Aug 5, 2013
The Element of Surprise in Jonah
"The element of surprise is the key structural device employed by the writer of Jonah. Before 3:10–4:1, the writer misdirects the readers, leading them to picture Yahweh as a God of wrath who pursues persons or groups until they are appropriately punished, and leading them to see Jonah as a reluctant, passive prophet who flees the task of crying against a wicked city. The repentance of the Ninevites poses an intriguing problem, since no one has up to this point in the book repented and sought God’s forgiveness, and the question rings out: “Will this wrathful God forgive Nineveh?” The writer then springs his surprise: God does indeed repent of the evil he had intended to inflict on Nineveh, while the seemingly passive Jonah issues a furious fusillade against God (3:10 and 4:l). The element of surprise makes the readers vulnerable and therefore receptive to the writer’s basic point that Jonah’s anger and vindictiveness are inappropriate in the light of the forgiving nature of God. The final chapter emphasizes this point by means of the dialogue between Jonah and God, wherein God is clearly portrayed as one eager to forgive his creatures, while Jonah is seen to be excessively self-serving."
Alan Jon Hauser, “Jonah: In Pursuit of the Dove,” Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 37.