Saturday, March 31, 2007

Jonah's Ordeal As Type Of The Resurrection

It likely comes as a surprise to Christians of the Twenty-first Century that Christians of the early Church used Jonah as one of the primary symbols of the resurrection. The image of Jonah and the great fish is very common among burial effigies. Jonah's three days and nights in belly of the great fish and Jesus' burial in the earth for three days caught the imagination of the early church. Above is a third century carving from a Christian tomb.

The literature of the early Church chose Jonah as a "type" of one who escapes from hell portrayed as escaping from a gaping mouth of a fish/cave. The carving above is from a third Century sarcophagus.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Young Man's Jazz Offering in Chicago

At school, we have started preparing for the play we're going to do:
Jonah Man Jazz! It's a Jazz and we just started the first song. It's based on the Bible story of Jonah, whom God chose to send a message to the sinning people of the city, Ninevah. He refused, went on a ship and sailed away. God saw it and caused a storm. The sailors on the ship drew lots and found Jonah to be jinxed. They threw him overboard where he was swallowed by a whale. After three days in the belly of the whale, it spat him out on the shores of Ninevha, where Jonah carried out his mission.

The lyrics are below:

Ninevah city was a city of sin
The jazzin' and the jivin' made a terrible din
Beat groups playin'! O rock and roll!
And the Lord when He heard it
Said: "Bless my Soul!"

The people wouldn't listen
Danced night and day
No time for work
No time to pray
They went on dancing
By day and by night
Till the Lord he said:
"Well this ain't right!"

The Lord He pondered
A subtle plan
He looked around
For a righteous man
Saw Jonah sittin''
Neath a pineapple tree
And the Lord He said"
That's the man for me!

A righteous man that I can trust
To raise this city
From out the dust
The Man that's sitting
'Neath the pineapple tree,
I'm certain sure, sure, sure.....
Is the man for me!"

Hope you like!

And please wish me luck so I get a good part!

The Storm: Telling Stories in Circles

A chiasm is a literary form common in the ancient world. The writer of the Book of Jonah employs this device in Chapter Two to tell the story of the storm and how Jonah comes to be overboard. A chiasm works toward an idea and works back on the other side reinforcing the ideas arriving back at the beginning with a nod to the beginning idea. "A chiasm is a structuring device that inverts the ordering or words". [from Thinking In Circles: An Essay On Ring Composition --Mary Douglas A brilliant little book published by Yale Press in 2007]

A The Lord (Elohim) hurls storm (1:4)
B Sailors pray, act (1:5ab)
C Jonah acts (lies down, sleeps; 1:5c)
D Captain, sailors question Jonah (1:6-8)
E. Jonah speaks (1:9)
D' Sailors question Jonah (1:10-11)
C' Jonah speaks ("hurl me"; 1:12
B' Sailors act, pray (1:13-14)
A' Sailors hurl Jonah, storm ends (1:15)

Conclusion (1:16)

Jonah: A Commentary by James Limburg

A Chiasm can be as simple as the passage in Jonah Chapter One or as complicated as James Joyce in Finnegan's Wake. The Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is a Chiasm -- as Mary Douglas makes a compelling case in the book cited above. JWS

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Wallowing Passivity -- Unsurpassable Irresponsibility

One of the "Jonah Marbles" Cleveland Museum of Art

Literature is full of discussions of Jonah. Here is an excerpt from an essay by George Orwell entitled, Inside the Whale.

