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The Book of Jonah - The Bible

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Themes: ProphecyProvidence, Anger

 

When the Lord tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn them about their wickedness, Jonah flees “from the presence of the Lord” (1:3), boarding a ship in Joppa that is headed to Tarshish. The Lord, however, “hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea” (1:4).  The crew throw their wares overboard, in fear for their lives; but they find Jonah sleeping in the “inner part of the ship.” Casting lots, the crew discover that the storm is sent to them on account of Jonah. Asking who he is and from where he has come, the crew is answered by Jonah: “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (1:9). In terror the crew ask what they can do to save their lives, and Jonah tells them to throw him into the sea. The boat’s men try rowing to land instead; but they fail, “for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them” (1:13). They therefore cry out to the Lord, “We beg you, O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you” (1:14). And they toss Jonah into the sea. 

 

The Lord “appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (1:17). Jonah prays to God from the belly of the fish, “I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God” (2:6). When the Lord speaks to the fish again, it vomits up Jonah upon dry land. God tells Jonah again to go to Nineveh, and this time Jonah obeys. Because Nineveh is such a big city, it would take a person three days to cross it. After only one day of Jonah walking through the city, warning that the city will be destroyed, the people of Nineveh believe God and begin to fast and to “put on sackcloth” (3:5). When the king of Nineveh hears the news, he himself puts on sackcloth and proclaims a fast for the whole city: “Let either man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may yet reprent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” (3:7-9).

 

And God does decide not to destroy Nineveh, when he sees how the Ninevites “turned from their evil way” (3:10). Jonah, however, is displeased at this result. He complains to God, saying “is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repentest of evil” (4:2). Jonah is so angry that he asks God to take away his life. He goes east of the city and mades a booth to shade him while he watches to see what happens to the Nineveh. God makes a plant grow over Jonah, giving him pleasure and shade, but the next day God appoints a worm to attack the plant. Faint with the heat and the dry wind, Jonah asks again for death. God questions Jonah’s anger: “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And Jonah answers in his exasperated fury: “I do well to be angry, angry enough to die” (4:9). The Lord teaches Jonah about how He sees the city with his answer: “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night, and perished in a night. And 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?” (4:10-11).

 

Opening questions:

 

Why does Jonah board a ship?

 

Why does the fish swallow Jonah?


Why does God make a plant grow, only to let it die the next day? 

Why is Jonah angry? 

What is God’s relationship with Jonah?

Suggested Pairing:

 

Ocean and Underworld -

Chapters 5, 9-12 from Odyssey by Homer; The Book of Jonah, Aristophanes, The Frogs;

Lucian, A True Story; Virgil, Aeneid - Books 3, 4, 5, 6; Cervantes, Don Quixote - The Cave of Montesinos; Dante, Inferno (selections); Shakespeare, The Tempest; Melville, Moby Dick (selections); Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World;

T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

Feedback:

 

We welcome your comments. How did your seminar go? What can we add or modify to the resource to be more helpful to you?

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