Jonah 3 & 4 – Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Mercy Ignores God’s Character

So . . . . Jonah’s learned his lesson, right? Sort of, as we see in Chapter three. The Lord tells him a second time, and probably with the stench of fish guts all about him as a reminder of what a rebellious little soul he is, to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” So Jonah goes, and for three days preaches the message of the Lord that judgment is coming to that great city. And his worst nightmare happens:

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

Even the king himself repented, and commands the people to repent in hope that God may relent and not bring destruction on the city. Then Jonah’s second worst nightmare happened:

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Why would such a great people in mass repent at the word of a Hebrew prophet? There has to be both supernatural (God caused it, moved the hearts and minds of the people), and natural explanations. There had to be some knowledge among the people who the Hebrews were, and who their God, this Yahweh was. What’s fascinating is that while these pagan peoples ended up repenting, at least for the moment, Israel never did. Could that be what animated Jonah? Look at who the king was when Jonah was alive.

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboamson of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.

The prophets’ job was to speak God’s word of warning to God’s people, and those who listened were few and far between. Jonah knew that. Was he afraid these pagans would do what God’s people were not willing to do? Chapter 4 doesn’t give us the answer, but this speculation is good as any other. And what was Jonah’s response to the Lord’s mercy? Joyous celebration that so many people’s lives were spared? Hardly:

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

It’s it amazing that the Lord didn’t turn Jonah into smoldering ashes right then and there? But what does the Lord do? He asks him a question! Could Jonah have any justification for his anger? Most certainly not! But clearly he saw the Assyrian empire as a threat to Israel, and maybe that’s why he was angry. Why would God spare Israel’s enemy, must have been roiling in Jonah’s mind. But all people are God’s creation, and ultimately his covenant promises will extend to the whole human race. And all of them, all of us, every last one, are his enemy. We find the heart of the gospel in the Lord’s mercy shown to Nineveh.

But Jonah’s still not convinced that judgment isn’t coming because he goes outside the city, makes a shelter and sits there waiting “to see what would happen to the city.” Then the Lord makes a vine grow up over the shelter to cool Jonah off, and Jonah’s real happy about that. Then the Lord sends a worm to destroy the vine, and a “scorching east wind” to make Jonah real uncomfortable, and Jonah wants to die: “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah is so funny! What a bad attitude you have, Jonah! Then the Lord asks him another question:

“Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”

“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”

One thing you have to love about Jonah is that there is no BS in him. He’s completely honest with the Lord because, well, what else can you be before the all-knowing Creator of the universe? Unfortunately most sinners (all?) think they can BS the Lord. Then the Lord lectures Jonah, that he had nothing to do with the vine growing or dying, so what right does he have to be angry. And the book ends with a rhetorical question:  “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh?” The Lord is the sovereign Creator and judge of the universe, and as Moses said long ago, he cannot do wrong, “upright and just is he.” So, unlike Jonah, we trust God’s character. We proclaim with Abraham that in all things: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” So the takeaway from the little book of Jonah?

We can trust the character of God (his goodness, love, justice, etc.) even when we don’t understand what’s going on, and most especially when we don’t like it!

 

Advertisements

Jonah 2 – Sometimes It Just Takes Being in the Belly of a Big Fish!

Chapter 2 starts with a prayer:

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.

It’s amazing how being terrified will focus the human mind. No more running for Jonah. Instead of trying to get away from the Lord, he knows he has no choice but to seek him. His first words make this apparent: “In my distress I called to the Lord.” Jonah could have called to the Lord in his distress from the boat, like the other sailors called to their gods, but his distress was not great enough. In fact, as we saw in the last chapter instead of praying he went into the bottom of the boat and fell asleep. He was oppressed and depressed, but not in distress. But difference. The former looks inward to self and it’s own desires and wants, while the latter simply looks to God and trusts him for whatever salvation comes from his hand.

It’s interesting too that Jonah is confident God will not turn him away. He says the Lord “answered” him, and “listened” to his cry. Even though he knew he had rightly been “banished” from the Lord’s site, he says confidently, “yet I will look again toward your holy temple.” In verse five he basically says I was a dead man, drowning with no hope of recovery, then:

But you, Lord my God,
    brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
    I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
    to your holy temple.

