The MOST Theological Collection: Basic Scripture
"Chapter 14: The Preexilic Prophets"
Introduction: The word prophet has at least two senses in the Old Testament. There are ecstatic prophets, and classic prophets.
The ecstatic prophets are marked by odd, even frenzied behavior. In 1 Samuel 19:20-14 David had just escaped, for the time, the hands of Saul. But Saul sent messengers to arrest him. The messengers found Samuel seeming to lead a band of frenzied prophets. The messengers fell into frenzy too. Saul himself then pursued, but the "spirit of God" came upon him, and he fell into the same state. He took off his clothes and lay naked all that day and night.
Was this really a spirit of God, or merely what the onlookers would call that? It is hard to imagine the spirit of God leading to uncontrollable frenzy and making a king lie naked all day and night. In 1 Cor 14 St. Paul speaks much of prophets, and compares the gift of tongues to them, unfavorably for tongues. Paul speaks of a supernatural gift of prophecy, and even then, in 14:32-33 we find: "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; God is not a God of uproar but of peace." Such then is the nature of really supernatural prophecy, at least, such as it was known to St. Paul. Such an example as that of 1 Samuel 19 does not seem to be of supernatural origin especially since the spirits of the prophets in 1 Samuel seem not to be subject to the prophets. As to the statement that Samuel was leading them, he could have fallen into a nonsupernatural frenzied state, or could have feigned it, to protect David from Saul.
The ecstatic type of prophets in the times of the kings were often in large groups, of even 400 at a time. Their prophecy might be induced by music. Kings often consulted them, and at times they gave messages such as the kings wanted, showing that at least in such cases there was nothing supernatural about their state. In other cultures there are similar phenomena, e.g., the dervishes.
Even Abraham is called a prophet in Genesis 20:7 and the whole people of Israel are called prophets in Psalm 105:15. So the term is not entirely precise. Before the great prophets there were lesser nonecstatic prophets, such as Samuel (except for the case mentioned), Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah, and Nathan.
But it is clear that the classic prophets, of the type of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are very different from the ecstatic prophets. Amos explicitly says (7:12-16) he is not a prophet - he meant he was not an ecstatic prophet.
The call of a prophet may have come by way of a vision (e.g., Isaiah 6), or also through an interior communication. Such an experience enabled the prophet to understood God in a way not given to others. Thus they had a basis for judging events in God's way. So the prophet was a spokesman for God. The image of Ezekiel eating a scroll given him by God (2:8 - 3:3. cf. also Jer 15:16) is probably a way of expressing this. Foretelling the future was not the basic work of a prophet, it was only part of his whole message.
The books of the greatest prophets are collections of things they had said on various occasions. The collections could have been made by others, e.g., Baruch for Jeremiah. It is not always easy to determine the original setting. And continuity may be poor, especially in Jeremiah. The fact that so many prophetic utterances were in poetry makes it more difficult to understand them, for they may indulge in poetic fancy.
Besides the exaggerations of poetry - and Semitic poets at that - we need to keep some other things in mind to understand the prophecies of the future. St. Augustine, in City of God 17. 3, notices that some predictions refer to Old Testament persons, some to New Testament persons, some to both. He finds an indication of this latter when something that at first sight would seem to refer to a certain figure, does not entirely fit him, e.g., . the prophecy of Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7:12 speaks of a successor who will come "after David sleeps with his fathers." At first sight this would seem to be Solomon. But Augustine notices that Solomon became king not after David's death, but before it: so he concludes the prophecy is only partly fulfilled in Solomon: we must look ahead also to Christ. And only Christ would have the kind of realm and reign predicted (cf. Psalm 72:8, which is entitled, "Of Solomon").
Further, some predictions may have a less glorious fulfillment than it might have been, e.g., Gen. 49:10, as we saw, says a ruler will not be lacking from Judah until the time of the Messiah. This came true, but would have had a much more glorious fulfillment, in splendid kings on the throne of David, if the Jews had not been so unfaithful so many times.
