Sunday School Lesson #33

August 8, 2006 | 30 comments
By

Lesson 33: Jonah 1-4; Micah 2, 4-7

This is another long set of study notes. I have adapted them, heavily, from a set of notes that Arthur Bassett made several years ago—but don’t hold Art responsible for any mistakes you see here. They are probably mine. I will provide study notes for both sets of readings, that from Jonah and that from Micah, but I will concentrate my notes on the book of Jonah.

With this lesson we begin to study a group of writings called the Minor Prophets. Jews divide the Hebrew Bible (what we call “the Old Testament,” but what is probably more accurately called “the First Testament”) into the Law (the first five books of the First Testament, also called the Pentateuch), the Writings (parts of which are also called “Wisdom Literature”; the Writings consist of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, The Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles), and the Prophets (Joshua, Judges Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—the Major Prophets—and Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zepheniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—the Minor Prophets) . The terms “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets” have nothing to do with the relative importance of the prophets in question. The terms refer only to the size of the scrolls on which the books are written: the major prophets’ scrolls are large; the minor prophets’ scrolls are small.

To this point, the materials we have read have focused on the miracles done by the prophets. Now the focus changes. Both the minor prophets and the major prophets we will study will focus on their message of repentance to Israel. How would you account for that change? Before dealing directly with this week’s reading materials, I will look briefly at five of the Minor Prophets, Jonah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Joel. There is little doubt about the historical existence of these prophets, except for Jonah. Many believing scholars do not believe that Jonah was an actual person; many do. However, whether he did is irrelevant to our purposes in Sunday School, so I will ignore it and treat Jonah as if he were an actual person.

Jonah

The book of Jonah (Jonah is placed at about 750 B.C.) differs from the other minor prophets in that he doesn’t call Israel to repentance. In addition, whereas we know little about the lives of the other Minor Prophets, the book of Jonah contains a great deal of biographical information about him. His book is about his problems rather than Israel’s. Because the Assyrians have invaded Israel (the Northern Kingdom) on numerous occasions, killing many and taking many into captivity, Jonah hates them. He hates them so much that he refuses to go on a mission to Ninevah for fear that the people there will repent. But Jonah’s story shows God’s love for all his children, even non-Israelites—and Jonah. God will forgive whom he will.

Questions: Why is it difficult to accept God’s love for all people, especially for our enemies or for people who have been guilty of heinous crimes? How does Jonah’s problem manifest itself in our lives? How might that effect us personally? How might it interfere with missionary work? How might it interfere with the mission of the Church as a world-wide church?

Hosea

Hosea was a prophet to the northern kingdom (Israel) at the time of the Assyrian captivity (746-721 B.C.). He was roughly a contemporary of Jonah, Joel, Amos and Isaiah. Those prophets often used literary devices to reach their readers (metaphor, simile, rhetorical figures such as chiasmus, and especially typology). Hosea uses a powerful type to make his point. It is more than a metaphor. It is a real event that serves as a type or shadow of the Lord’s relation to Israel: Hosea is called to marry an adulterous wife, and then, though she has been unfaithful and even had children by other men, he is commanded to buy her back and to love her. The point of this shocking type is that Israel (like an unfaithful wife) has gone whoring after other lovers (pagan gods), and the Lord, the husband who has entered into a covenant with her, will buy her back and love her and bring her to repentance. (Some argue that Hosea did not actually marry the woman he talks about, that she is only a literary device. As with Jonah, it doesn’t matter for our purposes, so I will treat her as real.)

Question: What do we learn about God and his nature from Hosea? Why is the story of Hosea a message of hope? Where else in scripture do we see the same type?

Amos

Amos was a herdsman or wool grower and sycamore fruit gatherer from Judea (Amos 7:14). Unlike the other prophets, he was not called to prophesy to his own people, Judah. Instead the Lord called him as a prophet to Israel. He prophesied in about 765-750 B.C. The metaphors that Amos uses reflect his pastoral background. Amos prophesies against those who have oppressed Israel. Then he prophesies against Israel: he tells us that just as those outside Israel cannot escape judgment for the ways in which they treat others, Israel also cannot escape judgment. Amos’s message condemns a society in which the righteous and the poor were oppressed and treated without mercy. As much as anything else, he is a prophet of social justice. He condemns both Israel and Judah for not keeping their covenant obligations. Amos condemns Judah for such things as idolatry (2:4) and other wickedness. He condemns Israel for things such as social injustice (2:6-8, 4:1, 5:11-12, 8:4-6), practicing idolatry (involving fornication and adultery—2:7), and suppressing the prophets and Nazarites (2:12, 5:10, 5:12, 6:1-6).

Question: What do the things for which Amos condemns Israel and Judah tell us about them? What do they say about the relationship of religious worship to humanitarian concerns? Why is social justice such an important matter in the writings and revelations of the Prophets ancient and modern and in Christ’s teaching?

