Unexpected Disobedience – Jonah 1:1-3

As promised, here is the first installment of my translation of Jonah.  The book is fairly short, but there is a lot to cover.  I won’t be taking a whole post for every three verses, but these first three set the stage for a lot that we will see throughout the book.  The format I will follow is an italicized translation with links to endnotes where appropriate.  This will be followed by an explanation of the major themes in the passage translated.

By the way, I’d welcome any feedback you might have on the format of the translation.  Hope you enjoy!

1:1And the word of YHWH[1] was to Jonah, son of Amittai, saying: 2Arise, go to Nineveh, the great[2] city, and cry out to her[3] because her evil[4] has come up before me.”  3And Jonah arose[5] and fled to Tarshish from the face of YHWH.[6]  And he went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish and he gave payment and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from before the face of YHWH.

There is no background at the beginning of the book.  We do not know where Jonah is, or what he is doing.  The book begins with YHWH’s call.  This call consists of three imperatives, three commands.  Jonah is to get up, go to Nineveh, and implore them based on their evil.  Evil here is רָע, which at this point in the book is ambiguous.  It could mean that Nineveh is an evil city, or it could mean that there is a tragedy in Nineveh.  All we know is that whatever this רָע is, it has YHWH’s attention and it has motivated him to send Jonah.  Notice that the רָע has come up to YHWH.  This is significant, as we will see in a moment.

Jonah has three commands.  Verse 3 begins with 1/3 obedience.  He gets up.  But it is followed by a direct disobedience to the second command.  Instead of going to Nineveh, he flees to Tarshish.  It is noteworthy that Tarshish is on the other side of the world.[7]  Here we have our first context clue for the major plot of the book.  We would expect Jonah to flee to Tarshish from Nineveh.  That would fit.  His fleeing would then be given in geographical terms.  And it would explain the fleeing.  He’s fleeing from the Assyrians.  They frighten him.  But no.  Jonah flees to Tarshish, from the presence of YHWH.  This point is important enough to repeat within the same verse.  As we will see, this is indicative of Jonah’s character and it sets the stage for his behavior throughout the rest of the book.

How does Jonah accomplish his fleeing?  He goes down.  The רָע has come up before YHWH, motivating him to send Jonah.  Jonah goes down from the presence of YHWH.  This may seem inconsequential at the moment, but we will see Jonah continue to go down throughout the rest of the book.  This is indicative of his departure from YHWH, both physically and relationally.

[1] This is how I will be rendering the divine name.  This is typically ‘translated’ as LORD.  But LORD is a title, not really a name.

[2] גָּדוֹל is a significant word through the rest of the book.  Instances of גָּדוֹל will be marked by blue text.

[3] The three imperatives here are interpretive keys for the rest of the book.  Whenever they appear, they will be bold.  These three commands are YHWH’s directives to his prophet.  It is striking that through the rest of the book, the other participants in the narrative tend to come closer to obeying Jonah’s call than he does.  This is all in spite of the fact that they are pagans.

[4] רָע might be the most important word in the book.  It is repeated throughout and attributed to nearly every character.  Instances of רָע will be marked by red text. רָע can mean anything from evil, to calamity, or even tragedy.

[5] Obedience to 1/3 of the imperatives.  You read the first part of this sentence, and for a second you are hopeful that Jonah is obeying the call of God on his life.

[6] לִּפְנֵ֖י יְהוָ֑ה is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible.  It literally means before the face of YHWH, but it is essentially shorthand for the presence of YHWH.

[7] While there is some debate about the location of Tarshish, the general consensus seems to put it somewhere in Spain.  In Jonah’s time the known world was the land surrounding the Mediterranean, so Spain was about as far away as he could go from Nineveh.  Even if Tarshish is somewhere else, the point remains that he isn’t going where YHWH told him to go.

One thought on “Unexpected Disobedience – Jonah 1:1-3

  1. Pingback: What does the Bible say about ISIS? | Home-cooked Jesus

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