Harry Whittaker

2) Jonah’s Commission (1:1-2)

1: 1,2 Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.

Since, beside these four short chapters, there is only one brief mention of Jonah in the Old Testament, he is virtually an unknown quantity apart from the vivid story now told about him. But certainly by the time these forty-eight verses have been read and pondered, his remarkable personality and even more remarkable experiences leave a lasting impression on the mind. If he could know how marked that impression has been on generations of godly readers, he would probably feel that he had not lived (and died, and lived again), to no purpose.

The inferences to be made about him from his name Jonah ben-Amittai are somewhat unsure, Amittai may mean “My truth”, or more probably is a shortened form of “The truth of Jehovah.” The fact that Jonah was a prophet of the Lord may point to a godly upbringing in the increasingly ungodly environment of the northern Kingdom; but since some of the worst kings of that apostate regime bore the name of Jehovah, such inferences are precarious.

Jonah means Dove, a strange name for a man. Perhaps a parent who remembered that Noah’s dove was the first token of a new and better age bestowed it on him. Then, were these hopes that this son would lead the decadent northern tribes of Israel back to God?

Gath-hepher, with which place Jonah was associated, was in the territory of Zebulun, and hard by the northern border adjoining the immensely strong Syrian city of Hamath.

The one other clear-cut detail known about Jonah is the brief reference in 2 Kings 14: 25:

“He (Jeroboam II, one of the most powerful of the kings of Israel) restored the border of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain (the Dead Sea), according to the word of the Lord God of Israel which he spake by the hand of his servant Jonah...the prophet which was of Gath-hepher”. That prophecy foretold the removal of Syrian threat to his hometown.

However, the modernists, having no confidence that prophets of the Lord could foretell, promptly assume that Jonah lived in the reign. of Jeroboam, about seventy years earlier than the time of Hezekiah of Judah. But, if indeed that snippet of prophecy came well ahead of fulfilment, Jonah’s date may be pushed back to the time of Jehu. By and by reason will be found for thinking this conclusion not unlikely.

The record begins with the Hebrew for “and”, as though presenting an extract from a fuller narrative. And chapter 4 ends in a somewhat abrupt fashion, as well. The Old Testament has quite a catalogue of other writings not included in the received Scriptures, so maybe Jonah had other prophetic activities long since lost from sight or sound.

Indeed, there is some interesting speculation that Isaiah 15: 1-16: 12, which looks like an older prophecy quoted en bloc by Isaiah with high approval: “This is the word that the Lord hath spoken concerning Moab since that time (i.e. long since, or from of old)”. Isaiah then continues: “But now the Lord hath spoken (by me), saying, Within three years, as the years of an hireling (a firm agreement), and the glory of Moab shall be contemned” (v.13, 14). And it was, by the swelling tide of Sennacherib’s empire-building.

Well, it might have been a Jonah prophecy. But the evidence is meagre, virtually non-existent.

How did the word of the Lord come to Jonah? To some prophets the message was imparted by dream by night, or in a vision by day (Is. 6; Dan. 7: 1,2). Men like Jeremiah and Paul knew that divine inspiration was at work in them. The former of these may provide a close parallel to Jonah, for his commission to his nation was such that he sought to repress it:

“His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jer. 20: 9). The Spirit of this prophet was subject to the prophet only so far. Speak he must! Was this Jonah’s case also?

To other men of God there were angelic appearances. Among these, Gideon perhaps comes close to Jonah, for he argued with his directing angel, but only so far.

The last chapter of Jonah ends with a colloquy between God and prophet. This must surely have been by an angelic appearance. It encourages, but does not prove, the conclusion that this also was the character of Jonah’s initial commission to go and preach repentance to the Ninevites. In his prayer (4: 2) there is indication of the prophet remonstrating against the charge laid upon him: “O Lord, was not this my saying while I was yet in my country?” Evidently that dislike of the job crystallized out into direct refusal.

Jonah, a prophet of Jehovah, must have belonged to the faithful remnant—”seven thousand that have not bowed to the image of Baal”— in the northern kingdom. Then is it not fairly probable that his commission to go to Nineveh would come to him from a divine appearance when he was worshipping in the temple at Jerusalem (cp. Isaiah’s experience: Is. 6: 1). One or two small hints pointing to such a conclusion will be touched on as this study of Jonah proceeds.

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