Micah

Micah was a prophet from the southern kingdom of Judah, probably under king Zedekiah, the last Davidic king (597-587). He was roughly a contemporary of Isaiah, Hosea, and Amos. Micah’s prophecies condemn both Samaria and Jerusalem. His message was that we ought to emulate God. In a day when both kingdoms were corrupt and wicked, Micah’s prophecies centered on three topics: (1) the destruction of Samaria (the northern kingdom, Israel) and Jerusalem (the southern kingdom, Judah) because of transgression; (2) the coming Messiah and his birthplace in Bethlehem; (3) and words of council, chastisement and comfort from the Lord.

Question: How does Micah’s description of what the Lord requires of us (“to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly”) encapsulate the essence of the gospel? Do we sometimes let other aspects of our religious life keep us from grasping this vital principle? What about aspects of our non-religious life?

Joel

It is difficult to know when Joel prophesied. Tradition makes him a contemporary of Hosea during the reign of Joash, king of Judah (837 B.C.). But many believe that his book is one of the latest of the prophetic books (500 B.C. or somewhat later). Joel uses the natural disaster of a plague of insects (locusts, palmworms, cankerworms) to convey the terror, power and destruction of a coming destruction. In turn, that destruction serves as a type of the Lord’s apocalyptic coming, when the earth will be cleansed and burned by fire. Like most of these prophetic writers, Joel ends his prophecy with words of hope and a promise of restoration to the Israelites. Though we seldom refer to Joel, remember that Moroni quoted from his book when he first visited Joseph Smith, telling Joseph that Joel’s prophesy was about to be fulfilled.

Question: Do we understand prophetic images of apocalypse as images of blessing or cursing? Why? Are prophesies such as Joel’s best understood by trying to figure out what they tell us about the future or what they tell us about the present? Why?

At a number of times in the First Testament, there were multiple prophets. We also have more than one prophet today. However, the ancient prophets seem not to have been organized in any fashion nor to have been thought of as ecclesiastical leaders as they are today. How do you explain that difference?

Questions—Jonah

Jonah 1

What do you make of the fact that neither the title “prophet” nor the verb “prophesy” appears anywhere in the book of Jonah?

The book is divided into two parts, Jonah 1:1-2:11 and Jonah 3:1-4:11. Each of those parts correspond to a different mission given to Jonah. In the first mission, Jonah receives God’s mercy; in the second mission, he begrudges God’s mercy to others. What do we learn from the contrast of those two missions?

Verses 1-2: Is it unusual for an Israelite to be called on a mission to the city of Nineveh? The Hebrew word translated “wickedness” may also mean “calamity” or “difficulty.” How do you think Jonah understood it? Why?

Verses 3-4: “Tarshish” was a common name denoting a mining center and port. There was such a city in Spain, a Greek and Phoenician colony there that in ancient times was called “Tartessos,” and “Carthage,” in North Africa, is a variation of the same name. As Word Biblical Commentary points out, the name was as common a descriptive as the name “Portland” is today (31:451). Here it seems to designate merely some far away location. Why would Jonah want to go to Tarshish, when Nineveh is in the opposite direction? Why does Jonah think he could run from God by leaving the borders of the Promised Land? What does the emphasis on the distance to Ninevah tell us and what should it have told Jonah?

Verses 4-6: How could Jonah sleep through the storm? Why do the sailors wake him up? Brigham Young suggested that we put ourselves in Jonah’s place (Journal of Discourses. 7:333) to understand the book. Is that recommendation particularly apt in this instance? Is it significant that the captain addresses Jonah with the same two verbs that the Lord used when he called Jonah, “arise” and “call” or “cry”?

Verses 7-9: Why do the sailors cast lots? What does the word “occupation” mean here?

Verses 12-13: What does the fact that Jonah asks to be tossed overboard tell us about him and his feelings at the time? How does this contrast with his later behavior as regards Ninevah? How do you explain the difference? Why go overboard, rather than just pray for forgiveness from the Lord? Why not just jump overboard? What does the fact that the sailors are hesitant to follow his wishes, even though it possibly means their own death if they do not do so, tell us about them?

Verse 14: What is the innocent blood they refer to?

Verses 15-16: What is their reaction to the calming of the sea?

Verse 17: What does scripture tell us about the origins of the great fish? What does this information do to the arguments about what type of fish it was? We understand the symbolism of Jonah’s three days in the fish in Christian terms: Jonah is a type of Christ, who spent three days in the tomb before he was resurrected. However, we are not the only ones who have read this story symbolically. If we were ancient Israelites or modern Jews, how might we understand the symbolism of Jonah’s three days in the belly of a great fish? For whom might Jonah stand? Who might the great fish that consumes Jonah stand for? (Compare Jeremiah 51:34 and perhaps Isaiah 27:1.) For what might the stay in the darkness of the fish’s belly stand? How do we choose between these two symbolic readings? Must we choose? If the book can have more than one meaning, what prevents it from having any meaning we decide to give it? “The cuneiform characters denoting Ninevah are a combination of the symbols for house and fish” (Jerome Biblical Commentary 1:635). So what?

