- Jonah, the son of Amittai, was from Gath-Hepher, which was north of Nazareth. Therefore he was a prophet from the Galilee region, and was active during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel (786-746 BC) and predicted that Jeroboam would recover certain lost territories. In the description of Jonah given in the dictionary of the current LDS scriptures, we are told that the book may not have been written by Jonah himself, but much later by someone who was recounting an episode from Jonah’s life. For our purposes here, that is beside the point. As discussed in the foreword to this book, we rarely have the actual words of the prophet to whom a book is attributed, because these books went through centuries of copyists and redactors, any of whom were capable of making mistakes or intentionally altering the text to reflect their own theological views. So we deal with what we have until something better comes along. In this case, it is a fairly simple story that we are dealing with, and one which was deemed worth mentioning by both Matthew (12:38-41) and Luke (11:29-32) in the New Testament, where both gospel writers report the words of Jesus as he refers to the mission of Jonah to Nineveh. The fact that Jesus referred to Jonah confirms that Jonah was a historical figure, regardless of who finally wrote down his story.
In terms of symbolism, we may note that the name, Jonah, means “dove,” which is sometimes used as a symbol for the Holy Ghost. Also, the cuneiform (Akkadian) symbol for Nineveh is a town (more specifically a tower, which was the symbol for a city) with a fish inside it. Therefore, Jonah tried to avoid going to a city whose symbol was a fish, and then, in an episode of divine irony, was instead swallowed by a fish!
Jonah receives a mission call from Yahweh, but tries to flee to Tarshish.
- 1. And the word of Yahweh came to Jonah, the son of Amittai, saying:
2. Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim concerning it that their evil has come up before me.
3. But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish,1 away from Yahweh; and he went down to Jaffa, and he found a ship going to Tarshish, and he paid the fee, and he got on board to go with them to Tarshish, away from Yahweh.
4. But Yahweh cast a great wind onto the sea, and there was a great storm on the sea, and the ship seemed about to be broken up.
5. And the sailors were afraid, and they cried out, each one to his god; and they cast the objects which were in the ship into the sea to lighten it, but Jonah went down into the ship’s hold and lay down and went to sleep.
6. And the captain approached and said to him, What is the matter with you, sleeper? Get up, call to your God. Perhaps God will give us some thought and we will not perish!
7. And they said to each other, Come, let us cast lots and (then) we will know on whose account this evil is upon us. And they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
8. So they said to him, Tell us now on whose account this evil is upon us. What is your profession, and where do you come from? What is your land, and from what people are you?
9. And he said to them, I am a Hebrew, and I fear Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who has made the sea and the dry land.
10. And the men were terribly afraid, and they said to him, What is this that you have done? For the men knew that he was fleeing away from Yahweh, for he had told them.
11. And they said to him, What shall we do with you, so that the sea will recede from us, for the sea is becoming ever more stormy?
12. And he said to them, Pick me up and cast me into the sea, and the sea will recede away from you, for I know that this great storm is upon you because of me.
13. And the men rowed vigorously to bring it back to dry land, but they were not able to, for the sea continued to rage upon them.
14. And they called to Yahweh and said, Please Yahweh, do not let us perish for the life of this man, and do not put innocent blood upon us, for you, Oh Yahweh, have done as you wished.
15. And they picked up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
16. And the men feared Yahweh greatly, and they made a sacrifice to Yahweh, and they vowed vows.
17. But Yahweh had appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish
- 1. And Jonah prayed to Yahweh, his God, from the belly1 of the fish.2
2. And he said, In my distress I called out to Yahweh, and he answered me; from the belly of Sheol I cried out, (and) you heard me!
3. And you cast me into the deep, in the heart of the seas, and a river was all around me; all your breakers and your waves passed over me.
4. And I said, I have been driven from before your eyes, but I will continue to look upon your holy temple.
5. Water encompasses me almost to death; the deep is all around me. The seaweed is wrapped around my head.
6. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains, (where) the bars of the earth were about me forever, but you raised up my life from the pit, Oh Yahweh, my God.
