December - Reading 13

Discussion in 'Bible Reading Plan 2016' started by Clint Kritzer, Dec 13, 2002.

  1. Clint Kritzer

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    Sunday School Lecture 12/7/03

    Jonah 1:1 - 16 & Introduction

    When one mentions Jonah to a fellow Bible enthusiast, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the fish. Most all of us, I'm sure, remember sitting in Sunday School as a child looking at an artist's rendition and hearing about the man who got swallowed by a whale and survived for three days praying and, sadly, that's about the extent of many Christians' knowledge on the subject.

    But Jonah isn't just a fish story. I'm delighted we're taking the opportunity in this course to study a little more in depth the entire Book of Jonah. As is the hallmark of all Scripture, it is a masterfully crafted piece of literature with balance, depth and beauty. Jonah is, however, unique among the Books of the Christian Canon. For centuries Bible students have been asking the same questions about this Book. What type of literature is it? How should we interpret this Book? Who wrote it and when? Is it literal or allegorical? I will not even pretend to presume that I will definitively answer those questions for you in this study, but I certainly hope that I will give you more to chew on than just the fish!

    Had Jonah been written in the modern day, it would be called a short story. The author uses a great many devices to reach his audience. There is only one sermon in the entire Book and that lasts all of one sentence. The main character of the story can almost be considered an anti-hero: reluctant, bitter, and disobedient. There is an element of fascination with the miracles mentioned. But most of all, the author uses the same device that will almost assuredly grab a modern audience - ironic and sarcastic humor.

    Jonah is the Old Testament mission story. The narrative teaches us many lessons in a mere 48 verses. We learn that God is compassionate and concerned about the welfare of man, whether the man is a believer or not. We learn that this same caring God who deals with man on an intimate level is also the God of all Creation.

    We learn that man is finite and is subject to the Will of God. Further, man is capable of receiving stimuli from God and that true repentance can avoid catastrophe. We see that pagan men are capable of moral decisions and that there is a kinship among all mankind, but even for all that, man's values will sometimes stand in contrast to God's.

    We also learn that prophecy is reliant on the future response of man; that God's chosen have a Divine duty towards missions; and that there is power in penitent prayer.

    Authorship & Dating

    Tradition tells us that Jonah himself was the author of this work. Jonah, the son of Amittai, lived during the 8th century BC and prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II who reigned from 786-746. We find the prophet mentioned in 2Kings 14:25. Other support for the notion of Jonah writing the Book that bears his name are that there are details in the account that only Jonah would know and the use of the third person nouns and pronouns is dismissed easily as this was a common style for the time. Further support is assumed from Christ's mentioning of Jonah in Matthew 12:38-42 and the parallel account in Luke 11:29-32.

    Most, though not all, modern scholarship, however, puts Jonah at a later date. It should be noted that discussion of a later date for authorship at this juncture does not negate the possibility of a true, historical accounting. It does however challenge the traditional view that Jonah wrote the story himself. There is much support for this theory of a later date and an anonymous author.

    First of all, it is not mentioned in any other Old Testament Biblical Writings. The language structure is more easily confirmed with other Jewish and even Aramaistic writings of the 4th century BC. Textually, we see Ninevah referred to in the past tense in verse 3:3. Also, as compared to other writings of the Old Testament, Jonah's theology is far more in line with Isaiah and Jeremiah in that the mission of the Jews was to inevitably carry the message of hope to the Gentiles. Jonah's contemporaries would have been Amos and Hosea, neither of whom show the same strong nationalism as the main character of Jonah. The prayer of chapter 2 also supports the later dating as it reflects so closely other psalms of the era.

    Those who accept the later dating of the Book place it's writing at 450-400BC, probably closer to 400. For the purposes of the three lessons on Jonah, we will be exploring the possibility of the later dating and the possible motivation of the author as assumed by that dating. Again I will stress that this does not negate the historical aspect of the Book, but it will give us a possible view of the motivation of the writer. We will also be dealing with the story as an accurate, historical account. There was never any question by the Jews or Christians that Jonah had a place in the Biblical Canon. Had there not been an acceptance of the historical value of the Book, it most certainly would have been excluded.

    Purpose

    The overall purpose of Jonah is to demonstrate God’s sovereignty and compassion. Assuming the later, 5th century BC dating of the Book, there was also a secondary message of the Book. When the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria, and later Israel fell to the Babylonians, an already present rift between the Jews and their Gentile neighbors grew. The Jewish leaders began to turn further and further towards the Law as an instrument of exclusiveness for their sect. This was the era that birthed the Saducees and later the Pharisees.

