Since the date and author of Jonah are hard to pin down, attempts at “identifying the book’s audience is fraught with complications…[and] any attempt to identify the audience of the book is likely to be too subjective to be of lasting value.”[ref][contentblock id=4 img=html.png]62[/ref] Yet while a specific audience might be impossible to pin down, the themes and message of the book of Jonah give several clues to the attitude and mind frame of this audience—whoever they were.
Jonah is portrayed as a prophet in exile who finds himself in a foreign land proclaiming a message of divine judgment upon a wicked people whom God seems intent on blessing. Whether the book of Jonah was written for Hebrews who were still in exile or who had returned from exile, there was widespread confusion among the people about God’s behavior toward His own people in contrast with God’s treatment of foreign nations.
The destruction of Samaria in 721 BC by the Assyrians and the subsequent deportation of the ten northern tribes must have raised many questions and doubts in the minds of God’s people. How could God allow the Assyrians to do this? Was this actually part of his sovereign will? Did Israel really deserve such harsh treatment? The book of Jonah offers a very relevant response to these issues.[ref][contentblock id=4 img=html.png]90[/ref]
Furthermore, those in exile found themselves wanting to return to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple (cf. Jonah 2), and often found themselves being critical and judgmental of the beliefs and behaviors of the people who surrounded them. The message in the book of Jonah is that the love and mercy of God extends even to these foreigners, and so His people must not be too quick to judge and condemn them.
At the same time, those who had returned from exile were facing numerous questions about why God sent them into captivity in the first place, and how they could avoid such discipline from God in the future. Many of them were tempted to close themselves off from the surrounding nations, limiting their contact and interaction with others. Initially, this is the attitude Jonah reveals when he tries to flee to Tarshish instead of obey God, but the narrative challenges Jonah to view the people of Nineveh the way God views them. In this way, the readers of the book of Jonah are challenged to view the nations that surround them with a divine perspective, and that just as God can bless other nations, so also they should seek to be a blessing to the nations in which they lived (cf. Jer 29:7).
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