"In Max and the White Phagocytes there is one of those revealing passages in which a writer tells you a great deal about himself while talking about somebody else. The book includes a long essay on the diaries of Anais Nin, which I have never read, except for a few fragments, and which I believe have not been published. Miller claims that they are the only true feminine writing that has ever appeared, whatever that may mean. But the interesting passage is one in which he compares Anais Nin—evidently a completely subjective, introverted writer—to Jonah in the whale’s belly. In passing he refers to an essay that Aldous Huxley wrote some years ago about El Greco’s picture, The Dream of Philip the Second. Huxley remarks that the people in El Greco’s pictures always look as though they were in the bellies of whales, and professes to find something peculiarly horrible in the idea of being in a ‘visceral prison’. Miller retorts that, on the contrary, there are many worse things than being swallowed by whales, and the passage makes it dear that he himself finds the idea rather attractive. Here he is touching upon what is probably a very widespread fantasy. It is perhaps worth noticing that everyone, at least every English-speaking person, invariably speaks of Jonah and the whale. Of course the creature that swallowed Jonah was a fish, and was so described in the Bible (Jonah i. 17), but children naturally confuse it with a whale, and this fragment of baby-talk is habitually carried into later life—a sign, perhaps, of the hold that the Jonah myth has upon our imaginations. For the fact is that being inside a whale is a very comfortable, cosy, homelike thought. The historical Jonah, if he can be so called, was glad enough to escape, but in imagination, in day-dream, countless people have envied him. It is, of course, quite obvious why. The whale’s belly is simply a womb big enough for an adult. There you are, in the dark, cushioned space that exactly fits you, with yards of blubber between yourself and reality, able to keep up an attitude of the completest indifference, no matter what happens. A storm that would sink all the battleships in the world would hardly reach you as an echo. Even the whale’s own movements would probably be imperceptible to you. He might be wallowing among the surface waves or shooting down into the blackness of the middle seas (a mile deep, according to Herman Melville), but you would never notice the difference. Short of being dead, it is the final, unsurpassable stage of irresponsibility.

The Sign of Jonah

"Lifeline Jonah" Wayne Forte 2002

Matthew 12:38-42 38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." 39 But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for the repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 32 The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Differences between Jonah and Jesus

Chrysostom: "For Jonah was a servant, but I am the Master; and he came forth from the great fish, but I rose from death. He proclaimed destruction, but I rose from death. He proclaimed destruction, but I am come preaching the good tidings of the kingdom. The Ninevites indeed believed without a sign, but I have exhibited many signs. They heard nothing more than those worlds, but I have made it impossible to deny the truth. The Ninevites came to be ministered to, but I, the very Master and Lord of all, have come not threatening, not demanding an account, but bringing pardon. They were barbarians, but these -- the faithful -- have conversed with unnumbered prophets. And of Jonah nothing had been prophesied in advance, but of me everything was foretold, and all the facts have agreed with their words. And Jonah indeed, when he was to go forth, instead ran away that he m;giht not be ridiculed. but I , knowing that I am both to be crucified and mocked, have come nonetheless. While Jonah did not endure so much as to be reproached for those who were saved, I underwent even death, and that the most shameful death, and after this I sent others again. And Jonah was a strange sort of person and an alien to the Ninevites, and unknown; but I a kinsman after the flesh and of the same forefathers." The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 43.2

Three has always been considered a mystical, magical number.

Three is also the number of the superlative (as in good, better, best). In the TANAKH three days are sometimes required to complete a journey. In Hosea three days is the length of time required for divine salvation/restoration:

Come, let us turn back to the Lord:

He attacked, and He can heal us;
He wounded, and He can bind us up.
In two days He will make us whole again;
One the third day He will raise us up,
And we shall be whole by His favor. Hosea 6:1-2

Forgiveness In A Wounded World: Jonah’s Dilemma
Janet Howe Gaines

Friday, March 23, 2007

Psalm 139:1-12 God is Everywhere

Jonah in the Whale

O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising;

thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down,

and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue,

but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before,

and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?

Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:

if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning,

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 even there shall thy hand lead me,

and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me;

even the night shall be light about me.

Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee;

the night is as bright as the day;

darkness and light to you are both alike.

A psalm of comfort and accountability! It is a good vehicle of worship while reading Jonah. We are all called to leave the comfort of our parochial vision and like the pioneers of our faith Abraham and Jesus follow the call of God wherever we are to go. JWS

Pinocchio And Jonah

Pinocchio and Jonah met in the Square,
They both were complaining, “It just isn’t fair,
That both our Creators would show little justice,
By treating us both like two little puppets."

For God had a job for Jonah to do,
But he wouldn’t do it and said he was through,
Having strings being pulled both this way and that,
So he jumped on a ship like a spoiled little brat.

Pinocchio wanted to be a small boy,
But Geppetto was pulling his strings like a toy,
Instead of obeying, he tried to rebel,
But his nose started growing and people could tell.

They both ended up in the guts of a whale,
And all they could do was tread water and bail,
And think how they struggled when God tried to teach,
Until they were finally tossed onto a beach.

