Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jonah 1:10-12

10Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, "How could you do this?" For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

11So they said to him, "What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?"--for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.

12He said to them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you."

Jonah's revelation of his calling to the sailors was most likely much more detailed than what we actually read in the book of Jonah last week. As we open this week's passage, the sailors are "extremely frightened." They have gained enough of an understanding that Jonah has made the one true God angry, and no one wants to be in the hands of an angry God.

"But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath."
--Jeremiah 10:10

The question in verse 10 as written in the New American Standard Bible is "How could you do this?" Other translations use "What have you done...?" [NIV] or "Why hast thou done this?" [KJV]. These quick-study sailors question Jonah in disbelief over his actions, which is what we have been doing since we started Chapter 1. Interesting that there was not an answer offered at this point, or, at least, no answer revealed. Even though Jonah has just spoken boldly of his service to God, when faced with his decision to flee, he is left speechless--certainly out of guilt and, at this point, probably out of utter embarrassment and shame.

Once again, the silence is what is getting the best of Jonah. Perhaps he truly thought what wasn't said wasn't heard by anyone, even by God. Woe to him (and us) when we misunderstand that our God looks past our actions to see the motivations of our hearts.

"What appears to us harmless, or, at least, but a small offence, may be a great sin in the eye of God, who discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart. Even ungodly men can discern evil tempers and wrong conduct in believers, of which they themselves often remain unconscious. But God seldom allows those whom he loves the pleasures they sinfully covet."
--InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentaries

The sailors have completely discovered the "wrong conduct" in Jonah and continue their conversation with haste, as the storm is not abating. Where there had been different word choices for their question, their next statement is clear across all translations: "What should we do to you?..." What do I find most significant about this? "Do to you...." I guess there was no motion made to consider a prayer on behalf of all. The lot had been cast, and God pointed to Jonah. I wonder what options the sailors were considering. God was already angry. What would happen if they made the wrong choice with the man of God's choosing, runaway shirker though he be?!

This time, it is Jonah who doesn't hesitate in his response. This would seem a heroic sacrifice, given the urgency of the situation. Jonah recognized the plight of the innocent sailors and did not wish God to strike them down. But, in the light of how this whole situation developed--through Jonah's choice to not follow through on his calling to Ninevah--this seems yet another feeble choice on his part. He would die a hero to a few Gentile sailors while forever avoiding stepping foot into Ninevah. [Nevermind the lost opportunity to bring the Word of God to thousands of Gentiles there!]

As the lot had been cast, it would seem the next step had been cast as well. Or, had it?.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 1:13-17

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).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jonah 1:7-9

7Each man said to his mate, "Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us." So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.

8Then they said to him, "Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?"

9He said to them, "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land."

Desperation. We open our passage in Jonah this week with the sailors' last-ditch efforts to save themselves. Even if they didn't agree on which "god" was controlling the storm, they reasoned that knowing the cause of the storm, which appeared to emanate from the ship, could help them avert the storm. How would they determine the cause? Through casting lots.

Casting lots was an ancient form of decision-making. So common was its use, however, that Jonah is not the only book of the Bible that makes mention of it. Joshua and Saul used this system in finding the one who had sinned against God over a particular circumstance. The soldiers cast lots to determine who would take Jesus' garments at His crucifixion. The disciples cast lots to decide who would replace Judas Iscariot as the "12th disciple." There were different forms of casting lots. The Hebrew meaning of 'lot' is "to be rough (as a pebble or small stone)." [Strong's] We might think of it as drawing the short straw.

Regardless of method, what was understood in the process is that God (or a "god") would determine the outcome of the lot.

"The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD."
--Proverbs 16:33

In Jonah, God, indeed, intervened in the casting, and "the lot fell on Jonah." (vs 7)

At this point, all attention is turned to the fleeing Israelite, and Jonah is hit was a barrage of questions. I must say that I'm having trouble visualizing this passage, as the storm is still raging on! It's as if the rocking boat has become a courtroom of sorts, and Jonah is facing quick due process and "extradition."

