JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah Page 11...

This fine commentary is based closely on the author's original Hebrew commentary (Am Oved, 1992), with some revision and expansion.

xi INTRODUCTION their wickedness is demanded by strict justice and essential to deter transgressors, but allowing the judge to stand above the law undermines the authority of the law and dims the clarity of the doctrine of reward and punishment. To the advocate of strict justice it is clear that wickedness abounds not only because of the viciousness of evildoers, but also because the Judge of all the earth does not treat them with the full severity of the law. He must learn that the world can exist only through the unfathomable amalgam of justice and mercy, that fear of sin is produced not only by fear of punishment, but also by  awe at the sublimity of salvation (“ The men feared the LORD greatly” [ 1: 16];  cf. 1 Kings 17: 24)  and by fascination with grace  and absolution (“ Yours is the power to forgive so that You may be held  in awe” [ Ps. 130: 4]).  If Jonah is to be rid of the notion that divine compassion expresses weakness of mind and softness  of heart, he must experience the Lord’s heavy hand directed against himself. He must realize that the God who shows clemency to malefactors makes no concessions to His prophet— who pretends to know better than his God how the world should be conducted. Jonah’s willingness to die for his principles steeled his heart and nurtured his rebellion. Eventually he will understand that his death wish led the self- righteous prophet astray no less than lust for life perverted the pleasure- seeking people of Nineveh. Jonah foresaw both the submission of the evildoers of Nineveh, terrifi ed by their impending destruction, and the acceptance of their repentance by the merciful God; but he was totally wrong to believe that he would be allowed to escape to Tarshish. Subsequent surprises undermine his pretense to knowledge— the fi sh that saves him from death but imprisons him in its belly until he gives up his fl ight and begins to pray; and the plant that saves him from his distress but vanishes as suddenly as it appeared, so that he can feel the pain of loss and open his heart to understand the Creator’s love for His creatures. Only when the proponent of strict justice realizes his own humanity can he understand the fundamental dependence of mortals on human and divine mercy. The midrashic sages had Jonah express this recognition, in body language and words, in the answer they report he gave to the Lord’s rhetorical question that concludes the book: Then he fell on his face and said: “ Conduct Your world according to the attribute  of mercy, as it is written: ‘ To the LORD our God belong mercy and forgiveness’ ( Dan. 9: 9)”  ( Midrash Jonah, ed. Jellinek, p. 102; ed. Horovitz, p. 21). The halakhic sages, by contrast, expressed the same exegetical view by appending to the Book of Jonah, when read as the haftarah of the  Afternoon Service on the Day of Atonement, the last three verses of the Book of Micah ( 7: 18– 20), through which  Jonah, as it were, recants his condemnation of the attributes of compassion and grace ( Jon. 4: 2)  by reciting the praises of God, who desires to be gracious to His creatures and lighten the burden  of their sins and transgressions: Who is a God like You, forgiving iniquity and remitting transgression; who has not maintained His wrath forever against the remnant of his own people, because He loves graciousness. He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will hurl all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will keep faith with Jacob, loyalty to Abraham, as You promised on oath to our fathers in days gone by. Another midrash ( though it has no direct connection with the Book of Jonah) gives the fullest expression of the contrast between divine justice, which is the attribute associated with the measured and rationed justice inscribed in the Torah, the prophetic books, Psalms, and Proverbs ( personifi ed as wisdom), on the one hand; and divine mercy, which reveals the goodness and righteousness of the living God, on the other: They asked the Torah: “ How is the sinner to be punished?” It replied, “ Let him bring a sacrifi ce and he will be pardoned.” They asked prophecy: “ How is the  sinner to be punished?” It replied, “ The person who sins, . . . he shall die” ( Ezek. 18: 4). They asked David: “ How is the  sinner to be punished?” He  replied, “ May sinners disap-pear from the earth and the wicked be no more” ( Ps. 104: 35).          C    h  a  p  t e  r   Home  |      T  O   C   

JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah


About Book JPS Bible Commentary: Jonah

FRONT MATTEREDITORSTitle pageCopyright pageTABLE OF CONTENTSPREFACEINTRODUCTIONThe Theme of the Book and the History of Its ExegesisJonah's Place in the Biblical CanonThe Literary GenreThe Narrative ArtThe Literary Function of the Gentiles as Supporting CharactersThe Unity of the Book and the Provenance of the PsalmLinks between Jonah and Other Biblical BooksLanguageDate of CompositionThe TextTHE COMMENTARY TO JONAHBIBLIOGRAPHYMidrashimJewish Commentaries (in chronological order)Modern Commentaries (in chronological order)Scholarly Studies (in alphabetical order)
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