow of Tekoa, 2 Sam. 14:6-7 c. Jotham's Tale of the Trees, Judges 9:8-15 d. Joash's Tale of the Thistle and the Cedar, 2 Kings 14:9 e. The Tale of the Missing Captive, 1 Kings 20:39-40


Didn't Christ teach in parables? Our Lord used the symbolical story with singular effect. Instead of speaking about the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man in the abstract, Jesus told the colorful parables of: a. The Prodigal Son b. The Good Samaritan

What are some of the questions that arise, if Jonah is interpreted as an actual happening? 1. Is it conceivable that a true prophet would ignore a divine summons and disobey God? 2. Would God raise up a great tempest just to catch and curb a prophet? 3. Is it likely that the lot would fall on the right person right away? 4. Is it not striking that the sea was stilled as soon as Jonah was thrown overboard? 5. Is it reasonably credible that Jonah survived 72 hours in the whale's belly without suffocating? 6. Did the book not have a highly exaggerated notion of the size of the city of Nineveh? 7. Was Jonah able to speak in Hebrew to the Assyrian-speaking inhabitants of Nineveh? 8. Is there any other instance of animals putting on sackcloth? 9. Did a Hebrew prophet ever bring about the repentance of an entire heathen city, as Jonah did? 10. Why is there no record elsewhere in the Bible or in the Ancient Near East that the people of Nineveh believed the unbelievable threat of an unknown stranger? 11. Does the castor oil tree grow with such extraordinary speed that it grows up in one night, as the text states? 12. Whence came the remarkable worm that caused the shade tree to die? But could God not have performed all of these miracles? No responsible Christian would deny that God could do that many wonders, for with Him all things are possible. But a Christian who is concerned about the twelve-step chain reaction in the book of Jonah could surely ask "Did God really do these miracles?" Does the evidence make it obligatory to believe that every one of those twelve episodes did in fact actually happen? Are the form, style and subject matter of the book of Jonah not strikingly similar to those of some very well-known fairy tales? May that not suggest the possibility that the book of Jonah is a tale, a story whose purpose is to teach a highly significant theological lesson?

What essential items are missing in the book of Jonah which one would expect to find there, if the book really described an historical event? 1. Where was Jonah residing when God's first call came to him? 1:1-2 2. At what geographical point was Jonah spat out on the dry land? 2:10 3. What experiences did Jonah have during the long journey from the Mediterranean cost to Nineveh on the Tigris river? 3:3 4. What was the wrong-doing for which Nineveh was to be overthrown after forty days? 3:4 5. Which specific Assyrian king was on the throne during Jonah's visit? 3:6 6. What did finally happen to the prophet and to the city in which he had preached? 4:11 In what ways did Jonah act differently than any other Hebrew prophet? 1. Instead of obeying the Lord's summons, he rebelled against it. 2. Instead of seeking the Lord's presence, he fled from it. 3. Instead of wanting his hearers to receive his message, he hoped that they would reject it. 4. Instead of directing poetic oracles against Israel, he left a prose story that says more about the prophet than about the people. N.T. References Did Jesus regard the Jonah episode as a historical event? Did Jesus hold that the prophet Jonah actually spent three days and three nights inside the great fish? Three answers have been proposed for this question: 1. Jesus did believe and say that the fish really swallowed Jonah, but he held this view simply, because he was a child of his time. As a devout Jew Jesus accepted what his contemporaries believed, namely, that the Jonah episode was for real. This explanation may be challenged by some, because it appears to deny that our Lord knew all things perfectly. But it must be noted that in his humiliation Jesus chose not always to use his omniscience; he needed to grow in wisdom and stature like an ordinary Jewish boy, Luke 2:52. By limiting his understanding in this way Jesus wanted to show that he was indeed a real man like one of us. 2. Jesus neither believed nor said that Jonah survived 72 hours inside the fish. Luke 11:29-32 does not refer to


