Q&A: Jonah - What's the Point?

Jonah - What's the Point?

Question

Why does Jonah just seem to break off at the end? What's the point we're supposed to learn when all is said and done?

Answer

It most definitely does appear that Jonah ends rather abruptly. Jonah and God are disputing. God asks Jonah a question in 4:9 and Jonah answers him. Then in verses 10 and 11, God asks another question and the book ends. Why are we not given Jonah's response? Why does the curtain seem to fall so suddenly? Actually, it is very fitting for Jonah to end this way. There are three things worth mentioning:

First, this ending is not unnatural. Although it may feel awkward for us, it is an appropriate ending that drives home some of the main points that are repeated throughout the entire book. These last verses succinctly sum up some of the main issues in the book, namely God's compassion and Jonah's hardness. As Jonah 4:1-2 tells us, Jonah was displeased when he saw that Nineveh would be spared. In his frustration he said, "I knew you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity." He knows the right words, but his "head knowledge" has not transformed his own outlook on life. That is, Jonah is not manifesting Godly character toward his enemies.

Thus, it is appropriate that God have the last word in Jonah in order to highlight his own character again. The verses draw attention to the sharp contrast between God's attitude toward the people of Nineveh and Jonah's attitude toward the vine. Jonah has shown great concern about the vine while God is concerned for the people. What irony! What sarcasm! Jonah cares more for a plant than he does for human life. Has this not been his struggle throughout the entire book? Is it not then a fitting ending to leave Jonah continuing with this struggle?

Second, not only does this ending fit with the overall message of the Book of Jonah, but it highlights or heightens this message. The ending to Jonah is not a mistake, but in many ways could be considered a literary device. It is supposed to be shocking and abrupt. It is supposed to make us think.

Imagine that the book ended in a manner that would sound more appropriate to our ears. For example, imagine that there were a verse 12 which read something like, "And Jonah finally got it! He had failed to have compassion on Nineveh. He had failed to exhibit Godly character. So he went home a changed man." This ending may be more understandable or smoother, but it takes away from the dramatic tension in the story. It almost becomes too smooth. It is almost too clear. The ending, as it currently stands, draws attention to the message instead of making it lighter.

Third, this abrupt ending causes application. As I mentioned above, we are not given Jonah's response to God's question. We are left to wonder, "What did he say? How did he end up? Did he understand what God was saying or did he continue to sulk?" As we wonder about the answers to these questions, we find ourselves asking the same questions about ourselves. This ending forces us to look deep into our own hearts and see where we are like Jonah and where we are more like God. How am I doing as a child of God in terms of showing compassion? Am I undervaluing human life and not caring for the needs of others - especially of my enemies?

By leaving this tension in the story, we are forced to try to write the ending in our own lives. We identify with Jonah, yet we seek by God's grace to make the ending a happy, Spirit-filled one.

Frank Page, in his commentary on Jonah (The New American Commentary Series, Volume 19b, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995) writes this:
Some have ventured to remark that the Book of Jonah ends abruptly or somehow in an incomplete manner. On the contrary, the book ends in a way that draws attention and, therefore, increases its teaching potential... The book ends with a clear contrast between the ways of God and the ways of Jonah... The story is deliberately left open-ended for those studying its message to complete it in their own lives" (p.288).


Answer by Mr. Todd Johnson