TIE hook of Jonas stands alone in the Old Testament. Like the book of Daniel, it is in a category by itself. It is reckoned among the minor prophets, but it is presented as the history of a prophecy rather than an actual prophecy—for it is written in the third person. There is nothing to date it and no word of introduction. Since Nineveh fell in 612 ac., it may be presumed that the work, if a prophecy in the strict sense, was composed before that date. But to the Jew "prophecy" did not mean so
By Charles G. Mortimer
much foretelling as speaking in the name of God; that is why even the books of the Kings were reckoned originally among the prophetic writings.
But as to the value of the book, there can be no question. Our Lord Himself appealed to the " sign " that it contained, the restoration of Jonas from apparent death, as a prototype of His own Resurrection (See St. Matt. XII. 40). Does this imply that Our Lord accepted the historicity of the book or merely that He is teaching the Jews in a way that they could understand — accommodating His own Divine Knowledge to the practical needs of His countrymen?
If the book of Jonas is neither strictly
history nor Prophecy, what is it and how shall it be classified? We may regard it perhaps as a divinely inspired parable or as an adaptation of history after the manner of such books as Judith, Tobias and Esther. The improbable features of the story, above all Jonas' disgust at the turn of events when Nineveh repents and escapes chastisement, seem to place the work in the category of metaphorical and not literal truth. Its moral teaching is plain enough: it foreshadows the universality of the Gospel; it teaches the value of true penitence and the rejection of mere " legalism," which later became the besetting sin of certain Jewish sects. Moreover, Jonas is a type of Christ, and by type is meant not the full exemplar of Our Lord's perfections, but the Christ viewed from a certain aspect. " We see through a glass darkly "—it was left to the Saviour Himself to combine and fulfil all the many hints and adumbrations of His Person scattered over the Old Testament writings. Revelation was progressive—" here a line and there a line," the truth dawning gradually on human consciousness. In such a light we can read Jonas with profit and realise still its peculiar inspiration. Its supreme lesson might he summed up in the words:
"I know that Thou art a gracious and merciful God, patient and of much compassion, and easy, to forgive evil."
Next week : The Minor Prophets (continued).