Let’s listen real well as we hear this sad tale,
Of Pinocchio, Jonah and Mostro the whale,
And learn a great lesson, to do as we should,
Whether we are a person or made out of wood.

David Ronald Bruce Pekru

Jonah -- Fish Academy


A cream of phosphorescent light

Floats on the wash that to and fro

Slides round his feet – enough to show

Many a pendulous stalactite

Of naked mucus, whorls and wreaths

And huge festoons of mottled tripes

And smaller palpitating pipes

Through which a yeasty liquor seethes

Seated upon the convex mounds

Of one vast kidney, Jonah prays

And sings his canticles and hymns,

Making the hollow vault resound

God’s goodness and mysterious ways,

Till the great fish spouts music as he swims.

Aldous Huxley 1959

This is one of my favorite Jonah poems. Huxley paints a vivid viseral word picture and almost gets ones gag reflect going. It's can't have been fun being in fish school.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Question Followed By A Long Pause

Jonah standing in the "orans" (prayer) position
Cleveland Museum of Art

How to end a conversation about Jonah is perplexing. God poses a question to Jonah, a question of forgiveness -- loving kindness [Hesed]. Jonah's reply is unrecorded. This is a useful device by the author since the question is for us and Jonah's answer would have perhaps gotten in our way. Then I found a poem by John Piper on the Internet that purveyor of nearly all things. He imagines a older, wiser and gentler Jonah and I, like the young fellow in Jonah's home town, call on Jonah to tell his own story. It is his after all. JWS+

Jonah, Part 1

By John Piper November 29, 1998

The son of Amittai was old,
And his gray-bearded face was fold
On fold of furrows, from his brow
Down to his neck, as if a plow
Had carved and harrowed in his skin
(Like conscience in the quest for sin)
The lines of seven decades, but
For one long, smooth and vivid cut
Across his cheek, the famous scar,
That others might have thought would mar
Their countenance, but Jonah wore
With quiet modesty, and bore
As if it were a sign of grace,
From lip to ear across his face.

Now forty years had passed since he
Had left Gath-Hepher, near the sea
Of Chinnereth, and then returned,
A different man. Once he had burned
With fire and jealousy, because
The word of God and all His laws
Blazed like an all-consuming flame
Of holy fury for the name
Of Israel's God within his soul.
Thus he had spoken of the bowl
Of burning wrath that God had stored
For Nineveh, and would be poured
Someday, upon that wicked place,
To wipe out the Assyrian race.
But when the son of Amittai
Came home from Nineveh, the cry
Of his disfigured lips was not
The same. The fire was just as hot,
But now it seemed to melt instead
Of boil, and burn a glowing red,
Like coals beneath a crucible,
To make the gold more beautiful.

At seventy he was a kind
Of legend in the land. Behind
The furrowed face and silver beard,
And lacerated lips, appeared
A man whose eyes were softer than
The feathers of a dove, a man
Whose heart seemed large enough for all
The world, whose patience bore the gall
Of brazen youth, and whose sweet tongue
Gave songs to those who'd never sung.

And almost every evening when
The sun went down, the bold young men,
With dreams of speaking mightily
For God, the sons of prophecy,
Whose fathers knew Elisha, and
Sat daily at his feet — this band
Would gather in the garden of
The one they called "the wounded dove,"
This Jonah, son of Amittai,
And they would ask him questions, "Why?"
And "How?" and "What?" and "When?" and "Where?"
And he would lean back in his chair,
And sometimes stare a long time toward
The Western Sea, as if the Lord

Had wisdom stored in some deep place
About the treasures of his grace,
Beyond the bounds of Israel.
And then, as if he heard a bell
To bring him back, the prophet would
Take every question that he could,
And tell them what he'd learned.

This night a daring lad, who spurned
The usual decorum, raised
His hand and said, "The Lord be praised,
Good master, for the wisdom He
Has given you. May I please be
Permitted one small question here
Before my elder brothers steer
Us into deeper things?" The old
Man smiled with tenderness, "Be bold
Young man, perhaps the thing
That you consider small will bring
To light more truth than you expect.
Great things are often the effect
Of little cause: the leaves that hide
The key to life are swept aside
By breezes you can scarcely feel,
And yet all heaven may reveal.
Sometimes we learn not more but less,
By crafting questions to impress.
So, yes, young man, you may indeed
Ask your small question here." "I plead
Your pardon sir, if it seem trite:
Would you recount for us the fight,
When you received that scar across
Your face?" The men were at a loss
For what to say at this, and shocked.
Did he not know that Jonah's pocked
And scar-drawn face was not the yield
Of triumph on a battlefield?

