What About Jonah?

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Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed and eaten. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle: When the Sun comes up, you’d better be running.



When we talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan the discussion centers on what we learn from it, and how it applies to our lives. Sometimes the discussion centers on why Jesus chose a Samaritan to be the protagonist in his parable, but the question of historical or factual accuracy never comes up. In talking about the parable we do not ask if there really was a historical Samaritan who stopped to help a man who was left for dead on the side of the road. Neither do we argue that a Samaritan would never actually stop to help a Jew, nor do we question Jesus for having the priest and the Levite walk by without stopping. Those questions in the story do not distract us from the point of the parable which is that we must treat everyone, even people we may not like, as our neighbors.

We do not mistake the parable for an actual story that must be analyzed for its historicity or whether or not the characters were based on real people. Even though the story is not historical we do not consider it to be untrue. We recognize the purpose of the story is not to convey history but to teach a moral.

This sets the parable of the Good Samaritan apart from some of the other stories in the New Testament. For example, the story of Jesus’ baptism is not presented as a story with a moral, but as a historical event. With this story it is appropriate to discuss where exactly it took place, even to point out that it happened because there was much water there. For the story of Christ’s baptism, it is appropriate, and probably necessary, to consider the historical context, while the parable of the Good Samaritan can be told independently of the historical context.

The Bible is a collection of many different stories, prophecies, teachings, laws, sermons, and histories. In essence, it is a mix of many different genres and while it may be easy to separate some of the different genres, sometimes we can mistake the genre of a particular book or passage in the Bible and that can lead us to misunderstand the Bible.

If we were to focus our discussion of the Good Samaritan on whether or not it was historically accurate we would miss the point, that it is a parable or a morality tale. If we were to talk about the baptism of Jesus as only an inspirational metaphor then we would be missing the obvious indicators of it as a historical event.

While some things in the Bible are clearly labeled as a parable or a prophecy or history, there are some things that are not clearly labeled. It is these things that can sometimes cause confusion. If we treat something as literal history when it is a parable, teaching tool, or social commentary then we run the risk of looking beyond the mark and lose the intent of what we find in the Bible. If we make this mistake then we will go looking for historical events that never happened. We might get caught up in a pointless debate about whether or not there actually were any Samaritans who traveled on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and miss the point entirely.

While it may seem silly to debate the historicity of the Good Samaritan, there are other stories in the Bible that were written to teach a moral and provide social commentary, and not be literal history, but are unfortunately interpreted as history. One such story is the story of Jonah.

Discussions about Jonah center on analyzing his motivations and actions as a real man, as well as whether or not someone could actually survive for three days in the belly of a whale. That is, the central concern that we have when we discuss Jonah is the historicity of the story. Sometimes we are more concerned with confirming the literal fulfillment of an apparent miracle than we are with learning the central message of the story. While Jonah was a real person, the actual book of Jonah never presents itself as literal history, and there are some subtle things about it that set it apart from all the other writings of the prophets.

To give Jonah a little perspective we have to realize that Jonah, the historical man, lived less than 50 years before the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by Assyria, which capital city was Nineveh. The book of Jonah was not written by Jonah and was most likely written after Israel was destroyed by armies from Nineveh in 722 BC. So whoever wrote the book of Jonah was making a somewhat ironic point by having Jonah go to Nineveh. In the story, everyone, including the pagan sailors and all the illiterate citizens of Nineveh, obeyed God’s commands. Everyone, that is, except the Israelites. The one who is supposed to be the most faithful and chosen of God is consistently less faithful than the illiterate (i.e. does not read the scriptures) and superstitious sailors and citizens.

These things, and a few others, mark the story of Jonah as a parable or a social commentary. It is not trying to pass itself off as literal history. For some, this would seem to undermine the story of Jonah, but recognizing the genre of the Book of Jonah no more undermines it than recognizing that the story of the Good Samaritan as a parable destroys its lessons and power to teach. But by understanding it for what it is, we can get over the big fish and understand the message of Jonah.


New BookThe Second in the Bell Series by Jim (Old NFO) Curtis

Back in Texas, he might be The Rio Kid, but at the other end of a long cattle drive in Fort Collins, Rio Bell is now struggling through his first year as a Colorado rancher. With his new wife, old hands, and a few mountain men, he’s learning fast as they deal with winter weather and stubborn cattle.

The killing cold and deep snows bring all new challenges to calving and just getting in supplies, but tempers can run hot as ever. Not everybody wants to see him succeed… or even survive.

They’re about to learn he’s no greenhorn when it comes to taking care of business, regardless of what that particular business may be.


And if you haven’t read Book One in the series, you might want to start there and buy BOTH books.

From Book 1-  Showdown on the River  – Rio Bell is leading a cattle drive up the Goodnight Loving Trail to Fort Laramie. It’s his first time as trail boss, but with trusted hands and hard work, he expects to be back in Texas by late September though fire, flood, or rustlers bar the way!

