Monday, September 19, 2016

Flight of the Prophet Jonah

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Damien F. Mackey




“For our Lord and God himself became a man and entered into the sea of life like ours, insofar as he descended from the heaven of Joppa (translated “contemplation of joy”) into the ocean of this life. As Scripture says, he is the one who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:2)”.


St. Maximus the Confessor



The following piece regarding the prophet Jonah, which is taken from St. Gregory Nazianzen offers, I think, quite a somewhat different-from-the-usual insight into the mentality of Jonah when in flight from the Lord:


Jonah was fleeing from the face of God, or rather, thought that he was fleeing: but ‎he was overtaken by the sea, and the storm, and the lot, and the whale’s belly, and the ‎three days’ entombment, the type of a greater mystery. He fled from having to announce ‎the dread and awful message to the Ninevites, and from being subsequently, if the city ‎was saved by repentance, convicted of falsehood: not that he was displeased at the ‎salvation of the wicked, but he was ashamed of being made an instrument of falsehood, ‎and exceedingly zealous for the credit of prophecy, which was in danger of being ‎destroyed in his person, since most men are unable to penetrate the depth of the Divine ‎dispensation in such cases.‎

But, as I have learned from a man skilled in these subjects, and able to grasp the ‎depth of the prophet, by means of a reasonable explanation of what seems unreasonable ‎in the history, it was not this which caused Jonah to flee, and carried him to Joppa and ‎again from Joppa to Tarshish, when he entrusted his stolen self to the sea: for it was not ‎likely that such a prophet should be ignorant of the design of God, viz., to bring about, by ‎means of the threat, the escape of the Ninevites from the threatened doom, according to ‎His great wisdom, and unsearchable judgments, and according to His ways which are ‎beyond our tracing and finding out; nor that, if he knew this he would refuse to co-‎operate with God in the use of the means which He designed for their salvation. Besides, ‎to imagine that Jonah hoped to hide himself at sea, and escape by his flight the great eye ‎of God, is surely utterly absurd and stupid, and unworthy of credit, not only in the case of ‎a prophet, but even in the case of any sensible man, who has only a slight perception of ‎God, Whose power is over all.


Mackey’s comment: “… to imagine that Jonah hoped to hide himself at sea, and escape by his flight the great eye ‎of God, is surely utterly absurd and stupid, and unworthy of credit, not only in the case of ‎a prophet …”. This comment is certainly true at least of the prophet Amos, with whom I have identified Jonah in my article:


Prophet Jonah as Historical. Part One: Putting Jonah Back Together



who tells of the futility of trying to flee the Lord via the remotest of places (Amos 9:1-4):


Not one will get away,

none will escape.

Though they dig down to the depths below,

from there my hand will take them.

Though they climb up to the heavens above,

from there I will bring them down.

Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,

there I will hunt them down and seize them.

Though they hide from my eyes at the bottom of the sea,

there I will command the serpent to bite them.

[a reference to the Jonah incident?]

Though they are driven into exile by their enemies,

there I will command the sword to slay them.


St. Gregory Nazianzen continues:


On the contrary, as my instructor said, and as I am myself convinced, Jonah ‎knew better than anyone the purpose of his message to the Ninevites, and that, in ‎planning his flight, although he changed his place, he did not escape from God. Nor is ‎this possible for any one else, either by concealing himself in the bosom of the earth, or ‎in the depths of the sea, or by soaring on wings, if there be any means of doing so, and ‎rising into the air, or by abiding in the lowest depths of hell, or by enveloping himself in a ‎thick cloud, or by any other of the many devices for ensuring escape. For God alone of all ‎things cannot be escaped from or contended with; if He wills to seize and bring them ‎under His hand, He outstrips the swift, He outwits the wise, He overthrows the strong, He ‎abases the lofty, He subdues rashness, He represses power.

