Jonah's Ending

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Jonah, Men in the Bible


Why does the book of Jonah end so abruptly?


Like the gospel of Mark, the book of Jonah ends in the middle of the story. The Lord's question, "Shall I not spare Nineveh, that great city…?, remains unanswered. Jonah does not have a chance to respond. The book is over.

It doesn't turn out the way we anticipated. It's unfinished, open-ended. Most scholars point out that such lack of closure has an effect on readers. Most of us don't like it when issues are unresolved. Often, we can't stop thinking about it. The lack of closure prevents us from moving on comfortably. In a sense, we are left speechless -- and deeply disappointed. But with whom? With the author, Jonah, Yahweh?

If we assume the authors did this on purpose, we might want to know what we're supposed to be thinking about. Consider Jonah's placement among the Minor Prophets. We acknowledged that this book is rather unique in that it's not from a prophet. Instead it is about a prophet, and one who is disobedient and petulant at that. But the book describes a great kindness rendered by God to people who were typically Israel's enemies. This is the point that Jonah could not accept. In that vein, it stands unique among the Minor Prophets. It follows the book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the OT, which is comprised of a diatribe against Edom. The second book after Jonah is Nahum, another diatribe; this one is against Nineveh, the very city that Yahweh mercifully spared. In reading the prophets, one can get caught up in God's justice, retribution, death, and destruction. But Jonah stands as a reminder that God is also merciful – and that sometimes he is merciful to the people we hate the most, the ones who are least deserving (in our opinion!). And because of that dysfunctional ending we cannot move right into Micah without experiencing some of that tension. As we pause, as we ponder, we might even find ourselves trying to answer God's unanswered question for ourselves.

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