Monday, 26 October 2009

Jonah 1 and the fear of the LORD

Have you ever noticed that Jonah 1 is chiastic? Start in verse 4 to pick it up

1:1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.”

3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.

*A* 4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.

*B* 5 Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.

*C* And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep.

*D* 6 So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

*E* 7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.

*F* 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”

*G*9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

*G’* 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.

*F’* 11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

*E’* 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them.

*D’*14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”

*C’* 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.

*B’*16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.

*A’* 17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

That is to say, A corresponds to A', B corresponds to B', C corresponds to C', all the way through to G.

The effect of this structure is to make the fear of the LORD the centrepiece, and invite us to compare Jonah's faith with the faith of the pagan sailors, who really do fear God.

Isn't that great?

Fear God!


Adam Gregory said...

Hey Gordo,

I have a little trouble with reading bible passages with a chiastic view....

I'm not saying that it's wrong, but my experience is that once someone learns about chiastic structure, they sometimes feel as though they've cracked the bible "code" and start seeing chiasms everywhere. Any thoughts?

Gordon Cheng said...

Hi Adam,

Chiasms are as common as grass in the Bible, and once you get used to the idea they are no more mysterious than the conventions governing fairy tales ("Once upon a time...", "And they all lived happily ever after".)

Just as you can understand and enjoy fairy tales without being fully aware of the underlying conventions, so you can understand and read Bible stories without really paying too much attention to things like chiasms. But realizing they are there can help you feel the impact of the message and grab the main point.

I agree if they become a code that takes you away from careful attention to the simple meaning of the text, that could be a problem.