April 21, 2013

Revealing Christ In The Old Testament XXIII: Breathe Easy


It is ironic (and somewhat confusing) but I will open this post on Jonah with a verse from the New Testament from the mouth of the Lord Himself.

Matthew 12:39 ~ “He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”

Our Lord declared that no sign would be given to the people of His generation, except for the sign of Jonah. It is that sign that continues to stare down a Jew to this very day. Our Lord gave a promise, the rising from the dead, and He has kept it.

Jonah was the son of Amittai a native of Gath-hepher which was a Galilean village a little north of Nazareth. Jonah was the replacement of Elijah and Elisha in terms of the prophets. It is probable that he knew them both. He also appears to have been the link between these famous prophets and the likes of Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah. Jonah’s name is "the dove," and his first prophetic utterance was one in keeping with his name. It was a message of comfort to Israel, that the Lord had seen the affliction of His people, and that He would save them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. God would restore to them the border lands which they had lost through the invasion of the Syrians.

The fact that Jonah was a historic character that can be dated to the reign of certain kings tells us that this book is more than just a parable as some assert. The writer of a parable most likely would not have invented an imaginary story about a real man, this makes no sense. The fact that this is a candid record of Jonah including his faults makes the validity of this story all the more plausible just like the stories of the Apostles in the Gospels show flawed men (warts and all). It is also extremely telling that the Jews would readily accept this book into their canon even though it spoke of their national prejudices because is exhibited God's mercy to another nation.

So why did Jonah disobey? What was the reason of the prophet's deliberate disobedience? It was not cowardice, as we see from his bold attitude in the storm. Jonah’s recalcitrance or resistance is probably partly due to the fact that other nations were outside of God's mercy. What’s more is that Assyria was the dreaded foe of Israel. Generation after generation, Assyria had been making fierce attacks and raids on the lands bordering the Mediterranean, and the punishments which she inflicted upon their captives were cruel beyond the already horrible cruelties of that age and they were even known to have flayed their victims alive.

In the proclamation of God's judgment to Nineveh, Jonah sees the possibility of mercy for them and this is just unacceptable to Jonah because Jonah knows God’s character enough to know that if He promises mercy…He will give it. This is too much for Jonah to stomach considering how much he despises the Assyrians.

God will give mercy and grace to the worst of sinners but Jonah being a man and a sinner would not. Meh.

Jonah being God's prophet to Israel was bound up in the salvation of his own people, and it is his intense patriotism and national identity which made him question the prudence of God's command. It made Jonah willing to incur God’s wrath for disobedience by abandoning is responsibility as prophet rather than risk the welfare of his beloved country of Israel. By sparing Nineveh, Jonah fears that Assyria will trounce and destroy his people so he literally and figuratively abandons ship and forsakes his responsibility as prophet.

The truth is that Jonah being a prophet was perfectly aware that he could not really flee from an omnipresent God's presence. I suggest he may have been trying to change or manipulate the outcome to more favorable circumstances. There is then a graphic narrative of the voyage that follows the initial disobedience. There is a violent storm and efforts by the pagan mariners, the righteous anger of the shipmaster at finding Jonah carelessly asleep at such a juncture, when even the heathen sailors were crying out to each of their individual pagan gods. They cast lots to discover who was answerable for such an ridiculously harsh storm. The lot being controlled by God fell directly on the severely guilty prophet. I can visualize even now the entirety of the crew circling Jonah ready to strangle him for being such a negligent disobedient imbecile.

Jonah 1:8 “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

They ask his advice, but are mortified when he tells them to cast him into the sea. As Jonah was cast forth into the sea it ceased its raging, and these heathen men were turned to the Lord offering sacrifices. It is at this juncture we see an image of Christ. We see a shadow of when Christ will say…

John 10:18 ~ “No one takes it from me [His life], but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."

We then see that God arranges for the arrival of a great fish…not whale per se. We see the arrival of great fish is no accident, it’s appointed or prepared for Jonah. We will also see other preparations by God involving Jonah. God will also prepare a great wind into the sea, He will prepare a gourd and He will prepare a worm. We see deliberate acts of sovereignty and grace.

We will later see in the Gospels that none other than Jesus Himself refers to Jonah as stated in Matthew 12. It is the context that should be of the most importance to us. Jesus uses it to refer to the most solemn sign foreshadowing the most solemn event of His life on earth…His death and resurrection. Jesus tells those that will listen and even some that will not.

For those of us who believe in the most spectacular miracle of all which is the incarnation of God in a human body, a crucifixion and resurrection of Him—it is of small consequence for us to believe that God saved Jonah in in the innards of a great fish to be a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is indeed supernatural or a miracle for Jonah to be somehow preserved alive some thirty-two to thirty-four hours, at least part of the time in a state of consciousness (praying). When one believes in miracles such as the Resurrection, the story then takes on the possibility of being not only plausible, but expected from a God that can raise the dead.

Obviously the Creator who creates the great fish and prepares a fish makes this possible. So much so that this very Creator will then, not only believe the narrative of Jonah’s story but He will also use it as an analogous illustration that prefigured what will end up being God’s greatest miracle in the span of history: The Mighty Resurrection. It is a miracle greater than any story of any fish swallowing any man.

In Jonah’s temporary watery grave, "The engulfing waters threatened,” and seaweed was wrapped around his head. Jonah prays in this condition somewhere between life and death…like waiting in the grave, ready to surface and come out. Jonah's prays from the Psalms and he quoted fragments and appears to adapts them to meet his own case just as Christ will do with Psalm 22.

What is particularly striking and interesting about the Psalms Jonah quotes is that they’re allusions to Psalm 22 and Psalm 16. What is truly striking is the application of Psalm 16:10.

Psalm 16:10 “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

Jonah 2:1-2 “Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol…

The Men of Nineveh repented. In the process of carrying the message of grace and mercy to them, Jonah's own soul had been so stripped and prepared by God that his message came with the power of the Spirit. I personally see this as a parallel of the modern believer carrying the message of the Gospel per the Great Commission to the unbelievers in this world. We are to take the message of the Gospel to the wicked unrepentant masses like those at Nineveh getting a message of mercy and grace (The Gospel of Jesus Christ) from somewhat reluctant messengers. Messengers that know there are risks involved delivering the message that we carry within us. A message we have been commanded to take out to the entire world. A message about One who was in the grave for three days only to miraculously rise again from the clutches of death. Jonah himself became the sign, just as we the believer become the embodiment of what it is to be Christian.

God's Spirit works so mightily in Jonah and us that at the end of one day's preaching the city repents. Just as some repent when we carry the message of the Gospel to people prepared to receive the message of the Cross. Just as God saw that the repentance of Nineveh was sincere, so to He will see if the repentance is sincere when someone turns to God and the Gospel and is saved. They must first hear the message since faith comes by hearing.

In the end we see God’s merciful loving-kindness on His rebellious prophet, rebellious unbelieving pagans and on us sinners. We see God’s immutable and eternal merciful nature. He is never changing and always constant. What He promises He follows through on. This is reassuring to those that will have faith. We like Jonah may compromise our character and change on a whim, but God does not. His promises are assured to us who will believe. We do not need to stand around holding our breath hoping what He promised comes to pass, we know our salvation is assured…and we can breathe easy because of it.

1 comment:

darrellcreswell said...

As always wonderful insight dear brother- Thanks for this insightful piece- Blessings Darrell

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