In response, Jonah says "I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord God of heaven...." This would seem to be a turning point for Jonah in owning up to who he is. He says he is a Hebrew, and uses a term that would be meaningful to Gentiles. Strong's says the word Hebrew in this context means "Eberite...a descendant of Eber." Eber is the great-grandson of Shem, who is the oldest of Noah's sons. [Remember that interesting note from our introduction? A great-grandson of Noah is Nimrod, who founded Ninevah! All in the family....]

"The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land."
--Psalm 95:5 (drawing from Genesis 1: 9&10,
when God created and named the land and the sea)

Continuing on as the prophet of God, Jonah says that he serves "the Lord God of heaven," which is also significantly important phrasing. My study Bible elaborates on this beautifully:

"This title, in use from earliest times, may have been specifically chosen by Jonah to express the sovereignty of the Lord in contrast to Baal, who was a sky god. Spoken to sailors who were most likely from Phoenicia, the center of Baal worship, the title bears significant weight, especially when coupled with the phrase 'who made the sea and the dry land.' This was the appropriate identification when introducing the true and living God to pagans who didn't have Scripture, but whose reason led them to recognize the fact that there had to be a Creator."

Jonah would seem to be getting his prophet's sea legs back.

Again, although I know this is a book about a prophecy, I have to marvel at how God put this book together, through a third-person narrative of one struggling with his call in life. Studying Jonah's choices over these few verses has revealed much. This last point about how to be a minister of the Word is also something upon which to meditate. There is much to consider here.

Next week, Jonah hurls a solution.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 1:10-12

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).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jonah 1:4-6

4The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up.

5Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.

6So the captain approached him and said, "How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish."

Last week left us pondering if Jonah would outrun the Lord, as the prophet made a decision to flee from the assignment God had given him. Not surprising, God had a plan in mind, and He would expect Jonah to fulfill the role given to him--even if it meant some creative maneuvering on the Lord's part!

Rather than speak directly to Jonah or physically stop his pursuit of the sea, God allows Jonah to board a ship for Tarshish. But the weather forecast is not going to make for smooth sailing. We see, in verse 4, that God "hurled a great wind." In the Hebrew, 'hurled' carries the connotation of something being cast down or reeling, as if an unwinding, unfurling spool of line. This was not a run-of-the-mill wind. Indeed, the verse ends with the development of a great storm, powerful enough to break the ship into pieces.

Veteran sailors know how to handle themselves on the water. But, this storm would seem to have brought out the rawest of feelings in these men and prompted the direst of actions.

"Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters;
They have seen the works of the LORD, and His wonders in the deep.
For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery.
They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses."
--Psalm 107: 23-28

A cross-reference for verse 5, this portion of Psalm 107 gets to the heart of the sailors' response. My study Bible has a note on verse 27 that 'wits' end' means "all their wisdom was swallowed up." [Foreshadowing, if I do say so myself.] In light of their situation, they cry out to their gods (and hear nothing, no surprise) and throw the ship's cargo overboard to try and save the ship. I found it interesting that the Hebrew wording for throwing the cargo is the same expression as God hurling forth the great wind. The sailors' response is clearly one of confusion and desperation--a last-ditch effort to save themselves.

Take a moment, here, and consider what this verse is saying. What happens when our "ships" seem to be breaking apart? Do we call on God to save us, acting out of faith, recognizing His mighty power, or do we cry out to everything but God to pull us through, panicking and stressing as we look to jettison anything that might be inhibiting the progress toward our goals?

"Oh that men would be thus wise for their souls, and would be willing to part with that wealth, pleasure, and honour, which they cannot keep without making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, and ruining their souls for ever!"
--Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

At this time, we find Jonah not on the deck of the ship, throwing cargo overboard, but in the recesses of the ship, continuing his efforts to hide out. As if Jesus in the storm on the disciples' boat, Jonah manages to lie down and fall asleep in the midst of all the calamity. The captain finds Jonah, asking him how he can sleep. (The King James says, "What meanest thou, O sleeper?") All hands are on deck. All hands are praying, albeit to unknown gods. And here is Jonah, shirking.

