11 Aug 2010

Jonah #7: God’s Heart & His Struggle with Israel (Symmetry & Irony )

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

Salvation comes from and belongs to the YHWH” (Jonah 2.9, BV)

Frequently in this series of essays on Jonah, I have stressed that it is a work of exquisite art. And it is. The artistic nature of the book not only makes it such an enjoyable read but also serves the interest of the kingdom of God.

The book of Jonah has four chapters with a total of forty-eight verses. These four chapters divide themselves into two parallel sections … each mirroring the other showing once again the author’s theological interest. I will attempt to show the mirror structure of Jonah below …

Chapter One . . . . . . . . . . Chapter Three

Call (Arise, Go, Cry) {v.2} . . . . . . . Call (Arise, Go, Cry) {v 2}

Jonah arises – flees . . . . . . Jonah arises – goes

God acts – storm . . . . . . Jonah acts

Sailors call on gods . . . . . . Nineveh believes

Captain identifies ‘elohim’s power behind storm . . . King seeks ‘elohim’s will

Sailors seek YHWH’s will

Sailors pray to YHWH (lest we perish) . . . . . Nineveh prays to ‘elohim (lest we perish)

Storm evaporates . . . . . . God relents

Chapter Two . . . . . . . . . Chapter Four

Jonah saved . . . . . . . . . . Jonah angry

Jonah prays . . . . . . . . . . Jonah prays

God responds . . . . . . . . . . God Responds

The symmetry and structure of the book of Jonah help us see that the actions of the sailors and the Ninevites are practically the same often with the same language used. The actions of Jonah in chapter 1 helps us understand his action in chapter 4 too. And consistently the pagans are portrayed in a favorable light whereas Jonah is consistently portrayed in an darker hue.

The symmetry and structure of the book helps us see other literary tools used by our artistic minstrel. Irony and role reversals abound in the book. One of the most interesting is the question implied in Jonah’s name! In 1.1 we read “The word of the LORD came to yonah son of ‘amittay.” The name ‘amittay is constructed from ‘emet. Here is delicious irony the author loves … at the beginning of the book the Dove is identified as a Child/Son of Truth or a Child/Son of faithfulness. If Jonah/Dove also has representational value for the people of God then it is Israel that is designated the children of steadfastness or children of truth. With that in mind for the name: Jonah the Son of Truth/Jonah the Son of Faithfulness how do we come to see the Dove in the rest of the story?? Does the Dove behave in a truthful and faithful manner? Irony indeed.

As pointed out above the author consistently paints the “enemy” in an exemplary fashion. Who are the people of Truth? of Faithfulness? The Dove? or the Pagans who respond to God … even when they don’t know his name? This should remind us, if we are paying attention to the heartbeat of the biblical narrative, of a Story that Jesus told one day in which he used dramatic role reversals too. The author of Jonah uses the bitterly hated Assyrians as his foil to rudely snap the People of Truth from their blindness and Jesus uses the equally hated Samaritans to the same effect. Each story in some way forces us to ask the question: what are the boundaries of God’s love and care and our own hedging of it.

The author of Jonah holds up the mirror in our face as the people of the Lord and forces us to ask what it means for us to be the sons and daughters of faithfulness, of truth. Is being the Dove a child of truth simply a matter of doctrinal precision? Jonah knows his bible and he knows his doctrine but he certainly comes off looking poorly against the hated pagans. So what about us?

5 Responses to “Jonah #7: God’s Heart & His Struggle with Israel (Symmetry & Irony )”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    It was extremely interesting for me to read the blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

    Hilary Simpson

  2. Keith Says:

    Hey Bobby. Your structured layout really helps me see what going on. Thanks for your work on this and your sharing of it! Now if we can just get those stinkin’ Ninevites to read your blog.

  3. Randall Says:

    Thanks very much Bobby. There was more here than I have ever heard presented or considered in the any other study of Jonah.

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Randall the depth of Jonah never ceases to amaze me. To say it is profound and even offensive seems almost trite.

    Keith. My chart was actually neat and cool looking before I copied and posted it. blogger doesnt like charts i guess.

    I keep praying for those Ninevites!! 🙂

  5. Cammie Novara Says:

    “The artistic nature of the book not only makes it such an enjoyable read but also serves the interest of the kingdom of God.” I really have to let my Facebook group know about that! There’s a really animated debate that I thought would be of interest on evolution vs. intelligent design going on at http://www.intelligentdesignfacts.com

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