Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yephunneh (Jonah 3)

This week we continued into Jonah 3, where we witness Jonah again receiving God’s call.  I don’t know about you, but it is encouraging to me that God cares so much about the ministry He’s set aside for each of us, individually, that He will send us His Word “a second time” – even if we completely rebelled against it the first (Jon 3:1).  We compared Jonah’s call as recorded in chapter 1 with that in chapter 3.  We looked at how readily the Ninevites accepted Jonah’s message.  The king himself issued a decree that required every inhabitant of Nineveh (human and animal, young and old) to fast and mourn and turn from their sin.
…Ooooh, there’s a new thought (for me and you)!  The king ordered fasting and mourning, but if the people had shown these outward displays during the day … but at night (or in secret) continued on their “evil way ” (Jon 3:8), God’s reaction may have been very different!  Mara (my young daughter) will say she’s sorry for certain things during bedtime prayers – typical offenses are whining, not listening, and fighting with Mason (younger brother), but the proof is in the pudding, so to speak.  The next night … and the next … and the next … she’s still sorry for the same things.  She’s five, so I’ll cut her some slack, but how often do we do the same thing?!  We’ll acknowledge to God that something about our speech or behavior is wrong (fasting and mourning, even).  Then we continue down the same evil path.  Fasting and mourning were a good start for the Ninevites, but beyond that it was their turning (mentally and physically) from their evil way that saved them from destruction (Jon 3:10).
Back to how readily the Ninevites received Jonah’s message.  I’ve read Jonah’s story probably more than any other in the Old Testament, but it didn’t occur to me until last week how easy his mission seemed to be (once he got there, that is).  This was a wicked, pagan city in a nation hostile to Israel.  What in the world could have made them repent so whole-heartedly almost as soon as Jonah opened his mouth?!  Short answer:  Nothing in the world.  In one way or another, God Himself had prepared Nineveh for Jonah’s message.  The soil of their hearts and minds had been tilled and took hold of the seed immediately. 
All day Sunday – from the message God had put on my heart for class to my morning devotional to the sermon during our worship service to TV evangelists – I kept hearing the recurring theme of God calling the Body of Christ into action.  If you’ve prayed (at any point in your life … out loud or in your head) for God to use you as His hands and His feet on this earth, He’s calling you to start walking!  The good news we learn from Jonah 3 is that:
1.       God prepares us for anything and everything He calls us to do. 
I’m thinking of the saying, “If He takes you to it, He’ll take you through it!”  God was giving Jonah specific words for the people of Nineveh (Jon 3:2), and through His Holy Spirit, he’ll do the same for you!
2.       Any place to which God is calling you is being prepared, in advance, for your arrival. 
I love my concordance!  If you’ve never used a concordance, it is basically a glossary for the original Hebrew (OT) and Greek (NT) words that have been translated into English.  When I was comparing “go” in Jonah 3:2 with “go” in Jonah 1:2, my Strong’s Concordance (hardback) referred me to two different Hebrew words.  Not sure about you, but that was enough to get me curious.  For Jonah 1:2, go meant go (anticlimactic, I know), but in chapter 3, it was a different word – Yephunneh, which means “he will be prepared.”  In the “go“ing, he – both Jonah and Nineveh – would be prepared, for each other that is.  Disclaimer:  Since Sunday’s class, I have learned that the reference for Jonah 3:2 (#3312) was a typo; it should have been the same word as in chapter 1 (#3212).  So yes, go still means go, but I include the insight in this post because I believe that the typo has some truth to it.  He will be prepared!
God has prepared you for something (If you don’t know what it is then ask Him!), and He has prepared that same place for you.  What a shame it would be if you didn’t show up!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

From the belly of a fish (Jonah 2)