the fish at all; this text simply suggests that the "sign of Jonah" was his preaching on repentance in Nineveh. The Son of man preached repentance, just as Jonah had proclaimed this theme. In Matthew 12:38-42, on the other hand, the "sign of Jonah" is the three days and three nights in the life of Jonah and Jesus: As Jonah was in the fish that long, so Jesus would be in the earth the same length of time. How may this difference between the two evangelists be explained? Luke's account may well be the earlier. Is it therefore the more original? Matthew gave the "sign of Jonah" a new emphasis by applying the words of Jonah 2:1 to Christ's resurrection. In Matthew Jonah told the Ninevites about his miraculous deliverance and that message was the means of bringing them to repentance. This explanation is both sound and sensible and does not conflict with any article of faith. In this connection see also Matthew 16:1-4. 3. Jesus did not address himself at all to the question, whether the episode in the book of Jonah actually took place. He used this incident in order to admonish his contemporaries. The impact of such admonition would be just as strong, if he used a story or a historical event to illustrate it. Surely Jesus could say that his being in the grave would be comparable to the experience of Jonah without thereby implying that Jonah had "really and truly" been swallowed by the fish. But how about the men of Nineveh who according to both Luke and Matthew will arise at the last judgment and condemn the erstwhile contemporaries of Jesus? Do these texts not constrain us to conclude that the historical men of Nineveh heard Jonah preach, that they actually repented, and that they will really rise in judgment against the New Testament people? Not necessarily! Jesus was pointing to the people of Nineveh as the outstanding example of the impenitent who finally turned to the Lord. All impenitents, he held, will one day be judged by the penitents. But this is far short of concluding that all characters who are chosen to illustrate a theological truth must necessarily be real historical people. Nor does it follow that, if Jonah was not swallowed by a fish, then Jesus was not really raised from the dead either.

Outline of the Book of Jonah 1. The Runaway and his Prayer, Jonah 1-2. 2. The Missionary and his Problem, Jonah 3-4. QUESTIONS ON THE LIFE OF JONAH 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. At what time did Jonah, the son of Amittai, live? Was the book of Jonah necessarily written at the time of this historical prophet? In which three passages does the New Testament refer to the prophet Jonah? How do these N.T. references affect our interpretation of the book of Jonah? Has the book of Jonah always been interpreted as referring to an historical event? Does it make any difference, if the book is interpreted literally or parabolically? Had the book of Jonah not been in the Scripture, Luther could have judged it to be a fairy tale. Would it be wrong today to say that the book is a parable or story, even though it is in the Bible? Who is the real actor, the chief character, in the book of Jonah? Summary of Jonah 1 The seventeen verses of the first chapter of Jonah are so familiar, that it is not necessary to summarize them. QUESTIONS ON JONAH 1 1. Jonah ran away, because his God demanded that he renounce his prejudices. Do we shrink from such a responsibility? Do we profess maximum ideals, yet content ourselves with minimum action? 1:3. First by his flight, then by his anger Jonah repudiated the God of his fathers. Do we do the same when we refuse to forgive or are unwilling to comply with our Lord's Great Commission? 1:3; 4:1; 4:9. Is the casting of lots a God-pleasing way to reach a decision today? 1:7. Personal contact with strangers and foreigners on board ship made Jonah like them so much that he was willing to die for them. Do we seek such personal contact with synodical opponents, other Lutherans, atheists, blacks and women? 1:8-12 "He paid the fare thereof" (Jonah 1:3)



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Melville's explanation of this phrase shows how much can be read into the text by the interpreter (Moby Dick, p. 785). When Jonah asked the ship's captain how much the fare to Tarshish was, the already suspicious skipper decided to check this strange passenger very carefully. HE DEMANDED THREE TIMES THE USUAL AMOUNT for such passage and Jonah agreed to pay. That convinced the ship's master that Jonah was indeed some kind of fugitive. No wonder the captain rang every coin Jonah gave him to make sure it was not counterfeit. Lesson: Is that not eisegesis rather than exegesis? Summary of Jonah 2 For a summary of Jonah 2 see CTM Volume XLVI, Number 2, March 1973, pp. 137-139. QUESTIONS ON JONAH 2 Is Sheol or the realm of the dead the same as hell in the Old Testament? 2:2. 2. What does the psalm mean, when it says the bars of Sheol have eternal bolts? 2:6. 3. Can you select from the Jonah psalm a) the lines that have to do with eternal bolts? b) the lines that have to do with (eternal) life? 4. Did the Hebrew say, "I went down to Sheol" when he lost consciousness? 2:6. 5. How do verses two and seven of Jonah 2 demonstrate the need and power of prayer? 2:2; 2:7. 6. How do the words, "Salvation is of the Lord" in the last phrase of the Jonah psalm provide the connecting link between the psalm and the last two chapters of the book? 2:9b. 7. How would you prepare an Easter meditation on the basis of the Jonah psalm? Summary of Jonah 3 When the Lord for the second time sent the prophet Jonah to preach in the great heathen city of Nineveh, Jonah obeyed. He told the people of Nineveh to repent of their sins, he said that in forty days Nineveh would be overthrown if its inhabitants did not repent. But Jonah did not want the people of Nineveh to repent. He hoped that they would ignore his preaching and would therefore be destroyed by the Lord. 1.


