Friday, February 22, 2013

What's the point?

It seems to me that many commentators of the Book of Jonah miss the big idea in this amazing and surprisingly modern small great book.

For example, the contents of the book are well characterized in the English wikipedia article but it does little to highlight the powerful message underlying the Book of Jonah - religious hatred.
The story of Jonah is a drama between a passive man and an active God. Jonah, whose name literally means "dove," is introduced to the reader in the very first verse. The name is decisive. While many other prophets had heroic names (e.g., Isaiah means "God has saved"), Jonah's name carries with it an element of passivity.

Jonah's passive character then is contrasted with the other main character: Yahweh. God's character is altogether active. While Jonah flees, God pursues. While Jonah falls, God lifts up. The character of God in the story is progressively revealed through the use of irony. In the first part of the book, God is depicted as relentless and wrathful; in the second part of the book, He is revealed to be truly loving and merciful.

The other characters of the story include the sailors in chapter 1 and the people of Nineveh in chapter 3. These characters are also contrasted to Jonah's passivity. While Jonah sleeps in the hull, the sailors pray and try to save the ship from the storm (1:4-6). While Jonah passively finds himself forced to act under the Divine Will, the people of Nineveh actively petition God to change his mind.

The plot centers on a conflict between Jonah and God. God calls Jonah to proclaim judgment to Nineveh, but Jonah resists and attempts to flee... After his rescue, Jonah obeys the call to prophesy against Nineveh, and they repent and God forgives them. Jonah is furious, however, and angrily tells God that this is the reason he tried to flee from Him, as he knew Him to be a just and merciful God. wikipedia

Similarly, D. Peach gives a sensible summary on the main purpose of the book that totally ignores the most disturbing and powerful message Book of Jonah has
The book of Jonah is an Old Testament story which tells about how the prophet Jonah refused to follow the Lord. Through some supernatural events, God convinced him to obey and carry out the Lord’s plan. While Jonah eventually did what he was asked to do, the book closes with showing Jonah as a bitter man.
David Peach
It is easy to find many quotes from various commentators on these generic lines.

The Big Idea
Pastor Chuck Swindoll (b. 1934) catches the somewhat hidden big idea in the Book of Jonah
When the call of God came to him, Jonah could not see beyond his own selfish desire for God to punish the Assyrians. How could God want him to take a message of mercy to such people? Before Jonah could relay God’s message, he had to be broken. He had to learn something about the mercy of the Lord.
Charles R. Swindoll

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