It took his life ebbing away from him to remember the Lord. It’s best if we don’t let it get to that point, but some are more stubborn than others. Even for the non-stubborn, the Lord must show us our absolute need for him because we are always inclined toward self-sufficiency. Or inclined to think we somehow deserve his favor or good breaks in life.

It’s interesting that twice Jonah says that he looked and prayed toward the Lord’s “holy temple.” To the Hebrew mind, the temple was where God’s presence dwelt. It was where the people’s relationship with a holy God was established established and sustained (through the priestly sacrificial system). Contrast this to what he says next of the contrast to the pagans:

“Those who cling to worthless idols
    turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
    will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

My older NIV version puts the second half of verse 8 this way: they “forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” Jonah knows that life is one big either/or. There is no place in between the true God of love and grace, and idols. If you don’t worship the living God, you will “cling to worthless idols.”

And if anyone understands that last phrase it is now Jonah. Who but the God of nature, the creator of all things, could rescue him from the sea by a very large fish. The reason we know our salvation is secure, why we don’t have to live in fear, is because it “comes from the Lord.” That is why we seek him because it is not of us! It does not come from us, or our decision, or our will. It is why finally we now look to where God’s presence was ultimately manifested in judgment and salvation once for all time, in Christ. The temple Jonah refers to points to him, our only and ultimate confidence before God.

And with this repentance, the Lord has the fish puke (vomited in the text) onto dry land. Now for the hard part.

Jonah 1 – You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

What a fun little book is Jonah! This poor prophet doesn’t come off very well, like so many other characters in the Bible. Which is one of the myriad reasons that lend it credibility, and why I trust that the stories I read in it actually happened. Human nature being what it is, man filled with vanity and pride would never make up stories that make him look so unrelentingly terrible. And it is unrelenting. Jonah is just another in a long line of people in Scripture who act just like humans would act.

The book is only four chapters, but there is a lot packed in that short space. It starts with identifying who the prophet is:

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai

To put this into historical context we read about this same Jonah in 2 Kings 14:25:

He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.

This was during the time of Jeroboam II, another of the wicked kings of Israel. The time would be before Israel, the northern kingdom, fell to the Assyrians, so it’s likely in the 700s BC (the northern kingdom’s capital, Samaria, was taken by the Assyrians in 722 BC). This verse says Jonah was a “servant of the Lord,” but in the book that bears his name he doesn’t come off as a very good servant.

In chapter 1 Jonah gets his famous call from the Lord:

“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, and the largest city in the world at the time. So what does Jonah, the servant of the Lord, do in response to the Lord’s command? He hightails it in the exact opposite direction! He boards a ship sailing for Tarshish. Neneveh was due east, and Tarshish due west in what is modern day Spain. It says he did this “to flee from the Lord.” Some servant.

Of course the Lord is not so easily “fleed.” He creates such a violent storm on the sea that the sailors fear for their lives. Important for the redemptive-historical context of the story, each one “cried out to his own god.” Idols, which are literally nothing, versus the living creator God? No contest. But Jonah wants nothing to do with all this, so he goes below deck and of all things falls asleep. What kind of person does such a thing? Probably a very depressed person who will do anything but face the music. Like I said, what a servant.

So the sailors cast lots to see who is to blame for this mess, and of course it falls to Jonah. So the sailors ask him all sorts of question, and I love his blase but accurate response to the question, who are you:

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

The idea of God as Creator was foundational to the Hebrew mind, and was drilled into the people from the earliest age. The first words of the Hebrew Bible start with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” And throughout their Scripture we find the constant contrast between this Creator God, Yahweh, and idols which are nothing more than created stuff. They have no power. They are simply pieces of wood or metal, and figments of human imagination.

So the sailors plead with Jonah to find out what must be done to save them. He had already told them he was running away from the Lord, and now this was being done to them. So Jonah says if they toss him into the sea, they will be saved. They don’t want to do it, and try to row back to shore, but to no avail. They pray to Yahweh asking for forgiveness for killing this man, and throw him over. Instantly the sea calms. (Jesus did the same thing, as his disciples asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” This man, Jesus, is Yahweh!) But instead of dying we read of the unique way the Lord decided to save “his servant”:

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Of course skeptics instantly think this is a fairy tale, but why would the writer having shown so much honesty about the rebellion of the Lord’s servant, all of a sudden make up some fantastic scenario about a fish swallowing him? If he’s making something up and wants people to believe it actually happened, the last thing he would make up is a huge fish swallowing the guy. No, he would say something was floating by and Jonah grabbed onto it, something like that.

