Images and Implications
Richard E. Young
Copyright © 2000 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I do not address the seemingly improbable episodes in Jonah, such as how a person could survive for three days in the stomach of a fish. This work assumes that nothing is too difficult for God and leaves the apologetic debate to others. Rather, with this exposition I hope to open up new levels of appreciation for the book of Jonah by exploring several of its intriguing images and themes and determine their implications to our own lives.
Most know Jonah as the story of the defiant prophet who attempted to shirk his duty of preaching impending judgement against Nineveh. We know how God chased and caught Jonah; that Jonah grudgingly carried out his responsibility and preached to Nineveh; that Nineveh repented and God spared them; about Jonah's anger over Nineveh being spared; and how God taught Jonah with object lessons regarding his inappropriate attitude. Those were the events as they happened. It is a fascinating story with excellent lessons. Yet below the surface lies a beauty and depth unimagined by even those who have sailed with Jonah many times before. The book teems with spiritual and literary treasures. Some lie near the surface and are relatively easy to bring to the surface whereas others lie at depths.
Some obstacles prevent many from diving deep enough into Jonah to retrieve many of those treasures. The first barrier hindering penetration into the deeper levels of Jonah is the language. Creating a readable translation that accurately relates the primary story tends to also mask much of the nuances and imagery that open up the deeper levels. In the Hebrew the words foretell and echo; they possess shades and multiple meanings; they color the subconscious and evoke images. But only in the original Hebrew do these features really come alive. My solution to this problem is twofold. First, I have created a translation giving heavier weight to the projection of the Hebrew connotations and allusions into English and a lighter weight to eloquence and readability. As stiff and peculiar as it sounds at times it is appropriate for the task at hand. Still, this endeavor is necessarily inadequate because any translation can only go so far. Therefore I have supplemented the translation with significant words referenced to a Hebrew glossary appendix. The glossary indexes every occurrence of these Hebrew words as they appear in Jonah; this allows one to trace the images associated with these words within the book. The translation, together with the indexed glossary, should give the reader a good feel for original.
Another obstruction preventing access to the full riches of Jonah is unfamiliarity with the allusions. Jonah subtlety imports boatloads of images from throughout the Hebrew Bible. But many people lack enough familiarity with Biblical phrases and episodes to realize this. In fact, even those well read in the Bible may not be aware of all of the understated allusions. One of the primary purposes of this work is to establish the necessary foundation for the reader to see and appreciate the images, the themes they support, and their implications to us.
Fortunately we are not faced only with difficulties in understanding Jonah. Several internal structural aids assist us in interpretation. Multiple parallels, symmetries, and contrasts help us view the themes from different perspectives. In so doing we obtain a fuller picture and thus gain a greater understanding of the themes. Chapters one and three parallel one another; and chapters two and four parallel one another. Additionally there are parallels of various sorts within chapters. Each member of a parallel set helps us interpret its compliment by understanding that each looks at the same theme from different vantage points. Contrasts, on the other hand, enhance our view of an image by juxtapositioning it with its opposite. In isolation that same image would not be as sharply defined.
Aid comes also in the realization that there are no orphaned images in Jonah. All of the images hang on one of the central themes of the book. These themes include such things as God's sovereignty, God's love and grace, God's dealings with rebellious man, and the adversity that comes into our lives. Thus, when we encounter a troublesome image, we can try to hang it onto one of the central themes and see how it fits with the rest of the book.
One unique aspect of the book of Jonah consists of the writer's interaction with his audience. The writer assaults his audience's presumptions and expectations at several points in the narrative. He does this by presenting various actions without revealing the reasons for those actions until later. This forces us to fill in the gaps of our knowledge to make sense of the story. But our speculations reveal more about ourselves than we realize. Once the writer divulges the reasons for the actions and we discover that our premises were erroneous we must go back and examine why we made our assumptions. This forces us to re-read Jonah and look at the events - and ourselves - in a new light.
Contents | Introduction| Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Glossary | Translation