God would certainly not allow this moment to be lost on His servant. God had every intention of having him discovered, and by the one in earthly charge of the boat, no less. The shipmaster would surely have spoken in terms of the immediate situation at hand, desperately hoping for a way out of the trouble. But is God not providing a word for all to hear, and most certainly Jonah?

"Arise, call upon thy God...." (vs. 6, KJV)

God knows exactly where Jonah is and what Jonah is trying to do. But just as He calls Jonah in verse 2 to arise and go to Ninevah, He tells Jonah, again, to arise. "Get up! Call on me! Be a witness of Who I am to this crew, to my people!" It's not just a matter of physically getting up, but of standing up for the Lord, fulfilling what God has called one to be and to do.

Even the shipmaster seemed to have the understanding that some power could be called upon to save them in this storm. It was just a matter of finding the right one. And, perhaps, that one would have the concern, the compassion, the mercy to save them.

Next week, does Jonah arise?.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 1:7-9

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).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah's Disobedience
1The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,

2"Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me."

3But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

We would expect a book of prophecy to contain words like "The word of the LORD came to...." Just a reminder about prophets; they are forthtellers, not forecasters. A prophet waits for a word from God before proceeding with a mission. To act in any other way would be disobedient.

God's Word is issued forth with a command to His servant, Jonah: "Arise, go to Ninevah...." (vs. 2)

Love the map above, because it truly helps us to see the action in this story. Remember that Jonah lived in Gath-hepher, near Nazareth, in northern Israel. Ninevah is the capital of Assyria, located northeast of Nazareth by about 500 miles. At this time, Ninevah is a powerful and well-fortified city. Like northern Israel, it is also a city plagued with focus on idol-worship. In fact, the Ninevites worshipped the fish goddess Nanshe (the daughter of Ea, the goddess of fresh water) and Dagon, the fish god who was half man and half fish. [I know it's early to be bringing this up but....given what you already know about Jonah, isn't this beyond interesting?]

So, Jonah is told to go to Ninevah. My study Bible has the important note that this is the only time that a prophet was commissioned to go to a foreign nation to bring God's message to the people (as opposed to sharing the word from the home city). It would make one think that the wickedness of Ninevah in the eyes of the Lord was exceedingly great to have given such a calling to Jonah. But I'm reminded that sin is sin in the eyes of the Lord. Why the special calling to Jonah--the personal visit to the Ninevites?

"But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD...." (vs. 3)

I'm picturing Jonah in bed, hearing the Word of the Lord, then flying up out of his bed, throwing on his sandals and running to the harbor as if there were a giant growling grizzly bear or a blazing fire in his bedroom. Do you rise up to flee very often? It seems the word Ninevah, to Jonah, was a synonym for worst possible fear imaginable.

Although Scripture suggests that Tarshish was known for its wealth ("Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish...." Jeremiah 10:9), the Bible does not verify exactly where Tarshish was located. It is believed to have been a city in southern Spain. What we do glean from the Word is that Jonah went to Joppa (see map) to get on a ship that was going to Tarshish, which, even at the most basic level, meant taking him in the opposite direction of Ninevah.

Prophets who act before hearing the Word of God are disobedient. Prophets who hear the Word of God and go in the opposite direction of what God's Word says would definitely also be disobedient. Jonah carries the distinction of being the only Old Testament prophet to refuse to follow God's command.

Though Jonah tried to physically escape the presence of God, never was he ever out of the Lord's sights. God had given Jonah the assignment of the ten tribes of northern Israel, but the focus of his prophecy is this book, in which he is downright disobeying God. For me, this suggests a much bigger picture of how the God of the universe intimately interacts with His people. He knew He gave Jonah a big calling, but he was God's guy in the field! The chosen one!! Would God not go with him? Suggests there was some (!) insecurity on Jonah's part, some lack of faith. Those are the times--those times of challenge, facing your fears--when God reaches us profoundly.

We leave Jonah this week, heading down into the ship at Joppa, thinking that he can outskipper the Lord in a vessel embarking for Tarshish. Next week, we'll uncover God's response to Jonah's attempt to leave His presence.

"Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?...
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea...."
--Psalm 139: 7&9

Next week, a great storm.... 'Til next Wednesday!


* * *

Next week: Jonah 1:4-6

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).