    However, this view of self-centered particularism was not shared by all the Jews and was spoken against by some of the prophets. The Chronicler made it clear that the exile had occurred because Israel had failed in her mission and that the return and restoration was a second chance at awakening for a nation of priests (Exodus 19:5-6).

    Jonah’s character personified the arrogant hatred of outsiders exemplified by the Jewish nationalists. The author chose a known prophet of the pre-exilic era to demonstrate his point. Here was a champion from the past who would suffer failure by ignoring the call of God to reach out to the world with the saving message of repentance intended for all nations through Abraham. In this way, the Book of Jonah approaches the comprehensive plan of Christianity and demonstrates the attitude of the Great Commission.

    Commentary on Text

    The Rebellious Prophet


    (Read ESV text 1-3) The story begins with the word “now” as though this is part of a continuing cycle of stories. With this beginning, the author is preparing his audience for a much larger interpretation than just the story itself. “The word of the Lord” is a common phrase in Old Testament literature. It may refer to spoken word or to the “sum of that which is spoken.” As Jonah was a prophet, the “word” could have been extracted from deeds or events. Indeed, we know that Christ was the “Word become flesh” as the Gospel of John concedes that the prophets of old likely knew God’s Will through a revelation other than spoken word. The important aspect of the word, however, is that it was divine and it reached its intended target.

    That target was Jonah, whose name means “dove”. The dove became a symbol for Israel in her mission in subsequent years. Jonah was the son of Amittai, which means “truth”. We know nothing more about Amattai. Outside of this Book, the single verse of 2Kings 14:25 and the reference made by Christ, we know nothing more of Jonah, either.

    Once commissioned by receiving the word, Jonah is given his mission. The prophet is given the two imperatives to “arise” and “go” to Ninevah. Ninevah was an Assyrian metropolis first mentioned in Genesis 10:11 where we learn that Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, great grandson of Noah, and the architect of Babel, had built the city. Jonah was to arise, go, and “cry” against the city, meaning he was to declare or recite God’s message to them.

    Ninevah had never been well liked by the Jews and to go to this city while the other prophets stayed in Israel and Judah was not well received by Jonah. Therefore, by verse 3, Jonah is already trying to escape his commission. Instead of traveling 500 miles east to Ninevah, Jonah takes a boat from Joppa in an attempt to reach Tarshish, 1800 miles west. Ninevah and Tarshish probably represented the two extremes of the known world to Jonah. We are told that he did this to “escape the presence of the Lord,” however, the reader must surmise why Jonah would even attempt to do so.

    Perhaps Jonah was afraid of possible physical dangers in the streets of Ninevah or on the long journey there? We gather from the story in its entirety that Jonah did not lack courage as we shall see in verse 1:9-12. Perhaps Jonah thought that God was a local entity? This, too, is highly unlikely as Amos was already proclaiming the universality of God’s presence. Obviously, Jonah was fleeing because he did not want to see the Ninevites repent. Though Jonah recognized that it was God’s Will that the Assyrian city receive this Divine message, Jonah was not willing to be the instrument which imparted it! To escape his purpose, he went down to Joppa, which is modern day Jaffa, and “paid the fare.” The Mesoteric text of this Book reads that he paid “her” fare causing some interpreters to surmise that Jonah was a very wealthy man. The Septuagint reads “paid his fare” which seems a far more plausible reading.

    Jonah’s Chastisement

    The Storm

    (Read ESV text 4-6) We see here a Divine counter move to Jonah's rebellion and a series of consequential actions takes place. As the sailors would have been reliant on the wind to move them westward toward Tarshish, the Lord hurled a great wind to stall the rebellious prophet.

    The mariners would not have likely been as frightened by a regular storm at sea so we see that this was an unnatural storm. The word "tempest" in the Hebrew is onomatopoetic hinting at the sound of the wind through the riggings. That the men cried to their gods shows that they were polytheistic, possibly Phoenecian. They couple with their useless prayers the action of throwing wares overboard in order to lighten the ship.

    Jonah, on the other hand, had gone below. This puts our hero in stark contrast and in a less favorable light than his pagan shipmates. The context of the text suggests that Jonah had gone below before the storm began and the sleep was very heavy. The Hebrew, radam (raw-dam'), actually translates as "stunned" or "stupefied". This suggests that the rebellion of Jonah had taken an emotional and physical toll or it may merely suggest the presence of God.