Jonah 2

Verses 2-9: If this is a foreshadowing of Christ’s experience in the tomb, what does the reference to hell (literally, the place of departed spirits, out of the presence of God) foreshadow (1 Peter 3:18-20)? What do you make of the references to the temple? . . . to being brought up from corruption? Is there a baptism motif here? In Hebrew, verses 2-9 are in poetic form, though what comes before and after is prose? Why is the prayer in poetic form rather than prose?

Jonah 3

Verses 1-2: How is this new beginning significant to our understanding of Jonah’s story typologically?

Verse 4: Note the size of Nineveh; it was one of the grandest cities of its day. The word “Ninevah” may refer not only to the city, but to the region surrounding it, an area of about 26 square miles (Jerome Biblical Commentary 1:636). What are Jonah’s feelings regarding the city? Has his attitude toward the Assyrians changed as a consequence of being in the sea? Why? How do you explain a missionary going to preach the gospel to a people he strongly dislikes?

Verses 5-9: How is the drowning metaphor of verses 5-6 appropriate as a description of sin? Why might the writer of Jonah not bothered to mention the name of the king of Ninevah? How do the Assyrians express their repentance? What might cause the entire city to repent? How does this compare to Israel (cf. Ezekiel 3:4-7)?

Verse 10: What is God’s reaction to their repentance? What does God’s “repentance” tell us about the nature of divine prophecies? How might this story, like the story of Namaan, make us question our presuppositions about what the First Testament teaches?

Jonah 4

Verses 1-2: How do you explain Jonah’s reaction to the repentance of the people of Nineveh? What do you make of the fact that Jonah says, essentially, “Didn’t I tell you this would happen?” (verse 2)? If he really did already know that Ninevah would probably repent, why did Jonah flee his mission? Wouldn’t we expect his response to be like that of Amos, “The Lord hath spoken, who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:8)? How might Jonah have justified his flight to himself? Why would anyone get angry when others repent? What lesson can we learn from Jonah’s anger and its outcome? Can you think of an instance where you’ve had something like Jonah’s experience?

Verse 3: Why would Jonah want to die, when earlier he had fought so strenuously for his life while in the belly of the great fish?

Verse 4: Isn’t this the heart of the story: how can someone who has received God’s grace refuse it to others? In what ways do we refuse divine grace to other people?

Verses 5-7, 10: Why would God raise up a gourd in one night and then destroy it? What has the miraculous gourd to do with the story of Jonah’s rescue from the fish? With the story of the city of Ninevah? Compare and contrast verse 6 with 1 Kings 19:4. Is this similarity intentional? What does it teach us? What is Jonah waiting to see? Verse 5 tells us that he is waiting to see “what would become of the city,” but he isn’t just curious. What is he hoping will happen?

Verse 8: Why would the Lord send an east wind? What is the significance of an east wind to an Israelite? Where is it coming from? Note also that the writer makes a special point earlier (v. 5) that Jonah had positioned himself on the east of the city—which means that he is on the opposite side of the city from where he would have entered; he has crossed the entire city. What is Jonah’s response to his situation after the gourd dies? How is the use of the gourd in this situation like the parable of the man and his sheep that Nathan tells David after David’s involvement with Bathsheba? In other words, how do these stories open the way for the recipient to be his own judge? Does that say anything about divine judgment in general?

Verse 10: How is Jonah’s pity (“concern” might be a better translation) for the gourd ironic?

Verse 11: What lesson in love and regard for human kind does God teach Jonah through the death of the gourd and Jonah’s reaction to it? Who is the Lord talking about when he speaks of those who cannot tell their right from their left hand? Why does he mention the cattle?

Questions—Micah

Micah 2

Verse 1: What does Micah mean when he speaks of people “devising iniquity and working evil upon their beds”? He is not talking about sexual sin.

Verse 2: What kind of evil have the wealthy been planning? (In verse 2, “heritage” means “inheritance.”)

Verse 11: Who is Micah referring to when he speaks of those who shall be the prophets accepted by his people?

Verses 12-13: What is the point of these verses? What do they mean to us personally? How do you explain what verse 13 means? Who has been broken up? What does it mean that they have “passed through the gate”? If they are broken up, how can the Lord be at their head?

Micah 3

Verses 1-3: How does one eat the flesh of the Lord’s people? How does this description coincide with a description of sacrifices? If so, are those Israelite sacrifices on the temple altar or idolatrous sacrifices? Or, is the comparison to butchers preparing slaughtered animals?

Verse 5: How do the prophets make the people err? What does God propose to do about these prophets (3:6-7)? What does Micah mean when he says they will cover their lips? Where do we find such prophets today?

Verse 8-11: Micah has come, he says, to make a particular declaration of iniquity on Israel. What is the substance of that declaration? What does his chastisement of the judges, the priest, and the prophets tell us about the religious practices of the times? the judicial practices?

Verse 12: Does the punishment fit the crime? If so, how?

