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.

 

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Psalm 19

Psalm 19 is a magnificent Psalm to practice reading with all of our eyes. Read it and ask:

  • What do the words say?
  • What images do the words show to my mind?
  • What does God tell about Himself and about me?

 Psalm 19:1-6

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

What do the words say?

Nature is speaking. The heavens and skies declare, proclaim, and speak of God’s glory. They are heard all the time, with a voice and language understood by all the earth, to the ends of the world. Their message is the glory of God. The heavens and skies know the glory of God. The sun is given as a specific example to show this glory.

What images do the words show to my mind?

Think of how many different ways we see the skies – during the day, at night, in the mists of morning, and the soft slipping away of the day. Can you see the skies filled with stars, clouds, birds and butterflies? Do you imagine the heavens brightened by a moon or sun, stormy with thunderclouds, or painted with a rainbow? If the sun is given as an example of glory, what do you know about it? Can you look at it? Like the sun, glory is coming, blazing bright, strong, victorious, and never-ending; it will be felt by everything.

What does God tell about Himself and about me?

The Psalm says that the skies and heavens don’t speak with words but simply the way they look and behave testifies to a wondrous Creator God. The Bible’s first words to us are, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The heavens and the earth were the first to be able to tell of His glory. We can look up, down, in or out and see what marvelous works God has done in nature and we understand without words and without a translator that God is an awesome God.

We know that in the story of Ruth, Boaz was her wing of protection. Ruth and Boaz get married and he becomes her permanent protector. The Book of Ruth in the Bible ends with the birth of King David’s grandfather and David wrote many, many of the Psalms. The story of the Bible, God’s story throughout history, is of the preparation of His people to be the perfect, spotless and pure bride for His Son Jesus. Like the sure glory of the sun rising each morning, Jesus promised to return for His people as their bridegroom! If you are promised to Jesus, you are waiting for your bridegroom just as each day waits for the arrival of the sun.

Psalm 19:7-11

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

What do the words say?

This section moves from nature to the word of God, the Scriptures. Each verse has a statement about the scriptures and then follows with a benefit. God’s written word is perfect, trustworthy, right, radiant, pure, sure and righteous, precious, sweet, and rewarding. The metaphors used to teach us about the scriptures are precious like gold and sweet as honey. We learn that the scriptures are from the Lord for us his servants. We benefit with revived souls, wisdom, joy, light and life, warning and protection, and a great reward.

What images do the words show to my mind?

When we read the many words used for the word of God, maybe our minds see the many different books and stories in the Bible. The metaphor of the gold might trigger a vision of many precious things and that leads you to the intent of this passage – to make you value and treasure these words, to hold them close in your heart, to have them with you at all times to enjoy the benefits promised. An image of sweeter than honey leads to a pleasant taste and an increasing desire for more of God’s word. Any of the parallel phrases might capture your imagination and desire for that kind of reward for your study of God’s word.

What does God tell about Himself and about me?

The first section of this Psalm said that the heavens and skies testified about God without words but all the earth heard them. People communicate with words and God’s word is the way He communicates to us. We can’t know the truth about God’s love, His holiness, His desires for our life until we read God’s own words. Nature will only take us so far in our knowledge of God and then we need the revelations found in the Bible to know Jesus and what is in God’s heart. The eyes of our hearts are opened to see that the “fear of the LORD” is a good fear and it is through that good fear that we live as His servants.

Psalm 19:12-14

12 Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

What do the words say?

Now here is a question: “Who can discern his errors?” Are there errors? Yes! Oh, yes, so many, many errors that the writer begins praying immediately asking for forgiveness, protection, power, and pardon. This is a very personal prayer to the “LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer” asking that our words and even our thoughts be pleasing to Him.

What images do the words show to my mind?

What does your mind’s eye see when you read this prayer? Would a prideful person be praying this prayer? Does the person praying this prayer have anything hidden? Is he keeping anything back? This prayer is really opening the heart and mind for God to examine for any sinful actions and thoughts.

What does the Rock stand in for? A rock is sold and firm. A strong building must be put on a solid rock foundation in order to last for the family to live there. Hiding behind a rock will give protection and hiding in a rock, like in a cave, is safe shelter from many storms.

A Redeemer pays a price to purchase something owned by another. Do you see this transaction taking place? What is the price? Who is being redeemed?

What does God tell about Himself and about me?

Meditate a while on the fact that we have gone from the wonder of God’s creation, to the precious, sweet gift of God’s word, all the way to His focus on a hidden thought. How great is our God!

Each section of this Psalm tells of God’s greatness and has a message about His care for His people – you! The words of God are for you to study as truth, as wisdom, to be treasured and delighted in. These words will be used by God to make you pure and spotless and we can even pray for His help in this process! His promise of a bridegroom for you is as sure and the daily rising of the sun.

