The Object Lesson Of Jonah 4:5-7 And The Purpose Of The Book Of Jonah -- By: John H. Walton
BBR 2:1 (1992) p. 47
The Object Lesson Of Jonah 4:5-7 And The Purpose Of The Book Of Jonah
Moody Bible Institute
In Jonah Chapter 4, Jonah becomes angry concerning the particular turn of events in Nineveh. Yahweh asks whether Jonah has a right to that anger. When no answer is forthcoming, the reader is ushered into the account of Jonah’s hut, the plant and the parasite, which ends in Jonah again becoming angry. This time the anger focuses on the plant, and Jonah defends his right to be angry. The chapter and the book then close with deity making a statement about compassion.
Many questions are left unanswered by the text. What specifically angered Jonah with regard to Nineveh? What does the narrator achieve by recounting this incident? How is Jonah’s second anger (4:8-9) related to the first (4:1-4)? Why does the author use the unusual compound divine name, YHWH Elohim, in verse 6 to introduce the object lesson and, for that matter, what purpose does the object lesson serve in the narrative? It is the answers to these questions that will help the interpreter identify the purpose of the book of Jonah.
Early interpretations of the book often suggested that God was trying to show Jonah that people are more important than plants. So Luther argued “Of how much less value is such a shrub than a person, to say nothing of such a city?”1 Calvin carried this moral into the last phrase of the book: “If Jonah justly grieved for one withering shrub, it was far more deplorable and cruel for so many innocent animals to perish.”2 Though modern commentators may change the wording and the focus, 4:10-11 have still led many interpreters to equate the plant to Nineveh in their understanding of the object lesson.3 The fact
BBR 2:1 (1992) p. 48
is, however, that neither we nor Jonah need to be informed that people are more important than plants. I believe that there is much more to Chapter 4 than has been discovered, and that the object lesson is, in fact, the key to understanding the purpose of the book.
The appearance of the object lesson when Jonah fails to respond to God’s question might suggest to us that the lesson is designed to help Jonah find the proper answer to God’s question.4 Does Jonah have a right to be angry? The fact that the object lesson also ends with Jonah’s anger may hint that its purpose is to help Jonah deal with his anger. It therefore becomes imperative that we understand the object lesson.
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