This chapter draws from the Book of Jonah’s ending, offering possible answers to several mysteries in that text.
Chapter 25 begins by introducing readers to someone they already know: Tiglath-Pileser III, previously identified as Adad-nirari, Pulu, and Pul. While not mentioned in the Book of Jonah, this Assyrian king rises a few times in the Old Testament: namely, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles, always in a menacing role.
This king's reveal brings us to this novel's historic nexus. Bible historians have no direct indicators of when Jonah made his trip to Nineveh, and no Assyrian artifacts record his visit. The Bible does not name the king in the Book of Jonah. Assyrian histories indicate three or four kings reigned while Jeroboam II ruled in Israel, depending on what projected timelines are used. The last was Ashur-nirari V. All of these monarchs faced difficult trials during what proved a low point in Assyrian history. The Prophet and the Dove depicts Jonah's mission at the end of Ashur-nirari V's troubled reign for three reasons:
• It is difficult to imagine Jonah – a reluctant, nationalist prophet – making such a long, difficult journey before he served King Jeroboam II, for the ministry leaves the prophet drained and ready for death – a difficult state of health for arranging and making the even more difficult return trip. It's also hard to imagine the Dove taking this journey to Nineveh while in the service of Jeroboam. Indeed, Jonah had no need to consider fleeing to Tarshish when, as the king's military chief, he had a ready-made excuse to not visit Nineveh, a capitol to one of Israel's primary foes. The fact that Jonah held that military role also suggests God wanted the prophet in that position. But after Jeroboam's death, the Dove lost that shield. Perhaps the most significant indicator of all is the fact that the Book of Jonah makes no mention of Jeroboam. If Jonah was still in the king's employ during God's calling, the prophet's book probably would have said so.
• After decades of civil and political unrest, the weary Nineveh people under Ashur-nirari would be open to hearing Jonah's revolutionary ministry, while the generals would be primed for revolt. Assyrian history records such things plagued Ashur-nirari's predecessors.
• Public debates of Jonah's proposals, capped by widespread adoption from even the king, would certainly have political consequences, even if such results are not mentioned in the Book of Jonah. Indeed, Jonah's ministry would have enraged a nationalistic military leader and encouraged him to not just seize power, but to punish the Hebrew people Jonah loved.
The Prophet and the Dove depicts Tiglath-Pileser III taking the crown from his father and his name from past Assyrian heroes. This follows known history, although it remains unclear whether the usurper was actually the king's son. Modern archivists generally estimate Tiglath-Pileser III ruled from around 745 to 727 BC – which fits nicely into the timeline proposed by The Prophet and the Dove. A nationalist every bit as fervent as Jonah, this expansionist titan would reorganize and revive his empire’s armies while strengthening its political and economic foundations. Thus Tiglath-Pileser III would end his career among Assyria’s most successful and honored kings.
SPOILER ALERT: Readers may follow his actions, and those of his successors, through the rest of The Jonah Cycle.
Let’s move on to the parts of this chapter that are in the Book of Jonah. Finding the Dove near death, Benjamin listens as Jonah shares his dream. But seeing remnants of a large vine and widespread storm damage, Benjamin suspects his mentor may have endured something far more real. The “dream” describes events told in Jonah 4:5-10, which shares one of those rare instances in the Bible where a mortal man speaks directly to God – another reason why readers should take the story of this prophet quite seriously, for God did.
“Do you have a right to be angry?” our Lord asks the prophet, knowing Jonah burns with the same anguish that has unsettled him throughout his Nineveh calling. The Dove admits this, stating his wish to die.
At first, our Lord is lenient: “You have loved this vine, though you did nothing to care for it. It sprang up of its own and died of its own.” But His next words acknowledge the true source of Jonah’s rage. The prophet recognizes this correction – “always He takes me back to Nineveh!” – but God uses it not to condemn, but to defend and explain His love for this city and all its inhabitants.
