This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2009 vol. 166 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Jonah: A Theological Exposition of Sacred ScriptureConcordia Publishing House, St. Louis May 1, 2007
Lessing, associate professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, has produced a welcome addition to the commentary series published by Concordia Publishing House, this being the first volume on the Minor Prophets. The approach and arrangement of the series is enjoyable to read and exceptionally valuable. Lessing is conservative in his exegesis and follows a literal hermeneutic. He understands Jonah as true and factual in all matters. The storm, the sailor’s story, the fish, the deliverance, the conversion of the Ninevites, the plant, the worm, and the wind, are all historical events and items. Lessing correctly dates the events in the eighth century B.C. and considers the book’s composition to be clearly preexilic.
Each chapter offers an introduction to setting, genre, and themes; a literal, original translation followed by discussions of Hebrew syntax and key words and word groups; a theological commentary that presents the book in harmony with the rest of Scripture; and a concluding summary. The book has an informative introduction and an extensive bibliography. It is pleasant to read with wide margins for personal comments and visual icons interspersed throughout the commentary. These icons, described on pages xx–xxi, mark reoccurring themes like the Trinity, justification, temple and tabernacle, eschatology, and more.
The exegetical sections are easily understood and valuable to both Hebrew scholars and nonlinguists. One will find unanticipated and interesting insights throughout the book. The commentary section is up to date, well documented, and educational. The summaries are helpful and applicable. Notable and appealing comments dot the commentary. For instance, “Jonah contains more references to Nineveh than any other OT book (nine of the seventeen OT references)” (p. 85); “Jonah, the prophet of Yahweh, must learn from the example of the converted pagans!” (p. 221); and “Grace is not earned or deserved, but Yahweh lavishes it on the undeserving” (p. 361).
Lessing provides pertinent commentary on key passages. Of special interest is his explanation of why Jonah fled from the “presence of the Lord,” the conversion of the sailors in chapter 1, the great fish and poem/prayer of Jonah in chapter 2, the short five-word sermon in chapter 3, the documentation of the true conversion of the Ninevites, Jonah’s anger in chapter 4, Jonah’s compassion for the qiqayon plant, and the ending question regarding Yahweh’s grace and compassion toward the Ninevites.
The theology of this book, according to Lessing, focuses on the greatness of Yahweh’s grace. Although strict justice would demand that the idolatrous sailors, the evil Ninevites, and even the prodigal Jonah should perish, Yahweh’s mercy prevails. “Shall God have compassion upon all people? . . . He has spoken the definitive answer with his whole heart, written in his own blood. The life, death, resurrection, ascension, and promised second coming of Jesus are the Father’s yes—yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” (p. 413).
The editor’s preface in this Lutheran commentary includes a disappointing statement that “the Word, Baptism, and the Supper are the means through which Christ imparts salvation today” (p. xi). However, overlooking some theological differences, this is an excellent commentary, worthy of preachers, teachers, and linguists alike.
—Larry J. Waters