Jonah. Concordia Commentary

By R. Reed Lessing
Saint Louis : Concordia (2007). xlii + 451 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
21.1 (Spring 2010) : 121-122

This author is professor of exegetical theology and director of the graduate school at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He also has extensive pastoral experience.

For an overview of the features shared by each of the commentaries in this series, see above the review of the volume on Joshua by Harstad. Lessing’s volume on Jonah is quite similar to the other Concordia Commentaries reviewed in this issue of MSJ. After a thorough introduction, Lessing devotes ca. 350 pages to his commentary proper. As with the other volumes in this series, he does not provide an outline of the entire book, but provides a basic outline of each major section (in this case, each chapter) of Jonah. At the outset of his treatment of each chapter, he provides a brief introduction to the chapter. He follows the basic format of all the volumes in this series by giving a translation, textual notes, and the commentary itself. His textual note section is lengthy and helpful. He also includes seven excurses scattered throughout the commentary that deal with important issues relevant to one’s understanding of Jonah: “Yahweh, the Creator God,” “Mission in the OT,” “the Sign of Jonah, “the Trinitarian Basis of OT Solidarity,” “Sheol,” “Death and Resurrection Motifs in Luther’s Baptismal Theology,” and “When Yahweh Changes a Prior Verdict.” With regard to the genre of Jonah, after summarizing numerous views on this issue, Lessing concludes that Jonah is narrative history and presents historical fact.

Observations offered by Lessing in his commentary include a description of the sailors who greatly feared Yahweh after he calmed the seas (1:16), Lessing suggests that the sailors came to know and believe in Yahweh as their God (139). Although they do recognize Yahweh’s sovereignty over the sea, it seems more likely that they added Yahweh to their collection of gods that they worshipped. Lessing also provides a nice summary of the major interpretations of “a walk of three days” (3:3b) (294-96). However, after delineating the most commonly held views and pointing out the weaknesses of each, he does not seem to come to a conclusion concerning which one is best. As part of his discussion of 4:11 and the “more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left,” Lessing also concludes that this is not talking about children but refers to Ninevites who are relatively ignorant of God and His Word (387-88, 411-12).

Of the four volumes of the Concordia Commentary series reviewed in this issue of MSJ, Lessing’s volume on Jonah offered this reviewer the most help with exegesis and exposition. Although the commentaries are quite large (10 inches tall and all over 400 pages of text), they are priced similar to smaller commentaries. Lessing’s volume on Jonah will provide its users numerous insights into the message of the prophet Jonah.