Jonah – What do I do?

Too often I think, we read a Bible story and jump right into the application of it. We’ve heard the story of Jonah; now go and be a missionary!

I really don’t think this story is in our Bibles to inspire us to be like Jonah. Jonah is prideful (1:9), rebellious (1:3), stubborn (4:5), hard-hearted (4:9), and disobedient. In contrast to Jonah, we see the sailors who truly fear God, the king of Nineveh who humbles himself in sackcloth and ashes, the people of Nineveh who repent and throw themselves on God’s mercy, and even the fish and plant which obey exactly what God created them to do. In the end, God questions Jonah’s heart, “You pity the plant … should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 children and much cattle?”

The thing about the Word of God is that it shows people – us – as we are. The people in the city of Nineveh were doing great evil and God saw it. He said they must repent, turn to God, or judgment would come. The Israelites, God’s own people did not heed the warnings given to them. Hosea prophesies a warning that makes Israel like a prostitute married to God! Jonah heard the word of the Lord … and … ran the opposite direction. Jonah was made to go and do as God commanded but … was greatly displeased when God forgave Nineveh’s sin.

We are all unworthy of God’s grace; of His mercy and great gifts. The story in Jonah – the story of the Bible – is this: We cannot save ourselves; Salvation comes from God. Jonah did not recognize this. He found it offensive that God would be merciful to Nineveh. Jonah was a Hebrew! He thought he was better than the Ninevites. Let us humbly recognize that God has granted us mercy. We live today with another chance to know Him and serve Him. Let us encourage one another to give thanks and honor to God for His gifts.

Jonah, Israel, and the people of Nineveh were rebellious towards God. We have been rebellious towards the word of God. When we pray, when we talk about God’s word, let us encourage one another to walk true to the light of God’s word. Psalm 119:11 can be our prayer: “Your word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You.” 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that the word of God is profitable – it is valuable – for teaching, correction and reproof, for training in righteousness. Let us examine our rebellious ways. Repent. Seek God’s correction, and submit to His will.

The only time Jonah is happy is when he is comfortable beneath the shade plant waiting for judgment to rain down on Nineveh. Jonah’s comment in his displeasure is strange, “for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah knows words about God but he does not have God’s heart. The goal of God’s grace, loving kindness, mercy, and even judgment is to bring glory to Himself and not for us to find our own happiness and pleasure. Jonah thought his purpose was to bring God’s judgment to Nineveh, instead he saw mercy. We will find purpose in life when we trust God’s grace and His gifts to us.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matt. 5:8) Jonah knew the words about God but he did not seem to know God’s heart. God’s heart was full of pity for the many ignorant, sinful people in Nineveh. God’s heart is full of love for people like the king of Nineveh, like Jonah, like children, like you! He calls us to Himself, to see our sin, to believe the hard stories about repenting and His forgiveness.

Jesus said that the sign of Jonah – three days and nights in the belly of the whale – is a sign to this generation. Jesus was sent to sinners, God’s enemies. He obeyed to the point of death on the cross where God showed His judgment on sin. This is what Jonah had hoped to see, but it was not the sinner there on the cross, it was the Son of God. This sacrifice satisfied God. The proof is that the tomb gave up its ‘Jonah’ on the third day. The debt for sin is paid and new life has begun.

When we believe this – then – we have a message to tell!

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I believe the story – Now what? Jonah pt 2

Jesus refers to the story of Jonah – specifically the detail about Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and nights – so I believe that this story is true. So now what?

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah…” This is how the book of Jonah begins. The word of the LORD came. This phrase is repeated many times in the Old Testament. God spoke to man even after man became His enemy. God’s word came to this earth to re-claim man for Himself. Moses began writing down God’s words, prophets and scribes wrote down Israel’s history as a subset of God’s words to them – whether they obeyed or rebelled. The words of God reveal a progressive revelation of God’s plan for redemption and rule of His redeemed people.

Hebrews 1 tells us exactly this. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” Jesus told the disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44-48)

Well…

Isn’t this the story of Jonah?

  1. God spoke. It will be fulfilled –  Judgment or Salvation.
  2. Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.
  3. Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations.
  4. You are witnesses.

God spoke and it was fulfilled. We see this in the story of Jonah. God’s plan was not dependent on Jonah. When Jonah ran the opposite way – God caught him. When Jonah proclaimed God’s judgment on Nineveh – God’s grace flowed. When Nineveh repented and was saved, Jonah was angry – God’s grace flowed. Jonah pitied a plant – God pitied a great foreign city of men, women, and children. Jonah witnessed God’s plan for the future and the Book of Jonah is the account of God’s coming Salvation to those  who repent and believe the mercy of God.

The Word of God is the message from God and the revealing of God to us His people. The idea of this Word from God is so important that, as we see in Hebrews 1, Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who come after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:1, 14-18)

The story of Jonah is true – the word of God is true and secured by the person of Jesus Christ.

