Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Introduction to Jonah

If you are at all like me, the first thought that comes to your mind when you hear the name Jonah is "and the whale" or "and the big fish." It's one of those Bible stories that kids learn at the earliest of ages because it's an adventure story with amazing moments and a miraculous save. Unfortunately, it hardly does justice to the Book of Jonah, since the fish story only comprises a few verses in chapters 1 and 2! (I will say, though, that the VeggieTales' folks did an excellent job in getting to the meat of this book in their "Jonah" movie.)

Let's remember that Jonah was a prophet. God assigned him to the 10 tribes of northern Israel back in 784 B.C., about a dozen years after Joel's time of prophecy to the southern kingdom. Isn't it interesting, though, that Jonah was assigned this huge region of folks to reach, yet what we remember Jonah for--because it's the focus of the Book of Jonah--is his ministry to the city of Ninevah.

My study Bible notes that this stance was also held by the Pharisees in Jesus' day.

"The Pharisees were wrong when they said 'no prophet arises out of Galilee' (John 7:52) because Jonah was a Galilean."

Jesus, however, would talk about Jonah's ministry to the Ninevites in His trying to reach the Pharisees with the truth. Of course, they didn't listen, but we should take heed to the points Jesus was making (and we will look at His words as we get deeper into Jonah).

So, who was Jonah? We know his name means "dove" and he was the son of Amittai, whose name means "truthful and loyal." Jewish tradition--not proven nor mentioned in the Bible--says that Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath whom Elijah raised from the dead (Great story in I Kings 17: 8-24). This all sounds like marvelous qualities for a prophet! We will learn, almost immediately, however, that Jonah does not live up to his name.

Jonah lived in Gath-hepher, a town near Nazareth, and served during King Jeroboam II's reign. The times in the northern kingdom were good and prosperous, unless one looked at the nation's spiritual health. Rituals and idol-worship were the course of the day in Israel and the perversion of justice was the norm. The time was ripe for a prophet to speak the truth. But, again, remember that the story preserved in God's Word about Jonah's ministry is his time in Ninevah.

A little background on Ninevah: it was the capital of Assyria and one of the largest cities in the ancient world. It was founded by Nimrod, who was a great-grandson of Noah. Assyria was a constant source of friction with Israel, and God would use this friction to, eventually, cause Israel to fall to the Assyrians in 722 B.C. as punishment for the tribes' lack of faithfulness. But, this did not mean that Assyria would triumph forever. Indeed, Ninevah would be destroyed 150 years after it had repented of its ways (through Jonah's work).

As you can imagine, this will be another great adventure through a book that seems on the surface very familiar and simple. The short-and long-term ramifications of God's plan will be known. And the story of Ninevah, begun with Jonah, would continue through Christ. That definitely has me charged up for an excellent summer study!

My study Bible sums up the book in this way:

"Jonah is a picture of Israel, who was chosen and commissioned by God to be His witness, who rebelled against His will, but who has been miraculously preserved by God through centuries of exile and dispersion to finally preach His truth."

Next week, Jonah's disobedience.... 'Til next Wednesday!


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Next week: Jonah 1:1-3

Note: I read from the New American Standard Bible translation,
specifically, The MacArthur Study Bible (NASB).
I will quote other sources if used in a post.

I also use
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible
(with notes from the King James Version).


Kelly Combs said...

Sounds great. Can't wait.

Carmen said...

Awesome! I love it when the Scriptures come alive through the study of it!!