Jonah then was not ignorant of the mighty hand of God, with which he threatened ‎other men, nor did he imagine that he could utterly escape the Divine power; this we are ‎not to believe: but when he saw the falling away of Israel, and perceived the passing over ‎of the grace of prophecy to the Gentiles — this was the cause of his retirement from ‎preaching and of his delay in fulfilling the command; accordingly he left the watchtower ‎of joy, for this is the meaning of Joppa in Hebrew, I mean his former dignity and ‎reputation, and flung himself into the deep of sorrow: and hence he is tempest-tossed, and ‎falls asleep, and is wrecked, and aroused from sleep, and taken by lot, and confesses his ‎flight, and is cast into sea, and swallowed, but not destroyed, by the whale; but there he ‎calls upon God, and, marvelous as it is, on the third day he, like Christ, is delivered: but ‎my treatment of this topic must stand over, and shall shortly, if God permit, be more ‎deliberately worked out.


Mackey’s comment: “Joppa” is the Greek version (Ἰόππη) of the Hebrew name, Yapho (יָפוֹ), meaning “beautiful”. That fact does not do any harm to the above interpretation, wherein “Joppa” is translated as “contemplation of joy”, a translation that is picked up again in the commentary on Jonah’s flight by St. Maximus the Confessor, as written in Ad Thalassium (64), and found at:


Death, Burial and Resurrection

by Andrea Elizabeth




Background on the Scripture, in which more than twelve myriads of men dwell, who do not know their right hand from their left. (Jonah 4:11)


The prophet Jonah therefore signifies Adam, or our shared human nature, by bearing in himself mystically a figure of the following. Human nature has slipped from divine benefits, as from Joppa, and has descended, as though into a sea, into the misery of the present life, and been plunged into the chaotic and roaring waters of attachment to material objects. It has been swallowed whole by the whale, that spiritual and insatiable beast the devil himself. It has been enveloped with water all around it, the water of temptations to evil, up to the soul, in the sense that human life has been submerged with temptations. So to our nature has been engulfed in the deepest abyss, that is to say, it has been imprisoned by the complete ignorance of the mind and the overwhelming of rational thinking by the sheer pressure of vice. Our nature’s head has sunk into the clefts of the mountains in the sense that its primary principle of unity by faith vis-a-vis the Monad is like the head of the entire body of the virtues, which has become confined within the machinations of the wicked powers, as in the dark clefts of mountains and been dashed into a multiplicity of errant beliefs and illusions. For the Scriptural text calls clefts of mountains the delusional designs of the spirits of wickedness who hover in the depths of the deepest abyss of ignorance. Human nature has descended into the earth, whose bars are its eternal constraints, that is, it has fallen into a virtual desert of all divine sensibility, where its disposition has been deprived of the vital activity of virtue, and where it has no sense at all of goodness or any active desire of the mind for God… Like eternal bars, human nature has ingrained proclivities toward material objects which keep the mind from being freed from the darkness of ignorance to behold the light of true knowledge.


…His being swallowed by the whale and his impassible submission for three days and three nights indicates the mystery of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Matt 12:40). Thus his name can fittingly be translated “repose of God”, “healing from God”, “God’s grace to them.” And perhaps he is rightly called “labor of God” because of his voluntary suffering. For by his own actions the prophet mystically prefigures the authentic “repose” of those who have labored amid physical pain, the “healing” of those who have been broken, the “grace” of the forgiveness of sins – our God Jesus Christ. For our Lord and God himself became a man and entered into the sea of life like ours, insofar as he descended from the heaven of Joppa (translated “contemplation of joy”) into the ocean of this life. As Scripture says, he is the one who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb 12:2).


He even descended willingly into the heart of the earth, where the evil one had swallowed us through death, and drew us up by his resurrection, leading our whole captive nature up to heaven. Truly he is our “repose”, our “healing”, our “grace”: our repose since, with his timely human life, he freed the law from the situation of its carnal bondage; our healing since, by his resurrection, he cured us of the destruction wrought by death and corruption; our grace insofar as he distributes adoption in the Spirit by our God and Father through faith, and the grace of deification to each who is worthy. For it was necessary, necessary in truth, for him to become the light unto that earth (cf Jonah 1:9), to be the power of our God and Father (cf 1Cor 1:18) in the earth with its abiding darkness and eternal bars, so that, having dispelled the darkness of ignorance – being the Father’s light, as it were – and having crushed the bars of evil insofar as he is the concrete power of God, he might wondrously liberate human nature from its bondage to these things under the evil one, and endow it with the inextinguishable light of true knowledge and the indefatigable power of the virtues.


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