sexta-feira, 30 de setembro de 2011

The Prophet Jonah


Jonah’s declaration

In what would appear to be a singularly strange reaction God’s successful prophet Jonah complained bitterly to the Lord: “Oh, LORD, “This is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish!Because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment” Jonah 4:2.1

Jonah’s declaration would also appear to be at variance with a sometimes- popular conception that the presentation of the God of the Old Testament, unlike the One of the New Testament, is that of a stern figure who unwaveringly demanded total submission to His will on penalty of severe judgment. Jonah obviously held a different view.

If one should inquire as to how Jonah came to believe this, the answer is readily at hand. For Jonah was the recipient of a long chain of revealed scriptural truth, which demonstrated that Yahweh is not only a God who equitably administers the world in holiness and justice, but is also One whose grace and tender compassion are accompanied by a patient and forgiving nature. Accordingly, He reaches out to a needy mankind with a desire for man’s best. Thus Jonah could understand and react to that which had been revealed earlier.

Jonah’s case underscores the fact that biblical writers utilized earlier biblical authors and texts. Such is, of course, an established fact. For example, this has been abundantly exhibited in the New Testament writer’s use of Old Testament passages, as illustrated recently in a voluminous commentary detailing New Testament texts, which contain, allude to, or are related to Old Testament texts.2

I. Author and Book:

 Jonah is one of the most ridiculed books by liberal scholars. The story of a fish swallowing a man and the man living sounds impossible, and since most liberal scholars deny the possibility of the supernatural, they reject the book of Jonah as anything but a fairy tale. I’ve heard people tell a story from the time that such an event actually occurred about a hundred years ago when whaling was popular, but I also heard somewhere that the story was fabricated to try to lend credibility to the book of Jonah. So, we will just have to believe Jonah is true because God says it is true.

Jonah is different than the other prophets because it is not full of prophecies by the prophet, it is instead, about the life of the prophet. Little attention is given to what he actually said. But it does start off the same way the other prophetic books do because we see the phrase, “And the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai, saying.”

While most of the other prophets prophesied to Israel and Judah, Jonah’s task was to go to Ninevah and prophesy to them.

I I. Date:

It is difficult to pinpoint when the author of the book actually put the story on paper. It could have been written soon after the events or long after the events. Some date the writing of the book in the Persian period because of certain literary features, vocabulary, etc.

What is clear is that the events of the book took place while Ninevah was capitol of Assyria. At the risk of giving away the plot, the Assyrians repent in the story, and so I would place the events at the beginning of the era when prophets prophesied of the coming destruction by Assyria (eighth century).

This would give the Assyrians time to respond to Jonah’s message, for a new generation or two to come along, who would decline spiritually, and become bad guys again and a threat to Israel

I I I. Content of the Book

A. Jonah disobeying

1. God's Command 1:1-2

God commanded Jonah to go to Ninevah and preach to them about their sinfulness and call them to repentance. This is the only time in the OT where Israel is commanded to actively pursue the Gentiles. God’s Covenant with Abraham mentioned that through Abraham’s descendants God would bless the nations, but no Israelite is ever commanded to go to the nations and tell them about God.

They were to have a passive witness. The Gentiles were supposed to see the difference between their society and Israel’s and be attracted to it. The OT is full of examples of Gentiles who became Jewish proselytes and worshipped Yahweh - Ruth, Jael, Shamgar, the woman at Jericho, etc.

2. Jonah's Disobedience (1-3)

What is Jonah’s reaction to God’s command? He refused. He didn’t say anything. He just left town. Notice the route he took: He went down to Joppa. Found a ship going down to Tarshish, so he went down into the boat. If God is up then down is bad. Every thing Jonah did took him further from God.

3. God's Discipline (1:4-9)

This section emphasizes God’s sovereignty over nature. He sent the wind and caused the sea to heave.
It is the heathen sailors who feared and are praying while the man of God is complacently sleeping below. The sailors were praying to the wrong gods, but they were convicted by the events at sea. Jonah’s lack of reaction is significant. Sin hardens the heart and makes us insensitive. Here we see that Jonah is insensitive to what God is doing.

And we see the first of many contrasts between the heathens and Jonah. Jonah is insensitive, but the heathens are aware that something out of the ordinary is going on and they are praying to their gods.
Jonah’s statement in 1:9 is the exact opposite of what his actions show. He does not fear God. If he did, he would have obeyed the first time, and at the least, been praying because of the storm.

4. Sailor's prayer (1:10-14)

What stand’s out in this section?

They would eventually learn that Jonah’s God was the true God.

