How can I apply narrative criticism on the book of Jonah?
The book of Jonah gives us a historical glimpse of a portion of the life of Jonah to demonstrate that God has compassion on all people. Jonah, a Jew, in contrast, hates the people who live in Nineveh. The book has several miracles: the lots pointing out Jonah, the great storm, a huge fish, a living Jonah, Nineveh’s repentance, a very rapidly growing plant, and a worm.
As we read the historical record of a disobedient prophet, we are shocked that God’s prophet is trying to run away. We can imagine an average person trying to run away, but not a prophet of God. The prophet endangers the lives of others in his attempt to avoid doing something he hates. He reluctantly witnesses to the people in Nineveh who repent and turn to God. The prophet is angry! The climax has arrived, and God is ready to teach Jonah the lesson, and the reason the books were written. Jonah has already discovered he cannot run from God because God will find him no matter where he goes. The focus has been on the people of Nineveh and now the twist. Jonah is the focus, and the book ends in a climax.
God causes a plant to grow to shade Jonah from the sun, and Jonah loves the plant. The plant symbolizes God’s goodness or forgiveness to the people of Nineveh in response to repentance. When the plant dies because of the worm, Jonah is angry. In a sense Jonah was like the worm. If he had been successful in his rebellion, the people of Nineveh would not have repented. They would have died in their sins and spent eternity in hell. The plant, God’s forgiveness, would not have been present. The plant’s death symbolized the Ninevites’ punishment in hell if Jonah’s attempt to flee from his mission had been successful. So Jonah now had a perfect illustration. Jonah cared for the plant as God cared for the people. Why did God force Jonah to go and preach? God loved the people of Nineveh.
The miracles in the book are miracles of God. The biggest controversy is the fish. Yet, even in modern times a few large whales have been cut open and men still alive have been found inside. Even if such a whale did not exist, God could have made one just for this event. We do not need to find a natural, rational explanation, or they would not be miracles.
God loves all of mankind. He calls us to believe in Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:13 tells us that we can have eternal life. All we need to do is believe, trust or depend on Jesus to forgive us of our sins. We do not need to do anything else. The Ninevites only repented!
Reference Links:God's Great Passion
Book of Jonah