The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah And The Mystery Of God’s Mercy, by Timothy Keller
In this short and easy-to-read book, the author makes an interesting commentary on the book of Job and its applicability for contemporary believers by comparing Job’s actions to both of the two prodigal sons in Jesus’ famous parable. While I am not familiar with this particular connection being drawn before, it certainly is a very sensible connection to make. After all, Jonah has a bifid sort of structure, the first part of which looks at Jonah’s rebellion against God’s command to preach to Nineveh and God’s mercy upon his disobedient prophet and the second part of which looks at Jonah’s fulfilling of that mission but without understanding God’s mercy for all humanity. The author seems to take a dimmer view of Jonah than I would, which is not hard because most people take a dim view of Jonah, but it is easy to look down on Jonah and hard to appreciate what God was doing in sending an Israelite nationalist to a gentile nation of oppressors to call for mercy. Surely God’s mysterious purposes were such that he had a great deal to teach Jonah, much of which likely would sit outside of the book of Jonah as we have it.
This book is just a bit over 200 pages, by no means a very long read. The author begins with his conceit of Jonah being akin to the parable of the lost sons. After that the author makes comments on various parts of the Book of Jonah, beginning with his running from God (1), then moving on to the storms of the world (2), the question of who our neighbor is (3), our embracing of the other (4), the pattern of love shown by God and godly people (5), and Jonah’s continuing run from grace (6). After that the author moves on to a discussion of Jonah’s doing justice while preaching wrath against Assyria (7), the storms of the heart that come from having one’s hope for justice thwarted (8), and the odd character of God’s compassion on us (9). Finally, the author concludes with a trio of chapters that discuss our relationship to God’s word (10), world (11), and grace (12) along with an epilogue about who wrote the story. Throughout the book as a whole the author is content to view the book of Jonah in a largely allegorical sense, seeking to draw connections between the book of Jonah and Christian models of love and grace and concern for others.
This book can be considered as a classic example of someone reading the Hebrew scriptures through the eyes of the New Testament without having much of an interest in the culture of ancient Israel and in its history on its own terms. In addition, the author makes some misstatements of fact, viewing Nahum as having been written already when Nahum would not be written for another 100 to 150 years after Jonah, as anyone understanding its own writing between the fall of Thebes and the decline of Assyria would know from taking the chronology of the prophets seriously. This is not to say that the book is a bad book, but it is a bit more superficial than I would prefer, the sort of book that it is easy to enjoy but that does not strike at the deep level that one would expect from exegetical writing. The author demonstrates in this book that he is clever enough to recognize some parallels between Jonah and Jesus Christ, but he doesn’t reflect on the three days and three nights that Jesus Christ Himself referred to, and nor does he show himself to be very knowledgeable or interested in the history of Israel. His loss.