Micah 4

Verses 1-3: (Notice that these verses are the same as Isaiah 2:2-4.) Why are mountains so important in Old Testament writings? What can they symbolize—and why? We know how we understand the prophecy of these verses. How might someone in Micah’s audience have understood it? What description does Micah give of the millennial reign? How might we prepare for that reign? (Note that Sargon and Sennacherib, kings of Assyria, attacked Jerusalem during Micah’s time, making his prophecy of a time when the nations would flow to the temple especially poignant.)

Verses 4-8: What does Micah mean by the image of the vine and the fig tree? Are those particularly significant? Whom has the Lord afflicted, in other words, injured (verse 6)? Why is the Lord’s promise to be the king of Israel important at this point in their history? What does it have to do with what we have seen Israel (then Judah and Israel) go through? How is this prophecy of Israel’s restoration relevant to us?

Verses 9-10: How is the image of child birth apt? What do you make of the reversed exodus imagery in verse 10: instead of leaving Egypt and dwelling in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, Israel will leave Zion and dwell in a field on its way to Babylon.

Verses 11-13: What is it that Sennacharib and the others who attack Zion do not know or understand?

Micah 5

Verse 1: A significant number of scholars believe that this verse belongs in chapter 4. Can you explain why they might think that?

Verses 2-3: How does Matthew’s quotation of Micah (Matthew 2:4-6) about the birthplace of the Savior differ from the original prophecy? Does where he comes from help explain why Micah might be the only one to name the birthplace of the Savior? Why was the Savior to be born in Bethlehem rather than in the capital city, Jerusalem?

Micah 6

Verses 1-5: What is gained by the Lord recounting the history of Israel from the time of Moses forward? Why do the prophets’ teachings often begin by reminding us of our past history, the history of Israel? Why, out of all the things he could have referred to, would God remind the Israelites of Balaam?

Verse 7: To what is the Lord referring?

Verse 8: What do you think of Micah’s synopsis of the requirements of the Lord? How can this include everything that is required of us? How are these three all brought together in the Holy of Holies when the High Priest comes before the Ark of the Covenant? Why would all of these be associated with our state of being, rather than what we have done? What is gained by this type of approach to the gospel?

Verses 11-12, 14 (also Micah 7:5-6): What is wrong in the business world of that time? What does that mean in today’s terms? How can one eat and not be satisfied? What does it mean to do evil “with both hands”? What is vengeance when it is the Lord’s vengeance? Is it vindictiveness or retaliation? If not, what is it?

Micah 7

This chapter is often described as a lament. Why?

Verses 5-6: What is happening to the family at Micah’s time?

Verses 7-10: What is the significance of the “therefore” that begins verse 7? What does verse 9 tell us about the process of repentance?

Verses 18-20: What is Micah’s final evaluation of the Lord? Why is it a good one?

30 Responses to Sunday School Lesson #33

  1. Julie M. Smith on August 8, 2006 at 7:30 pm

    Ooooh: how did you get that fancy small caps font to work?

  2. Ben on August 8, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    McKenzie in his relatively new How to Read the Bible goes through the reasons why an Israelite would have recognized Jonah as a satirical parable, and further argues that we miscategorize its genre as “literal historical recollection.” Though I really dislike the rest of his book (Brettler’s How to Read the Bible is better), I find his approach and reasoning compelling.

  3. Jim F. on August 8, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Julie: Text

    Ben: Thanks for the reference. I continue to think that the issue of Jonah’s historicity is irrelevant to studying the book for Sunday School class, but for those who wish to follow up on that question, this is helpful information.

  4. Jim F. on August 8, 2006 at 9:39 pm

    Oops, my inner dummy forgot that I can’t just type an example of the code because WordPress will read it as code and put that code into effect. Open the code with a left angle bracket (“< "). Then spell out the word "span." Follow that with the phrase "style="font-variant: small-caps". Then close the phrase with a right angle bracket (">“). Write out your text after that, and follow the text with a left angle bracket, a slash (“/”), and the word “span.” Close that with a right angle bracket.

    I’m sure there’s an easier way, but this is the way I know. I just copy code from things I see; I don’t actually know anything about html code. I’m quite a fan of the “source” option under “view.”

  5. Ben on August 8, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Jim, I agree about 98%. The trick in Church is getting people to the part of Jonah that matters, ie. the last few verses :)

  6. BrianJ on August 9, 2006 at 12:11 am

    Here is a nice article from the Ensign that touches on some of the questions Jim F raises.

  7. Kurt on August 9, 2006 at 8:12 am

    the book of Jonah contains a great deal of biographical information about him. His book is about his problems

    But, note the entire text is in the third person. This isnt so much his book, as it is a book about a guy named Jonah and his dealings with the Lord. There isnt anything first person in the entire text. To me, this makes the entire swallowed-by-a-whale-and-spit-back-up-on-shore thing more palatable, as it isnt Jonah’s version of the account, but some third party’s naturalistic explication of something they didnt witness firsthand.