    The ship's captain upon finding Jonah gives the exact same command to Jonah as God had at the beginning of the narrative: arise and call. This time the call is to go to God rather than to the Ninevites but that a pagan is telling Jonah this phrase in such close proximity to the first command is not accidental. The image pushes forward the absurdity of the concept of pagan polytheism yet at the same time dramatically illustrates the message that all men are groping for deliverance as offered by the true God, even when they are in the darkness of ignorance. In this example, the enlightened man who knows God is in slumber while the heathen desperately and feverishly works for deliverance. The ironic humor comes into play in that the heathen sailor is pleading with a Hebrew prophet to pray!

    We do not know if Jonah responded with prayer. For this narrative the detail is irrelevant. What matters is that he follows the captain to the upper deck in order that the next sequence of events can transpire.

    The Trial

    (Read ESV text 1:7-9) The sailors seemed to know that the unnatural storm was a result from the displeasure of a god and that this displeasure must have been directed at an individual on their ship. To determine the culprit, they turned to casting lots. Lots were probably stones or sticks of various colors one of which would indicate an affirmative and another a negative. The sailors casted lots (plural) and it (singular) fell upon Jonah. Lots were used for determining many situations in ancient Israel and her pagan neighbors (cf. Ezekiel 21:21; Proverbs 18:18; Numbers 26:55-56; Joshua 7:14; 1Samuel 10:20-21; Acts 1:26).

    Rather than blindly accepting the trial by lots, the mariners begin a trial by questioning. This shows a desire on the part of the heathen to recognize a noble, judicial process. They were giving Jonah the chance to defend himself. This was far more than Jonah was willing to give the Ninevites. The sailors pose 5 questions asked with caution and tact:
    1. On whose account is this trouble upon us?
    2. What is your business? (as in "Why are you here and not at your vocation?)
    3. From where have you come? (This stranger's home may have been under a curse.)
    4. What is your country?
    5. What is your nationality?

    Jonah answers the fifth question first in saying, "I am a Hebrew." Hebrew was the term by which the Israelites were known to foreigners. This was not the name that The Israelites preferred but was the name that would place his nationality. He follows this statement with, "and I fear the Lord." The term Lord used here is Yahweh, the same term used by the Burning Bush to identify itself to Moses. Most disturbing to the sailors, however, would be that this God was the God of the dry land and the sea.

    The Sentence

    (Read ESV text 10-14) The men, frail and at the mercy of the elements, now say to Jonah, "What is this that you have done!" It is not an interrogative. To disobey the Creator of the land and sea was to them unthinkable. In verse 10 we must assume that Jonah had answered some questions upon boarding the ship as the mariners knew that he was fleeing. Now, however, between the storm, the lots, and Jonah's confession they knew that they were in great peril. The storm continued to worsen and in desperation they ask the prophet, "What shall we do to you so that the sea may quiet down for us?" In one of his nobler moments Jonah tells them to throw him overboard. This shows that he must have been concerned for the lives of these innocent men. However, rather than telling them to make for port back in Joppa so that he could turn from his rebellion, he instead would rather sacrifice himself to the sea than face the Ninevites and fulfill his commission.

    Instead, the men initially rowed harder to try to make shore. Again we see the nobility of the heathen in that these men were reluctant to kill this stranger, even though he was the cause of their danger. Finally, in desperation they plead with the Lord that they remain innocent of Jonah's death. They plead with God to recognize that the coming action was not willful murder. Their prayer ends with an acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of Yahweh. The sailors were willing to imperil themselves with their very lives while Jonah did not care about the fate of an entire city.


    Punishment

    (Read ESV text 15-16) In these verses the tone of the story changes. Jonah is cast into the sea and the storm ceases. The pagan sailors recognize Yahweh as Sovereign with full power over men and nature. There in that saved ship, the heathens respond with faith and begin to worship God. Jonah had carried the message to this particular group of pagans despite himself.

    The message of the first part of the narrative is clear: the pagan is capable prayer, fear of the Lord, and true worship. The exact nature of the sacrifices and the vows is not specified. They are not important to the story nor to the men who performed them.

    The converted mariners having fulfilled their role, disappear from the story.