Amos: Amos began his mission around 760. He foretold the punishment of the northern kingdom - it fell in 721 with the fall of Samaria. So it was announced far in advance, ample time for people to reform, and also to say: He has been threatening in vain for so many years, a prophet of doom and gloom.
Amos came from the town of Tekoa, about 12 miles south of Jerusalem. He had been a shepherd, but he ministered in the northern kingdom.
His speech opened dramatically . God said through him:
"For three crimes of Damascus and for four, I will not take back my word...." This was a threat against Aram or Damascus. He continued with such threats against other gentile nations, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab. His hearers were probably pleased to hear the gentiles denounced. But then he turned on Israel (with perhaps - the authenticity is debated - a prophecy against Judah in between). He accused them of crimes against the poor and the powerless. They thought their sacrifices would make up for it all, and the fact that God has chosen their nation. Amos shattered their illusions. In fact, early in chapter 1, he said the very fact that they had had special favor and proved unworthy, called for greater punishment.
Then (chapter 7) Amaziah, a priest of Bethel, reported to king Jeroboam what was going on: Amos was foretelling Jeroboam would die by the sword, and the people would go into exile. So Amaziah told Amos to go back to Judah where he came from. Amos replied that he was no prophet - that is, not an ecstatic type, nor did he belong to a company of prophets - he was just a shepherd.
Yet at the end of his prophecy, Amos says God will not completely destroy Jacob, there will be a remnant, and God will raise up the fallen hut of David. He will send the Messiah.
Two comments: 1) We noted the repeated lines, "for three crimes and for four". The Hebrew poets thought it artistic to repeat things in parallelism, using different words. But when they had to repeat a number, they did so with the next higher number. Interestingly, such patterns were found in the second millennium B.C. in Urgarit to the north. (cf. Stories from Ancient Canaan, edited and translated by Michael D. Coogan, Westminster, 1978, esp. p. 16).
2)We see Amos confidently predicting restoration, and the critics do not deny he did it. Jeremiah will do the same (cf. especially chapters 29-31). So why could not one Isaiah have foreseen a restoration, even without a special revelation, as part of the deuteronomic pattern of sin -punishment - repentance - restoration. It is generally admitted that the prophets helped contribute this way of thinking to the historical books. Thus we could answer the chief argument against the unity of Isaiah. There would still be one objection to the unit of Isaiah, which we will consider later.
Hosea: He began his mission only a short time after that of Amos, i. e., near the end of the reign of Jeroboam, which ended in 746. He too prophesied in the northern kingdom, long before its fall with the capture of Samaria in 721. Again, as with Amos, we have prophecies made long before their fulfillment.
The first three chapters deal with the marriage of Hosea. Every detail is debated - was there such a thing? or is it only imaginary, to teach a lesson. Further, many editors rearrange the text, moving a block to a different position. Even St. Jerome admitted there are puzzles in Hosea.
But the chief message is clear in spite of all these things. Hosea seems to have had an unfaithful wife. She bore him children to whom he gave prophetic names: Jezreel (the name of the place where Jehu brought to an end the dynasty of Omri by bloodshed. (2 Kings 9-10). The name foretells the fall of the northern kingdom; lo-ruhama ("she is not pitied") for God will not longer pity Israel; and lo-ammi ("not my people") for Israel was going to fall out of the people of God. Hosea through this imagery denounces the sins of Israel who is pictured as the spouse of
God, but unfaithful. The people seemed so impressed with the idea that they were God's chosen people that they practically thought they could buy His favor by sacrifices that were empty externalism, without the interior obedience that would make them worthwhile. So God said (6:6): "It is observance of the covenant (hesed) that I desire, and not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than holocausts." Knowledge here carries the sense of the verb yada, which means to know and love. It is not mere intellectual knowledge. Also, when God says he wants one thing and not the other, we must understand the Hebrew pattern which, lacking the degrees of comparison (e.g., good, better, best - much, more, most etc. ) would say one things is wanted, and not the other. It really means God wants obedience more than holocausts. We recall the words of Samuel to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22.