  8. Julie M. Smith on August 9, 2006 at 11:12 am

    I know Jim and others are not interested in the historical angle of this story, but for those who are interested, this is how I handle it–this is a handout that I give to the class:

    _____________________________

    In October 1922 . . . the First Presidency received a letter from Joseph W. McMurrin asking about the position of the church with regard to the literality of the Bible. Charles W. Penrose, with Anthony W. Ivins, writing for the First Presidency, answered that the position of the church was that the Bible is the word of God as far as it was translated correctly. They pointed out that there were, however, some problems with the Old Testament. The Pentateuch, for instance, was written by Moses, but “it is evident that the five books passed through other hands than Moses’s after his day and time. The closing chapter of Deuteronomy proves that.” While they thought Jonah was a real person, they said it was possible that the story as told in the Bible was a parable common at the time. The purpose was to teach a lesson, and it “is of little significance as to whether Jonah was a real individual or one chosen by the writer of the book” to illustrate “what is set forth therein.” They took a similar position on Job. What is important, Penrose and Ivins insisted, was not whether the books were historically accurate, but whether the doctrines were correct. Nevertheless, higher criticism, they pointed out, was merely scholarly opinion and could say nothing about the doctrinal accuracy of the ideas in the books.

    Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930 [University of Illinois Press, 1996], page 282.

    Are we to reject it as being an impossibility and say that the Lord could not prepare a fish, or whale, to swallow Jonah? . . . Is it more of a miracle for the Lord to prepare a fish to carry Jonah to shore that he might fill the mission assigned to him, than it is for the President of the United States to speak in an ordinary tone and be heard, under certain conditions, by all people in all parts of the earth? Honestly, which is the greater miracle?

    Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., edited by Bruce R. McConkie [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954-1956], 2: 314.

    It is ironic that the profound message of the book of Jonah is often swallowed up in the speculations about the great fish, dwarfed by the debates about the size of Nineveh, ignored because of the image of fasting beasts draped in sackcloth, or diminished by the dramatic growth of a gourd plant. The book of Jonah contains a compelling story of Jonah, an Israelite, and his encounter with foreign men and foreign place replete with all of these wonders. The medium of the message is most often irony—that is, a constant incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs. But just as the props are not the play, neither is the medium the message; it is only a means to the end. The book of Jonah teaches in its four short chapters much about the nature of God and man and ultimately has something profound to say about relationships, specifically that the relationship between a man and his Maker has profound implications for a man’s relationship with his fellow humans. Because we recognize ourselves in Jonah, we initially smile at his humanness—but by the end we are sobered, as we, like Jonah, are humbled by the grace of God and come to recognize our own hidden duplicities.

    David Rolph Seely, “The Book of Jonah� in Kent P. Jackson, ed., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 4: 1 Kings to Malachi [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1993], 46.

    ____________________________________________

    This represents my own thinking on the story: (1) it may or may not be historical, (2), it very well could have been historical because God certainly is capable of such a thing, (3) focusing on historicity or lack thereof constitutes a missed opportunity. I do especially like that last statement–Jonah, fact or parable, is a book with an amazing theology.

  9. Kaimi Wenger on August 9, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Good lesson, Jim. But it’s incomplete without a link to the words to “Swallow the Prophet.” :)

  10. Jim F. on August 9, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Brian J. And Julie: thank you for the article from the ensign and the quotations. Both should be helpful to people studying these materials. I am especially pleased to see the quotation from Dave Seely. He is not well-known, but I think that he is one of our smartest LDS Bible scholars.

    Kurt: When I said “his book is about his problems” I didn’t mean to emphasize the word “his.” You are right, it is important to remember that this book is written in the third person. My point was just that the book of Jonah contains more biographical information than the other books. Together, I think your point and mine should help us see that we ought not to read Jonah as we read other books of the Old Testament.

  11. Jim F. on August 9, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Kaimi, are you–perhaps–one of the lead editors for the Boys Life humor page?

  12. SA on August 11, 2006 at 9:28 am

    Jim, thanks for your time in preparing this. Your notes on Amos, Micah, Hosea, call to mind a comment from Lowell Bennion comment I recently ran across: \”You don\’t truly know religion if you don\’t know the writing prophets of the Old Testament: Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. They were great thinkers and expounders of the religious life. They reject every expression of religion if it is not accompanied by justice and mercy in human relationships.â€?

    (I don\’t know those writings, yet, hence my appreciation for your efforts. As I teach my class, my occasional supplementary readings have come to be a mix of your notes, the \”Blogging the Bible\”entry at Slate.com, Bennion\’s \”The Unknown Testament,\” and Heber Snell\’s \”Ancient Israel: Its Story and Meaning. A Brief History for LDS Seminaries, Colleges, and for the General Reader.\”

  13. Jim F. on August 11, 2006 at 10:50 am

    SA, you’re certainly welcome. As you come across interesting ideas, questions, or links, if you have the time, please share them with us.

  14. grego on August 13, 2006 at 7:39 am

    It has been shown that sharks were in the Med (and still are to this day). It’s easier to be swallowed by a shark than to evisage a whale, esp. in that area. But has a human ever been reported to have been swallowed by a shark, and lived? Yes. ( When he was spit up on shore, he was all white from the acid.) So, everything in the story is possible and plausible.

