“Qum” in Jonah and the Continuation of Life

We begin chapter three with Jonah out of detention, pursued by a Word intent on its objective from chapter 1: to make Jonah “stand up” or “get moving” (qum/קוּם) in Nineveh, bearing witness to God’s instruction. Matthew’s explicit mention of this text (Matt 12:39) draws parallels between the movement of Jesus in Matthew and that of the Word in Jonah. Taking this into consideration, the expression “stand up” in the New Testament may create connections with Jonah that shed light on the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection.

Used throughout the Old Testament, the word “qum” does not imply resurrection. In context, “qum” simply means, Jonah, “get up” or “get moving.” In the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew used by New Testament writers) the word “qum” corresponds to “anesti” (ἀνέστη) but also its more common synonym, “egeiro” (ἐγείρω). Like “qum,” both mean to “stand up” and are typically translated in English as “raised” or “risen.” This connection is more intuitive in the Arabic form (qam/قام) as in the expression, al-masih-qam, literally, the Christ [is] “stood up,” or, [is] “made to stand.”  In context, it is implicit that Jesus is made to stand for all time . 1

In Matthew, just as the Word of God in Jonah both precedes (1:1) and outpaces (3:6) its messenger, a risen Jesus outpaces his disciples in the race to evangelize the gentiles (Matt 28). Moving in and among the people of Nineveh, the Word “raises up” children for the household of Abraham (Matt 3:9) ensuring life where death was once certain. Moreover, the Word in Jonah inverts human hierarchy, reaching the people of Nineveh before moving to the king. “The last,” Matthew explains, “become first.” (Matt 20:16) In a gesture acknowledging God as monarch, upon hearing the Word the gentile ruler “gets up” from his throne only to sit down “on the ashes,” a sign of shame and a gesture of his repentance (3:6).

As with the captain of the sailors (1:6) it is the gentile king, not Jonah, who embraces the call to repentance, shepherding his people to “turn” (shuv/שׁוב) from their wickedness and live–in other words–the Word of the Lord is fighting to ensure the continuation of life in Nineveh. It is worth noting that the king’s decree includes man, beast, herd and flock (3:7) reflecting the completeness of Nineveh’s submission to God, but also the magnanimity of God’s deliverance, which holds man together in fellowship with creation. (Ex 10:9) In the New Testament, this pattern–which began with the circumcision of Abraham’s entire household (Gen 17)–is repeated in the general metaphor of household baptisms.

On seeing the action taken by the king and the household of Nineveh, God himself decided to “turn” (3:10), sparing them the doom he had sent Jonah to proclaim. Deplorably, at the end of chapter 3, the only person in the story left unrepentant is Jonah himself. Once again, we are reminded by Matthew’s exegesis to emulate the teacher’s instructions, not his behavior. (Matt 23:2)

Notes:

  1. It is customary for Orthodox Christians to stand in church throughout the paschal season.

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