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The Role of Prophets in Israel and their Prophetic Messages

Question:

What Is Role of Prophets in the Book of Jonah?

During the salvation history in Israel, God used prophets to perform important roles to the people. There are different ways in which the prophets received and disseminated their messages. This was in spite varied experience that the prophets had the manner in which they also conveyed their experiences. During these periods, there were two classes of prophets; the true and the false prophets. The true prophets did not proclaim their prophetic messages in an automatic and mechanical manner and hence they were in a constant search for certainty. As a result, the narratives of the call of many prophets in the bible as described by the literature of prophets indicates that there was always a feeling of uncertainty and doubts at the time of calling of these prophets. Most calls from God were in the form of vision or a command by God. On the other hand, it is important to make a consideration to the audience of the prophetic messages[1]. In most cases, the people of Israel, to which the prophets were sent to, were not sure on whether to accept or reject the prophetic messages. This is because it was not easy to make a distinction between the true and the false prophets since the latter had become so rampant in Israel. In order to be unique, the true prophets of God including Jonah used to make reference to the ancestral history and lineage of Israelites to their fore fathers by use of theological beliefs[2]. For instance, they would make a relationship in the lineage of Abraham, Moses, Judah, Israel, David and all the way to the anticipated birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. In this paper, the roles of prophets, various prophetic models and the significance of satirism in the book of Jonah are presented.

The bible clearly states that God decided to choose Israel as his own nation so that He would manifest His glory through them. However, He used the prophets to be his advocates to speak to the people His messages and promises[3]. In this case, the prophetic messages were meant to make other nations to receive blessings and know that He was truly the Living God. The prophets were also meant to make the people know that God was their creator and He had good plans for them if only they accepted to live according to His holy will. Through the prophets, God gave the Israelites His laws via which they were required to abide and live by, so that He would still be their God. However, there laws later came to cause serious conflicts between God and His people due to disobedience and the ill motives that the kings of the Israelites had to the people and Gods prophets. Some theologist also suggest that the calling of the prophets was through the inspiration by the holy Spirit, in order to inspire them to be committed to speak the truth and ensure that justice was given to the people[4].

The Ways in Which God Communicated to His People Through Prophets


Another role of the prophets is that they were mediators of the will of God, indicating that they were supposed to live according to the commandments of God. In this case, they were supposed to be obedient God and do whatever He required of them.  This is the reason as to why Jonah, after being released from the belly of the Shark, he began the miseries of preaching to the Israelites and condemning the evil acts if the rulers of those days. Just as Jonah, the prophets were supposed to live by faith and hope upon the mercies of God to give them strength to handle all the challenges and rebellions. This is because it is believed that a true prophet of God should prophesy using the name of God and that all that they prophesy must come to pass[5]. On the other hand, the false prophets in Israel who spoke about the small gods did not have their prophesies come true, for instance the prophets of Baal.

During the calling of prophets, God used various ways which include visions, dreams, or audio speaking. In the book of Numbers, God said “Listen to my words, where there is a prophet among you, I, the lord will reveal my visions, and speak to them in dreams. This is the common feature which therefore distinguished the true prophets of God from other false prophets. As the massagers of God, the prophets were supposed to reveal the nature and attributes of God to the people by use of the messages from God[6]. Moreover in their preaching, the prophets were tasked with calling back the people of Israel to God and make them live by His laws. They were also required to make people turn to the true worship of God as the true God and turn away from the worship of the false gods. The prophets are also supposed to warn the people of the impending divine judgment should they fail to change their evil ways of living. The prophets including Jonah also made prophesies concerning the future events which God had promised His people, i.e. the coming of the messiah.

The prophets of God in Israel had various differences but they had some things in common, that they all preached against sin, concerning God’s judgment, love repentance, mercy, forgiveness and the wrath of God. There were a few cases however, when some conditional prophesies which did not come to pass when the people of Israel turned back to God through repentance and fasting, for instance when Prophet Jonah had prophesied disaster in Nineveh, and then God withdrew His plans as indicated in Jonah 2. The prophets also were classified as being foretelling prophets whose major role was to call back people to god through change in their ways of living[7]. In this case, these prophets would give the people of Israel enough time to prepare through obedience and prayers. They also promised the people that God would restore them back in future through the coming of the Messiah, as the anointed one of God. The messiah as the prophets preached would the perfect one of God whose role would be to redeem mankind and bring about a restoration.

Different Types of Prophets

Since salvation and judgment through God were the key messages to the Israelites, God found it important to express His heart through the prophets[8]. In this aspect, God communicated His will to the people of Israel through the prophets just like Jonah and others. This is what was propagated all the way to the new testaments where the disciples of Jesus, who are described to have seen and heard much of what the prophets in the old testament wished to but did not hear nor see. This clearly indicates that the prophets were integral in the efforts to make it clear the good plans and intentions which God had for His people[9].

