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Jonah - two helpful expositions

28 August 2020 15:20


Two helpful expositions

I will always associate the book of Jonah with the Isle of Skye and Hugh Martin. Skye was where I did a number of student pastorates during the years I was at the Free Church of Scotland College. The first of them was in 1985 and over the course of six weeks I preached my very first series – an exposition of the book of Jonah. 

One of the commentaries I had taken with me was by Hugh Martin. When I re-read it in its entirety, thirty years on, I was struck by how much of it I remembered (believe me when I say that I can so completely forget the contents of a book that it’s a surprise to me to discover later that I’ve actually read it!). It is a testimony to the profound impact that it had on me. Indeed along with Hugh Martin’s equally magnificent Shadow of Calvary I would reckon it to be one of the most influential books of my early years.

It is long. Jonah is one of the shorter books of the Bible but Hugh Martin’s exposition extends to almost 360 pages. Nor is it light reading. Illustrations are few and far between. But it was originally prepared for the pulpit and has all the directness, warmth, and earnestness that mark the best kind of preaching. Martin is remarkably insightful in his analysis of the prophet’s disobedience and God’s dealings with him. There is full discussion of the connections between Jonah and Christ. And the chapters are singularly rich in their application both to believers and unbelievers.

For our current series on Jonah I am again in debt to John L. Mackay, formerly Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the Free Church College. Professor Mackay wrote a number of outstanding Old Testament commentaries and it is a pleasure to be able to recommend this one.

In contrast to Hugh Martin’s, John L. Mackay’s exposition of Jonah is short. Just over 40 pages and he’s done. But he has packed a lot into these pages. He gives us a helpful overview at the outset; illuminating comments on the verses themselves; and at the end of each section a short study guide with questions for individual reflection or group discussion. One highlight for me is his handling of Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish (Ch.2). Another, his discussion of Nineveh as “a very important city” (Ch.3.3 NIV).

Those of you who like value for money (who doesn’t?) will be especially pleased to know that in the same volume there is an exposition of four other Minor Prophets – Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. 

The two books go together well. One old, one new; one long, one short; one excellent for devotional reading over a month or two, the other most helpful if leading a Bible study. Both are warmly recommended.