1:10 shows that the men were amazed that Jonah would do something to displease his God. They spent their life in fear of their gods, trying to please and pacify them. It is ironic and sad that those who worship the true God - the only God worth fearing - and experience His grace, take advantage of His grace and do not live their life in an effort to please Him.

1:13 shows that the heathen sailors had more compassion than Jonah. They did not want to throw him overboard and tried desperately to get to land without doing that. They begged Jonah’s God’s pardon for what they had to do. This is also a contrast with the man of God who had no compassion on the people of Ninevah.

5. God's Answer (1:15-16)

God responded by calming the sea .

The sailors recognize that the true God is Jonah’s God, so they pray to Yahweh. And after the sea calms, we see that they feared Yahweh and offered sacrifices to Him and made vows. They were probably vows that they would follow and obey Him. This is in contrast to Jonah who disobeyed God.
More Discipline (1:17)

God is not through with Jonah. A great fish comes along and swallows him. There is more irony here. If you remember, Jonah went down, down, down in the first few verses. Now God is sending Jonah down to the depths of Sheol (2:2). At least that is what it felt like to Jonah.

6. Jonah 's Prayer (2:1-9)

Jonah finally prays and thanks God for his deliverance even before he is delivered. This shows that he is convinced God answers prayer.

Some think that at this point Jonah is repenting, especially since he now goes and preaches to Ninevah. But let’s look at his prayer:

Nowhere in his prayer did he mention his own rebellion and sin, so there is no real confession going on here.

He piously considered himself better than the pagans (cf. vs 8-9). What is ironic and sad is that we have already seen that the sailor’s came out looking better than Jonah.

I think Jonah is making a big assumption here that God would deliver him. He certainly didn’t deserve it.

We will see by Jonah’s actions in chapter 4: that he didn’t really repent here.

Feinberg points out that the life of Jonah parallels the history of the nation of Israel, and the phrase, “Salvation is from the Lord” is a key ingredient in that parallel. Like Jonah, Israel was chosen. Like Jonah, Israel rebelled. Like Jonah, Israel received discipline (dispersion and abuse by other nations up to the present day).

Israel looks to military alliances and national defense as the solution but until Israel recognizes that Salvation is from the Lord, there can be no ultimate deliverance. (Charles L. Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, p. 141-43).
I think the life of every individual is also parallel to Jonah’s experience. God calls us, but we rebell. We search for life in everything else but God until we come to a point in our life where we are so low that we finally recognize our inability and come to the conclusion that Salvation is from the Lord.

7. God's Answer (2:10)

God is gracious and He does answer Jonah’s prayer and the fish delivers Jonah to the beach outside of Ninevah.

B. Jonah Obeying (chapter 3)

1. God's Command (3:1-2)

God repeated his command to Jonah to go to Ninevah. I think it shows the grace of God that He gave Jonah a second chance.

2. Jonah's Obedience (3:3-4)

This time Jonah obeys. It seems that there was no complaint this time. God had gotten Jonah's attention.
Jonah's message is a simple one - “In forty days Ninevah will be destroyed!” There wasn't a lot of persuasion. I don't think Jonah tried very hard to persuade them. He would have gone into town, said his piece and left saying something like, “Well, I told them. It's their own fault now when God destroys them.” I think this also shows that Jonah hasn’t really changed his attitude. It seems to me he is obeying, but grudgingly.

3. Ninevah's prayer (3:5-9)

But the people of Ninevah heard him and believed him and repented. And this was a thorough repentance. Everyone from the king down to the cows were crying out. I'm sure the animals were just hungry, but it probably seemed like they were repenting too.

4. God's Answer (3:10)

God is gracious and does not destroy the city.

C. Jonah Learning (Chapter 4)

1. Jonah's Anger (4:1-4)

Jonah is furious when he sees the people's repentance. He knows now that God is not going to destroy them. Here we also see his true heart and further proof that he did not repent in chapter 2. The truth comes out about Jonah's fleeing from God in the beginning. He knew God would forgive them if they repented, but Jonah hated the Assyrians so much he didn't want to even give them the chance to repent.
Why did he hate them? The Assyrians were a dominant world power during this time and had even defeated Israel in a few battles and exacted tribute from Israel. Assyria wasn't just a non-hostile Gentile nation. It was an active enemy of Israel.
2. Jonah's Lesson (4:5-8)

So Jonah goes out of the city to pout and see if maybe God will destroy them. It is hot so God causes a plant to grow and give Jonah shade. The text says Jonah was “extremely happy about the plant.” Then, when the plant withers, Jonah wants to die. Doesn't it seem a little odd that Jonah would be so happy about the plant and so distraught over a plant’s death? I think the author is trying to make a point to us about how Jonah is all mixed up in his priorities.
3. God's question (4:9-11)

God's question brings the point home. If Jonah is so upset about the death of a plant, which he didn't even plant, How much more should God be concerned about the death of human beings. 