It is important to see that Hosea not only speaks of the covenant, but that he compares God's relation to His people to that of husband and wife.
Hosea foretells that for many days Israel will sit without a judge, priest, or sacrifice. This probably has two fulfillments, one in the exile, the other in the time after their rejection of Christ, up to the end of time. St. Paul in Romans 9:25-26 uses a free combination of Hosea 2:24 (RSV= 2:23) and 2:1 (RSV =1:10) to refer to the conversion of Israel before the end of time.
Hosea even boldly invented the name Beth-aven, "house of iniquity" to use in place of Beth-el, "House of God". Hosea still loved Gomer in spite of her infidelity and hoped to restore her. So God continued to love Israel, who is compared to His spouse, so that her sins are adultery, even when it was no longer part of His people of God. He planned a restoration. (cf. Ephesians 5:21-33).
On of the most tender expressions of God's love is found in chapter 11.
Isaiah: His ministry began about 742, "the year King Uzziah died", and ran until sometime in the reign of Hezekiah (715-687). He worked chiefly in Judah. That was a very turbulent time for Judah and others, since Assyria was expanding to the west, aiming at a world empire. This period included the Syro-Ephraimitic War: Rezin, King of Syria, and Pekah, son of Remaliah King of Israel tried to force Ahaz, King of Judah to join a coalition against Assyria. They even invaded Judah in 735. Isaiah advised against joining them, even offered (chapter 7) a sign in the sky or in the depths. Isaiah called for faith, meaning total commitment to God. That would make Judah safe. Ahaz refused, paid tribute to Tiglath Pileser of Assyria, and became a vassal.
Most scholars today see three Isaiahs, for chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66, describing three periods: threat of punishment, exile, and restoration. We consider this is possible, but there is surely no convincing proof that there were three. For this is simply the familiar deuteronomic pattern we have met before. And, as we pointed out, Amos and Hosea show the same pattern. Isaiah merely fills it in more thoroughly.
Another attempt against the unity of Isaiah comes from the fact that there is a the prediction of the actions of Cyrus by name (44: 28). But this argument is valid only if one insists there can be no true prophecies. Actually, as we will soon see, Isaiah did predict things about the Messiah in three passages. Micah 5:2 his contemporary predicted by name the place of birth of the Messiah. And someone less than a major prophet in 1 Kings 13:2 foretells actions of King Josiah, to come about 300 years later (which are recorded in 1 Kings 23:15). Flavius Josephus, in Antiquities XI. 1. 1-2 asserts that Cyrus before releasing the Jews from captivity, read the prophecy about himself in Isaiah, and that this influenced his decision.
The book opens with a denunciation of the sinfulness of the people, with special stress on the fact that sacrifices then were mere externalism. This thought is crystallized in a passage farther on, in 29:13: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Older critics used to claim that Isaiah and other major prophets rejected sacrifices. But it was the empty external "participation" that they denounced. Then 29:14 goes on to say that because of this defective worship, "the wisdom of the wise will perish". This would be a punishment like that given through Rehoboam.
Some major messianic prophecies are found in Isaiah, which the targums recognize as messianic - except, in their present form, for 7:14.
We will compare two texts, namely 9:5-6 and 7:14. The former says a child is born to us, whose name will be called wonderful counsellor, God the mighty.... 7:14 as St. Matthew renders it, says the virgin will conceive and bear a son.
