Old Testament thoughts is a weekly post where we’ll be looking at some interesting aspects of some Scripture from the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament). Right now, we are looking at the literary aspects of the book of Jonah.
A shorter post this time we’ll continue the theme from last time – who really is a God-fearer in the story of Jonah? The writer makes another contrast between Jonah and the “pagan” boat crew. Here it is:
When the folks from Ninevah sin, Jonah has no interest in mercy or in trying to save them from their impending doom.
When Jonah sins, the “pagan” boat crew do everything they can, even against their best interest, to save Jonah.
Even after Jonah told them that the only way to calm the storm was to throw him into the sea they still “rowed desperately to return to land but they could not.”
This may give some evidence as to when and why Jonah was written, although such a question is a little off topic from the purpose of these posts. However, many think that Jonah was written around the time of the exile of 586 BCE, either just prior (pre-exilic), during (exilic) or just after (post-exilic) This is important because later in the life of Israel, around the time of the exile, they became unhealthily ethno-centric. This rhetorical effect (or maybe even the whole book) may be one example of the writer of Jonah trying to correct how ingrown Israel had become. God cares about and yearns to have compassion on all the nations, not just Israel. Israel had forgotten that. So here, to make the “pagan” boat crew more God-like than the prophet of God, Jonah, is a slap in the face to the Israelites…but a much needed slap.