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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Jonah

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Jo´nah (a dove), the fifth in order of the Minor Prophets. No era is assigned to him in the book of his prophecy, yet there is little doubt of his being the same person who is spoken of in . His birthplace was Gath-hepher, in the tribe of Zebulon. Jonah flourished in or before the reign of Jeroboam II, and predicted the successful conquests, enlarged territory, and brief prosperity of the Israelitish kingdom under that monarch's sway.

The book of Jonah contains an account of the prophet's commission to denounce Nineveh, and of his refusal to undertake the embassy—of the method he employed to escape the unwelcome task [TARSHISH], and the miraculous means which God used to curb his self-willed spirit, and subdue his petulant and querulous disposition. The third and fourth chapters briefly detail Jonah's fulfillment of the divine command, and present us with another exemplification of his refractory temper. His attempt to flee from the presence of the Lord must have sprung from a partial insanity, produced by the excitement of distracting motives in an irascible and melancholy heart. The temerity and folly of the fugitive could scarcely be credited, if they had not been equaled by future outbreaks of a similar peevish and morbid infatuation. The mind of Jonah was dark and moody, not unlike a lake which mirrors in the waters the gloomy thunderclouds which overshadow it, and flash over its sullen waves a momentary gleam.

The history of Jonah is certainly striking and extraordinary. Its characteristic prodigy does not resemble the other miraculous phenomena recorded in Scripture; yet we must believe in its literal occurrence, as the Bible affords no indication of its being a mythus, allegory, or parable. On the other hand, our Savior's pointed and peculiar allusion to it is a presumption of its reality (). The opinion of the earlier Jews is also in favor of the literality of the adventure. It requires less faith to credit this simple excerpt from Jonah's biography, than to believe the numerous hypotheses that have been invented to deprive it of its supernatural character, the great majority of them being clumsy and farfetched, doing violence to the language, and despite to the spirit of revelation. In vindication of the reality of this striking narrative, it may be argued that the allusions of Christ to Old Testament events on similar occasions are to actual occurrences (; ); that the purpose which God had in view justified his miraculous interposition; that this miracle must have had a salutary effect both on the minds of the Ninevites and on the people of Israel. Neither is the character of Jonah improbable. Many reasons might induce him to avoid the discharge of his prophetic duty—fear of being thought a false prophet, scorn of a foreign and hostile race, desire for their utter destruction, a false dignity which might reckon it beneath his prerogative to officiate among uncircumcised idolaters. Some, who cannot altogether reject the reality of the narrative, suppose it to have had an historical basis, though its present form is fanciful or mythical. Grimm regards it as a dream produced in that sleep which fell upon Jonah as he lay on the sides of the ship, and others regard this book as an allegory.

Various other hypotheses have been proposed which are all vague and baseless, and do not merit a special refutation. Endeavoring to free us from one difficulty they plunge us into others yet more intricate and perplexing. Much profane wit has been expended on the miraculous means of Jonah's deliverance, very unnecessarily and very absurdly; it is simply said, 'The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.' Now the species of marine animal is not defined, and the original word is often used to specify, not the genus whale, but any large fish or sea-monster. All objections to its being a whale which lodged Jonah in its stomach from its straitness of throat, or rareness of haunt in the Mediterranean, are thus removed. The Scripture speaks only of an enormous fish, which under God's direction swallowed the prophet, and does not point out the species to which the voracious prowler belonged. Since the days of Bochart it has been a common opinion that the fish was of the shark species or 'sea-dog.' Entire human bodies have been found in some fishes of this kind. The stomach, too, has no influence on any living substance admitted into it. Granting all these facts as proof of what is termed the economy of miracles, still must we say, in reference to the supernatural preservation of Jonah, Is anything too hard for the Lord?

On what portion of the coast Jonah was set down in safety we are not informed. The prophet proceeded, on receiving a second commission, to fulfill it. The fearful menace had the desired effect. The city humbled itself before God, and a respite was vouchsafed. The king (Pul, according to Usher) and his people fasted, and their penitence was accepted. The spirit of Jonah was chafed that the doom he had uttered was not executed. He retired to a station out of the city whence he might witness the threatened catastrophe. Under the shadow of a gourd prepared by God he reclined, while Jehovah taught him by the growth and speedy death of this plant, and his attachment to it, a sublime lesson of patient and forgiving generosity. The book of Jonah is a simple narrative, with the exception of the prayer or thanksgiving in Jonah 2. Its style and mole of narration are uniform. There are no traces of compilation, as Nactigall supposed; neither is the prayer, as De Wette imagines, improperly borrowed from some other sources. That prayer contains, indeed, not only imagery peculiar to itself, but also such imagery as at once was suggested to the mind of a pious Hebrew preserved in circumstances of extreme jeopardy. On this principle we account for the similarity of some portions of its phraseology to Psalms 59, 42, etc. The language in both places had been hallowed by frequent usage, and had become the consecrated idiom of a distressed and succored Israelite. The hymn seems to have been composed after his deliverance, and the reason why his deliverance is noted after the hymn is recorded may be to show the occasion of its composition.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Jonah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/j/jonah.html.

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