"Going Up" and "Going Down" in the Book of Jonah

In the book of Jonah, the ideas of “going up” and “going down” are significant and often indicate the state of Jonah’s obedience to God’s divine call. When the word of the LORD comes to Jonah at the beginning of the book, God commands Jonah to “Arise” (~Wq) and “cry out against” the great city of Nineveh (Jon 1:2). The reason that God gives his prophet this particular command is because the distress or wickedness of the city had “come up” (hl[) before the LORD. Because the distress of Nineveh had “come up” before the LORD, he commands his prophet to “get up” and cry out against the city. Jonah responds to this divine imperative by “rising up” (~q'Y"w:), but only so that he can “flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD” (1:3).

After rising up to flee from God’s call, Jonah begins to go down away from the LORD’s presence. He first goes down (dry) to Joppa, and then he “goes down” (dry) into a ship that is just about to leave for Tarshish (1:3). When the water becomes turbulent because of the great wind the LORD hurls upon the sea, the captain finds Jonah sleeping in the innermost part of the ship, for he had “gone below” (dry) and fallen into a “deep” sleep (~dr) (1:5). The depth of Jonah’s plummet is starkly contrasted by the captain’s orders to “get up” (~Wq) and call out for divine aid (1:6). After it becomes clear that Jonah is the cause of the nautical tumult they are experiencing, the sailors hurl Jonah into the ocean where a divinely appointed “great fish” swallows Jonah whole. Just as Jonah was in the innermost part of the ship, he is now in the innermost part of the “great fish” which he likens to “the depths of Sheol” (2:3). In his prayer, Jonah describes how he “descended” (dry) to the depths of the mountains/sea (2:7). In this moment of contrite confession before the LORD, Jonah’s descent ends as the LORD his God “brings him up” out of the pit (2:7), and commands the fish to “vomit up” (ayq) Jonah onto the dry land (2:11).

After Jonah is back on his feet on dry land, the word of the LORD comes to him a second time, commanding him again to “Arise” (~Wq) and preach to Nineveh (3:1). This time, when Jonah arises (~wq), he goes to Nineveh “according to the word of the LORD” (3:3). Similarly, when the king of Nineveh arises (~wq) from his throne, it is to a posture of repentance (3:6). The other “up” and “down” verbs occur as the LORD gives Jonah an object lesson by causing a plant to grow “up” and cover him from the scorching sun that beats “down” upon Jonah’s head.

By tracing the significance of verbs of going up and going down, one can see the extent of Jonah’s disobedience. The word of the LORD told Jonah to get up and go to Nineveh, but Jonah continually went down in order to flee from the presence of the LORD. Conversely, one can also see the extent of the LORD’s patient lovingkindness as he brings Jonah all the way back up from his downward spiral of disobedience and issues a second command to “arise” and preach his prophetic message.
September 19, 2007


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