Instead of that, however, the inhabitants of Nineveh did repent. They turned from their evil way and cried unto the Lord for mercy. From the greatest to the least of them they fasted and put on sackcloth. Even the animals were given nothing to eat or drink. When the Lord saw that the Ninevites repented of their sins, He decided out of great mercy not to punish these people, nor to overthrow their city. He spared them, pardoned them, forgave them! What does this mean in our lives today? God still spares and pardons evil doers, if they but turn from their evil ways and repent. He sends his messengers to our penitentiaries, reform schools and houses of correction to preach repentance to those confined there. There are numerous examples of the most incorrigible criminals repenting and turning to God. God sends His ministers into our parishes to admonish those of us who have erred. They preach repentance to all manners and sorts of sinners: back-sliders, slanderers, drunkards, thieves, marriage breakers. Thus the Lord calls to all to turn to Him for forgiveness and the promise of life. The size of the ancient city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:3-4) 1. During the 1st century B.C. Diodorus Siculus designated the circumference of ancient Nineveh at about 62 miles. That appears to mean that, if Jonah hiked at the rate of 20 miles a day, he could well have gotten around the city in three days (see Jonah 3:3). But when the ruined walls of Nineveh were first measured in the middle of the 19th century, a figure of 708 miles was arrived at, that is, about one eighth the distance of Diodorus. In a contemporary inscription King Sennacherib of Assyria states that he increased the circumference of Nineveh from three miles to six miles. How are the differences in 1-3 to be explained? Both the inscriptions and the ruins agree on a much smaller figure than Jonah and Diodorus. It seems that at the height of its glory (700-600 B.C.) the city of Nineveh measured about 6-8 miles in circumference. That glory was so great that, when people talked about it centuries later, the dimensions of the city were greatly expanded. If then Jonah and Diodorus were written a long time after Nineveh's fall (612 B.C.), their elaborated description of the city would be quite understandable.


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QUESTIONS ON JONAH 3 1. Over against the narrow religious particularism of later Judaism this chapter stresses both the Lord's worldwide universalism and also the Lord's mercy as his basic characteristic. How do these two lessons apply to the situation in our church today? How large was the city of Nineveh at the time of its fall in 612 B.C. 3:3-4. How does the description in 3:4 compare with the dimensions of the city as listed in Assyrian inscriptions and as computed by archaeological evidence? In what way can it be said that it is possible for an unchanging God to repent? 3:10. Summary of Jonah 4:1-5 When the prophet Jonah found out that the Lord had decided to spare the penitent people of Nineveh, he was exceedingly displeased. He told the Lord that this was the very reason why he had not wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place: He was afraid the Lord would spare Nineveh and he did not want Him to. The Ninevites or Assyrians were enemies of the people of Israel and therefore Jonah wanted them to be destroyed. He wanted God to show mercy to the Israelites, but not to the Ninevites. Now the Lord had decided to spare Nineveh and Jonah did not have the fortitude to submit to this. He told the Lord that he wanted to die, that he would rather be dead than see the people of Nineveh spared. Our Lesson from Jonah 4:1-5 Think of possible occasions on which we Christians are inclined to act as Jonah did. Suppose a criminal is sent to prison for burglarizing our home or violating our daughter or committing some other grievous crime against us. Will we tend to be so angry with such a person that we will want him to be deprived of God's grace and forgiveness, that we will not want a chaplain to visit him and preach repentance to him? That would be playing the same role that Jonah did! An incident similar to Jonah's may take place in our own parish or neighborhood. We may see a neighbor or fellow Christian commit a sin that grieves us terribly. We will talk to him and urge him to repent, but he refuses. We talk to him some more, even take someone else along and try to persuade him, but he still refuses. Do we say to ourselves, "I'll see to it that the neighborhood hears about this, I'll even report it to our church!"

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When we ask such an erring brother or sister to appear before the community or congregational meeting, do we take pleasure in telling our peers how flagrantly he has acted? Do we expect the group really to bear down on him and remove him? What if the Lord then brings him to repentance, he is forgiven, he continues as a member in good standing? Are we then inclined to vent our wrath, because we expected punishment to be assessed? That would certainly show that we are no better than the prophet Jonah. Summary of Jonah 4:6-11 The shanty which Jonah built for himself out of interlaced tree branches did not afford sufficient shade to protect him from the heat of the sun. So the Lord caused a castor oil tree with large heavy leaves to grow up over him to shield him from the sun's stinging rays. Like Elijah under the juniper tree Jonah sat down under the castor oil tree. The shade tree served as such a good umbrella that Jonah was quite pleased with it and became exceedingly fond of it. But then the Lord sent a worm to attack the tree, so that it withered and died. The Lord also raised up a scorching east wind to plague Jonah along with the hot rays of the sun. The prophet became exceedingly faint and told the Lord that he wanted to die. But the Lord said, "Do you do well to be angry about the castor oil tree?" At this point Jonah was so out of sorts that he answered, "I do well to be angry, even unto death!" He figured that the Lord had not only spared the Ninevites, but now he had also taken away the delightful shade of the castor oil tree. Wasn't that good reason to be angry? By answering as he did, however, Jonah unwittingly led over to the very lesson which the Lord wanted to teach him. The Lord argued as follows: "You, Jonah, did not want this castor oil tree destroyed, you had pity on it, even though it cost you no work, even though you did nothing to make it grow, even though it grew up in one night and died in one night! Very well, Jonah! Now apply that same lesson to the people of Nineveh! Without mentioning older people, there are more than 120,000 children living in that city who will die if I destroy it. There is also much livestock in the city that will be destroyed if I do not spare it. Is it not clear, Jonah, that you are entirely wrong in pouting and sulking as you do, because the city is to be spared? -Is it not clear that I am completely right in forgiving the city?"


