27 Jul 2010

Jonah #3: God’s Heart & His Struggle with Israel & Us – Late Night Memories

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Jonah, Ministry, Preaching

Late Night Memories of Jonah

Salvation belongs to and comes from Yahweh” (Jonah 2.9, BV version)

I have attended “church” all my life. I have wracked my brain but I do not remember a time when I did not “know” the story of Jonah. I had VBS’s and Sunday school lessons on Jonah as a child. I can not recall, however, even one adult class or sermon on the book of Jonah.

I do recall encountering material on Jonah that was apologetic in nature but this material rarely gets to positive exposition of the biblical text (though it has other merits). This changed when I decided to do a sermon series on Jonah in 2003/4 on the book of Jonah at Southside in Milwaukee. Was I in for a surprise!!! I guess it was about a year after that time I was most fortunate to sit at the feet of Dr. John Fortner lecture on Jonah at the Midwest Preachers Retreat @ Black River Falls, WI (he both confirmed many of my earlier exegetical conclusions, turned others over revealing my ignorance, and generally blew me away again …) This is NOT some mere child’s flannel board story. Then in 2007 I returned once again to Jonah, this time at Palo Verde. Now I am thinking of Jonah once again. Who knew 48 verses could contain practically the whole bible’s substance!?

I fell in love with the book of Jonah because of its beauty, its amazing “engineering” (i.e. deliberate structuring), and its profoundly deep theology. I also fell in love with it because I became convinced (and still am) the book is not simply about the man named Jonah … but about US! It is the story of God with his rebellious people. It is the story of Father with the Two Sons long before Jesus ever told it in Luke 15 (listen to the Story with ears to hear).

One of the methods I use for getting into the Story of the Bible is reading it in as many different translations as I can get my hands on. For Jonah I made my own translation in 2003/4 and did the same once again in 2007, what a good exercise. I have read the book of Jonah in every major English translation known to me and many that some probably never heard of (i.e. Goodspeed’s, The Bible: An American Translation). It is fascinating, when we read with “eyes to see and ears to hear,” the connections we begin to see in the Story and what we miss in some translations but are brilliantly displayed in others.

Jonah was translated from Hebrew into Greek of the Septuagint long before Jesus was born … which also explains some unique features in the Gospels that I hope to call attention to. The book is represented among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It also featured in a translation controversy in the 5th century A.D.

When Jerome produced the equivalent of the NIV (the Vulgate) in the ancient church traditionalists were scandalized. Augustine, the great theologian from Hippo in Africa, wrote to Jerome of his dismay that his fresh rendering was causing an uproar … in the little book of Jonah. Here is an excerpt written in 403 AD.

A certain bishop, one of our brethren, having introduced in the church over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the prophet Jonah, of which you have given a very different rendering from that which had been of old familiar to the senses and memory of all the worshippers [sic], and had been chanted for so many generations in the church. Thereupon arose such a tumult in the congregation … correcting what had been read and denouncing the translation as false ...” (Letters of Augustine, No. 71 in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church).

We chuckle at this happening because we all have probably witnessed something similar to what Augustine laments. Going down the centuries, as near as I can tell, the first time Jonah appeared in something called English was the 14th century AD in the version associated with John Wycliff. Wycliff, like Augustine before him, knew neither Hebrew or Greek, but only Latin and gave the English people their first literary introduction to this Story.

The man who sort of set the bar for English readers of Jonah was William Tyndale. Most know that Tyndale practically gave us the NT but fewer realize that he, before being executed as a heretic, translated much of the “Old Testament” (Gen-Chronicles and The Prophet Jonas). Tyndale’s version is straight from the Hebrew and he plows fresh ground because no one had ever done it before. He wrote a lengthy “Prologue to the Prophet Jonas” as well (about 13 pages while the text of Jonah takes two and a half!). Using the opportunity to promote the Protestant Reformation and those who are confused in Roman Catholic churches he states eloquently

The scripture hath a body without, and within a soul, spirit and life. It hath without a bark, a shell and as it were an hard bone for the fleshy minded to graw upon. And within it hath pith, kernel, marrow, and all sweetness for God’s elect which he hath chosen to give them his spirit, and to write his law and the faith of his Son in their hearts” (Tyndale’s Old Testament, ed. by David Daniell, p. 628)

There is plenty of body, soul, spirit and life in the story of Jonah! Some of his renderings breathtakingly vivid: “But the Lord hurled a great wind into the sea, so that there was a mighty tempest in the sea: insomuch that the ship was like to go in pieces.” Or in one of the truly and amazingly ironic statements from the mouth of the story’s Anti-Hero: “They that observe vain vanities, have forsaken him that was merciful to them” (2.8, there is no versification in Tyndale. That was introduced after his death. The NIV renders “worthless idols”). Another energetic rendering comes from chapter 3, “And they put on sackloth both man and beast, and cried unto God mightily, and turned every man his wicked way, and from doing wrong in which they were accustomed.” Finally we hear the shocking outburst of the story’s Anti-Hero “I am angry a-good, even unto death.” (All quotations taken from Daniell’s edition of Tyndale’s Old Testament).

One of the better non-traditional renderings of Jonah is in Eugene Peterson’s The Message. Like Tyndale centuries before him, Peterson provides a shorter (much!!) intro to Jonah. Peterson brings a sense of the “playful” narrative art of the story. “But the playfulness is not frivolous. This is deadly serious.” The author, who I do not believe to be the Anti-Hero, is a consummate artist! Some great lines in Peterson’s version are: “The sailors impressed, no longer terrified by the sea, but in awe of God. They worshiped GOD, offered a sacrifice, and made a vow.” “In trouble, deep trouble, I prayed to GOD.” “Jonah was furious. He lost his temper. He yelled at GOD, ‘GOD! I knew it — when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen!” “So GOD, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!

Even J. R. R. Tolkien lent his hand to rendering the story of Jonah. He contributed the book of Jonah to the Jerusalem Bible. Tolkien’s rendering is scheduled to be re-released independently later this year as The Book of Jonah. I was unaware of Tolkien’s work until today and it sent me searching for my old used book store edition of The Jerusalem Bible to read Jonah.

Jonah is just an example of the treasures that await those who will prayerfully plumb the depths of God’s word. The riches are inexhaustible. The surprises ever new. The message more challenging with each visit. Jonah is a fantastic text to enter into a period of lectio divina … you just might find the Spirit of the Lord “hovering over the deep” of your own mind and soul to shed light on the scripture’s body, soul, spirit, and life.

Its time to go watch that classic interpretation of Jonah … Veggie Tales!! LOL …


3 Responses to “Jonah #3: God’s Heart & His Struggle with Israel & Us – Late Night Memories”

  1. Don and Carolyn Says:

    Praise Yeshua for your words for your heart longs to be as was Yeshua’s heart–the very heart of God!

    Without hesitation I affirm your heart and mix my own which seeks only to ask Yesha Spirit to dwell in me

    thank you brother and may you contnue to have

    Yeshua’s Shalom.


  2. Life Connections Says:

    Please would u pray for me in the Spirit of Yeshua as I do you?

  3. Randall Says:

    Thanks Bobby. This is an interesting study. Too bad we don’t pay more attention to the “minor” prophets.

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