But Jonah, feeling for the boy,
Replied, as if it were his joy
To willingly recount the deed:
"My lad, it was a fight indeed.
But not the kind you might have thought.
Some forty years ago I fought
A fearsome foe — a foe that none
Should ever fight at all, for one
Can never win, nor ever does
One have just cause, nor ever was
A fault found in this foe, or chink
In his bright armor. If you think
My scar was given by some dread
And awful enemy, who fled
Defeated at my prophecy,
You see a truth, but partially:
The enemy awakened dread,
It's true, but 'twas not he that fled."

The lad then said to Jonah, "How,
Can such an enemy allow
That you should live, if he is right,
And cannot lose, and yet, despite
All this, you fought?" "Well," Jonah said,
"Because this enemy of dread
And might did not count me his foe,
Nor seek to take my life, although
His blows were no less sharp than had
He meant to kill." "But why," the lad
Asked, with bewilderment, "Why would
You fight, if he is always good,
And did not count you as his foe?
Was it because you didn't know?"

The son of Amittai sat still
And silent in the garden, till
The tears rolled down his furrowed face
From all the memories of fear and grace.
"I knew," he said. "I knew that he
Was good. And that he did not see
Me as his enemy. But when
Unholy hatred rises, then
A man must either die beneath
The weight of conscience and the teeth
Of truth, or by some fatal act
Of treason, sign a deadly pact
With blind absurdity, and make
A foe out of his God, and take
The wings of feigned escape to fly
As far from God as such a lie
Will let him fly, and there be found,
Or die." The boy looked at the ground
In Jonah's garden, fearful now
To ask the obvious. Somehow
Though, Jonah's face bid him
Continue bravely with the grim
Conclusion: "So You mean," he said,
"The foe you fought, from whom you fled,
And got that scar, was God?" "The Lord
Commanded me to leave my sword,
And go to Nineveh to preach
The word of God, and there beseech
That they repent. But I knew in
My soul that if I went, He'd win
Them to Himself, and all my zeal
For holy wrath he would reveal
As nothing but unholy hate.
So, like a fool, I headed straight
The other way — to Joppa by
The sea. And there, with wings to fly
Away from God I thought, I found
A ship with open space and bound
For Tarshish far beyond the eye
Of God — so blind the mind to try
And flee from God.

"And then he fought
With me, and made the sea distraught
With great upheaving waves and wind,
That made the sailors ask who sinned,
Then ordered by his sovereignty
The dooming lot would fall to me.
And finally when all else failed -
Or so they thought — then they availed
Themselves of one last hope. They threw
Me in the sea."

"But, Jonah, you
Are still alive," the boy replied.
"How can a man survive the tide
And depths and monsters of the sea?"
"Because a great fish swallowed me."
The boy sat with his lips agape.
"The mouth of death was my escape.
God sought me, as it were, in hell
And swallowed me for three days' spell
In acid, meant to cleanse my soul.
From death to death, God's gracious goal
Leads back to Nineveh and life.
And on the way, as with a knife,
One razor tooth slashed through my face
And gave me this sweet sign of grace."

The evening now was overspent,
And it was late. "Do not lament
Your question, son. Of course, there's so
Much more that you may want to know,
But this will have to do tonight.
Rest well, your God does all things right."

As we light Advent candle one
Learn how the work of God is done.
That there is fierce and stormy grace
With wind and waves and mangled face,
And sailors with condemning dice,
And demons waiting sacrifice,
And giant fish with slashing teeth,
And gasping, acid graves beneath.
Yet none of this is to destroy,
But to restore the prophet's joy,
And not his merely, but the throngs
Of Nineveh will sing their songs.
And Jonah, in the coming years,
Will say with tender heart and tears,
Along with each whom God will call,
The price was high and worth it all.
The pain of being loved by God
Is great, so let us kiss the rod.

