This pivotal chapter carries readers down the road to Joppa, where a long-building confrontation unveils Jonah’s fears and motivation.
This starts with a surprising cry by Jonah: “Why, Lord? Why?” What do you think his words reflect? Frustration with Benjamin’s persistent interference? Anger towards God for keeping this pesky obstacle in the prophet’s way? Or a guilty protest against the Lord for placing another life in jeopardy if the Dove goes through with his dangerous plan?
It takes the promise of a meal to bring Benjamin and the Dove together. Have you endured similar conflicts where food provides the only possible platform for peace? That solution comes with some irony, as it was Pelagos – Benjamin’s tempter – who prepared their basket. What does this say of her intentions, or her role in God’s plan?
She also insisted the young man take Jonah’s kinnor, which helps curb the prophet’s anguish. Does music play a similar role in your life? Does it impact your spiritual life?
Despite sharing a meal, the two continue to spar. “Divine guidance,” Jonah says in a mocking fashion. “You know such words when you hear them?”
That’s a question everyone should consider. How would you answer it?
That inquiry pins Benjamin down in his ignorance until he stammers out the truth: the young man has no idea why God is so mysterious. That answer disarms the seer. “For that is His way,” admits Jonah. “Even if His messages were written in the sand, they would not always be so clear. Sometimes there are mysteries in His works that man may never understand, mysteries that challenge all we believe in. And then, sometimes, the evil one impersonates our Lord, to deceive us.”
Surprising words from a seer, gifted by God with special insight. But it raises a fear most of us share: how do we discern the Lord’s guidance from earthly confusion, temptation, insinuation, or our own simple desires, whether subconscious or open?
As Jonah explains his concerns, he mentions the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Amos, while Benjamin drops a reference to Elijah. These “minor” prophets all fall generally within the novel’s storyline.
Elijah is the easy one to place, his life predating Jeroboam II by several generations. The other two allow some interpretation.
Although Benjamin objects to Amos as having lived “a long time ago,” his view reflects a young man’s frequent disregard of all events predating his birth or awareness. Historians generally date Amos’ active years around 760 to 755 BC, which would fall during the estimated middle years of Jeroboam II’s reign. In the novel, that would predate or overlap Benjamin’s infancy.
Events in the Book of Isaiah lead some historians to place its writing between 740 to 680 BC. In The Prophet and the Dove, Jonah refers to Isaiah as a young man in Solomon’s Temple, one gifted with holy insight. As this prophet’s namesake book shares events and visions Isaiah experienced, the estimated timelines align fairly well with the novel.
Our Biblical explanations get a bit more complicated concerning Jonah’s cited prophesies. While Assyrian predictions in the Book of Isaiah primarily involve the invasion of Judah, it is no great stretch to suggest that prophet foresaw the fall of Israel, which historians date around 721 BC – roughly two decades after events in The Prophet and the Dove. The Book of Amos, on the other hand, predicts the destruction of Israel, though it does not specify Assyria as the culprit.
Jonah, depicted in this novel as both a seer and a contemporary of Amos and Hosea, may have gathered his information on his own, or through prophesy.
While we have no biblical predictions by Elijah that directly tie into this conflict, that prophet did warn of what would result from sinful actions by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel – which compounded over time under similar depravations by several following monarchs up to King Jeroboam II. If this logic seems debatable, we might remind ourselves that it was Benjamin who raised Elijah’s name – not Jonah – so it could have been a youthful overstatement or a guess.
Let’s get back to the plot. Jonah cites these prophesies to defend his concerns about Assyria, and to underscore his own visions – which he intends to act upon. But his debate with Benjamin has unexpected consequences. Backed into a corner, the young man claims he believes in the Lord – and realizes that he really means it. His spiritual growth passes a key hurdle.
This points to a surprising truth – many people face an internal reluctance to admit they believe in a divine Creator. It may reflect social pressure, feelings of shyness or inadequacy, a reluctance to face criticism or defend ideologies, or still other motives. But as Benjamin found, with that admission comes strength.
Have you similar experiences to share?
Benjamin’s witness opens the floodgates to Jonah’s fears and the Lord’s calling. His concerns over Assyria reflect historical realities of not just the Hebrew people, but dozens of neighboring cultures over a thousand years. The pillar he recalls actually stood, bearing the stories he shares of Ashurnasirpal II, an Assyrian monarch who reigned roughly a century before The Prophet and the Dove’s depicted events. As for the Dove’s prophesies… future books in the Jonah Cycle will address that. But consider how his outlook coincides with the visions of Hosea. How does such talk make you feel? Have you experienced similar discussions, such as interpretive thoughts concerning the Book of Revelations or the end times?
Jonah’s outpouring of frustration ends with their debate going back to God’s will. “If it is, then it will be done,” admits the Dove. “But not by my hand.” He then closes with a bitter statement approaching hate: “Those… those devils… are not worthy of grace!” Jonah states. “Let them burn! That’s what I say.”
Perhaps that final outburst did not surprise you, having read through many examples of why Jonah felt as he did. But when you isolate that statement, does it shock you, to hear such venom from the lips of a firm believer in a loving God? Does it remind you of hypocrisy claims often hurled at Christians today? Or do his words speak to you of God’s justice? Do you find yourself agreeing with Jonah?