It is good to begin with 9:5-6 which foretells a wonderful child who will be the wonderful counsellor, and even the Mighty God. The NAB version, "God-hero" is simply incorrect, as even modern Jewish versions see. The Hebrew el gibbor occurs a few other times in the OT, and always means Mighty God. Modern Jews avoid saying the Messiah is God the Mighty by changing the structure and word order, e.g., Samson Levey (The Messiah: An Aramaic Interpretation, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, 1974 p. 45) says: "The wonderful counsellor, the Mighty God... has called his name 'Prince of Peace'." In his rendering of the Targum, Levey says his name has been called "messiah' by the one who gives wonderful counsel, the Mighty God, etc. We grant the structure can take this interpretation both in the Hebrew and in the targum, but it surely need not. To render the Hebrew of 9:5-6 as Levey does is a bit difficult, for how can one know what titles are part of the subject and what part of the object? We grant that the targum can be understood as Levey does it with somewhat less difficulty. For in the targum there is the Aramaic phrase min qedem, which can mean either "from of old" or" by" With "by" the targum could read: "His name shall be called by the wonderful counsellor, (by) the mighty God, (by) the one who lives forever: Messiah. It is easier to take both targum and Hebrew to mean his name will be called wonderful counsellor, Mighty God....
Now it is remarkable that the Targum as we have it does not mark Isaiah 7:14, the virginal conception text, as messianic, even though scholars generally admit that chapters 7-12 can be called the "Book of Immanuel", with the result that the child of 9:5-6 is the same as the child of 7:14. The reason our present targum does not mark 7:14 as messianic is found in the fact that although Hillel, one of the great teachers at the time of Christ, said that Hezekiah, son of Ahaz to whom Isaiah spoke, had been the Messiah (Cf. Jacob Neusner, Messiah in Context, Fortress, 1984, p. 174), yet later Jews seeing the Christians using the text, began to say that 7:14 did not speak of the Messiah (cf. Neusner, p. 190).
Who then is the child of 7:14? On the one hand, the combined descriptions of 7:14 and 9:5-6 are much too grandiose for Hezekiah the son of Ahaz. On the other hand, a sign given to Ahaz that would not appear for more than 700 years would not be much of a sign for him. We therefore conclude that we have another case of multiple fulfillment of a divine prophecy: the child is both Hezekiah (a sign that the line of David continued) and Jesus.
As to the fact that Isaiah used Hebrew almah in 7:14 instead of betulah - the former meaning a girl of marriageable age who should be a virgin, the latter being definitely a virgin - it is quite possible Isaiah did not see as much in the line as did the Holy Spirit, the chief author of Scripture. Vatican II seems to imply this in LG §55.
Isaiah 11:1-3 says a shoot will sprout from the stump of David, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. If we take the opening words to mean a shoot from the stump (some challenge the translation "stump"), they are a remarkable prediction: that the line of David (still reigning in the day of Isaiah) would be reduced to a stump, but later, a shoot would come from it, the Messiah (for the Targum does see the Messiah in these lines).
Why would the Messiah, being divine, need the Gifts of the Holy Spirit? Because God willed that the Messiah have a full complement of humanity and all that ideally goes with it, contrary to the heresy of Apollinaris, who argued that not even a human rational soul was in Christ, for the Divine Logos could do the work of a soul. What Isaiah says is quite in line with the principle in Summa I. 19. 5. c which says that God in His love of good order, likes to have one thing in place to serve as a reason for giving a second thing, even though the first did not really move Him.
Isaiah 53 according to the targum also refers to the Messiah. But the targum as we have it is badly distorted: it changes the meek lamb being led to the slaughter into an arrogant conqueror. At least three very honest modern Jews: Levey (p. 152, n. 10), Neusner (p. 190), and H. J. Schoeps (Paul. The Theology of the Apostle, Westminster, 1961, p. 129) admit that the ancient Jews deliberately distorted the targum to try to keep Christians from using Isaiah 53 and similar passages. We can admit the Jews would find that prophecy difficult, for they also generally believed that the Messiah would live forever. Also, the leader of the second Jewish revolt against Rome, in 132-35, Bar Kokhba, was thought by many to be the Messiah - hence his name "Son of the Star", in allusion to Numbers 24:17.