But it is the Lord who saves, and not we of our own effort. That is the moral of the story. And Jesus said it was also “a sign” of his being in the belly of the earth for three days. He allowed himself to be swallowed up by death in the earth that we, like Jonah, might be saved from our own rebellion. Even if it’s kicking and screaming, the Lord will have his way with us, and thank God the Father for that!

Obadiah – God Will Accomplish His Purposes

Obadiah is the shortest of the prophetic works at only one chapter and 21 verses. The name Obadiah in Hebrew means “worshipper of Yahweh” or “Servant of Yahweh.” There are 13 “Obadiahs” in the Old Testament, and there seems to be disagreement if any of those is this Obadiah or not. There is also disagreement as to the time frame of his prophecy, but his prophecy is directed specifically toward Edom, who are the people descended from Jacob’s brother Esau. The Lord even refers to the country as Esau for the rest of the chapter.

It appears the Edom thought they were in a pretty good place and impregnable. As if no army could take them down. Their confidence was misplaced. The antagonism between the original Jacob and Esau would go down through history, and eventually Esau/Edom would be destroyed for the many horrible things done against their brother Israelites. They would prove to be not impregnable at all. In fact, there are no descendants of Edom that have survived to our day, as the Lord predicted through Obadiah.

As is my custom, I bring everything back to God’s providence and the covenant he made with his people. Thus Paul in Romans 9 quoting Malachi 1 says:

11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

And Malachi tells us Edom boasts that they can rebuild their ruins and withstand the wrath of God, but that’s not in God’s cards. God chose Jacob and his descendants, and not Esau and his. Not because of anything either did, before they were born or after, because Jacob was no peach. Which points to God choosing us in Christ not because of who we are, but very much in spite of it. As Paul says a little later in Romans, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” This is why I am a Reformed Calvinist Christian; I do not place God’s plans at the whim of frail, fallen, and self-centered sinful creatures. God’s calling is not only unable to be changed (irrevocable), it is also efficacious. It will accomplish its end, period, which is ultimately the salvation of the people he has chosen. Thank God it’s up to him and not me!

This temporal destruction of Edom/Esau as usual points beyond the physical fulfillment to it’s eternal/spiritual counterpart. The last verse indicates that because this little book ends with these words: “And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.” Obadiah is not referring to some little plot of land in the Middle East. Of course, I don’t know what Obadiah was thinking when he wrote the word kingdom, but since it’s all about Jesus, the kingdom points to an eternal kingdom when all the Lord’s enemies, including death itself, will be swept under his feet. That is our ultimate hope.

Amos 9 – Israel’s Promised Restoration is For The Church

This last chapter of Amos brings more news of the destruction to come, especially on those who refuse to accept God’s judgment and proclaim, “Disaster will not overtake or meet us.” Oh yes it will! But the Lord promises a restoration that will come beyond the judgment. We read this in the last verse:

15 I will plant Israel in their own land,
    never again to be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”

says the Lord your God.

You wonder how a pious Jew reads these words. The Jews get back into the land before Christ comes, and then go into exile again after Jerusalem is destroyed by Rome in AD 70. Then for almost 1900 years there is no Israel, and finally in 1948 they are back in the land. Is that event to which the promise refers? The Jewish believer might think so, but for the dispensational premillennial that is exactly what it refers to. I’m inclined, however, to see this in the tradition of Augustine as an amillennial, and that “the land” is a metaphor for heaven.

The reason is that I have to continually go back to Jesus in Luke 24 telling us that the whole of the OT is about him. How could these words be about the physical land and the nation-state of Israel if ultimately the whole thing is about Jesus. In other words, the old testament is ultimately redemptive history, not the history of a nation. From the very beginning that nation pointed beyond itself. The Lord told Abram that the promise of making him into a “great nation” would bless “all peoples on earth.”

Again as we’ve seen previously in the prophets, the text has dual meaning, both for physical, temporal Israel, and for the eternal, spiritual Church. So the last five verses that tell us that after God’s judgment will come temporal blessing to Israel, that indeed happens, but that is not the purpose of the prophecy. The purpose of the prophecy is us! Whatever this means ultimately for the nation of Israel, it means blessings for those of us in Christ, both now and forever. Verse 11 is a wonder to read in it’s bigger picture context:

11 “In that day

“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
    I will repair its broken walls
    and restore its ruins—
    and will rebuild it as it used to be

God has restored, repaired, and rebuilt us, his people, his Church, in Christ!