© Desiring God

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: Email: Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

On Freedom and Call -- The Jonah Complex

Why did Jonah run from God? This is never explained. However from the afternoon Eve and Adam awoke from their blissful unconscious state and hid themselves in shame, humans have avoided responsibility and the work of the soul. God gave our primordial ancestors the work of tilling the garden in Eden. It is interesting to me that the word therapeuo (the origin of the word therapy) means "to dig in the ground" (as many can attest to the stress relieved by gardening).

Most of us do not want life to be a great adventure whatever that might be. We might like to hear about it -- at the movies -- but participate, "no, not if it requires us inconvenience". Joining the French Foreign Legion is not likely even after our heart is broken by young love and joining up at the baptismal covenant for more than lip service to a cultural Christianity seems wrongheaded and a little extreme. After all we have to be practical and think of our future, the challenges of family, work and the demands of a society that tolerates no extremism other than that which helps business. This can make for a pale, anemic faith. JWS
""The psychologist Abraham Maslow calls spiritual and emotional truancy the Jonah Complex: 'The evasion of one's own growth, the setting of low levels of aspiration, the fear of doing what one is capable of doing, voluntary self-crippling, pseudo-stupidity, mock humility.' No matter how sophisticated or ingenious the avoidance, Maslow says, it is still a cheap adaptation to the implorings of personal evolution, and it reminiscent of a dire old joke about two clerics who are the first to witness the return of the Messiah. when the younger one frantically asks, 'What should we do?' the older one tells him, 'look busy.' 'The guilt of Jonah,' says Arthur Koestler in The Act of Creation, 'was that he clung to the trivial, and tried to cultivate only his own small garden.' " [Callings -- Gregg Lavoy pg. 180]
" The meeting of the tragic and trivial planes. It's basic pattern can be roughly described as follows. Under the effect of some overwhelming experience, the hero is made to realize the shallowness of his life, the futility and frivolity of the daily pursuits of man in the trivial routines of existence. This realization may come to him as a sudden shock caused by some catastrophic event, or as the cumulative effect of a show inner development, or through the trigger action of some apparently banal experience which assures and unexpected significance. The hero then suffers a crisis which involves the very foundations of his being; he embarks on the Night Journey, is suddenly transferred to the Tragic Plane -- from which he emerges purified, enriched by new insight, regenerated on a higher level of integration. ... The journey always represents a plunge downward and backward to the sources and tragic undercurrents of existence, into the fluid magma, of which the Trivial Plane of everyday life is merely the thin crust." [Arthur Koestler The Act of Creation pg. 358]

The Captain calls on Jonah to rise up and face the situation. It is a useful spiritual exercise to inventory the captains in our life -- those who have in moments of spiritual stupor called on us to awaken and rise up/grow up and get with it. We may not have known it at the time or we may have resented it but nevertheless there is a second call. Such calls often occur in a crisis but nevertheless there it is a second chance. On a small easel on a table in my office is a farmed statement -- "O God of second chances and new beginnings here I am again." I find such a declaration worthy of continual contemplation. JWS

We so want security. We so want to avoid danger.

In the early 1980’s a young couple in New England decided to give up the “rat-race” of modern life. So they begin to look at what they could do. For a year, they researched the world, examining the laces best suited for raising a family away from society’s pollutants. A place where they could get a new start. A place that would be free from the economic rat race, where their children could get a quality education, where they all could develop to their full potential in a healthful, environment. Finally they found and they left in January of 1982 for a small, isolated island chain off the coast of Argentina: the Falkland Islands. And, of course, in April of 1982, the Falkland’s War began. JWS

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” -- Helen Keller

Chapter Four -- Jonah's Anger, God's Mercy

Jacob Steinhardt, "Jonah Feels Pity on the Gourd Plant"

4 But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.

[Finally we begin to learn about Jonah's truancy. He suspected that God's Hesed loving kindness and mercy would trump judgment and that he (Jonah) would be embarrassed.]

3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city. 6 The Lord God appointed a bush,

[Jerome translated the word "bush" from the Hebrew as "ivy" which aggravated Augustine who reported that "ivy" nearly caused a riot when it was read at Hippo. He goes on to tell Jerome that the correct translation coming from the Septuegent is "gourd" which anyone should know is correct and that Jerome should but out and leave well enough along.

