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Gleanings -The Prophet Jonah
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great wicked city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me?
But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
A Jewish Interpretation
To leave the Holy Land is exile, forgetfulness...
One goes up to Jerusalem.
To be in Jerusalem is to receive revelation, redemption, prophecy.
But Jonah did not want to be a prophet.
He then went down across the coastal plain to the sea, to Jaffa.
He went down from the ship's bridge into its hold to sleep there.
He wanted to be left alone, to disappear from sight, to be left in peace.
He turned in upon himself, shrivelled up, as it were; he regressed, turning towards self-destruction. He wanted to find oblivion in sleep, to flee from what his conscience was telling him.
Exile comes from forgetfulness, redemption comes from remembering.
Claude Viet, "De Jerusalem", Jerusalem No. 29, 1983
Jonah's refusal to go to Nineveh was due to his love for Israel.
He knew that the Ninevites would repent of their evil doings, and this would cause the wrath of God against His people, who notwithstanding the numerous admonitions by many prophets, continued to sin. By fleeing from the Holy Land, Jonah hoped to prevent the disgrace of Israel, since the Shekinah does not reveal itself outside the Holy Land, and being removed from the place of revelation, he could no longer receive communications from God to go to Nineveh.
Mekhilta Bo lb-2a; cf. L. Ginzberg:
The Legends of the Jews, Vol. VI,
Jewish Publication Soc., Philadelphia 1968
A Patristic Exegesis
Humanity, engulfed in sin, finds salvation in the Word.
The Word manifests the goodness of God and the marvellous splendor of his power. Just as God patiently bore with the sight of Jonah in the belly of the fish, not being swallowed up and perishing completely, but once having come forth, submitting once again to God in order to glorify him the more, him who offered him an unlooked-for salvation,
so also, from the beginning, God has borne with the sight of humankind, in the belly of a monster who is the author of sin. He is not, however, swallowed up completely, because God ordained that salvation would come, accomplished by the Word according to the sign of Jonah.
Irenaeus, Contre les Heresies, III, 20, 1 (Sources Chret. p. 339). Translated from the French.