But then the Lord said to him, "Do you do well to be angry? Is your anger justified? Do you have good cause to sulk and pout?" Had Jonah been true to his calling as a prophet, he would have had to answer, "No, Lord." He had no reason to be angry; rather he had every reason to rejoice because God had spared the Ninevites. But Jonah refused to change his attitude, he kept on sulking. Without even answering the Lord, he went outside the city, built himself a shanty there, and decided to wait and watch whether the Lord would not change his mind and destroy the city after all. Jonah had not yet learned his lesson, he still wanted the Lord to destroy the Ninevites rather than spare them. Today's Lesson from Jonah 4:6-11 This section teaches us that we ought to love our brethren and fellow Christians, even though they may be in the opposite camp. We ought to love them and have pity on them as the Lord taught Jonah to love the people of Nineveh. We ought to do this especially as we oppose one another and wage theological warfare against one another. Ephesians 6 reminds us that we do not contend with flesh and blood, rather we wrestle with principalities and powers, with the spiritual hosts of wickedness, with the wiles of the devil himself. Therefore we are to join forces with our fellow Christians throughout Christendom in our common struggle against the forces of Satan. We ought to welcome as partners in this battle all of those who are willing to put on the whole armor of God. When these brothers and sisters assure us that their loins too are girded about with truth, that they have put on the breastplate of righteousness, that their feet are also shod with the Gospel of peace, that they have taken the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, then we ought to welcome them - one and all - on the side of the forces of the Lords The Van Ling Window in the Cathedral Church of Oxford, England (Jonah 4:5) The famous Jonah window is located in tha nave of Oxford Cathedral, on the west side of the north aisle. It was done by the Dutchman Van Ling during the first half of the seventeenth century. The prophet is seated in the corner on the left, wearing a red mantle with a blue robe underneath. The rich green foliage of the shade plant with its olden fruits in the form of bells is gracefully draped over on . The


blazing summer sun beats down the beautiful city of Nineveh houses and azure roofs, calls artist of Nürenberg, Albrecht

from above. In the background with hills of purple, brown to mind the work of the great Duerer.

Kika-yon, the Castor Oil Plant (Jonah 4:6) King and Hylander point out that in the tropics the castor oil tree reaches a height of thirty to forty feet; its leaves can be as large as three feet across. In temperate climates the kika-yon (ricinus) is an annual and gets to be only about twelve feet high. It can be used to drive moles out of a garden or lawn. Green says the organic farmer is interested in the hulls of the castor oil beans, because they have richer and larger amounts of nitrogen, phosphates, and potash than barnyard manure. The hulls make an excellent mulch for roses. The armed services have used castor oil as a lubricant, because it withstands the heat of jet engines and remains fluid even in severe cold. Of the 65 pages of commentary which Luther wrote on the book of Jonah only six pages (1/10) were devoted to the shade tree in chapter 4. Like most interpreters Luther was more interested in the fish than in the prophet's mission. QUESTIONS ON JONAH 4 1. Jonah acted unyieldingly and inflexibly when he said, "Was this not my word?" He wanted his own will, not God's will to be done. How many of us have difficulty with this third petition of the Lord's Prayer today? 4:2 Elija wanted to die because so few responded. Jonah wanted to die because so many responded. Is too much success or too much failure still the cause of many complaints today? What are the chief characteristics of the castor oil tree? 4:6 Which objects or possessions today are as dear to us as the castor oil tree was to Jonah? Does God still teach us lessons by taking away our comfort-giving conveniences or luxuries? Make a list of occasions on which it is hard for us to forgive our friends or foes. Under what circumstances do we find it difficult to call on people to repent? Does the closing sentence of the book of Jonah teach that God is indeed concerned about animals? 4:11


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