Themes of Jonah, Part 1: Get Up Jonah! Jonah Went Down.
The book of Jonah is very short, but I believe that it is one of the greatest pieces of writing in scripture. The literary design is perfect, the words are carefully repeated to drive points home, and the number of themes packed into 48 verses is extraordinary.
Verse one introduces us to our prophet in the standard prophetic form: “The word of the Lord came to…” (Joel 1:1, Micah 1:1, etc.). Then we meet Jonah, son of Amittai, or if you are a Hebrew: Dove, the son of Faithfulness. Names have importance in Hebrew culture and scripture, and Jonah’s may foreshadow his character in this book. Hosea 7:11 compares Israel to a dove, silly and without sense. The reference to his father, the faithful one, is probably ironic, as irony permeates this story from front to back.
Wasting no time, God tells Jonah to get up because Ninevah’s evil has come up before him (Jonah 1:3). Jonah then goes down to Joppa, and went down into the ship, to go to Tarshish “from the Lord’s face.” If you think the author may be playing with the words up and down, well, you would be right. These keywords will be a primary theme throughout the first half of the book.
Another question rears its head: why is Jonah running? The book doesn’t tell us yet, though an ancient Israelite might have a guess: the Assyrians (which Ninevah was the capital of) were a very powerful, very evil enemy of Israel. Asking Jonah to go there may have been perceived as a death sentence. We will come to Jonah’s reasons for refusing in more detail in a later issue.
Down, Down, Down
Jonah goes down to Joppa, then down into the ship, sailing for Tarshish, probably a city in modern-day Spain that was as close to the “edge of the world” as an Israelite knew. Ninevah, of course, was to the east of Israel.
So God hurls a storm at Jonah’s ship, but Jonah slumbers as God tries to rouse him. Finally, a pagan captain of the ship speaks the same words that God spoke to Jonah in verse two: “Get up!” What ends up happening to Jonah? He ends up going down again, thrown off the ship.
Jonah and the Deep
From the belly of the fish, Jonah prays to God. As he was drowning in the waves, he prayed to God for salvation and he was saved by being swallowed by the fish. Jonah's prayer is full of important imagery, but I want to focus on the up and down imagery in this piece.
Let’s take a look at the places where up and down imagery is used in this prayer and see if we can glean some insights. Up and down imagery is bolded.
I called to the LORD in my distress,
and he answered me.
I cried out for help from deep inside Sheol;
you heard my voice.
When you threw me into the depths,
into the heart of the seas,
the current overcame me.
All your breakers and your billows swept over me.
And I said, “I have been banished
from your sight,
yet I will look once more
toward your holy temple.”
The water engulfed me up to the neck;
the watery depths overcame me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
I sank to the foundations of the mountains,
the earth’s gates shut behind me forever!
Then you raised my life from the Pit, LORD my God!
As my life was fading away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
to your holy temple.
— Jonah 2:2-7 (CSB)
That’s a lot of up and down imagery! It’s not all explicitly up and down, but it’s “deep,” “over,” “engulfed,” “sank,” "raised," and so on. If Jonah reached the foundations of the mountains, he must have gone a long way down!
A Primer on Biblical Cosmology
This isn’t an article explaining Biblical cosmology, but a brief overview will help us understand how this imagery would resonate with an Israelite or their neighbors 2,800 years ago.
Like the book of Jonah, the six days of creation in Genesis 1 are split in half, then each half may be split three ways (in Ch. 1-2 of Jonah: Jonah hears from God, goes to pagans, then talks to God, then he does it again in Ch. 3-4).
On the first three days of Genesis, God separates and orders the three realms of creation: the heavens, the waters above and below, and the dry land. As you can see in the rendering above, God’s heavenly temple is pictured as resting above the watery expanse, which in turn rests on the tips of the mountains (Psalm 75:3, Job 26:11).
The waters below (“the deep”) are an analogical representation of the chaos preceding creation (Genesis 1:2). Within or beneath the watery deep, at the roots of the mountains, resides “Sheol,” the grave, where the dead reside.
Back to Jonah
When we have this context for Jonah’s poetic prayer, the imagery he uses starts to make more sense. When he entered the waters, he entered the most dangerous place for a human being. We are not fish. The dry land was formed on day three of creation for us to live. The waters are the dangerous chaos out of which God formed the world for us (Genesis 1:2).
Jonah has completely lost control of the situation. He couldn’t fight the waters on his own power, God had to intervene and provide him salvation. He sank to Sheol, the foundations of the mountains. He was as good as dead. That is when, finally, he looks to God’s holy temple. Jonah doesn’t mean he faced Jerusalem. He looked up. Finally, he looked up.
God called to him to get up and do as he asked, the pagan sailors told him to get up and call on his God, but it took a near-death experience for him to finally lift his eyes to heaven to pray to Yahweh.
What about Me? What about You?
Jonah is a mirror. We laugh at Jonah’s arrogance and stupidity, yet when the mirror turns on us, it’s suddenly less funny. How many of us have run from the clear teaching of God and gone down, down, down. How many of us had to reach the pit, the watery chaotic depths of our own sin, maybe even to death's door, to finally wake up?
Let us not be like Jonah. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and look full in his wonderful, terrible, not safe, but loving and good face for salvation.