Step back and reconsider this. By this stage, any normal person would be fed up with arguing the same point over and over again, as Jonah demonstrates. But God responds with patience, wisdom, logic, and love, even though Jonah has fought against him for some time.
Have you ever tried this tactic to end longstanding arguments? Did it work?
The Lord’s reference to animals, which draws from Jonah 4:11, provides a nice parallel to Jonah 3:8 and the previous Assyrian king’s requirement that not just people, but animals, wear sackcloth. What does this tell you about God’s interest in His creation? Does it equal His love of mankind?
The biblical account ends with that livestock question, underscoring how the Book of Jonah focused on God’s message of love and repentance. The novel’s continuation brings out the human element modern readers usually focus on, even as it reminds us of God’s dual purpose in Jonah’s ministry.
Finishing his confession, the Dove asks Benjamin if his “dream” makes sense. “It is of the Lord,” our narrator replies, adding for our sake that he would ponder Jonah’s tale forever, as have millions of others.
Believers often draw parallels between Jonah’s ministry and Christ’s mission to the world. Christ Himself encouraged this by pointing contemporaries to watch for the “sign of Jonah.” That prophet’s death at the end of this chapter strengthens that theory. But once Jonah meets Tiglath-Pileser III (in the novel, of course, not the Bible), the Dove outlines more immediate meanings to his “dream.”
Jonah equates that fast-growing vine to his Nineveh ministry and its dynamic results, while the new Assyrian king represents the worm that killed the vine. Its death left Jonah (a symbol of the Hebrew people) vulnerable to the sirocco (an icon for the great Assyrian armies that would soon sweep over Israel, Judah, and all surrounding lands).
As you may recall, the novel depicts Jonah having witnessed all this in his visions, which explains why he chose to avoid God’s calling and flee as far from Nineveh as possible.
Could both interpretations be right? Do you see still more possibilities?
Readers get a direct, if abstract, look at Jonah’s many visions as the Dove breathes upon Benjamin and, in a passing of spiritual knowledge, endows his sidekick not just with a new moniker – Nahum, the Old Testament prophet whose name means “comforter” in Hebrew – but his roeh’s gift. These visions feature the cross of Christ, which is not mentioned in the biblical books of Jonah or Nahum, yet remains in the realm of possibility for these contemporaries of Isaiah, who did receive such insights.
As for that spiritual breath upon Nahum, this draws upon ancient symbolism of both God’s breathing life into creation and of the spread of the Holy Spirit. Other religions also share examples of passing along memories, power, or spirit through an inhaled breath, as do some superstitions, such as cultural warnings not to breathe when passing by a cemetery. My usage is a nod to the writings of Stephen R. Lawhead, who applied this tactic so well in his Celtic book series.
As for my novel’s use of Nahum, it causes few biblical conflicts, for the Old Testament provides very few details about this prophet’s background or life. Because of this, historians differ over whether Nahum’s namesake book records the actual fall of Nineveh or offers an insightful vision. By planting Benjamin’s early years at the time of Jonah – and revealing his execution at the hands of Ashurbanipal, a then-future king in Assyrian history – The Prophet and the Dove sides with prophecy.
Jonah shows the depth of his visions when he summarizes the future works of Tiglath-Pileser III: “Your people will crush Israel, but your achievements will be soon forgotten. In a few hundred years the grand armies of the world will march past the rubble of Nineveh and wonder what once stood there.”
This came true when troops of Alexander the Great encountered those ruins, not knowing what they saw.
But even in the grip of God’s prophesy, Jonah falls victim to his hatred and prejudice, declaring, “For in the eyes of God, you are nothing.” This is obviously not true, or our Lord would not have sent Jonah on this mission in the first place.
Jonah’s death closes a series of dramatic events rarely equaled in the scope of a lifetime. And yet, as the Dove’s visions indicate and Benjamin’s experiences prove, Jonah’s story did not end with his death. Life continued. God’s plan rolled on.
What does this tell you about the trials and tribulations you endure? Does it put things in a different perspective?