A teaching derived from the prophetic ministry of prophet Jonah in the bible is that it is not good to run away from God. Moreover, it insists that there is no clear avenue for running away from God. From an anti-Semitic view, prophet Noah is viewed to be a man who fled and was angry with God and later hid in a bush with wishes that he would die[10]. Although this might seem to be a selfish act, again Prophet Jonah later appeared to be more concerned with the feelings of people towards God and not the people thought of him as an individual. During the prophetic ministries of Prophet Jonah, the conditions were not favorable, just like the times of many other prophets in the Bible in the Old Testament. There were many social, political and religious disorders which were dominant in Israel. This is the period when Israel had been captured by Syria, whose capital was Nineveh. As a result, Jonah faced difficulties because the people of Israel had just lost their independence, while the home land of Jonah and Nineveh city were not stable politically[11].

During this time, Jonah was tasked with acting as a man of God to the Israelites so as to give an indication of how high their status was to God. All this was in the effort of God to restore the relationship with His people following the fall of man in sin[12]. The book of Jonah is in some way one of the least understood books in the Bible since it portrays Prophet Jonah as a man who escapes but later accepted the will of God.  At first, the people of Nineveh mocked him but towards the end of Chapter four, Jonah felt some form of acceptance because of the suffering and hardships that he was supposed to bear in his prophetic duties. The prophetic life and messages of prophet Jonah are depicted the power of penitence whereby one, God was angry with Jonah for escaping from His ministry during his calling, and two, that God had decided that He would overturn Nineveh if the city did not repent its sins.

The major theme in the book of Jonah is that God wants man to fats, repent, obey God and love their enemies. God has pity and mercy over His people and encourages people to preach against evil doings on the society. In the bible, Jonah became angry when God resisted destroying the Israelites as He had promised. This indicates that although God hates wrong doers, He is ready to forgive them if they repent. Moreover, the repentance is meant for all people, both Israelites and non Israelites, which means that the love of God is universal[13].

The Central Mission of Prophets

The satirical depiction of Prophet Jonah clearly indicates this prophet in his trials and errors in his early prophetic career. Finally, Jonah submits to the will of God and accepts to go to Nineveh. Following several tribulations, Jonah felt so emotional and began to wish himself dead. It is argued that God took a long time to explain His mercies to Jonah, as evidenced by the occurrences which took place during his call (Jonah 4: 6-10). The use of satire to depict the nature and feature of Prophet Jonah offers a smile to the Bible readers as they offer teachings and corrections[14]. The prophetic life and message of Jonah is important to both Israelites and all the Christian of the modern date. It offers a declaration of the desires of God for missionaries to spread the gospel. God clearly abdicates that He will be perseverant with unwilling spokesmen but in the end His will be done on Earth. The name Jonah, according to the Hebrew, means a dove, which is a bird which is loyal to its mate. Thus Prophet Jonah was named so because he represented his total loyalty to God in the proclamation of His word to the Israelites.

The satire in the book of Prophet Jonah is indicative of abuse and ridicule of a behavior which creates fun and makes many more people want to read it and finally get spiritual inspiration. The experiences of Jonah in the belly of a big fish for three days might appear funny and unimaginable but it was a source of change in his attitude[15]. From experiences of other sailors who drawn in the sea, they are completely destroyed by the whales and die. Thus, the experience of Jonah coming out alive from the fish made him to be obedient and marks a sign of God’s power upon him[16]. Later, he heeded to God’s calling and went to Nineveh where his prophetic work drew many people back to God.

According to Mc…., initially, the importance of form critical analysis begins with understanding that the unit to be studied is the book of Jonah. The beginning or the end of the book of Jonah is not the issues, but the whole context is important in making a criticism and hence the understanding of the book[17]. Sometimes, many readers raise questions regarding the psalm which is found in Jonah 2: 3-10. However, with time it is realized that the psalm is very important to the success of this book. In the beginning, Jonah is called just like other prophets of God but in a unique statement which states, “The word of Yahweh came to Jonah the son of Amiltai saying…” (Jonah 1:1). In the books of other prophetic books, they begin with, “the word God came to…”

Conclusion

The bible clearly depicts the role that the prophets of God like Jonah had to play for the salvation of Israel. It is important to know that the prevailing conditions social, economic and political of those days of the prophets were not favorable and these prophets faced many challenges. However, they succeeded and were able to make the people to turn to the love and mercy of God. The story of the calling of Jonah has also emphasized that people can never hide from God and His will must be done. 

Lessons Learned from the Prophetic Ministry of Jonah

References

Ackerman, James S. "Jonah." The Literary Guide to the Bible (1987): 234-43.