I V. Lessons  from this Book

1. We learn about the character of God.

2. We see his omnipotence as he controls the wind, the sea, the fish and the plant. And all of his power is directed toward a single goal - the reclamation of sinful humans - both Jonah and the Ninevites. (Chisholm, Interpreting The Minor Prophets, p. 129)

3. We see his love and compassion as he gives Jonah a second chance and as he forgives the Ninevites.

4. We see that God answers prayer. He answered the sailors' prayers, Jonah's prayer and the Ninevites' prayers.

5. I think it ironic that God would spare the Assyrians so that they could destroy the Northern kingdom of Israel only a few decades later.

6. I think this book shows that Jonah knew a lot about God. He presumed on God's grace and assumed his deliverance while still in the fish. He knew God was compassionate and gracious and would not destroy the

Assyrians if they repented. So, although Jonah knew about God, he did not want to obey him. It could even be said that Jonah disobeyed in the name of justice. (Chisholm, Interpreting The Minor Prophets, p. 130)

The Assyrians certainly had committed enough atrocities that they deserved judgment, and Jonah wanted them to get their due. But he was ignoring the sovereignty of God and disobeying God. He also was displaying a double standard. He was forgetting that Israel had been forgiven many times for her sins and that he himself had just been forgiven for his disobedience. He was a walking contradiction. I think we need to be careful that we do not fall into the same trap.

V. Jonah and the law of love:

I think Jonah gives us a negative illustration of love. I see Jonah as a good example of how we tend to judge others and consider ourselves to be better than others. I mentioned at the beginning of the series that the prophets were more concerned about the present failings of the people to follow the law than with future predictions. Jonah’s life illustrates this failure.

Jesus summed up the whole law in one phrase, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jonah definitely illustrates not loving one’s neighbor. Loving involves forgiveness. Jonah would not forgive the Assyrians for their evil. Instead, he clung with pride to his heritage as a Jew, the chosen people of God, and he condemned the Assyrians.

I think Jonah mistakenly thought that he deserved the favor of God. I think his prayer in chapter 2 demonstrates that. He called on God for deliverance without repenting of his evil. Why did God choose Israel? Because they were the biggest nation? Because they were more spiritual than the rest? No. He chose them out of grace.

If you read Eze 16, you will see a good description of what Israel was like and what God did for them. It also describes how they became proud and forsook God. They certainly did not deserve the special relationship with God.

Jonah forgot that. If he had recognized his evil, he would have seen that he was just as bad as the Ninevites.

This reminds me of the parable of the unforgiving servant, who was forgiven an enormous debt by the king.

He in turn refused to forgive a fellow slave a small debt. When the king found out, the unforgiving servant was handed over to the torturers until he could repay the debt. I think God was torturing Jonah to try to make him see his evil, so he would repent and so he would recognize that he was no better than the Assyrians. He should have forgiven them and gone to help them.

The message of the unforgiving servant is that we should forgive, because we have been forgiven. Jonah was forgiven and delivered from the fish, but he did not see it that way.

When I read Larry Crabb and Dan Allender’s books, they say that love means moving into another person’s life to build them up, to help them see their evil so they will repent. It usually involves sacrifice on our part and forgiveness for the harm they do to us. I see Jonah as failing to do this. He failed to forgive and therefore was unwilling to move toward the Ninevites to help them see their evil so they could repent and have a relationship with God. He failed to love.

V I. Conclusion and Applications

The book of Jonah and many other prophet's message, strongly suggest that the divine revelation of God’s character in Exodus 34:6-7 and Deuteronomy 32:4 became foundational to future settings where these particular qualities could be applied, elaborated upon, and celebrated.

Assumedly, then, they would be well known to Jonah, even though his primary indebtedness is to Exodus 34:6-7. For Jonah, however, God’s known character had proven to be a stumbling block, first to carrying out his commission to warn the Ninevites of their need of changing their ways and then to their positive response to his preaching. “Apparently, Jonah had forgotten how God provided a sea creature to bring him to repentance. Yet Jonah was not willing to grant God the prerogative of accepting the penitence of the Ninevites.