  15. grego on August 13, 2006 at 9:50 am

    By the way, what great symbolism that (#14) provides for the “jaws of death”, the “gaping mouth of Hell”, etc.

  16. SA on August 13, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    grego, regarding your #14 reference to a man spit out by a shark, do you have a cite ? I wonder if you are thinking of the James Bartlely story (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/hub/A449345).
    If you have a cite, I’d be interesting in reading further (not because it would measurably affect whether I regard the story as historical, but because it may be a nice additon to our family collection of fish lore for long road trips).

  17. grego on August 13, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Checked the link–very interesting. But no, it wasn’t that–it was a shark. It was in one of those thick “world’s greatest” or “world’s most interesting” type of books from about 20 years ago in our public library. IIRC, it was a fisherman who lived in a village. I can’t remember much more, sorry.

  18. Stirling on August 16, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Kaimi, thanks for the link to the Swallow the Prophet song. It has spread through our ward like wildfire.

  19. BrianJ on August 26, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Jim F,

    Just a minor question/clarification: You wrote, “Micah was a prophet from the southern kingdom of Judah, probably under king Zedekiah, the last Davidic king (597-587).” But Micah 1:1 states, “The word of the LORD that came to Micah the Morasthite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.” The latter puts him around 740-690 BC.

    For those interested, Gath-hepher, the city where Jonah was born, was about 5 miles from Nazareth, putting it squarely in the Northern Kingdom.

    And one final point: I find it disturbing that Jonah’s stated reason for why he does not want to go to Ninevah is not that he thinks the city will repent, but that he thinks the Lord will have mercy on them even if they don’t repent:

    “because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment” (4:2). Compare Jer 18:1-11, which is the more familiar, “if and only if you repent, then will you be spared.”

  20. Robert C. on August 26, 2006 at 5:51 pm

    Brian J. #19: I’m not convinced that 4:2 is saying Jonah was afraid God would spare them even if they didn’t repent. The same phrase is used in Joel 2:13 (which is also confusing in the KJV), but the context there is clear that God might relent, but only only when repentance occurs. I think Jonah was simply afraid they might repent in which case he knew God might spare them. And so, I think a main moral from the book of Job is forgiveness, that unlike Jonah, we need to be gracious like God is. I think Jonah’s desire for death after Nineveh repents underscores this theme. That is, Jonah was so unforgiving that he didn’t want to live in a world where Nineveh was spared, even after they repented.

    What I find more confusing than Jonah’s desire for death is Elijah’s desire for death. Joe Spencer has posted some very interesting thoughts on this, and I’ve read the very interesting view that Mogget took at the FPR blog, but I’m still wondering about that one (so I’d welcome any more thoughts on that…).

    Also, I think God’s forgiveness of Nineveh makes for an interesting contrast/counterpoint for what I term the “hardening theme” in the scriptures (see commentary on Isa 6:9, mostly written by Joe Spencer, except for this one section on hardening…). I actually think Jonah serves as a counter-balance to hardening themes such as the “shut their eyes” command in Isa 6:9, the “seeing they may see, and not perceive” idea in Mark 4:12 (why Christ taught in parables), the “lying spirit” that God condones in 1 Kgs 22:22 etc. In these and related passages, I think God is sort of letting those who reject the gospel tie their own noose, or at least the confusion God allows/causes is a result of not repenting or accepting what amount of truth has been offered.

    Ultimately, I think the extent to which Jonah’s call is similar to Isaiah’s call (and other hardening passages) depends on how one reads Jonah 1:2. The KJV makes the calls similar using the phrase “cry against [Nineveh]; for their wickedness is come up before me.” However, the Word Biblical Commentary takes a very different approach: “Go to the important city, Nineveh, and speak against it, for their trouble is of concern to me.â€? If there is indeed a similarity between Isaiah’s call and Jonah’s call, then I think this weakens the theological “problem” in Isa 6:9-10—Isaiah, like Jonah is simply being called to “cry against” a people which will expedite their destruction if they don’t repent (Isaiah’s case), or it will result in repentance and God showing forth mercy (Jonah’s case).

  21. BrianJ on August 26, 2006 at 11:40 pm

    Robert C, #20:

    What can I say? I am convinced. This notion originally came to my attention while reading the footnotes in the LDS edition. I was skeptical of this interpretation, however, so I checked a few other sources, including the NET Bible and several other translations. The word is almost always translated as “repenteth” or “relents.” Given the ambiguity of the word “repent” in reference to God, I favor the latter, which refers to softening or turning more moderate. I think it it safe, therefore, to say that while Jonah knows that the Lord is disugusted with the sins of Ninevah, he expects the Lord to be lenient. This is not to say that Ninevah will get the same treatment whether they repent or not, just that the Lord will not destroy them in either case (as Jonah would have him do). I believe that Jonah is accurate in his portrayal of God. I give the same interpretation for Joel 2:13.