He didn’t count on a range war.

They didn’t account for the Rio Kid…

And he sure as hell didn’t count on the girl showing up!


19 thoughts on “What About Jonah?

  1. Really well said. Context matters when mining the Bible for all its worth. Many a Pastor could use this reminder.

    OldNFO- When a few sentences immediately draws you in they are worthy of a looksee.

  2. I was going to read (actually re-read) about Jonah,when, un/fortunately, the site gave me a pop-up from 2 Jan 13 (https://www.virtualmirage.org/nation-in-fog-and-looking-forward/); more specifically “Example #2”: a referral back to a section, bullet-pointed “Entitlements”, in the 31 Dec 12 issue of Investor’s Business Daily in which the encroaching bankruptcy of Medicare and Social Security were discussed.
    I truly wish y’ hadn’t a done ‘at.
    I measure the increasing cost of goods and services in relation to the cost of a candy bar (A dentist with a terrible sweet tooth – not even “incongruous” works) and ever since Richard Nixon untethered the cost of a candy bar from the price of gold (poor Midas is getting still skinnier), I understand that “the (poor) average Medicare recipient (who) paid out $87,000 in payroll taxes (over his working lifetime has likely lost quite a bit of value/money) in exchange for $251,000 (he’s now getting) in medical care.”
    I don’t have the ability to work out the figures, but, in terms of the cost of today’s candy bar, he’s lucky he’s getting even the tiniest nibble.
    And let’s not even get started on the word “Entitlements”.
    Good! I’ve had my rant, now I can begin your commentary on Jonah.

    1. Medicare is mandatory, which means that I have to pay for it even though I don’t want to. Because I have a government pension, even though I paid into SS and medicare, I must accept a vastly reduced number, to wit. $173.00 a month. I may have paid vastly more in over a lifetime than some other recipients but I get less because of equity. Riddle me that one.

      I still pay into SS and medicare and the government calls it “self-employment tax”. It’s a big number.

      Just give me back what I paid, stop taking it from me at the point of a bayonet, and I’ll call it even.

      But that’s not how it works.

      1. The whole system is rigged to redistribute income from those who work to those who lay around all day looking for handouts. And out government is all too happy to be the middle man, taking their cut in the process.

  3. I could never decide if Jonah was incredibly lucky, or incredibly unlucky. I guess on the median, he was neither.


  4. You see, what happened to Jonah is that he was swallowed by a really big whale and then spat out. Similar, in a way, to the thief and the monkey.

    Part of the problem is that we face a kind of bonehead literalism viz the revealed Word. Protestants seem especially prone to this, Sola Scriptura! (not in the Bible, curiously) and so they lose their way into insanity. The Revelation to St. John’s a perfect case in point.

    No, idiots, there won’t be all these hell locusts devouring San Francisco, the Painted Whore. Or will there?

    1. No, idiots, there won’t be all these hell locusts devouring San Francisco, the Painted Whore. Or will there? Between the Murder Hornets, flesh-eating zombies and the Hell Locusts – who knows? Blade Runner feels like a documentary.

    2. Gonna disagree there. But I’m a pre-Millennial.
      If Joel saw locust looking soldiers devouring everything, why couldn’t they be exo-skeletons?
      I also believe Jonah is literal.
      I read of a British sailor who survived something similar in the 1800s.
      Some think that Jonah actually was dead (He certainly looked the part) and resurrected and since he is a type of Christ, Jesus said as much, then why not?
      The saddest part of the book is that he never gave up his hate, even after they repented.
      “Is it ever too late to apologize?”
      Sat and waited for their demise after they repented. Sad.

      1. A Boston lobsterman just survived one as well. It IS possible.

        The point is, literal or not, God has the last word on everything, our job is use the tools He gave us for His purposes, whether we like the outcome or not.

    3. Didn’t the latest Jurassic Park movie feature gene-engineered locusts eating up the world?

        1. I will sign up for the pay-per-view of that one. We need those genetically engineered locusts to devour San Francisco – then move north to Tiburon and eat all of the attorneys who live there, just because. Continuing through Marin County would be a logical move as they march north to Portland.

  5. I have a theory (actually I firmly believe this) that when Jesus began a parable saying “there was once a man” he was not talking in generalities, but about a specific person. And moreover, that the person was there listening, or that the person and event described would have been recognizable by those present. My thinking is, why would God in the flesh need to make something up to use as an example? That would be something the Father of Lies would need to do, not the One True God.

    1. I’ve heard it said that when Jesus mentioned Lazarus and the rich man, giving Lazarus a name made it real. So what is up with Abraham’s Bosom (Paradise)?
      It seems that Jesus went there after the Crucifixion to take captivity captive (today you’ll be with me…)

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