This a good example of how complicating translation becomes. Jerome is translating from the Hebrew. Augustine is refering to the Greek translation of the Old Testament done in Alexanderia Egypt. Translating simple words get complicated when the flora is different. Imagine the challenge in the South Pacific. JWS ]

and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah Is Reproved

9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Chapter Three -- Conversion of Nineveh

3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, [Jonah has his second call. It is worthy of note that the LORD gives second calls. When they come we are in a different place sometimes like Jonah picking ourselves up from the piscatorial debris or some other remains of the day. But whatever the word will come again and if we are willing we will answer this time..."] saying, 2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk. And he cried out, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the King of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: "By the decree of the King and his nobles: No human being or animal, no heard or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8 Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn their hands. 9 Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish."

Chapter Two -- Communiques from the Carpe

2 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, [it is only in English that it is a whale] 2 saying,“I called to the Lord out of my distress,and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol

[the place of the dead -- In the Hebrew cosmology there is water under the earth. "Below the ground and it's surface waters, far down, lay Sheol, where the dead pass their silent existence." from The Grand Contraption: The World as Myth, Number, and Chance David Park pg. 5 It occurs to me that one of the differences between Sheol and heaven is the silence in the underworld and the continuous praise around the throne of the Holy One of Israel.]
cried and you heard my voice. 3 You cast me into the deep,

into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows passed over me.

4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight;
how shall I look again upon your holy temple?’

5 The waters closed in over me; [Jonah is at the point of drowning

-- the waters are up to his neck and

seaweed is wrapped around his head].
the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.

I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the Pit,
[Some see this as the death of Jonah and that
God raises Jonah from the dead -- that he remembers God as he lies dying.]
O Lord my God.

7 As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord;
and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.

8 Those who worship vain idols forsake their true loyalty. [Those who forsake their true loyalty -- here the pot call the kettle black -- he who has fled the presence of the Lord only to find that he cannot escape the presence of the Lord.]

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord!” 10 Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed [the word is vomited] Jonah out upon the dry land.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chapter One -- Jonah Flees From the LORD

1The word of the LORD came to Jonah
The beginning is a typical formula in Hebrew writing literally it happened -- much like -- once upon a time.
[name means "Dove son of truth," in the Old Testament the dove has two main characteristics: 1 it is easily put to flight and seeks secure refuge in the mountains (Ezekiel 7:16, Psalm 55:6-8) and 2 it moans and laments when is distress (Nahum 2:7, Isaiah 38:14) The Literary Guide to the Bible, pg. 234]
son of Amittai, [2 Kings 14:25 - prophet who proclaims divine mercy and support for Israel]
saying, 2 "Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me."

[Nineveh was the last capital of the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were the first state to use terror as a policy for governance. You might say that they were the Nazis of the ancient world. They were universally hated and when they declined sufficiently their subjects gladly turned on them and joyfully smote them asunder. They disappeared so completely that in the nineteenth century scholars believed that the prophets had invented them. But finally the remains of Assur and Nineveh were discovered in what would be northern Iraq and the prophets were proved correct. For God to ask Jonah to go to Nineveh was a little like asking a Jew to go to Berlin in 1938 and prophesy against it’s wickedness. Of course the prophet would hope it would be punished. Who would blame him?]
3 But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish

[place name that occurs twice in the Old Testament 1. I Kings 10: 22 For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks. and 2. Isaiah 66:19 – and I will set a sign among them. From them I will sent survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud – which draw the bow – to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not hears of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.

Tarshish is often thought to be in Spain perhaps beyond the pillars of Hercules – the very limits of the known world. In Isaiah it is cited as a place literally away from the presence of the Lord. It serves Jonah well as a place to escape the call]

from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.