It is only in God’s word that we learn that the price our Redeemer paid for us was His own life. Our Redeemer is Jesus, God’s son, who came to earth, lived a blameless life, but died on the cross because of our sins. This redemption price was acceptable to God because after three days, Jesus rose out of the grave like the sun rising in the sky. God’s word tells us that He is now at God’s right hand interceding – praying – for those who are purchased by His life.

None of our thoughts, words, and actions are hidden from God. Those that are in error are sins, and God, not you, determines the errors. But forgiveness and pardon is here if we humbly confess and believe that Jesus paid the price for our redemption. You can come to the Redeemer and be acceptable in the sight of your glorious God – your LORD, Rock and Redeemer.

Redemption

One of the recurring Pattern of Sound Words to note in God’s word is the theme of redemption. I was reminded of this during my Tuesday morning women’s Bible study this past winter and early spring. We are working our way through Isaiah.

Isaiah 8 contains prophesy (pre-written history) given to Isaiah concerning the northern tribes of Israel. They continually rejected the LORD their God, seeking instead the security of foreign armies and gods. Israel rejected the good things God provided including “the gently flowing waters of Shiloah,” the perennial spring of Jerusalem, and the waters of the Euphrates of Assyria will be used by God to figuratively sweep out the wealth and spoil of Damascus and Samaria. History tells us that these northern tribes have not yet been returned to wholeness with Judah.

I think it was the reference to the gently flowing waters and Samaria that transported me to the meeting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob recorded for us in John 4. They have a conversation about water, worship, and the condition of her heart. Then, to her – a woman of Samaria – Jesus reveals that He is the expected Messiah. The Redeemer Prince as promised in Isaiah 9 is come in the flesh and speaks to this woman.

Do you see the circle? Can you appreciate the significance of Jesus revealing Himself as Messiah to a Samaritan woman at a well of water traced to the patriarch Israel?  The good news of the gospel is that God’s plan is redemption. I, as Israel did, sin and fall away from the One and Only God. I am so deficient in loving God with ALL my heart, strength, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37); anything less elevates something other than God into His rightful place and is my sin.

I praise God that He has the pattern of redemption woven into His word in so many different ways. I trust God to work His redemption in my life; to create light out of darkness, to bring joy out of despair, healing out of pain, and to continue to reveal Himself through His word. He is the creator of the universe and all of its wonders and is the Father of my Lord Jesus Christ; in whom I am made to be a new creature, with new things to come. (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:10-12

“Who is Jesus?” John 2:1-12

A Sign: Water into Wine

John 1 took us to existence before creation, to the activity of creation, and to the promises of a coming Messiah.  After this grand scale prologue, John 2 takes place in a decidedly more focused setting.  We are shown Jesus in one of the most intimate of settings as he attends a wedding with his mother and disciples.  This wedding is a family and community event, a joyous celebration of the connections in community, the establishment of a new family.

The narrative is very matter-of-fact.  “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.””(3)  We could speculate as to why Jesus’ mother might have come to him with this particular embarrassment.  Had He performed miracles at home?  Did they run out of milk or bread?  Why would she think Jesus needed to be told that they had no wine?  I really don’t want to speculate.  I do find Mary’s next comment to the servants very interesting, “Whatever He say to you, do it.” (5)

The servants heed her admonition and follow Jesus’ instructions.  Six large stone waterpots, set out for the Jewish custom of purification, are filled with water which is then served as good wine.  John writes that this was the beginning of Jesus’ signs, and by them He “manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” (11)

Have you ever stopped to list, draw, or plan the natural process necessary to produce wine from water?  Let’s start with water provided by rain.  The falling raindrops are caught at one point in the infinite hydrological cycle.  They moisten the earth enough to soften the outer shell of a grape seed hidden in the soil.  The seed begins to do what it was made to do – grow into a green vine.  As it grows, the vine thickens and strengthens, nourished by elements in the soil.  Time passes: more rain falls.  Time passes: grapes grow.  Time passes: harvest arrives.  Time passes: juice ferments.  In the natural process, it could be years before a drop of water becomes a drop of wine.

Who is Jesus?  Jesus is Creator God with power over all of nature.  The natural process of water into wine is compressed into a moment following the command of Jesus and the obedience of the servants.   A super-natural provision for a small village wedding is a sign to point the way to the ultimate wedding feast of the Bride and Lamb of God.  The transformation of the water into wine, compressed into a fraction of a moment, is an assurance of what we hope for in faith.

If we asked the servants at the wedding, “Who is Jesus,” they would say that He was the One who turned water into wine.   As each one answers this question, Mary’s comment to the servants grows in significance –

“Whatever He says to you, do it.”