Prophetic Sabotage: A Look At Jonah 3:2–4 -- By: R. J. Lubeck
TrinJ 9:1 (Spring 1988) p. 37
Prophetic Sabotage: A Look At Jonah 3:2–4
Reading the book of Jonah can be a fascinating experience for the careful Bible student. One might be amused, intrigued, surprised, confused, disturbed, or even repulsed by the sequence of events, but the reader is not likely to remain unmoved. Indeed, the reader unconsciously finds himself magnetically pulled into its fast-paced, enigmatic plot. The author achieves this effect by forcing us to supply frequent, mid-course interpretive guesses to fill in the gaps he has intentionally left in the story line. Is Jonah a heroic victim of a relentless deity or is he a villain? Why does Jonah flee from God? Does Jonah’s prayer of thanksgiving offered from inside the fish indicate genuine remorse, or is it a moral bribe intended to placate his offended God, or is it perhaps merely wistful, wishful thinking? Why does he get so “hot” about the fact that Yahweh is merciful? We would venture that these kinds of story-level questions raised but not answered by the narrative are chiefly responsible for the wide diversity of thought regarding the deeper questions of the purpose and theology of the book. To illustrate, this article will explore one of these story-level questions, consider the options, propose a solution, and discuss how our answer impinges on several important aspects of the book’s theology.
When Jonah receives his recommissioning in 3:1–2, the narrative informs us that he arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of Yahweh. There he delivered the terse message, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The question we wish to raise is, did Jonah faithfully communicate to the Ninevites the message Yahweh entrusted to him?
Many readers simply assume that because Jonah obeyed God by arising and going to Nineveh, he ipso facto delivered the message obediently as well. But this poses a problem. Jonah’s words were phrased as an unequivocal pronouncement indicating Nineveh’s overthrow, yet the subsequent repentance of the Ninevites (and Yahweh!) points to the inaccuracy or failure of the prophecy. If
TrinJ 9:1 (Spring 1988) p. 38
Yahweh is the source of this falsity, his veracity is impugned. The thoughtful reader, then, must choose from among several options as he seeks to fill in this narrative gap.
(1) Jonah did deliver Yahweh’s message exactly as he received it, but both he, Yahweh, the Ninevites, and we readers are meant to understand it as something else, namely, that it is a conditional threat which will not be carried out if Nineveh repents.
(2) Jonah d...
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