Internal Structure: Book of Prophet Jonah

Here we will be analysing the internal structure of the Book of Jonah. The reason for such a study is know why did Yahweh called Prophet Jonah to go to a foreign land and to preach to the foreigners to repent for their sins and mend their ways of life. The analysis on the Book’s internal structure may give us a better understanding of the mission undertook by Prophet Jonah who in a way represents the whole of Israel.

1.  Jonah Receives Yahweh’s Command

2. Yahweh’s Responds to Jonah’s Flight

3. Yahweh’s Instruction to a Large Fish

4.  Jonah Implores Yahweh to Rescue him

5. Yahweh Repeats His Command to Jonah

6. Nineveh’s Response to Jonah’s Appeal

nineveh1

1.  Jonah Receives Yahweh’s Command

The Book of Jonah opens with Jonah receiving the command to go to Nineveh. While the Old Testament usually appeals to the other nations to come to Zion, the mountain of God, Jonah is told to go![1] The Septuagint translation of Jonah uses the word poreuomai in Jonah 1,2-3 and again in Jonah 3,2-3, the very verb used by Jesus in His great commission recorded in Matthew 28.[2] Jonah is asked to go to Nineveh, the very centre of totalitarianism and brutality, which is notorious for the shameful hounding, vicious torture, and imperialist brazenness it reserved for those who chose to oppose its policies. Yahweh wants Jonah to warn Nineveh of impending judgment and to call her to repentance. Yahweh wants to save Nineveh.

 2.Yahweh’s Responds to Jonah’s Flight

Jonah refuses the mission of Yahweh and prepares himself to flee from the face of God who is the Lord over all. Yahweh responds to Jonah’s flight by sending a mighty storm (Jon 1,4-16). While the crew vainly searches for the storm’s cause, Jonah confesses that he worships and fears the God who made both the sea and the dry land, the one God who is above all nations. This God, he claims, is bringing a charge against him, and the only way to quiet the waters is to throw him into the sea. In this scene the crew represents the Gentiles, a people for whom Jonah is totally unconcerned, and yet who themselves are interested in sparing his life. After a second order from Jonah they throw him overboard and the storm ceases. Scarcely able to believe their eyes, the sailors break forth in praise to the God of Jonah. Their obedience surpasses that of the saboteur Jonah.[3] They are more open to Yahweh than the very prophet himself.

 3.Yahweh’s Instruction to a Large Fish

The Book of Jonah describes a large fish (Jon 1,17) which, at Yahweh‘s instructions, open its mouth to swallow Jonah and spew him onto the shore at the appropriate time. Jonah simply cannot escape Yahweh’s missionary mandate.[4] The God who whipped up the stormy wind and directed the sailors to accomplish His purpose now guides a fish as part of His plan to save Nineveh. Yahweh continues His work of reforming and preparing His missionary to be a fit instrument in His plans.

4. Jonah Implores Yahweh to Rescue him

Jonah implores God to rescue him from the belly of the fish (Jon 2,1-10). He who had no mercy on the Gentiles and refused to acknowledge that God’s promises extended to them now appeals for divine mercy,[5] and by quoting lines from various Psalms pants after those promises claimed by worshipers in Temple. Yahweh responds to him by speaking to the beast and Jonah lands on the shore. By his vey rescue Jonah unwittingly a witness of God’s saving mercy. Thus Jonah was nonetheless a testimony that God takes no delight in the death of sinners and saboteurs but rather rejoices in their conversion.[6]

5. Yahweh Repeats His Command to Jonah

Yahweh repeats His order to Jonah (Jon 3,1-4) whose very life affirms the truth of what he confessed in the belly of fish: “Deliverance belongs to the Lord.”[7] The Septuagint uses the term kerygma in Jonah 3,1-2ff. That single word summarizes Jonah’s mission.[8] He must proclaim that Nineveh, however godless she may be, is still the object of God’s fervent concern, and unless she repents, she will be destroyed. His message must be one of threat as well as promise, of judgment as well as gospel.

6. Nineveh’s Response to Jonah’s Appeal

Nineveh responds to Jonah’s appeal to repent (Jon 3,5-10). What Israel continually refused to do the Gentiles did do; the king of Nineveh stands as anti-type to the disobedient kings of Judah.[9] The people join the king in repenting. They cease all their evil works. In deep penitence they turn away from idols to serve the God who is Lord of every nation and all creation. All this becomes possible because Yahweh is God. The world of the Gentiles is a potentially productive mission field for no other reason than this: He alone is God.


[1] J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, (E. Tr. and ed. by D. Cooper), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1978), 97.

[2] Cf. J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, (E. Tr. and ed. by D. Cooper), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1978), 97-98.

[3] J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, (E. Tr. and ed. by D. Cooper), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1978), 98.

[4] Cf. R. B. Chrisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, Backer Academic, Michigan, (2002), 410.

[5] Cf. R. B. Chrisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, Backer Academic, Michigan, (2002), 414.

[6] J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, (E. Tr. and ed. by D. Cooper), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1978), 98.

[7] Cf. R. B. Chrisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, Backer Academic, Michigan, (2002), 412.

[8] J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, (E. Tr. and ed. by D. Cooper), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1978), 98.

[9] J. Verkuyl, Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction, (E. Tr. and ed. by D. Cooper), William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Michigan, (1978), 98.

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