    [ December 13, 2003, 09:27 AM: Message edited by: Clint Kritzer ]
     
  3. Clint Kritzer

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    Sunday School Lecture 12/14/03

    Jonah 1:17 - 3:10

    Our narrative left off last week with the conversion of the heathen sailors after Jonah was cast overboard. This week our study partially includes some of the most well known as well as the most controversial verses in the Scriptures as a whole: what happened to Jonah once he was in the water.

    As we have much to cover today, we shall dive in ourselves with no further introduction.

    Jonah's Reprieve

    (Read ESV text 1:17; 2:1, 10) We find the word "appointed" four times in the Book of Jonah. Each time, Yahweh is the one who appoints. In each instance, an entity already existing in nature fulfills a task from God. The fish was not created specifically for the purpose of swallowing Jonah but is rather selected to implement God's Will. The Septuagint translates the term "great fish" as "huge fish" or "whale" which is the rendering we see Christ give the Passage in Matthew 12:40. By either translation we see a great sea monster appointed by God as the agent that would deliver Jonah back to the dry land, saving him from a death at sea.

    While the modern critic has many problems with this verse, it presented no problem of faith to the ancient Hebrew audience. This was in fact a minor detail in the story. Unfortunately, the modern audience seems to have a great deal of difficulty with it. As a people of faith, however, we accept that the survival of Jonah for three days and nights as a miracle (the swallowing in itself is not miraculous). It is only one of four miracles in the narrative. The storm spoken of in chapter one is first, the plant and the events of its existence is the last. Christ, however, seemed to view the repentance of the Ninevites as the greatest as we see in Luke 11:32.

    There are many devout Christians who view Jonah as merely a folk tale comparable to other literature of the time. To them, the fish was the fastest vehicle through which Jonah could return to the path of the narrative. Some see the account of Jonah and the fish as a predictive prophecy pointing to Christ's time of death before the Resurrection. Some go to even more extreme limits and say that Jonah typifies a Messianic figure, dying for sins not his own before being resurrected in verse 10.

    Yet there is an even more significant possibility when we consider the 4th century BC dating of the writing of Jonah. It was not the purpose of the author to define what specific type of creature the fish was, nor was it necessary that he stay within modern scientific critiques. If we view 8th century BC Jonah, "the dove," to represent Israel, the account of the fish follows remarkably close to one of Jeremiah's prophecies.

    We see in Chapter 51 of Jeremiah:

    Just as Israel had been swallowed by the Babylonian Empire, so too had Jonah been swallowed by the fish. Just as the fish had been appointed to bring about God's Will on the prophet, so too had Nebuchadnezzar been appointed to remove God's chosen for the time of the exile. When Jonah repents and prays in verse 2:1, God once again speaks to the fish and Jonah is delivered in verse 10.

    The Prayer of Thanksgiving

    Most scholars agree that the prayer given by Jonah in verses 2-9 should follow verse 10. The explanation offered is that an unnamed transcriber in the past felt that since a prayer was called for in verse 1, this psalm of Jonah was placed there. It is obvious from the context, however, that Jonah has found his deliverance as he utters the prayer. Therefore it is not a logical assumption that these verses would not have been uttered from the watery darkness of the fish's belly.

    This psalm also reflects closely other psalms from the Jewish cultus of that time, cf. Psalm 31. Some have suggested that the psalm was injected after the completion of the Book but most reject this theory as it fits well into the symmetry of the Book as a whole. However, consider that Jonah does not mention the fish in this prayer. Some literalists have suggested that the prophet being suddenly awoken from his slumber, cast into a dark stormy sea and beginning to drown did not realize where he was. This does not fit well, however, as Jonah is very aware of his deliverance as it is a major theme of each stanza.

    The Distress and the Deliverance

    (Read ESV text 2:2-4) The theme of the poem is presented in the first two lines: distress and deliverance. A past peril is repeated in verses 2:4,5, and 7 and in each instance deliverance is recognized as past tense. The noun "distress" is a derivative of the verb to bind or constrict. While this very well describes Jonah's present predicament, it also aptly describes the situation experienced by Israel during the exile.

    Sheol is a term often found in Old Testament writings. It translates often as "the grave" but this translation lacks the depth of the concept. It is more specifically the abode of the dead. For the ancient Jews, death was not conceived of as separate from life but was rather the weakest form of life. The dead continued to exist in a vague, shadowy manner. While the KJV in this instance translates the word as "hell," this is a bit inaccurate for Christian theology. Sheol is not a place of punishment but a place of uncertainty. It was the nether world.

