Interpreting Jonah 1.1-5 and 3.1-5 as Parallel Passages
Narratively, Jonah 1:1-5 and 3:1-5 passages follow the same pattern: the word of the Lord comes to Jonah: “Get up, go to Ninevah…and cry out to them;” Jonah gets up and goes—albeit with varying degrees of (dis)obedience; God intervenes—either directly or through Jonah; and those who witness God’s intervention respond in religious fear to alleviate the impending doom. The similarities are too striking to ignore, but the differences are far more compelling as we discover more of Jonah’s character, and ultimately, more of God’s character.
Jonah 1.1-2 and 3.1-2 are nearly identical in word choice and structure. Only one adjective differs between 1.1 and 3.1. Jonah 1.2 and 3.2 differ only in wording, not in content: in 1.2, God gives Jonah the message “that their [Ninevah’s] evil rises up before my face;” in 3.2, God tells Jonah to deliver “the message that I am speaking to you,” presumably from 1.2.
Jonah 1.3-5 and 3.3-5 are more substantially different, though they follow a closely parallel structure. In 1.3, Jonah goes “Tarshish-wards, away from the face of the Lord;” in 3.3, Jonah goes “to Ninevah.” Here Jonah’s going is described as “according to the word of the Lord.” It would seem that in 3.3, we finally see Jonah obeying God. However, what at first looks like a total reversal of Jonah’s disobedience, we discover in v.4 to be only the slightest degree away from absolute rebellion: rather than walk to the heart of Ninevah, Jonah only enters “one day’s journey,” giving God’s message with the bare minimum obedience.
We see that Jonah, rather than being deeply transformed in response to God’s sending the storm and the fish, only changes as little as possible to avoid further intervention—this is particularly interesting in contrast to the sailors and the Ninevites, who dramatically respond to God’s storm and message. God, however, still speaks through Jonah in spite of his obstinacy.