Chapter 53 is the fourth of the four "Servant Songs" in Isaiah. The others are: 42:1-7; 49:1-7 and 50:4-11. The targum sees the first and fourth as Messianic, but not the other two. The New Testament sees 1 and 4 also as Messianic. Some think that in 49:1-7 the servant is Israel - but in it the Servant has a mission to Israel. However, this could be an instance of the Hebrew pattern in which an individual stands for and is identified with a group.
In songs 2 and 3 we notice a universalism, the mission is to all peoples: cf. 42:6 where the servant is a covenant of the people, a light for the nations" and in 49:6 similarly it is too little for the servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, he is to be a light to the nations, so God's salvation may reach the ends of the earth.
Finally, we need to note that Isaiah is a powerful poet, and as such is given to highly colored language and idealization, e.g., in the images of the restoration. Also, as a Hebrew, he is more prone to exaggeration than we are. We see an instance of this in the passage where the wolf will be the guest of the lamb in 11:6-9. We already saw in chapter 6 above some remarkable passages of apocalyptic language in Isaiah.
Micah: He was a contemporary of Isaiah, and in his opening line he asserts he worked during the reigns of Joatham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, i. e., about 740-687. Interestingly, Jeremiah 26:18-19 says that Micah foretold that Jerusalem and its temple would become ruins, but Hezekiah did not condemn him to death. He seems to have been a man of the countryside, from Moresheth who was shocked at the vices of the great cities: the rich who exploited the poor, crooked merchants, judges who were bribed, corrupt priests. He predicted the downfall of Jerusalem, but yet was confident later God would deliver His people. In 5:2 he predicts the Messiah will come from Bethlehem. When Herod consulted the Jewish theologians (Mt. 2:6) for the Magi, they readily quoted the prophecy of Micah.
Nahum: This very brief prophecy, probably to be dated around 612, the fall of Nineveh, celebrates the fall of Assyria, which had been so great a danger to Israel and to many other nations because of its deliberate terrorism and cruelty. It depicts God as the sovereign master of all. A unique feature of this book is that it does not threaten punishment to Israel for its sins. This may have been due to its composition around the time when the reforms of Josiah (622/21) were still recent.
Jeremiah: He was born about 645 in the village of Anathoth, a few miles to the north of Jerusalem, in the time of the evil king Manasseh. His ministry began in 627 during the reign of Josiah (640-609). He continued until sometime after the fall of Jerusalem.
The arrangement of materials in this book is rather haphazard, which makes it difficult to study. Chapter 36 reports that in 605 Jeremiah dictated the oracles he had given since 627 to Baruch, his secretary. This was read to the people and to the king. The king destroyed the scroll, but Jeremiah and Baruch made another larger edition.
He was young when called to be a prophet, and was reluctant to accept (1:6). He pleaded that he did not know how to speak. But God promised to strengthen him. Like Hosea he pictures the people as the bride of God, once faithful, but then turned to adultery and harlotry by the fertility cult, idolatry, and other pagan practices. He charges that pagan nations do not desert their gods, but Israel does. Josiah's reform started in 628, and was reinforced with the finding of the book, probably part of Deuteronomy, in the temple (1 Kgs. 22-23). But the reform did not really convert the hearts of the people, and Jeremiah became disillusioned with the reform. He delivered a stinging address in the Temple probably in 609 (7:1-15). He charges pagan worship, while the people were confident God would protect them because they were His people - even though their sacrifices were empty of interior dispositions. In 13:23 he says that true conversion is as unlikely as it would be for a leopard to change its spots. In chapter 19, Jeremiah in public smashed a potter's earthen flask, as a sign of how God would smash Jerusalem. Since symbolic acts were thought to have power to bring about what they stood for, Jeremiah was threatened with death (chapter 26). He contradicted the belief that God would save them no matter how wicked they were. But some of the princes defended Jeremiah against the priests who called for his death, and pointed out that Micah had foretold the same things in the days of Hezekiah, and was not put to death. However, another prophet, Uriah was executed for a similar prophecy (16:20-24).