[note the pattern of descent first by topography, then geography -- west not east -- positionally -- the hold of the ship -- then physically -- falling asleep -- psychically as far as he can go from the word of the LORD]

4 But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up. 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried to his god. They threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten it for them. Jonah, meanwhile, had gone down into the hold of the ship and had lain down, and was fast asleep.
[In the Zohar, it is believed that Jonah's descent into the hold of the ship is an allegory of the soul's descent into the world. from JONAH A Commentary by James Limburg pg. 44f.]
6 The captain

[The captain (literally -- "chief of the ropers") serves a powerful symbol and at several levels. First on the level of the story he is concerned for his ship and rallies every hand to face the crisis. Second on the level of our stories, who have been the captains who have gotten us moving in our lives, the coaches, teachers, godparents, others who said a good word or called us to awaken? Thirdly on the level of our inner life, how does the captain call us to awaken -- through our( sleeping dreams, reading of scripture or just the odd moment when someone says just the "right thing" and there is the oddest intersection of our inner and outer life a synchronicity)? It is a useful spiritual exercise to count the captains who have leaned across our several sleeping forms and yelled reveille. JWS]

came and said to him, "What are you doing fast asleep? [an anesthetized-like sleep (Genesis 2:21) Linberg] Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish."

7 The sailors said to one another, "Come, let us cast lots, so that we may know on whose account this calamity has come upon us." So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.

[Rabbi Isaac Mosheh Aramah, writing in the fifteenth century ... "the meaning of their statement 'let us cast lots; is to cast lost many times. Therefore the plural --goralot-- is used ...They did so and cast lots many times and every time the lot fell on Jonah and consequently the matter was verified for them." Randomness Deborah J. Bennett pg. 75]

8 Then they said to him, "Tell us why this calamity has come upon us. What is your occupation? Where do you come from? What is your county? And of what people are you?" 9 "I am a Hebrew," he replied. "I worship the LORD, because he had told them so. 11Then they said to him, "What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?" For the sea was growing more and more tempestuous.

12 He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them. 14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, we pray, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life. Do not make us guilty of innocent blood; for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging.

16 Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. 17 But the LORD provided [or appointed] a large fish [to shallow up -- this is almost never a good thing in the Bible -- this happened to Pharaoh's chariots in the red sea.] Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish
three days and three nights.

[-- here the descent pattern continues. It was traditionally believed that three days and nights was the time needed to reach the underworld. pg. 237 Literary Guide to the Bible It also is a part of life on this planet. "When the moon is in its dark phase it is not visible and seems to disappear for three nights."Forgiveness in a Wounded World: Jonah's Dilemma -- Janet Howe Gaines pg. 56 This must have had a effect on human development.]

*** "In The Stomach of The Fish" Henri Lindegaard

Jonah Resuscitated

Albert Herbert 1988

The minor prophets of the Old Testament are largely forgotten. I recall a cartoon from years ago where a man has arrived in heaven and is explaining to a disturbed Zephaniah that in fact he has never read his book.

Yet a few stories endure.

Some stories from the Bible are lodged deep in the unconscious of the West. We know this is so because advertisers still call on Adam, Eve and their apple, Noah his Ark and company to hawk their wares. Christianity was a religion in Europe, but in America it’s a business. If you can still animate a commercial you still inhabit the national psyche. In this biblically illiterate society the story of Jonah and the whale endures in culture memory.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai telling him to go east and preach to Nineveh that great city. Jonah instead goes west toward Tarshish. Without any background or preamble the tale begins. It is a small book containing only four chapters, one is a psalm from the innards of a great fish (only a whale in English translations). In a way the book of the prophet raises more questions than it answers.

Why does Jonah leave town heading in the opposite direction?
Why does God not let him escape his call?
What does this story tell us?

There are layers and then there are layers in this tale. The text is spare and lean, the language giving no detail as to “how” the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai. How does the word of the Lord come to us? Occasionally we think, “I wish God would just tell me what to do plainly, just straight out” as if that would be easier. It would be easier only so long as what God instructed was what we wanted to do! Jonah does not want to go to Nineveh.

The directions are one simple layer of meaning. In a literal reading they are just the directions on the map. Nineveh is east of Joppa and Tarshish is west at the other end of the Mediterranean from Israel. East and west also have a symbolic meaning. East, of course, is the direction the sun rises. Therefore it has the meaning of enlightenment, literally, and symbolically. West is where the sun sets. It is the quadrant of darkness and the direction of the unconscious. So Jonah not only physically moves away from God’s errand but also moves from enlightenment into unconsciousness. All that is in the first verses—and that is not all.

Jonah is rich for our mining.