Jonah grieved over a plant that God had provided Jonah 4:6-8 but was unwilling to grant God the privilege of compassion for needy human beings.”29

Did Jonah respond positively to God’s patient correction (vv.9-11) of His prophet?30 Although the text does not plainly say so, it can be hoped that if, as is likely the case, Jonah is the author of the book that bears his name, he penned this full account of his spiritual journey to underscore the need for compassion for the spiritual needs of all people.

Jonah’s odyssey would thus be a story against himself with God being shown as a patient, loving Lord who gently restored him to further service. Such an indication may well lie in the historic account that Jeroboam II “restored the border of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the north to the sea of the Arabah in the south, in accordance with the word of the LORD God of Israel announced through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher” 2 Kings 14:25.

As well, one of the lesson of Jonah and the revelation of God’s person stand as reminders of the need for the Lord’s character qualities to be reflected and reproduced in the lives of His believing people. Micah thus captures well the need of God’s standard of justice as well as His compassion for the believer:

“He has told you, O man, what is good and what the LORD really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God” Mic. 6:8. As Kaiser remarks, “This passage is more than just an ethical or cultic substitute for inventions of religion posed by mortals. It is duty indeed, but duty grounded in the character and grace of God… . It was … a call for the natural consequences of truly forgiven men and women to demonstrate the reality of their faith by living it out in the marketplace.”31

No less than the case with Jonah the heed for embodying the divine characteristics inherent in Exodus 34:6-7 and Deuteronomy 32:4 remain true for today’s Christians. Thus Paul reminded the Colossian believers to clothe themselves with compassion (or tenderheartedness—Col.3: 12). In keeping with such an appeal is the quality of mercy, a quality that James 3:13-17 stresses is characteristic of true wisdom and that Jesus repeatedly emphasized e.g., Matt 5;7; 9:13; 12:7. In keeping with both character qualities is the need for believers to be gracious both in their actions Lk. 7:42 and their speech Col. 4:6, and to be faithful Matt. 23:23.

Indeed, faithfulness is often urged upon believers e.g., 1 Tim. 3:11 and exemplified by God’s servants e.g., 1 Tim. 1:12. In keeping with this virtue John conveys a challenge to the Christians at Smyrna, “Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself” Rev. 2:10. Not only for the difficult times, as was the case at Smyrna, but it is also incumbent upon believers at all times to be faithful to the end, to compete well in the race of life, and to finish the course cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27—all the while keeping the faith. Such carries the anticipated blessing and reward of the Lord Himself 2 Tim. 4:7-8.

Two of the more difficult character qualities for many Christians center on forgiveness and patience. Yet each is enjoined upon us in God’s Word. Thus Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians, “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you” Eph. 4:32. He also reminds the Colossians to remember just as God has forgiven them, so they are to have a forgiving heart toward others Col. 3:12.

Patience, too, is often difficult for many to achieve. Yet it is a divine quality that is desperately needed by all of us. Because God is long suffering, He bore with a world of total spiritual bankruptcy in the days of Noah 1 Pet. 3:20. Similarly, He yet delays the Great Day of Judgment so as to prolong the day of salvation 2 Pet. 3:15. Indeed, God’s patience ought to bring men to repentance Rom. 2:4; 9:22-24; and surely because God is patient, believers also ought to be patient cf. Matt. 18:21-35. Every Christian should be marked by godly patience toward all 1 Thess. 5:14.

Indeed, patience makes us worthy to walk in our calling Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:12 and helps reproduce the same performance of faith in other believers Heb. 6:11-12. Perhaps Paul has encapsulated all the needed virtues in writing, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” Col. 3:12-13a.

There are other lessons to be learned from journeying with Jonah. Thus like Jonah Christians can be “about the Master’s business” but be “too busy” to spend time with Him or in His Word. Therefore, our spiritual quest becomes sidetracked. Even our worship experience can degenerate into a mere routine, as was the case too often in ancient Israel.32 There is therefore the need for each of us not only to be submissive to the standards of God in His Word, but to love Him supremely and to be in daily fellowship with Him.

As well, a missionary imperative springs out of Jonah’s experience. It is all too easy to criticize Jonah for his attitude with regard to the Ninevites, but a similar disregard or disdain for enemy nations, terrorists, or “unlovely” people can too often stand in the way of our extending the Gospel message of God’s saving forgiveness in Christ to them.

“Jonah’s story thus reminds us of the need for sharing the Word of God with an unbelieving world and for praying for all people everywhere cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-6. The desperate condition of the lost and the urgency of the times demand that as unrepentant generation be confronted with the lesson of Nineveh: “Someone greater than Jonah is here” Matt 12:41.”33

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