    In verse 3, the author is expressing a feeling of abandonment by God. That God had cast him into the deep and into the heart of the sea shows the depth of his distress. The flood is usually in reference to a river that never fails and is sometimes used to indicate the primeval ocean. Verse 4 increases the emotional intensity that not only was he cast into the deep, but also completely out of God's presence.

    The stanza however ends with the optimistic statement "Yet I can look again at thy Holy Temple." Some versions such as the RSV and the NLT feel that the optimism is premature and thus translate the participle "yet" (`ak) as "how" (`ik). This is not necessary, however, as the psalmist has already expressed in verse 2 that God has answered him.

    The temple was considered the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament. In Daniel 6:10 we learn that the Jew would face the direction of the temple for prayer and it would be to the temple to which the prayer would go. That it was "holy" shows that it had been set apart by God.

    The Need and Deliverance

    (Read ESV text 2:5-7) The second stanza returns to the original theme of the deep distress of verses 2-4a and expounds upon the emotions of the author. As the waters closed in about him he felt that he was about to transfer his existence from the vibrant life he knew to the weakened condition of Sheol. The tragedy becomes even surer as the weeds wrap about his head at the roots of the mountains. Again, this does not seem to be the situation Jonah faced from within the fish. Instead this seems to be a description of drowning and can once again be seen as a metaphor to the condition of Israel in the exile.

    The "land whose bars closed upon me forever" is death. Sinking into the primeval ocean and going to Sheol fits well in Hebrew cosmology as they envisioned the physical location of such below a subterranean ocean. The bars represent the beams that would lock a city gate. However, from the very gates of death, God intervened and saved the author. The Pit is synonymous with Sheol. It was only when the psalmist remembered Yahweh at the last possible moment that his deliverance was brought forth.

    The Praise for Deliverance

    (Read ESV text 2:8-9) The term "vain idols" is a repitition. "Vain" means insubstantial as it is translated in Jeremiah 10:14 and "idols" means an emptiness of conduct or worthlessness. In idolatry, the worshipper forsakes his true loyalty. To pay regard to idols is to abandon ones true source of hope: God. The psalmist has learned a lesson that to forsake God was foolishness and now he has made the wise choice of remaining loyal. He will offer a voice of thanksgiving, a sacrifice and most importantly he will pay what he has vowed. A vow is a voluntary pledge or promise. In the context of the story of Jonah, obedience to God is the pledge. In the context of post-exilic Israel, the same is true. The psalm ends with a creed and a summary. Truly, God alone can save and deliver.

    The Obedient Prophet

    (Read ESV text 3:1-4) The commission is renewed in verse 3:1 but it is modified slightly. God now tells Jonah not to "cry against" Ninevah, but rather to "proclaim to it." There is little difference in the prepositions "to" and "against" in this usage. Certainly Jonah did not regain the office of prophet through his own merit but rather through the patience of God. We will see in chapter 4 that the prophet was still begrudging the task. However, he had learned the hard way that he could not escape this commission. Even though he did not theologically accept God's reasoning for wishing him to prophesy in Ninievah, he knew he must obey.

    In verse 3 we see a change in the action. The description of Ninevah being past tense lends credibility to the 8th century authoring of the Book though critics say that it is merely Jonah recalling his experience there. While there is little confirming histories, the writings of Diodorus Siculus say Ninevah was destroyed in the late 6th century after a three year siege. While the invaders made little headway militarily, the river flooded and carried away a portion of its walls making it vulnerable. This event is prophesied in Nahum 1:8 and 2:6.

    That Nineveh was a "great city, three days journey in breadth" has caused some stir among scholars. The actual ruins show the city walls to be about 8 miles in circumference. It is possible that the author meant the entire metropolitan area of Ninevah including some lesser nearby cities. It has also been conjectured that the maze of streets within the city would require three days to thoroughly travel.

    Once again, however, we must not burden ourselves with these trivialities. What is important is that Jonah went into the city and gave the message of God's word to the people, not to the court. It was the people who eventually carried the word to the court. The message once again is clear: even for the pagan, repentance comes from the proclamation of God's Word.

    Jonah moves through the city a day's journey and proclaims his one sentence sermon, "Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" He now disappears from the narrative for the remainder of the chapter as the message is carried by its own momentum. The message is short, terse and without hope.

