Repetition is Emphasis; Emphasis is Theology

Here’s my second exegetical paper on Jonah. This one gets a bit technical, but I hope it’s insightful:

Repetition is Emphasis; Emphasis is Theology

As we inspect the repetitions found in the first twelve verse of Jonah, and discern what implications or importance can be found in these repeated words or ideas, we discover that Jonah’s apathetic disobedience and continuous motion “away from the face of the Lord” implicates not only himself, but also the sea, the ship, and the sailors, in God’s increasingly violent efforts to turn Jonah around and win his obedience.

The verb “arise” appears three times in the first twelve verses of Jonah: twice in the imperative form (vv. 2 and 6), and once in the narrated participle form (v. 3). In verse 1, the word of the Lord comes to Jonah and tells him to “Get up.” In the second instance of this imperative form, the captain of the storm-ravaged ship wakes Jonah and tells him to “Get up!” The repeated command here, first from God and then from the captain, cannot be overlooked: God is coaxing Jonah to obedience by whatever means necessary; at first, we think God succeeds. In verse 2, we see Jonah “getting up,” but not to obey. Instead, this is an action of rebellion that is perpetuated throughout the rest of the narrative.

Jonah’s subsequent rebellious movement directs him “away from the face of the Lord” (vv. 3 and 10). We understand that God’s attention is located over Ninevah, where the city’s evil rises up before his face (v. 2); we also understand, then, that as Jonah flees from God’s calling to Ninevah, he also is fleeing from the Lord’s attention, “away from the face of the Lord.” More than his movement, this is Jonah’s continuous posture, rejecting the Lord and his word.

As Jonah’s rebellion results in God’s increasingly overt efforts to attract his attention and coax his obedience, these efforts (the great storm and the great wind) increasingly impact those whom Jonah accompanies. The sailors understand that this storm is not an unpurposed event, that it is “on account” of someone. They cast lots to determine “on whose account” the storm is raging (vv. 7 and 8). When the lots fall to Jonah, they wake him, and he finds himself no longer able to delude himself. He admits that the God who made the sea and the land sent this storm on his account (v. 12); whether this admission is in any way indicative of substantial repentance or obedience from Jonah is doubtful, seeing as we have had no sense of Jonah’s repenting up to this point.

The last half of this passage is characterized by pervasive fear. In verse 5, the sailors become afraid because of the storm. In verse 10, the sailors react with fear because Jonah has angered the God who made the sea and the land. Their frenzied actions on the ship (throwing cargo into the sea, casting lots, accusing Jonah) are all motivated primarily by fear. While the sailors frantically do everything they can to save themselves, Jonah’s seeming apathy during the storm is incredible. Jonah evidences no real fear at all.

Jonah’s apathetic disobedience and continuous motion “away from the face of the Lord” endangers the sailors and their ship as God escalates his efforts to coax Jonah’s obedience and win his repentance. The fear of the sailors and the fury of the sea seem to have no real emotional influence on Jonah, even though he admits who he is and why God has sent the storm. This first movement of Jonah culminates in Jonah remaining statically opposed to God’s will that he bring the word of the Lord to Ninevah, even at the risk of the innocent people around him.

Here are links to my first exegetical paper and my first-blush reflection on Jonah.

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