What do I do with it?

Reading Jonah

When one sits down to read through Jonah, an activity I do recommend, a sense of the extreme creeps in. Just let your mind process the following:

  • Nineveh is a great city. (1:2)
  • Jonah flees in the opposite direction by ship.
  • A great wind and fierce storm arise. (1:4)
  • The sailors seem to understand more about God than Jonah does. They have great terror in the storm and then great fear of the Lord. (1:10-16)
  • A great fish has been prepared.
  • Jonah is in the fish three days and nights praying!
  • Jonah travels for three days across the great city of Nineveh. (3:3)
  • The king of Nineveh refers to God’s fierce anger. (3:9)
  • All of Nineveh fasts and repents – from the greatest to the least.
  • Jonah expresses great displeasure. (4:1)
  • Jonah derives great pleasure from a plant. (4:6)
  • When the plant withers, Jonah says, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
  • At the end, God asks Jonah a question but what about the answer?

Do I believe Jonah is true?

The hardest to believe part of this story is the three days and nights Jonah spends in the belly of the whale. It is exactly this that Jesus refers to in Matthew 12:38-41. The scribes and Pharisees ask for a sign and Jesus refers to the sign of Jonah. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” We know that Jesus was buried and rose again the third day. Jesus speaks of Jonah’s experience as if it is fact – so I believe it!

Jesus continues his teaching in the same “great” theme as the story of Jonah. “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Great city, great fish, great emotions, great sign and yet, something greater is here! This certainly must be part of our message.

 

Achsah – A Woman of Substance

There are many wonderful ‘girl stories’ in the Bible. I don’t think we hear these stories often enough and sometimes we simply become lazy or familiar in the stories we reference in our daily living. Studying these stories allows insight into the lives of women who overcame because they believed God. This faith shines through their actions and encourages us to walk the same path.

My personal Bible heroine is named Achsah. Her story is told twice, once in Joshua 15 and then again in Judges 1. She is one of a group of women inserted in Judges at critical points of time. Her story opens the Book of Judges and she is an example of a victorious child of God, literally living on His promise. Judges chronicles Israel’s cycles of living as God’s people, becoming entangled with the land’s inhabitants and their practices, falling away, and needing rescue. Beginning with Achsah, a woman who claimed her own piece of the Promised Land and asked for blessings to make it fruitful, Judges concludes with a bizarre set of stories that vividly show how far man will fall into sin when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

Achsah is introduced as the daughter of Caleb who offers her as a war prize. Caleb was given a specific inheritance in the land of Canaan for his own because he had first walked that land as a spy and reported with confidence that God would indeed give it to them (Joshua 14:6-15). Now it was time to drive the Canaanites out and Caleb inspired the men with his daughter, Achsah. Othniel accomplishes the charge and is given her as his wife. The commentaries I consulted are not in agreement as to the specifics, but as part of the marriage negotiations Achsah and Othniel receive a field in the Negeb out of Caleb’s inheritance. This field is in a dry land, so Achsah asks for a blessing – springs of water. Caleb gives her both upper and lower springs.

Why do I admire Achsah?

She claimed a piece of the land as her inheritance. I must speculate here, but she must have heard many fireside stories of the wonderful land and the marvel of its produce. Caleb must have told how the people refused to go in and take it even though they had God’s promise and had seen His works. How often is this true for us? We see only the difficulties instead of the assurance of God’s promise. Achsah learned to claim that promise as her own.

This woman was not done with just owning some dirt. God’s intent was that the people live in the land and be fruitful. The land she received was a dry land and so she asked for a blessing – some springs to water the land. Sometimes we can claim God’s promises with a dry, grim, determination to see it through, while His storehouse of blessings is full of treasures for us to receive. Why do we think that when God gives us a gift and then asks us to do something, the good use of it is only up to us? It’s not! Achsah was aware of the dryness of her land and asked for what she needed to make it fruitful. The blessing was so much more that what she needed.

I think the foundation for Achsah’s boldness was that she knew her father. He had faith in God when only one other man stood with him. When the time came, Caleb stepped forward and asked for what had been promised to him, and Achsah followed his example. Caleb didn’t give away his girl as a prize so much as secure for her a warrior who fought the enemy. When I study these ‘girl stories’, I don’t want to concentrate on the characters in the story so much as understand the character of God that they found and trusted. I can trust my Father God – the more I know Him the more I will trust Him. Jesus prayed that God will protect all who have been given into his hand (John 17) and he fought and conquered the enemy in his temptations and on the cross. God’s storehouse of blessings is open by asking in Jesus’ name.

This is why Achsah is my hero!

Clapping Trees

Last week I traveled to Los Angeles with my husband. He had work obligations and I toured around in traffic. We had the great privilege of visiting some friends of ours living in Visalia, just a couple of hours north of LA. On Sunday they took us up to the mountains to see the giant sequoia trees.  They were so huge and the visual experience was complimented by the wonderful scented air.