    The Response of the People

    (Read ESV text 3:5) Just as the heathen sailors of chapter 1 believed and responded with faith, so too did the people of Nineveh. While there is no evidence that his repentance lasted, at that time they showed their fear of the Lord by fasting and wearing sackcloth. These outward signs demonstrated an inner penitence and were displayed by the by every member of their society.

    The Response of the King

    (Read ESV text 3:6-9) The word given to the rebellious prophet reached the people and then in turn reached the king. The term king has raised much conjecture among scholars as well. Nineveh was not the capitol of Assyria during Jonah's lifetime. It is more likely that he was a prince or perhaps a governor. Nonetheless he was some type of honored official. In response to the people's concern and his own fledgling faith, the king arose from his throne and removed his robe and sat in ashes dressed in sackcloth. The contrast is obvious and shows the humility of the convert.

    A note should be made here about the use of sackcloth in mourning. Sackcloth was coarse, cheap material that was very abundant. We first see it used in Genesis 37:34 when Jacob hears the false report of Joseph being devoured by animals. We see it used many times throughout the Old Testament as an outward sign for mourning, repentance and mortification. This account in Jonah, however, is the only Biblical account of the animals also being adorned in it, though the apocryphal book of Judith also speaks of animals being involved in mourning in verses 4:9-10.

    The king's decree made official the mourning process already in progress. Now even those who did not fear the Lord would also be included in the display of penitence and the entire city would show a unified front. If the people did not "turn from their evil ways" the process would be moot. The king recognized that there were moral demands being made by God. "Evil way" is an expression that generally describes wickedness while violence is specifically a ruthless physical wickedness. That he tells the people to "turn" has high theological significance. The emotion of fear is not enough. The people had to "about face" and change their lifestyle. Repentance requires a change of attitude.

    The Response of God

    (Read ESV text 3:10) God saw the repentance of the Ninevites in their actions and was relieved of having to punish them. This was not a change on the part of God for he had obtained His redemptive purpose. This demonstrated God's compassion not only to Nineveh, but also to Israel. Here we see the concern and compassion God has for all mankind if they will only obey Him.

    We also learn here that prophecy is conditional. The fulfillment of prophetic events depends upon the attitude and actions of man.
     
  4. Clint Kritzer

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    Sunday School lecture 12/28/03

    Jonah 4

    Our last lesson in Jonah ended with the repentance of the Ninevites upon hearing Jonah's prophecy of doom. Jonah had disappeared from our story for the last six verses as the people from the lowliest peasant to the king himself donned sackcloth and repented.

    This week, we rejoin the bitter prophet and conclude our story.

    Jonah 4:1-4 The Resentful Prophet

    The actions of the Ninevites greatly displeased Jonah. He did not have to wait the full forty days to know that God in His compassion would spare the city. Because of this turn of events, Jonah became angry.

    Jonah may have felt that his reputation as a prophet was at stake but more than this, he really did not want to see Ninevah spared. Remember, this was an Assyrian city built by Nimrod. There were both past and present reasons for a Jew to hate this place. Jonah voices his protests in the form of a prayer. He begins by saying, "Is this not what I said when I was yet in my country?" The modern man would voice this as, "Didn't I tell you?" Jonah confirms the readers suspicions in chapter one by admitting that he did not want to see the salvation of Ninevah.

    Jonah knew the character of God. In Exodus 34:6 we see God described as "merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." This thought is echoed in Psalm 86:5, 15 and Joel 2:13. God's anger does not necessarily come forth at the first acts of sin. In 2Peter 3:9 we learn that He remains patient with mankind waiting for all to have the opportunity to come to repentance.

    Jonah is so angry and bitter that he even asks God to take his life. We see other servants of God making this appeal as well. In Numbers 11:10-15 Moses makes a similar request when the burdens of the people were heavy upon him. Elijah also makes the same request in 1Kings 19:4 as he was fleeing Jezebel after the victory over the prophets of Baal. The difference between Jonah and Elijah as noted by G. A. Smith in the 1896 Expositor's Bible is that "while Elijah is jealous for Yahweh, Jonah is jealous of Him."

    The Lord then replies Jonah with a simple question designed to cause introspection: Do you do well to be angry? The question did not require or necessitate an immediate answer but God wished for Jonah to ponder his justification for being angry.

