• Issue: August 1963
  • Designer: Jean David
  • Plate no.: 96 - 98
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

Book Of Jonah

The Book of Jonah, the fifth book of the twelve minor prophets, contains a dramatic and vigorous account of the experiences of the prophet Jonah, son of Amitai. Unlike other prophetic writings, this book deals with the actual experiences of the prophet rather than with his prophetic utterances.

The drama of Jonah opens with God's command to the prophet to go to Nineveh and to announce the doom of the city for its sins. Jonah disobeys and flees from the presence of the Lord. In a series of quick-moving events the gifted storyteller describes Jonah's harrowing adventures which follow his refusal.

At the port of Joppa (the present town of Jaffa) Jonah finds a boat leaving for Tarshish. But there is no escape for the recalcitrant prophet. While he is asleep in the ship's hold, the Lord sends "out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken" (1:4). With the artistry of a skilled dramatist the author uses action to describe the emotions of his characters. The reader senses the mounting panic of the sailors who "call out each man unto his God and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea." We learn too of their compassion when they desperately row to reach dry land, even though Jonah has requested that he be thrown into the sea. Their attempt to reach safety fails and Jonah is finally thrown overboard.

In the becalmed sea, the Lord appoints a great fish to swallow up Jonah. The first chapter of this account concludes with the words that hint of further drama and still more wondrous happenings. "And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (1:17).

One can well imagine the horror of Jonah's confinement inside the fish that he likens to the belly of hell. After three days of suffering the Lord "spake unto the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." Again Jonah receives the divine command, this time he obeys and waits for the destruction of Nineveh. But the people of Nineveh repent of their evil ways and God is moved to forgive them.

It is only in the final chapter of the book that the author clearly reveals the reason for Jonah's original refusal to carry out the command of God. While waiting in vain for the destruction of the city the unhappy prophet says, "Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I know that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil." Jonah's embittered conversation highlights the tragic paradox of the true prophet: he knows that God in his compassion is likely to repent of his words of doom thus making the prophet appear to be false in his utterances.

Rather than be dishonored, Jonah beseeches God to take his life. But Jonah's trials are not yet over. God still has a lesson to teach shortsighted man. God prepares a quick-growing "gourd" to shelter the disappointed prophet who is still waiting outside the city wails. His relief, however, is short-lived: the plant withers the following day "and the vehement sun beat upon the head of Jonah" (4. 8), bringing him again to desperation. The final passage of the book is a memorable utterance compounded of irony and compassion: Jonah has pitied the gourd that he did not make but nevertheless he is angry with God for sparing the people of the great city of Nineveh.

In one of the world's shortest but greatest dramatic masterpieces the author has conveyed a noble message for all time. The tale of Jonah with its skillful use of legendary and supernatural motifs, so popular among the people of ancient times, conveys God's protest against exclusiveness. God, according to the unknown author, cares for all men. His love and mercy extends beyond narrow national barriers: it embraces even the enemies of Israel. (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria which conquered and destroyed the kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE.). The Book of Jonah which stresses the power of repentance is read as the Haftarah for the afternoon service on the Day of Atonement.

On the stamps appear stylized drawings depicting scenes from the Book of Jonah: Jonah aboard ship on a raging sea; Jonah in the belly of the whale; Jonah under the gourd with the sun beating down. A whale appears on each tab and the accompanying inscriptions are verses from the Book of Jonah.

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Festivals 1963