Review: Jonah (HMS)

Jonah

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3.16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Though many quote this verse to show the authority of the Bible, and while many remember it includes the OT, many often forget that when Paul wrote this all he had as inspired scripture was the OT. How could Paul say this, when the OT continues to baffle so many so often? Where do we turn to understand the OT? Many commentaries (especially on the OT) are bulky, expensive, and often deal with boring aspects of the text that most laymen (and women) couldn’t care less about (i.e., the Document Hypothesis). What can we do? Not much, at least not until upper management decided it was a good idea to make a more accessible commentary series (albeit this is not the first ‘more accessible’ commentary series).

Hearing the Message of Scripture (HMS) is a series of commentary on the OT text. Rather than giving us an explanation of a book one verse at a time, while leaving the flow behind, the HMS series seeks to understand the rhetoric of the author. Looking at the OT book as a complete whole, what was the author’s purpose in writing? How does he begin the letter, how does he then finish it, and how does the end clear up the fog of questions we may have? So the HMS series looks at the flow of the text to discover the author’s “theological agenda” (9).

Format and Outline

Format

The format of the HMS series is similar to that of the ZECNT series (a series, also by Zondervan, which focuses on the flow of the NT letters, though not so much the rhetoric that is used). There are six parts to each section division using (Jonah 2 as an example).

1. The Main Idea of the Passage: A summary of the key ideas in Jonah 2.

2. Literary Context: A look at how Jonah 2 fits with the book as a whole.

3. Translation and Exegetical Outline: The commentator (Youngblood) provides his own translation of Jonah 2 which highlights the rhetorical structure/flow, and then pairs with it an outline. This gives you two perspectives on how to break the section down.

4. Structure and Literary Form: The literary structure of Jonah 2 is then explained bit by bit, showing how it communicates the main idea.

5. Explanation of the Text: Then, the main meat. Attention is given to the arrangement of the text (why is Jonah in the whale in chapter 2 and not in chapter 4 instead? Why is Jonah written this way?) along with how words, phrases, and syntax is used to spell out the main idea.

6. Canonical and Practical Significance: Perhaps the most interesting part of the book. How does Jonah 2 benefit the rest of the book? The rest of the Minor Prophets? The rest of the Bible? Does it fit with Scripture’s theological message? Do other authors reflect on Jonah 2 in their writings (i.e., Jesus mentions it)? The commentators seeks to build bridges and explain the significance for the church today.

Outline

Besides the titles I made up, this outline comes from the commentator.

A Jonah and Yahweh’s Word [1.1-4a]
    B Jonah on Gentile Waters [1.4b-1.17b]
        C Jonah Prays to Yahweh [1.17c-2.10]
A’ Jonah and God’s Word [3.1-3b]
    B’ Jonah on Gentile Land [3.3c-10]
        C’ Jonah Complains to Yahweh [4.1-4]
            D The Parable of the Plant and a Worm [4.5-11]

The Chocolate Milk

Jonah’s one of the better-loved OT books simply because it’s so easy to read. But it’s not without it’s confusion. Why doesn’t Jonah speak to God until the end? Why is he so angry? What does a plant and a worm have to do with God sparing Nineveh? Youngblood (which is a pretty awesome surname, if I must say) has been studying Jonah since college, and he is able to do so because there is so much depth to Jonah, and he must do so because of the questions we today have. His look at the historical context though brief, is helpful in putting Jonah in his place (historically, that is). Youngblood gives a reason for the lack of historical details in Jonah, unlike other OT prophetic books. It’s simply not the author’s purpose. We don’t need to know when this was (we’ve already seen Jonah in 2 Kings 14.25), or who the ‘king of Nineveh’ was, or why/how the people repented so easily. What the text tells us is that God’s word prevailed. We need to look at what the text says and not what we wish it said.

The look at discourse analysis fills up what has been lacking in many commentaries. Youngblood, in looking at the structure of Jonah, points us to

Parallelism: ‘Yahweh’s word came to Jonah’ at 1.1 and 3.1

Alternating Scenes: Scenes that switch between Jonah’s interaction with Yahweh and then with the Gentiles, YHWH, the Gentiles, etc

Verbal Repetition: 1.17a, “The mean feared with great fear YHWH, and they sacrificed sacrifices to YHWH and they vowed vows.”

The Symbolic Use of Geography and Climate: land vs water; hospitable environments vs the inhospitable

Intertextuality: Jonah has a “heavy dependence on Genesis 1-11”: Nineveh is a “great metropolis“ (Jonah 1.2; Gen 10.10-12). Jonah uses the divine compound name YHWH-God (or yhwh-elohim; Gen 2-3). There is a pairing of human and beast in some scenes (the whale, sackcloth and ashes on the Nineveh animals) reflecting the sixth day of creation.

Not to mention the reminder that “Israel’s election serves a universal, divine purpose rather than a parochial, self-centered one” (41). Along with these Youngblood looks at inversions of the stories of Moses and Elijah. There are the good actions of Moses and Elijah, and then the bad actions of Jonah. The setting may be similar, but the intentions aren’t the same (Jonah 4.2 with Exod 34.6-7; and Jonah 4.5-11 with 1 Kgs 19.3-18).

Textual Information Gaps: Where the “author frequently withholds information at points in the narrative where the reader expects it only to reveal the information later” (42). The reader expects to know why Jonah flees from God’s command to preach to Nineveh in Jonah 1.3, but doesn’t find out why until 4.2.

Recommended?

I had no major downsides to this commentary (though I would have appreciated a fuller explanation of Nineveh being a “three days journey”). One should remember though, this is a commentary, and, as is the goal of the commentary, the commentators will be looking at grammar (remember “words, phrases, and syntax” from above?). But the grammar-time leads to a more sensible approach to the text. Even if you can’t read it it’s all worth it in the end anyway. This is a perfect place to go when studying Jonah. Most of the time I spent reading this commentary I imagined myself teaching Jonah. If a book has the ability to encourage you to read and teach God’s Word, it’s probably worth getting. And this one is.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Hearing the Message of Scripture: A Commentary on the Old Testament
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (January 28, 2014)
  • Amazon: US  //  UK

[Special thanks to Emily, Sarah, and Zondervan for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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