These huge trees reminded me of the verse that says that the trees of the field will clap their hands so I looked it up when we got home.

For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.  Isaiah 55:12

Let me tell you – when these trees start clapping we will hear it!

Isaiah 55 is a psalm that tells us that God is in control particularly when we are not. We are the thirsty, impoverished, and dying. He is merciful to the nations and calling the wandering soul home. He satisfies every good desire.  This song contains the famous passage, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” (8) The grounded fruitfulness of the created earth is used to illustrate the power of God’s words. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (10-11)

This brings us to verse 12, the trees clapping verse. Why are the mountains and hills shouting for joy?  Why do the trees clap their hands?

For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace.” The captives are leaving their captivity. They are free; they are at peace! They are pardoned and given new life. “Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up, and instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up, and it will be a memorial to the LORD, for an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.” (13)

God’s deliverance will not be forgotten; it is an eternal deliverance, it is a producing deliverance. The trees are clapping. Can you hear them? Will you join them?

Giant sequioas

Surprised by Grace (3)

Well… I had better finish this review or it may end up longer that the book.  I do recommend this book for your reading and study.

This book is at its finest when the author directly interacts with the text of Jonah or explores the application suggested by its subtitle: “God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels.”  It suffers in clarity in the (small) sections that stray too far from this theme.

The author, Tullian Tchividjian, takes his time to work through the book of Jonah.  Many insights from scripture are woven together with observations made of artistic expressions trying to capture the meaning of this story in paintings, prose, and poetry.  I commend the publisher for including color plates of the paintings mentioned.  The book is well footnoted to allow a reader to pursue sources.

The reader is gently led to conclude that the story recorded in the book of Jonah is really the story of God.  God’s grace is extended to a foreign multitude in the great city of Nineveh.  He hears the prayers of frightened sailors who show more compassion that the prophet.  Out of his great mercy, God pursues one rebel from his own people – Jonah.

Jesus tells a parable about a rebel son who runs away, lives in great wickedness, repentantly returns home to ask for mercy, and is restored.  The father has another son who is jealous of the treatment afforded the rebel.  He was the good son who stayed and worked.  This son does not realize that all that the father has is already there for his benefit. (Luke 15:11-32)

This book’s primary theme is that the gospel is good news for all sinners.  The Gospel is good news for sinners with power to save them from the penalty of their sins – salvation from destruction.  The Gospel is good news for saved sinners who rebel in the continuing pervasiveness of  sin – sanctification.  God is a great Savior.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5

The most distressing part of this story is not knowing if Jonah ever repented and turned away from his sinful rebellion.  I pray that I embrace the full and continuing reach of God’s great mercy and love.  I pray that I am willing to accurately and completely share the good news of God’s salvation of all sinners.

Surprised by Grace (2)

This is the second installment of my review of Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels by Tullian Tchividjian. 

One of the repeated descriptors in the tale of Jonah is great. Nineveh is a great city; God sends a great wind and storm; the sailors suffer great fright and come to great fear of the LORD; God appoints a great fish; Jonah suffers from great displeasure and great delight in a plant; Nineveh mourns and repents from wickedness – “from the greatest to the least of them” (3:5).

Tchividjian spends some time exploring this last contrast of great and least.  The change in the people of Nineveh is huge and all encompassing.  This point is emphasized with a picture of the king, stepping off of his throne and into the ashes, putting off his robe and covering himself with ashes.  The fast is proclaimed on man and beast.  Then there is that last strange verse in Jonah where God asks, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

This section of the book has the following subheadings and quotes:

  • God uses the defeated to do great things

The story of Jonah “shows us that in God’s eyes, and in Christianity, weakness precedes usefulness.” (pg. 102)

  • Good news for losers

“The gospel frees us from the pressure to generate our own significance and meaning. In Christ, our identity and significance are secure, which frees us up to give everything we have, because in Christ we have everything we need.” (pg. 104)

These thoughts shine a bright light on the difference between what we often value and give honor to and what God deems valuable.  The Facebook guy gets public recognition for giving a large amount of his even larger fortune; the working family down the pew from you may be giving up dinners out to support your church or a family member in need.  We sign up to hear that famous, successful person give their testimony; the woman sitting next to you in Bible study quietly serves her family, church, or community because that is where God has put her.  We like to be strong in the Lord; perfect in weakness – not so much.

This brings us back to the last verse of Jonah.  That odd reference to those who do not know the difference between their right and left hands and the animals is thought to refer to children and others who are dependent on those who do know better.  Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4).

Nineveh was saved when their king left his throne and took off his robe and led the way to repentance.  This story is not about Jonah but about our great, gracious, forgiving God who blesses humility and dependence on him.  This story points to Christ who humbled himself and left his throne to become a baby, child, and then a man.  He who knew no sin bore ours on the cross.  His grace is free but to honor it costs everything.

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