Anderson, Bradford A. "Old Testament Theology, Revisited: RWL Moberly and Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture." Cithara 55, no. 1 (2015): 35.

Bolin, Thomas M. "Should I Not Also Pity Nineveh?'Divine Freedom in the Book of Jonah." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 20, no. 67 (1995): 109-121.

Braley, Jeffrey John. But None Will Be Given It Except The Sign Of The Prophet Jonah: Matt 12: 39. Destiny Image Publishers, 2014.

Campbell, A. "The Study Companion to Old Testament Literature." Theological Studies 52, no. 2 (1991): 387.

Cooper, Alan. "In Praise of Divine Caprice: The Significance of the Book of Jonah." journal for the study of the old testament supplement series (1993): 144-144.

Coote, Robert B. Amos among the Prophets. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005.

Fingert, Hyman H. "Psychoanalytic study of the minor prophet, Jonah." The Psychoanalytic Review (1913-1957) 41 (1954): 55.

Matherne, John D., and Nathan Eubank. "More than Just the Fish: An Exegesis of the Prophet Jonah." (2014).

McKenzie, Steven L. How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature--Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Mirza, Younus Y. "Was Ibn Kath?r the ‘Spokesperson’for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience." Journal of Qur'anic Studies 16, no. 1 (2014): 1-19.

Payne, Robin. "The Prophet Jonah: Reluctant Messenger and Intercessor." The Expository Times 100, no. 4 (1989): 131-134.

Scott, Robert BY. "The Sign of Jonah: An Interpretation." Union Seminary Magazine 19, no. 1 (1965): 16-25.

Stanton, Gerald B. "The Prophet Jonah and His Message." Bibl Sac 108 (1951).

Szarmach, Paul E. "Three versions of the Jonah story: an investigation of narrative technique in Old English homilies." Anglo-Saxon England 1 (1972): 183-192.

Thompson, Thomas L. "Creating the Past: Biblical Narrative as Interpretive Discourse." Collegium Biblicum Årsskrift (CBÅ) 1 (2015): 7-23.

Wilson, Ambrose John. "The Sign of the Prophet Jonah and Its Modern Confirmations."." Princeton Theological Review 25 (1927): 630-42.

[1] John, Braley, Jeffrey. But None Will Be Given It Except The Sign Of The Prophet Jonah: Matt 12: 39. Destiny Image Publishers, 2014.

 [2] Younus Y. Mirza. "Was Ibn Kath?r the ‘Spokesperson’for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience." Journal of Qur'anic Studies 16, no. 1 (2014): 1-19.

 [3] Bradford A. Anderson. "Old Testament Theology, Revisited: RWL Moberly and Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture." Cithara 55, no. 1 (2015): 35.

 [4] Hyman H. Fingert. "Psychoanalytic study of the minor prophet, Jonah." The Psychoanalytic Review (1913-1957) 41 (1954): 55.

 [5] Robin, Payne. "The Prophet Jonah: Reluctant Messenger and Intercessor." The Expository Times 100, no. 4 (1989): 131-134.

 [6] Gerald . B, Stanton, Gerald B. "The Prophet Jonah and His Message." Bibl Sac 108 (1951).

 [7] Wilson Ambrose John. "The Sign of the Prophet Jonah and Its Modern Confirmations."." Princeton Theological Review 25 (1927): 630-42.

 [8] Robert, Scott BY. "The Sign of Jonah: An Interpretation." Union Seminary Magazine 19, no. 1 (1965): 16-25.

 [9] Alan, Cooper. "In Praise of Divine Caprice: The Significance of the Book of Jonah." journal for the study of the old testament supplement series (1993): 144-144.

 [10] Paul, Szarmach, E. "Three versions of the Jonah story: an investigation of narrative technique in Old English homilies." Anglo-Saxon England 1 (1972): 183-192.

 [11] Thomas, Thompson, L. "Creating the Past: Biblical Narrative as Interpretive Discourse." Collegium Biblicum Årsskrift (CBÅ) 1 (2015): 7-23.

[12] James, Ackerman. S. "Jonah." The Literary Guide to the Bible (1987): 234-43.

 [13] John, Matherne, D., and Eubank, Nathan. "More than Just the Fish: An Exegesis of the Prophet Jonah." (2014).

 [14] Thomas, Bolin, M. "Should I Not Also Pity Nineveh?'Divine Freedom in the Book of Jonah." Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 20, no. 67 (1995): 109-121.

 [15] Campbell, A. "The Study Companion to Old Testament Literature." Theological Studies 52, no. 2 (1991): 387.

 [16] Robert, Coote, B. Amos among the Prophets. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005.

 [17] McKenzie, Steven L. How to Read the Bible: History, Prophecy, Literature--Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference and What It Means for Faith Today. Oxford University Press, 2005.

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