Monday

10 September 2018

Jonah 1:1-17

But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. (v. 3)

 Psalm: Psalm 135:1-7

Background

The word of the Lord comes to Jonah who then does just what a prophet is not supposed to do – runs away. It is a very strange thing to do, especially for someone who has read the Old Testament.  Psalm 139:7-12 is all about how it is simply not possible to run away from the presence of God, but Jonah tries to do exactly that. Other prophets had argued with God about their commission, but only Jonah simply gets up and runs without saying a word.

It is worth knowing that Jonah’s name implies that he should have done the opposite. Jonah’s name means ‘dove’. This reminds us both of the dove that Noah sent out in Genesis 8:8 and of the fact that in the Song of Songs the beloved is called a dove. (Although Janet Howes Gaines suggests the alternative meaning to his name is ‘birdbrain’.) His father’s name is even more evocative. Amittai is related to the word for faithfulness and truth. We could say that Jonah was “the beloved one, child of truth”.

The sailors, on the other hand, appear not to be Jewish and to know nothing about the Jewish God. Yet it is the sailors who do everything to save the ship, while “the beloved child of truth” sleeps down below. They even try to save his life; when he suggests throwing him overboard they try to make it to shore.  Of course, they do eventually sacrifice him and commentators disagree on whether they were forced into it by desperation or they should have continued to try to save Jonah.  

By the end of the passage, however, the sailors are worshipping God and according to the next chapter Jonah is doing the same in very different circumstances.

 

To Ponder

  • Why do you think Jonah ran away? Have you ever done anything similar?
  • Were the sailors right to throw Jonah into the sea?
  • How do you respond to the idea that Jonah was unable to flee from the presence of the Lord? Do you think that is good news, or is the idea threatening?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.