Book of Jonah the Prophet

The Book of Jonah is so significant for understanding the biblical basis of mission because it treats God’s mandate to His people regarding the Gentile people and thus serve as the preparatory step to the missionary mandate of the New Testament.[1] But it is important to notice the deep resistance this mandate encounters from the very servant Yahweh has chosen to discharge his worldwide work.

The Book of Jonah illustrates the centrifugal mission[2] of Yahweh and the nature of Israel’s God and thus the nature of Israel itself. Jonah is the only prophetic book in the Hebrew Scriptures that is entirely a narrative about a prophet and not a collection of prophetic oracles.[3] Although the word “prophet” does not occur in this book, the prophetic formula for the reception of the word (“the word of the Lord came to”) does, thus indicating the genre of prophecy. The book shares with Isaiah 66,18-21 the distinction of being the only two places in the Hebrew Bible where messengers are actually sent to pagan people.[4]

[1] Cf. J. M. Sasson, Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary and Interpretation, AB, Vol. 24B, Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York, (1990), 24-26.

[2] J. C. Okoye, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, (2006), 80.

[3] Cf. J. Barton and J. Muddiman (eds.), The Oxford Bible Commentary, Oxford University Press, New York, (2007), 593.

[4] J. C. Okoye, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, (2006), 80-81. The other possible reference to this motif occurs in the Servant Songs (Isa 42,1.4). The Book of Jonah is the fifth book of the Twelve, although Jewish tradition regards the Twelve as a single work. Like other books of the Twelve it has inter-linkage with some other books in the collection. For example, Joel 2,13 contains exactly the same fivefold confession of the nature of Yahweh as in Jonah 4,2. Joel is placed before the Book of Jonah to counter Jonah’s challenge of these qualities of Yahweh in Jonah 4,2. On the other hand, the Book of Jonah precedes that of Nahum to reaffirm Yahweh’s compassion for all peoples, including the Ninevites, before Nahum could gloat over the fall of Nineveh. The Book of Jonah can thus be considered an intra-biblical corrective to the apparent xenophobia of the Book of Nahum. In Jonah 4,2, Yahweh insists that Yahweh’s compassionate and merciful character is not for Israel alone, but extends even to the Ninevites.

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