    In any case, my and your views are not opposed to your conclusion about one moral of the Book of Jonah: “…forgiveness, that unlike Jonah, we need to be gracious like God is…. Jonah was so unforgiving that he didn’t want to live in a world where Nineveh was spared….”

  22. BrianJ on August 26, 2006 at 11:58 pm

    Re, Jonah’s and Elijah’s desire for death:

    I’m afraid the discussion at FPR proved me to be too much of a simpleton. Elijah comes across as feeling sorry for himself and then exaggerating his depression by asking to die. The Elijah before and after the “broom-tree and the dessert incident” is energetic and assertive; the Elijah under the broom tree is listless and self-absorbed.

    Jonah, on the other hand, seems to be challenging God’s wisdom in much the same way as Job. Job is angry because the righteous are not always blessed in the way they want; Jonah is angry because the wicked are not always punished the way the self-righteous want. God tells both of them, “I’m not your trick pony–I’m running the show.” Job gets it and admits that things are best according to God’s morality; Jonah doesn’t get it and first tries to go somewhere where God (Jehovah) isn’t, and upon learning he can’t, he chooses death over submission.

  23. BrianJ on August 27, 2006 at 12:19 am

    One last reply to Robert C, #20:

    Thanks for linking to those other discussions. I can always count on you to bring in some very interesting points (that keep me staying up much later than is healthy). As for Jonah’s call in 1:2, compare the altered wording in 3:2.

  24. Laurel Tanner on August 27, 2006 at 12:19 am

    I too am grateful (mostly) for the Swallow the Prophet song. I have been laughing about this all week. It might not set the tone I should be looking for, exactly, to have everyone join me in a rousing chorus to begin our SS lesson, but I keep coming back to it anyway. I mean, how ELSE can I start?

    I’ve been glad for the discussion & comments on Jonah as well. There are ways to spin his story into a great missionary endeavor, about serving in far-flung places and our responsibility to teach the world–

    But what I have always loved about Jonah is that he is naughty. In direct contrast to those like Moses & Elijah, with their great power & miraces, Jonah I can relate to. He throws a rather large tantrum, and he hates his neighbors, and when he sees other people have good things happen to them when he wished them ill, he sulks.

    I like seeing someone who struggles, and resists God’s will and is gently guided to be gracious about things not going the way he wanted. In the real world, and in the Gospel, we don’t always get our way, and I am glad for the childish, petulant (naughty) sample to learn from: How can we be mature about our choices to serve or not, about charity for others even when it’s hard (sometimes, it is!), about bending our will to the Lord because he can make use of us, to our benefit and to others’, about understanding that God’s plan is bigger than us, although we are included if we wish.

    Such different lessons we learn from the naughty ones . . . .

  25. Jim F. on August 27, 2006 at 1:01 am

    BrianJ: I hate it when it turns out I wasn’t paying sufficient attention, but I appreciate you making these corrections (#19) as well as the additional material you so often bring to bear.
    You say of Jonah 4:2: “he thinks the Lord will have mercy on them even if they don’t repent.” I think youir reading is almost right. I wouldn’t say “the Lord will have mercy on them,” but “the Lord may have mercy on them,” but that may be what you intended. Since the Lord causes his rain to fall on the unjust as well as the just, we cannot know that he will not be merciful, even to those who have not repented. It seems to me that Jonah knows this possibility: he preaches repentance or destruction; Ninevah doesn’t repent; and, for reasons known only to the Lord, they are not destroyed.

    Robert C., you are right to point out that one of the most important lessons of the story of Jonah is that “unlike Jonah, we need to be gracious like God is…. Jonah was so unforgiving that he didn’t want to live in a world where Nineveh was spared.” I have been thinking this evening about how I plan to teach my lesson tomorrow, and I think that will be my focus.

    BrianJ is right, you always link to excellent supplemental material. Thank you–and, through you, thanks also to Joe Spencer.

    Laurel, your way of putting this is excellent. I’m going also to steal that for my Sunday School lesson.

  26. Robert C. on August 27, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Brian #21: I think you’re right that Jonah’s concern is that God is too gracious. Like Jim, I’m not ready to say that God would for sure have spared Nineveh if they hadn’t repented, but thanks for pressing me on this, I don’t think we can say that God wouldn’t have spared Nineveh even they hadn’t repented either. I think I’ve been sort of over-focusing on the wrathful aspect of God in the OT, over-compensating for my tendency to only focus on the loving-kindness traits of God we find in the NT and which seem more common in the triple combination than in the OT. I’ve been trying to wade through the first chapter of Jean-Luc Marion’s God Without Being and he makes a very good point about essentially not pigeon-holing God. I think this is very pertinent to reading the OT, esp. with Job, Isaiah, Jonah and others. Although my tendency is to try and put a neat little moral-bow on each passage in the OT, I think that might be a way of wresting the scriptures. That is, I don’t think we’re always (or even frequently?) given good reasons for what God does in the scriptures—so I think it was wrong of me to try and second-guess what God would do to Nineveh if they hadn’t repented. I think I need to watch this pigeon-holing tendency I have, esp. in gearing up for Paul next year and his election of grace doctrine. Was this the lesson Job was to learn—to endure his suffering patiently and faithfully, without demanding (though it seems his supplicating God wasn’t condemned…) that God justify himself. “I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive.” Similarly we might think of God saying “I will show grace to Nineveh if I choose, but of you it is required to forgive them….”