Amos 7 & 8 – God’s Promise of Exile is About His Words Not Land

I could break up these chapters, but as we’ve seen, the message is pretty much the same: God’s declaration of judgment because of Israel’s sin, a recitation of that sin, and promise of restoration or salvation, not always in that order. Chapter 7 starts creatively with Amos declaring three times (what else): “This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me,” visions of horrible destruction. Two times Amos pleads with the Lord to spare them because “He is so small!” Which is kind of funny, especially in the cosmic scheme of things. But the Lord’s dealing with little Israel is the center point of all redemptive history. Nothing, nowhere, any nation of any size in all of history compares in importance to the small one, Jacob. The Lord says twice that he will relent, but the third time he vows judgment will come.

Of course human beings don’t like being judged by God, so the rest of the chapter is about a priest named Amaziah, a priest of Bethel (which ironically enough means “House of God”), who warns Amos he better shut up or else. Amaziah warns King Jeroboam II, who “did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin.” But that doesn’t intimidate Amos. He answers Amaziah’s threats with his bone fides as a shepherd turned prophet, and God’s calling to declare the truth to Israel. And he gives it to them again, that Israel “will certainly go into exile.” The Lord tells them that “you yourself will die in exile.” In other words, all those living who are taken into exile will die there.

Chapter 8 is more of the same, but the Lord tells them something is coming that has nothing to do with physical harm, and it is much worse:

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.

The phrase, “a famine of hearing,” seems to imply the words are still there, but the people cannot hear them. Yet how could the people be searching for it at the same time. Maybe they are searching for what they want to hear, not what the Lord is actually saying. This could also possibly mean the time from the end of the OT to the time of Christ when God’s words to Israel ceased. Even when Jesus, the divine Logos himself came, they could not hear. He says to the Jews in John 12:

“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.”

And Amos ends the chapter with the the Lord’s declaration that, “they will fall, never to rise again.” This is spoken to those in Israel who worshiped false gods because one day the Truth will be revealed and all lies and false gods will be dealt with, forever.

 

 

Amos 6 – Our Security and Confidence is Either in Us or God

I would say this chapter is more of the same, but we know that by now. All the prophets, “major” and “minor,” had one job: declare the truth to Israel from the Lord. We must always remember the context of Israel as a national entity is the covenant God made with them in the desert. That covenant pointed to and was an outgrowth of the “covenant of works,” as it is called in Reformed theology, God made with Adam in the garden. The people told Moses, “We will do everything the LORD has said,” and the Lord tells them what will happen if they disobey. We see the latter scenario played out in the prophets exactly as the Lord predicted to the people in the desert. The confidence of the people before Moses was misplaced to say the least; their confidence was in their ability to “pull it off.” Needless to say they couldn’t, nor can we.

Chapter 6 describes a complacent people in Zion who felt secure, specifically the rich who thought nothing would ever happen to them. They partied (“You drink wine by the bowlful”) as if nothing was wrong, and the Lord says to them, “You will be among the first to go into exile, your feasting and lounging will end.” And indeed it does.

In verse 8 the Lord declares, “I abhor the pride of jacob.” As we know, pride is the essence of Satan’s rebellion against God. Here is a definition of pride:

a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

What Israel did was abandon the true and living God for everything but him. They found their satisfaction, meaning, hope, purpose, you name it, in all their and any human achievement. This doesn’t mean pride rightly place in our achievements is wrong, but that pride which doesn’t include God as the source of all things is wrong. As Paul says, God gives all men life and breath and everything else. The “pride of Jacob” was the attempt by the Israelites to establish an existence apart from the ever present providence of God for all things.

If we are in proper alignment with God, then we can place everything in its proper perspective, the interrelationship of all things understood rightly. Augustine spoke of “rightly ordered love” that perfectly captures this concept:

But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally.

The “pride of Jacob” completely distorts reality because it puts self at the center of existence, and not the one who rightly belongs there. Clearly the Israelites, and by extensive those who live their lives apart from the gospel, don’t understand what we read in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”