    Jonah 4:5 The Prophet awaits the Destruction

    We are not told exactly at what point Jonah left the city but it was before the forty-day deadline has expired. Jonah still had hope that the city of Nineveh would be destroyed and so he makes himself a booth, a crude temporary shelter usually fashioned with broad leaves, for shade and waits on a hilltop east of Nineveh. We have here a rather comical image of the bitter man looming like a vulture over the city awaiting destruction. We can conjecture, however, that this too may have had an opposite effect on the inhabitants as his presence reminded them of the prophecy.

    Jonah 4:6-8 The Preparation of the Rebuke

    As time went by the leaves which Jonah had used to make his booth withered and the shelter no longer offered any shade. God then used that opportunity to prepare an object lesson for the bitter prophet. He appointed a plant that grew up overnight. The plant offered shade and a diversion for Jonah. It must have seemed to him that suddenly God's favor was shining on him once again.

    We do not know exactly what kind of plant this was. The Septuagint translates the word as "bottle gourd" and this is likely what the Textus Receptus interpreters used as their source. The Hebrew text is more vague with the use of the word qiqayon, which many scholars speculate to be the castor oil plant. The ambiguity of the indentity of the plant has caused much controversy over the years even as far back as the 5th century when Jerome chose the translation "ivy" for the Latin Vulgate over Augustine's accepted tranlation of "gourd."

    However, once again the author's purpose is not served by his botanical descriptions. What is important is that God accelerated the course of nature to teach Jonah a lesson.. The plant and the shade it offered were "to save Jonah from his discomfort (Hebrew: ra` rah; KJV - grief)" or more specifically translated, "his evil." The author is now driving towards his main point and he is illustrating that God enters history to not only save but also deliver his people from evil. Jonah seems to forget his displeasure over the unfulfilled wishes of his personal agenda against Nineveh, and instead becomes exceedingly glad over the shade offered by the plant and probably fascinated by the plant itself.

    Once again, though, God appoints another of his creatures, a lowly worm, to destroy the miraculous plant in a single night. Then a sultry east wind blew across the desert to make Jonah miss the shelter even more. Residents of that part of the world call the east wind a sirocco. It is an exceedingly hot wind that causes the temperature to rise sharply and the humidity to lower. It is said that it feels like all the moisture has been removed from the air.

    The sun, the sirocco, and the lack of shelter cause the prophet to fall into deep despair and again the prophet calls out for the release of death.

    Jonah 4:9-11 The Rebuke Applied

    God now begins to show Jonah the absurdity of his attitude. Again he is asked if he does well to be angry but this time it is not concerning Ninevah, but a plant that came into being overnight and perished in a night. Jonah replies that he is angry, angry enough to die. He has now prepared the way for God's unanswerable argument: Jonah was mad that a city was spared but also angry that a plant was not! Jonah pitied a plant that he had no hand in creating. God pitied Nineveh filled with his own creations. Jonah was concerned over a plant that related to his own selfish person while God was concerned about a metropolis that was moved to serve Him.

    Was it not logical that if a man should trouble himself over a plant, a creation with no soul, that God should concern Himself with a city of 120,000?

    The figure of 120,00 is another minor point that has unfortunately set scholars into debate. What does matter to the narrative, however, is that these people did not have proper discernment. It was Israel's duty to bring about the revelation of God to the rest of the world. They had not done so. Instead they had wrapped themselves into their own nationalism and secluded themselves from being the light to the Gentiles that Isaiah said they would be.

    The narrative ends abruptly with God's final question unanswered. There is no need to continue, as it is the reader's duty to answer the question. Any religion that narrows God's universal love to sectarianism is doomed to failure. God's grace and mercy are for all and it is the duty of His servants to carry that message to the rest of the world.

    Jonah wished to save some; God wished to save all. God's outlook was universal; Jonah's perspective was particular. Jonah's will had stayed in conflict with God's. In this conflict Jonah failed.

    Jonah is the willful, stubborn patriot with little regard for the task of the prophet. He loves God but hates the duty God gives him. He views God as making a mistake in saving Nineveh, yet he would throw himself off of a ship into a raging sea to save innocent sailors. He was a great preacher, but he did not love those to whom he preached.

    Parable, allegory or history; 8th century or 4th century BC writing; Jonah stands as a timeless example to the Modern Christian about our attitudes towards our mission duties. We do not select to whom our prophecy should go. God has selected them for us in Matthew 28:19: ALL nations.
     
  5. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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