7. When my soul grew faint upon me, I remembered Yahweh, and my prayer came to you in your holy temple.
8. Those who cling to false vanities forsake their love.3
9. But I will sacrifice to you with a voice of gratitude. That which I have vowed I will pay (for) the salvation of Yahweh.
10. And Yahweh spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
2. The versification in this chapter does not correspond to the MT, because verse 17 in chapter 1 of the English version is actually verse 1 of chapter 2 in the MT. Therefore, verse 1 of chapter 2 in the English version, is verse 2 of chapter 2 in the MT etc.
3. The word here is hesed, which refers to a type of divine love that Latter-day Saints would recognize as “charity,” or the pure love of Christ. This is the type of love that is being forsaken by those who cling to useless things.
The king of Nineveh proclaims a fast and repentance
- 1. And the word of Yahweh came to Jonah a second time, saying:
2. Arise, go to the great city of Nineveh, and proclaim to it the proclamation which I will say to you.
3. So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of Yahweh; and Nineveh was a city important to God, 1 a walk of three days. 2
4. And Jonah began to go to the city, (and had traveled) one day’s walk, and he called out and said, In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown!
5. And the people of Nineveh believed in God and proclaimed a fast, and they dressed in sackcloth, from their greatest to their smallest.
6. And the word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne and he took off his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes.
7. And he caused it to be proclaimed, and he said: In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying: No man or beast, or cattle or sheep will eat anything, nor graze, nor drink water.
8. But they will cover themselves with sackcloth – man and beast – and they will call mightily unto God; everyone will repent of his evil say and of the violence which is in their hands.
9. Whoever knows, will repent, and God may relent and turn away his burning wrath, and we may not perish.
10. And God saw their deeds, that they had repented of their evil ways, and God relented from the evil which he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
2. As traditionally understood, “three days walk” does not mean from Jonah’s starting point to the city, but rather that the city was so large that it took three days to go through the whole city announcing its destruction. Some have thought that meant three days to cross it (the diameter), or perhaps to walk around the outside of it. But I believe it meant that it took Jonah three days to visit each neighborhood of this city, which had 120,000 inhabitants.
Jonah is angered by God’s sparing of Nineveh, but learns a valuable lesson
- 1. But it displeased Jonah, a great wrong, and he was angry.
2. And he prayed to Yahweh and said, Please, Oh Yahweh, was this not what I said when I was still in my land? That is why I proceeded to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and having much love, and relenting of the evil (you have planned).
3. And now, Oh Yahweh, please take my soul from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.
4. And Yahweh said, Is it good that you are angry?
5. And Jonah went out from the city and sat on the east of the city, and made himself a hut there, and he sat under it in the shade waiting to see what would happen to the city.
6. And Yahweh appointed a castor oil plant,1 and it came up over Jonah to be shade over his head, to shade him from his discomfort, and Jonah was overjoyed with the castor oil plant.
7. But God2 appointed a worm at the rise of dawn on the following day, and it attacked the castor oil plant and it withered.
8. And it came to pass when the sun rose, that God appointed a scorching3 east wind, and the sun beat upon Jonah’s head, and he fainted, and he pleaded to die, and he said, Death is better for me than life.
9. And God said to Jonah, Was it good for you to be angry over the castor oil plant? And he said, It was good for me to be angry even unto death.
10. And Yahweh said, You pitied the castor oil plant, for which you did not toil, or make it grow, which came into being one night, and (then) perished in one night.
11. And should I not take pity on Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people, who do not know their right hand from their left, and many animals?
2. Notice the interesting fact that in verse 6 it is Yahweh (or “Jehovah”) who appoints the plant, but in verse 7 it is Elohim who appoints the worm. Is there some theological significance to this, or is the redactor of this story simply not aware that these are separate beings?
3. The Hebrew word is harishith and according to the BDB, we have no idea what it means, so I borrowed “scorching” from the LXX.
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