Settings in the Book of Jonah

Chapter 1: From Joppa to the Belly

Verse 3: Joppa

The first reference I have found to Joppa within the scriptures is in Joshua chapter nineteen. This is primarily used as a reference to the border of the lands of Israel, specifically the area allotted unto the tribe of Dan. As such, paired with the context of Jonah’s flight from God’s command, it suggests an idea not just of avoiding a duty, but of leaving God’s borders, of leaving Israel itself. However, this idea already exists within the narrative of Jonah without the additional setting of Joppa.

The second idea connected to Joppa within the scriptures is found in two places, Second Chronicles chapter two and Ezra chapter three. In both of these contexts, Joppa, as earlier in the book of Joshua, stands as a border between the gentile world and the world of God’s chosen people, the Jews. However, the concept of import is added: in both cases, timber is brought in through Joppa so as to build the temple. I see no immediate connection to the general idea of importing wood to build the temple and the story of Jonah, at least as far as the Old Testament is concerned.

Moving into the New Testament, we find three chapters of Acts intermittingly referencing Joppa, chapters nine, ten, and eleven. In chapter nine, Peter is brought into Joppa because of the death of Dorcas. Peter revives Dorcas, and stays in Joppa. While there, in chapter ten, Peter receives a vision from God thrice. Before Peter’s vision, however, a centurion, a gentile, receives communication from God via angel. These two events culminate in Peter going into the centurion’s house. Recapitulated in chapter eleven, chapter ten closes on the revelation that Jesus’ salvation is open unto the gentile as well.

This idea fits very neatly into the salvific aspect of the book of Jonah, where Jonah is sent to non-Jews to preach repentance. The body of Christ is then built by “imports” from Joppa as was the temple.

Verse 3: Ship

Jonah boards a ship, and a good portion of the first chapter takes place on this ship. In Proverbs chapter thirty verse nineteen, a ship on the sea is the third in a list of four things too “wonderful” for Agur. This is perhaps contrasted with Jonah’s ship, as the storms which God sends threaten to break the ship apart. In Isaiah, ships seemingly take an adversarial role, something to be humbled by God. Acts and Jonah share similar stories of tempest tossed ships, and The Revelation of Jesus Christ again treats ships, or those who sail them, as opposing godliness, on the side of fallen Babylon.

In general, a ship is adversarial to God, seemingly connected to kingdoms opposing Israel, or the righteous, such as Tarshish and Babylon; however, the ship is generally humbled. Though in Proverbs a ship’s wonderfulness is expressed, it is shown to be something tossed by God’s winds, “the loftiness of man . . . bowed down” (Isaiah chapter two verse seventeen).

Verse 15: The Sea

Within The NIV Exhaustive Concordance, exhaustive is the operative word for the entry under sea. Nearly four columns are devoted to the subject consisting of 353 entries. Looking them over, I feel I cannot detail them sufficiently, and doubt whether most have any significance, as many of these entries relate to the setting of borders, i.e. the area between one sea and another. However, I’ll focus on a few points, and one which jumps out is Israel’s passing through the Red Sea.

As we’ll get into in chapter two verse ten, the sea is opposed to the dry land, a concept both in the setting of Jonah and that of the parting of the Red Sea. The sea is made into dry land for Israel, but the Egyptians find similar passage untenable.

Like with the ship, the sea is where Jonah goes when fleeing God. However, in verse fifteen, when Jonah enters the sea, it is the point where Jonah has submitted to God’s will. In a sense, it could be seen as Jonah forsaking the fleeting safety of the ship, of man’s work, submitting himself to the fury of God’s storm. We are not given insight into Jonah’s mind, whether he knew what awaited him in the sea or whether he expected to drown, but he knew what God’s will was, for him to be tossed overboard.

Verse 17: Belly of the Fish

This setting is unique. In the Gospel According to Matthew, however, Jesus compares his three day interim interment to Jonah’s three days and three nights in the fish’s belly. While within the guts of the fish, Jonah’s prayer seemingly equates his situation to death, proclaiming that God heard his prayers from Sheol. In general, it seems the lowest a person can reach, and yet from it Jonah is able to bounce back. While within the belly, Jonah is able to reconfigure, to look toward God and His temple. It is at once the place of judgment and the place of forgiveness, the place of separation and the place of reconnection (chapter two verse four).

Chapter 2: Verse 10: Dry Land

The dry land seems to be the point in the narrative where God gives Jonah a second chance. This seemingly has a strong connection to Genesis eight when God sends Noah and company out of the ark and onto the newly dry ground, the point where humanity has a chance to start over. As mentioned earlier, in Exodus God parts the Red Sea so that the Hebrews may pass through on dry land. This context also seems to support the idea of salvation being strongly connected to the setting of dry land.

Chapter 3: Verse 3: Nineveh

Nineveh is first mentioned in Genesis chapter ten, a city built by the great hunter Nimrod.

The next time we hear of Nineveh is in the second book of Kings chapter nineteen verse thirty six. Here it is the hometown of an Assyrian king invading Israel named Sennacherib. After the Angle of the Lord kills Sennacherib’s army, the king returns to Nineveh where he is assassinated by two of his sons. This story is repeated in the book of Isaiah.

Nahum and Zephaniah both prophesy against Nineveh, declaring that it will be drained (Nahum chapter two) and made dry (Zephaniah Chapter two).

The book of Jonah itself provides a certain context for this city by way of Jonah’s own reaction when told to go to Nineveh. He doesn’t want to go and prophesy because he wants God’s wrath to fall upon the city.

Chapter 4: Verse 5: East Of Nineveh

What significance does the East have with the story of Jonah? It is the well-watered land Lot choses when he and Abram split up (chapter 13), where Sodom and Gomorrah are, and it is where the Garden of Eden is planted (chapter 2). It is magi from the east who come to worship Christ in the Gospel According to Matthew. However, it is to the East of Eden where Cain goes to leave the presence of God.

The east wind, appearing in this story and throughout the bible, is destructive and tormenting.

Why does Jonah himself go? To see what will happen to the city of Nineveh. So, how is the East being used in the book of Jonah? Jonah is in a sense waiting on God, a good, and yet in another hoping for the death and destruction of many repentant souls, ostensibly an evil. God’s tormenting east wind meets him there, and it is by this suffering that God provokes Jonah into giving some form of answer to God’s questions.

The book of Jonah then ends on a question, ending the narration in the East.

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