- The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy | Tim Keller 📚
- Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries) | T. Desmond Alexander, David W. Baker, and Bruce Waltke 📚
Christianity Is True ✝️
If you are not familiar, Rationality Rules, a.k.a. Stephen Woodford, is a YouTuber who makes arguments against religious faith. In a video, he makes the argument that miracles don’t show that Theism (the belief that there is a personal God) is true.
Manning spends 10 minutes refuting each of Woodford’s four points, and I think he does so well.
As an aside, I found this in the comments, and I thought I would share it. From “Tronkoop”:
Miracles are one atheistic "argument" that I will never give credence to based off what I have seen God do in my life. One example:
A few years ago my friend suffered a brain injury from hitting his head at work. For years he had constant migraines, dizzy spells, forget where he was for extended periods of time, loss of memory, unable to work for years, unable to sleep, irritability etc. Went to a multitude of doctors and they were unable to help. We prayed over him multiple times and nothing ever changed. One night, at a small prayer and worship night we put on, a friend of ours who was visiting from a different state and had never met my friend with the head injury said the Holy Spirit had told him that he had a head injury and that we should pray for him. So we did, as we had done many times before, and as soon as we began praying, my friend said he felt something click in his head and in that moment, he knew God had healed him. He's never had another symptom. This is one of many stories like this I could tell and have witnessed first hand. You'll never "debunk" this on account of sometimes water spouts drop aquatic animals onto land.
Read and Reflect 📖
Regarding the relationship of Greek philosophers (like Socrates) to Scripture, the early church father Tertullian once asked, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” His implied answer: “Nothing at all.” But most other fathers like Justin Martyr, Augustine, and later Aquinas would answer, “Much in every way!” Indeed, many early church fathers argued for a philosophic preparation of the Greek mind to know Christ in the same way there was a prophetic preparation for the Jewish mind to know Christ.
The relationship between Greek philosophy and Jewish / Christian theology has long been fraught. After Paul, people went in all sorts of strange directions, usually going too far toward Jewish law or Greek Gnosticism. But Bass shows us how Luke portrays Paul as a new and wiser Socrates, one who has true knowledge.
The scene in Athens is even more pronounced with parallels between Socrates and Paul. First of all, Paul’s teaching approach in Athens would’ve reminded Greek readers of Socrates’s daily dialectic. Paul reasoned, argued, and debated with those in the synagogue and with those in the agora (Acts 17:17). Similarly, Xenophon notes that “Socrates lived ever in the open; for early in the morning he went to the public promenades and training grounds; in the forenoon he was seen in the market [agora]; and the rest of the day he passed just where most people were to be met: he was generally talking, and anyone might listen” (Memorabilia 1.1.10).
Finally, Bass gives us four ways to emulate Paul:
- Immerse (in scripture)
- Agree (find common ground)
- Contradict (proclaim the differences)
- Christ (preach the good news of the kingdom)
If you've enjoyed reading this letter, please share it with others and help us grow.
Church History Corner ⛪️
In this episode acclaimed Wesley scholar Dr. William Abraham joined us to discuss the sermons and teachings of John Wesley. We discuss the famous 40 sermons that the Wesleyan tradition has canonized, the Wesleyan quadrilateral, and the anthropology taught by the Wesleyan tradition. Dr. Abraham is a brilliant scholar and lively personality, I hope you all enjoy this episode.
Dr. Abraham makes for a great guest.
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea. (Psalm 46:1–2)
The faithfulness of God often feels the sweetest when he fills a hole left by some loss.
God is ever present, but his presence suddenly can feel more real, even tangible, when trials come. Why else would the psalmist say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”? Not just present, but very present — especially present, lovingly present, relentlessly present. When the earth beneath us begins to give way, he draws even nearer.
Everything we lose in this life is practice for losing it all at death. “For to me to live is Christ,” the suffering apostle says, “and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Trouble and loss are opportunities to press into the presence of God, to deepen our confidence in his faithfulness, to prepare ourselves for endless days without trouble and loss.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
The “How to Read the Bible” series by the BibleProject is one of the most important series they have done. The prophets are perhaps the most difficult to understand books of scripture. You see where I’m going with this.
There’s nothing like the prophetic books in our modern-day literature, which makes it especially difficult to interpret and understand these books.
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
There will always be people who disagree with each other. But as Christians, we are called to disagree better than others do. I don’t agree with Dr. DeYoung on everything, but he’s certainly right about this.
Here are his 8 bad ideas for public discourse (as Christians especially, but it applies to everyone):
- Take everything personally
- Turn everything up to 11
- Assume your experience is the way things really are (or are for everyone)
- Refuse to deal in nuance
- Make everything about everything
- Discount individuals and their ideas based on their group identity
- Pay no attention to the type of communication you are having
- Forget that your opponents are real people
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to the town of Bethany where he had previously raised Lazarus from the dead. A dinner was prepared for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” Sounds philanthropic enough, but I don’t think they really cared about the poor. What they cared about was the embarrassing extravagance of the gesture. Why couldn’t her gratitude be mild and respectable like theirs? So they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.”
Isn’t this the incarnation of Psalm 50:23? “The one who offers thanksgiving as sacrifice glorifies me.”
While the quote above is wonderful, I’m intentionally burying the lede with this one. Please read the incredible story of Losokoi.
A Few More Things
The Garden Ministries Store 🏪
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The Garden Weekly Membership 💰
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A Thank You 🤗
Thank you for reading and sharing with others. I do this to help Christians grow deeper in their faith through challenging the mind and the heart, and I hope that you feel that's been true for you.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
— Matthew 5:10
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