The Books of the Bible The Prophets | Page 2

invitation to Jona h This book relates how God sent the prophet Jonah, who lived during the reign of Jeroboam II (783–743 or 793–753 BC), to warn the people of Nineveh that their city was about to be destroyed. This book’s form is unique among all the prophetic books. It presents a narrative about a prophet, rather than a collection of his oracles. In this whole book there’s only one sentence of prophecy: Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown. The book of Jonah is written with a great deal of literary care. It’s structured into two main acts, with two scenes each. The repetition of God’s command to Jonah, Go to the great city of Nineveh, marks the beginning of each act. Act one, scene one is set on a ship at sea as Jonah tries to avoid the mission God has sent him on. The second scene takes place in the belly of a huge fish that has swallowed Jonah. Both scenes of the next act are associated with the city of Nineveh. Act two, scene one takes place within the city itself as Jonah preaches and Nineveh repents. Scene two takes place just outside the city as Jonah struggles to accept God’s grace and mercy for others. Biblical scholars offer varying estimates of when the book of Jonah was written. Because it relates several significant episodes from the life of a prophet who lived in the eighth century BC, in this edition it’s placed with the books that record the words of other prophets who lived at that time. But these episodes from Jonah’s life may actually be recounted in order to speak to the situation of a later generation. In the book, Jonah seems to represent the attitude that many people in Israel took at various times toward other nations. This is not a minor matter but concerns Israel’s original calling to be God’s agent for bringing blessing to the world. Instead of recognizing their mission to help these nations come to know the true God, they considered them their enemies and expected God to destroy them. And so God’s question to Jonah at the end of the book—should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?—is also being posed to any readers who share Jonah’s hostile attitude to foreigners. This suggests that Jonah may represent Israel more generally in the book. God did tell some of the other prophets to act out signs in which they represented their nation. For example, Ezekiel lived on rationed food to show that Jerusalem would come under siege (pp. 368–369).