Jeremiah was deeply distressed. He had no wife (16:1-4). He was finally excluded from the Temple (36:5) and mocked by many. In his interior torment, he even said that God had deceived him (20:7) for Jeremiah had thought God's initial call seemed to tell him God would protect him. Yet he was mistreated, scourged and put in the stocks by the priest Pashur. Jeremiah did not yet know the redemptive value of suffering, which Jesus taught by word and by example. He was tempted to give up his mission (20:9), yet he said when he tried to be silent, God's words burned within him. In 20:12 he even called for what the versions call "vengeance", but in the Hebrew Jeremiah was calling for God's naqam, that is the executive action of the supreme authority to set things right. Whether or not Jeremiah understood it clearly, there is a great difference between revenge - wishing evil to another so it may be evil to him - and a desire that the objective order be rebalanced. (Cf. our comments on objective order and sin as debt in chapter 11).
Jeremiah suffered much under King Jehoiakim - it was he who had Jeremiah's scroll destroyed. Jehoiakin, son of Jehoiakim, followed his father, but reigned only three months. The rebellion of Jehoiakim brought on the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 597. When Jehoaiakin capitulated he was exiled to Babylon and the temple was plundered. He was a prisoner in Babylon 37 years. After the exile of Jehoiakin, Nebuchadnezzer installed Mattaniah, son of Josiah as king, and changed his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah was rather well disposed to Jeremiah. Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon (chapter 29) warning them about false prophets who said the exile would be short. He told them it would be 70 years, they should settle down.
In 589 Zedekiah provoked the Babylonians again, which led to the tragedy of 587. Jeremiah was cast into a cistern, but was later released and imprisoned in the court of the guard until the city fell. During this time Jeremiah wrote the great prophecy of the New Covenant (31:31-34). Vatican II (LG § 9) says Jesus made the covenant at the Last Supper. The essential obedience was that of Jesus, yet, since St. Paul makes clear we need to do all things with Jesus - the syn Christo theme - we must join our obedience to His. Did Jeremiah see that the essential obedience would be that of Jesus? We do not know - Vatican II (LG § 55) seems uncertain on the point. The Holy Spirit, the chief author, could intend more than the human writer saw.
There are two remarkable passages in which we may perhaps see an indication of the divinity of the Messiah. In 23:3 God said: "I myself shall gather the remnant of my sheep", but in verse 5: "I will raise up for David a righteous branch." The targum on verse 5 marks it as messianic. So it seems that God will be the shepherd to rule His people, also the Messiah will rule. So the Messiah seems to be God. In 30:11:" I am with you -oracle of the Lord - to save you." Levey (op. cit., p. 72) notices that it seems to say God Himself will come. Yet 30:9 is marked by the targum as messianic.
We have also five beautiful laments over the fall of Jerusalem in the Book of Lamentations. The text does not name the author. It could be Jeremiah. The date is also uncertain, suggestions range from 586 to 538, that is, the extent of the exile.
After the fall of Jerusalem in 587, Jeremiah was released from chains (chapter 40). Before long (chapter 42), the survivors asked Jeremiah to consult the Lord, and they would heed. He did, and advised them to stay in their land, and not to flee to Egypt. In spite of their promise, they went to Egypt, forcing Jeremiah and Baruch to go with them.
The short book of Baruch pretends to be by the secretary of Jeremiah. It may be by a pious Jews of a later time, using the name of Baruch as a sort of pen name. It contains reflections on the circumstances of the exiles in Babylon, and expresses sentiments like those of Jeremiah.
