Jonah 1 introduces the main characters in the story of Jonah, as well as the main themes of the character of God, the nature of evil, and the conditions and consequences of repentance. This chapter also raises the pressing question about why Jonah did not obey God when asked to go to Nineveh and cry out against it.
Jonah is Called to Preach (1:1-3)
1:1. The word Now (Heb., vayehi) is frequently used in Hebrew to show progression of action. It usually indicates the continuation of a story already in progress, rather than the beginning of a new story. So by beginning the story of Jonah with this word, the author is showing us that this short story is part of a longer narrative.[ref]Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, ed. R. K. Harrison, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 175; Jack M. Sasson, Jonah: A New Translation with Introduction, Commentary, and Interpretations, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible, vol. 24b (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 66-67.[/ref] But Jonah is not missing any inspired text at the beginning. To the contrary, the author is showing that the story of Jonah is a continuation of the plan of God already in progress upon the world. A few other Old Testament books begin similarly (1 Samuel, Ruth, Judges, Esther, Nehemiah, Ezekiel).[ref]Julius A. Bewer, “A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Jonah,” in The International Critical Commentary: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and Jonah, ed. Samuel Rolles Driver, Alfred Plummer, and Charles Augustus Briggs (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1912), 28; Douglas K. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, ed. David A. Hubbard et al., Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 31 (Waco: Word, 1987), 444.[/ref] In modern English idiom, this opening word could be translated “And it so happened” or “It came to pass.” At the beginning of a story such as this, it could even be translated “Once upon a time,” yet without any fairy tale connotations. Since the word appears so often in Hebrew narrative, it is frequently left untranslated, and is “virtually the equivalent of capitalization at the beginning of English sentences.”[ref]Stuart, 445.[/ref] It has been translated in the GEB to indicate the beginning of the story.
The story of Jonah begins with the word of Yahweh. The word of Yahweh coming to prophets is a common theme in the Bible, occurring over 100 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.[ref]T. Desmond Alexander, “Jonah: An Introduction and Commentary,” in The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), 97.[/ref] But the reader is rarely told how this occurs.[ref]H. L. Ellison, “Jonah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel and the Minor Prophets, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985), 368.[/ref] We may assume God spoke to prophets through dreams and visions, or possibly even through an audible or inner voice.
In this case, the message of God came to Jonah, the son of Amittai. Jonah means “dove,” which, incidentally, is also a symbol for the nation of Israel (cf. Hos 7:11; 11:11; Ps 74:19).[ref]Bewer, 8.[/ref] Some have indicated that while the image of dove can refer to peace, purity, or hope,[ref]Conrad Hyers, And God Created Laughter (Atlanta: John Knox, 1987), 100.[/ref] it is also used as a symbol for silliness (Hos 7:11).[ref]Earl Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen, and H. Wayne House, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 1065.[/ref] Amittai means “faithfulness” which is exactly the opposite of how Jonah behaves in this story.[ref]Hyers, 100.[/ref] However, not much should be read into his name symbolically.[ref]Alexander, 71; Stuart, 431.[/ref] Jonah was a prophet from Gath-Hepher in Israel (2 Kings 14:25), which was a city of moderate size about three miles northeast of Nazareth.[ref]Stuart, 431.[/ref] Nothing is known about his father, Amittai.
As indicated in the Introduction, Jonah lived in Israel during the eighth and ninth centuries BC. At least two other biblical prophets also lived in Israel at this time (Hosea and Amos). Jonah, however, was likely held in higher esteem than Hosea or Amos, for while they called Israel back from rebellion, greed, and idolatry, Jonah prophesied that God would expand Israel’s borders, and under the reign of King Jeroboam II, Jonah’s prophecy was fulfilled (2 Kings 14:23-29). So when the word of Yahweh comes to Jonah, the historically conscious reader expects to hear that God has another good message for Israel, that God is about to bless them again, expand their borders further, and do away with more of Israel’s enemies.
Other chapters from Jonah
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Also check out The translation of Jonah in the Grace English Bible
For full Bibliographic Data for the books listed below, go to the Jonah Bibliography