    Brian #22: I don’t think your view in Elijah is simplistic. And you’re not alone feeling a bit intimidated by Mogget’s ability to analyze a passage of scripture! In fact, I think you’re reading is supported by similarities with Moses in Num 11:15. Both prophet’s seem disheartened by the responsibilities and disappointments that accompany their prophetic responsibilities. In fact, I think contrasting Jonah’s motivations for desiring death with Moses’ and Elijah’s motivations deepens the impact of Jonah’s statement. That is, in contrast to Moses and Elijah who have faithfully tried to fulfill their role as prophet and are discouraged b/c they are not having more of an impact on the people, Jonah’s lament is a result of his success!

  27. Robert C. on August 27, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Laurel #24: Great thoughts. I think as we are supposed to consider ourselves Adam and Eve in the temple we are also supposed to consider ourselves Jonah (and Laman and Lemuel and Korihor etc.). Or maybe it’s just easier for me to identify with the naughty ones rather than the righteous ones!

    What I think is particularly challenging (and I’ve been learning this can be a very productive challenge) is when the scriptures don’t say (at least not clearly) whether a particular character is naughty or not (for example, Jacob and his mother “stealing” the birthright; of course there are many more examples…). Although such ambiguity is unsettling, I becoming more convinced that such ambiguity plays an important role in our own pondering, praying, and searching. After all, Job was never really given a very direct and/or easy answer for the reason for his suffering, so why should we expect direct and/or answers to our questions? This is something I’ve come to admire about Jim’s questions—they seem to be questions posed from a humble, seeking/searchng stance, rather than the more impatient attitude I frequently have. I have to confess that at first I was quite frutstrated that he would raise all of these questions without answering them or even claiming to have answers for them. I wanted answers, not more questions (I have enough of those myself!). But the questions forced me to recognize this impatience in myself and, like I think the process of studying the scriptures itself is supposed to do, this recognition has forced me to admit this impatience and thereby take a more humble stance myself…

  28. BrianJ on August 27, 2006 at 11:02 pm

    Robert C, #27: “[As] we are supposed to consider ourselves Adam and Eve in the temple we are also supposed to consider ourselves Jonah (and Laman and Lemuel and Korihor etc.).”

    Part of the message of Jonah—indeed, much of the OT and NT—is that the chosen people are not better than others just because of their lineage or religion. So think of the irony of reading Jonah and not considering oneself as Jonah.

  29. BrianJ on August 27, 2006 at 11:49 pm

    Jim F, #25: “I wouldn’t say “the Lord will have mercy on them,â€? but “the Lord may have mercy on them,â€? but that may be what you intended.”

    I think I may be confusing you, Robert C, and many other readers. In order to be more clear, let me use a punishment scale (and also refer to Mosiah 2:21-25): for a minor sin, you deserve 1 degree of punishment, for the most grevious sin, you deserve 10 degrees. Let’s say that Nineveh was around a 9—which would mean total destruction. Jonah fears that if Nineveh repents, they won’t be punished at all. That means no slack in their strength and the prophesies of Amos and Hosea (about Assyria destroying the unrepentant Israel) can come true. I know that we agree on this point.

    But I also think that Jonah fears that even if Nineveh does not repent, the Lord is so merciful that he will “relent,” and only hit Nineveh with 6 or 7 degrees. It may be enough that it’s an incentive to Nineveh, but either way they will not be punished enough for Jonah’s satisfaction. Jonah is shaking his finger at the Lord, saying, “You never give people what they deserve!” For Jonah’s sake, good thing that’s true.

    And, Jim F, as far as you “not paying sufficient attention…” You publish, as a volunteer, with no editor and limited time, extremely helpful notes well in advance of your own teaching schedule so that dozens of other teachers can prepare significantly better lessons, yet have no genuine way to give you credit or thanks. Even Jonah would be willing to cut you some slack (not that you need much).

  30. Robert C. on September 3, 2006 at 10:21 am

    I found this quote interesting about the barter-to-merchant changes going on during the time of Michah (perhaps only b/c I’m an economist…):

    “As Israel’s society shifted to a merchant economy and the use of money replaced barter as the basis for transactions, the separation between rich and poor broadened. Unethical merchants were able to increase their profits by using a light weight to balance the amount of a product they sold and a heavy weight to balance the gold they charged for the product.” (Smith, R. L., 2002, Vol. 32: Word Biblical Commentary : Micah-Malachi. Word Biblical Commentary (5). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.)

    BrianJ #29: Thanks for the clarification. That’s an interesting way to view God being gracious—not quite the way I tend to think of it, but I don’t think I necessarily disagree with it either….