Some of the objections usually made against an early date for the book of Baruch are of no weight. Thus it is said that chapter 1 supposes the temple as still standing, while chapter 2 supposes it is in ruins. Two dates of composition for the two chapters, not too far apart, could account for that. In 1:11 Belshazzar is called the son of Nebuchadnezzar. But it often happened, especially with rulers, that they would speak of an earlier ruler as their father. For example King Tirhakah, c. 680 B.C. speaks of his father Sesostris III, c. 1880 B.C., and the genealogies in Matthew contain similar gaps; and Jesus is called the son of David - with a gap of centuries. (cf. Kitchen, op. cit., p. 39). We do admit that an observance of the feast of booths probably could not have happened after the fall of Jerusalem.
The contents are varied: a prayer of the exiles; a praise of the wisdom in the law of Moses; the lament of Jerusalem over her children; a consolation for Jerusalem, since the exile is about to end. The sixth chapter seems to be a separate work, the Epistle of Jeremiah against idolatry, sent to the exiles.
Zephaniah: He is one of the minor prophets, and seems to be a contemporary of Jeremiah. He speaks at the start, of the coming day of the Lord. That phrase meant the time when God would set things right, whether at the end of time, or at some intermediate points, resulting in aid to Israel, ruin to the enemies of Israel. Early in the text the prophet speaks of the final day, for it will strike all mankind. He threatens also Jerusalem, and the neighbors of Jerusalem. But in the final chapter he promises restoration to Jerusalem.
Incidentally, chapter 1 may have been the inspiration for the liturgical sequence, Dies irae.
Habbakuk: This small book seems to have been composed between the battle of Carchemish, when Nebuchadnezzar routed Assyrian and Egyptian forces (605) and 597, the year when Babylon invaded Judah and struck Jerusalem. There is an alternation - the complaints of the prophet, and God's answer. The prophet looks to God's fidelity to the covenant, asks why He is not helping. God predicts the fall of Babylon, still far in the future, in 539. The prophet's complaints seem to be based on forgetfulness that the covenant is two-sided, it promises good things to those who obey, evil retribution to the disobedient (cf. Dt. 11:26-28).
In 2:4 God promises that the man of faith who trusts in Him will not perish in the calamities that are coming. St. Paul quotes this line in Romans 1:17 and Gal 3:11, giving it a somewhat different sense, to support his preaching of justification by faith. The rabbis often cited the OT and did not heed the context. Paul was trained that way. Yet there is a strong connection, for in Paul, faith includes intellectual belief, confidence, obedience, and love.
Jonah: This book is very different, in that it is not a collection of utterances of the prophet; instead there is a story of a reluctant prophet. 2 Kings 14:25 briefly mentions a prophet, Jonah ben Amittai from the time of King Jeroboam II of Israel (786-46). But most scholars would date him in the sixth century.
Most commentators think this work was intended as a sort of extended parable rather than as history. There are considerable difficulties in taking it as historical. These can be answered (Cf. W. Most, Free From All Error, Prow, Libertyville, 1990, pp. 57-60). But to answer them does not solve the problem of genre.
Nor do the words of Benedict XV in EB 463 solve it, for they speak of Jesus as using "views [sententias] and examples". Jesus in referring to Jonah in Mt 12:38-42 was appealing to an example, and it sufficed for His purpose that the narrative of Jonah was popularly known and accepted. Similarly, St. Paul used a rabbinic legend in 1 Cor 10:4 (cf. Jude 9).
Whatever be the genre, the lessons of Jonah are clear. Jonah tried to run away to avoid preaching in Nineveh. The very fact God ordered him to preach there shows God's concern or love for even the Assyrians, the world's worst people in the eyes of people of the region: so He must love all! It also shows, sadly, that the People of God were so often more resistant to God's grace than were pagans. In the Mekilta de Rabbi Ishmael , a late 4th century rabbinic work, we find words put into the mouth of Jonah, saying that since the gentiles are more inclined to repent, he, Jonah might be causing Israel to be condemned if he went to Nineveh and they welcomed him. Cf. also similar instances in: Ezek 3:5-7; Lk 10:30-37; 17:11-19 and Mt 11:21.