Man On The Run, Week 4 — Running In Circles

As many of you know the bible’s division into chapters and verses is a much later addition to the Scriptural texts.  You can read the story of how the medieval church gradually implemented these reader aids here.

Because that work came at least 1,000 years after the manuscripts were originally written, we don’t old the chapter/verse distinctions to be inspired, anointed, infallible, or whatever other term people apply to the bible itself.  Sometimes, in fact, chapter divisions are so arbitrary they interrupt the flow of the story (check John 7:59 – 8:11 for example).

However, the chapter divisions in Jonah are perfect.  I have come to see during this series that Jonah — remember, it’s not about a guy in a fish; it’s a bout a man on the run! — is in fact a drama made up of four distinct acts.  And each act corresponds exactly to its chapter.

The fourth and final act is the most confusing and ambiguous of them all:

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

What do we make of such a flawed protagonist?  Of a God who arbitraily grows vines and then kills them?  Of a book that ends with an unanswered question?

Or, more accurately, of a book that ends in much the same way it began.

That’s what we’ll find out together on Sunday.  Along the way, we’ll see how our excavation into the meaning of these words has everything to do with the kind of church we are becoming.


8:30.  10.  11:30.