Moving on from Jonah 1, today (7/15/12), we looked at Jonah 2.  Let’s jump right in and start with Jonah 1:17-2:1:
“Now the Lord had prepared and appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.  And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.” (Amp)
Now, I concede that all translations do not contain the “Then” at the beginning of verse 1, but its inclusion prompts an interesting question.  Then is a when kind of word.  “Then Jonah prayed …”  When did he pray?  Read 1:17-2:1 again, paying attention to “Then” …
…”Then” appears to refer to after three days and nights in the belly of the fish.  I don’t really know that Jonah was in the fish’s belly for that long of time before he prayed to God, but I do find it possible that his level of stubbornness (shown in chapter 1) may have taken more than a few moments to subside.
Regardless of when he began to speak, Jonah’s first recorded words of prayer were not his own; rather they were quotes from various Psalms.  As I mentioned in one of last week’s posts, if we’ve been in church or read the Bible at all, we’ve come across words that at the time were just that – words on a page.  Jonah did not have copies of sacred scrolls to read and recite in the fish’s belly.  All he had were the words that had been imprinted on his mind … and were about to be imprinted on his heart:
            Jonah 2:1
            “I cried out of my distress to the Lord, and He heard me; …”    see Psalm 120:1
            “…out of the belly of Sheol cried I, …”                                            see Psalm 130:1
“…and You heard my voice.”                                                           see Psalm 142:1
Isn’t it awesome when one day God opens our eyes, and familiar words take on personal meaning?!  Jonah’s repetition of memorized Scripture continues through verse 3 (Ps 42:7) and the beginning of 4 (Ps 31:22).  His words seemed to resonate with himself because, in the second half of verse 4, Jonah prays something spontaneously (i.e. his own words out of his own mouth).
Let’s look at the words immediately before this inspiration:  “I have been cast out of Your presence and Your sight; …”  Remember that in chapter 1, Jonah had been “fleeing from the presence of the Lord” (Jon 1:3), and he himself had told the mariners to cast him out of the ship and into the sea (Jon 1:12).  Now, he remembers this verse, and he sees that it wasn’t his choice at all.  Like David in Psalm 31, God had run Jonah out of His presence.  The NIV uses the word “banished” instead of “cast out” in Jonah 1:4; this wording adds another layer to consider.  If Jonah had been banished this would mean, he could never return even if he wanted to.  Isn’t it funny how we often don’t want something until we’re told we can’t have it?  We aren’t told if Jonah planned to stay in Tarshish forever or only for a time (maybe until Nineveh had been dealt with – one way or another).  Regardless, in the same breath as Jonah remembered this verse – thinking he’d been cast out instead of fleeing possibly with no invitation to return – he changed his tune.  In the second half of verse 4, Jonah himself declares, “yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.”  With the exception of the beginning of verse 5, the rest of Jonah’s prayer (as recorded in Jonah 2) was original divinely inspired (yes), God-breathed (definitely) … but exhaled using the mouth of Jonah (2 Tim 3:16).
As always there’s so much more to look at and talk about, but the main take away of today’s lesson is this:  No matter where we are, God is there.  Ready and waiting to answer our prayers if we will only open our mouths and cry out to Him.  Maybe the first and best words to come out are not our own but His; as our faith is bolstered by hearing His words (Rom 10:17), our own hearts will be inspired to sing a new song … even from the belly of a fish.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Storms Come (Jonah 1)

Sunday’s lesson (7/8/12) looked at Jonah 1. The main idea was that storms in our lives can be brought on by rebellion against God. Our own storms follow us, affecting those around us; other times we’re the ones affected by storms following someone else. Ultimately it’s how we respond during a storm that will determine its length and severity.

In rebelling against God’s call, Jonah had brought a storm upon himself and consequently upon everyone else around him. The first response we witness is that of the mariners on the ship. Surprisingly enough, the first thing we’re told they did was pray each man to his own god (Jon 1:5). When none of their gods seemed to care or have control over this storm, the mariners began throwing over anything and everything that might be weighing the ship down, but the only thing that would lift the burden from the ship was about 175 pounds of flesh asleep below deck. While every wave on the violent sea heightened the mariners awareness of the divine nature of this storm, Jonah became increasingly numb to the consequences of his rebellion. Until he was dead asleep in the belly of the ship, … his shipmates fighting to save their lives along with his and the captain trying to call him out of his stupor (Jon 1:6).

At various times in our lives and to various degrees we have all tried to run away from something, and we always have a means of escape. For Jonah it was a ship bound for Tarshish (Jon 1:3); for us today our escapes could be food, work, a hobby, ungodly entertainment, drugs (alcohol or otherwise), unhealthy relationships, … anything that takes us away from God and His call. Regardless of what it is, the result is the same every time. The longer we rock with our ship, the more numb we become to the turmoil around us and all the more desperate are our shipmates. Praise God for leaders (like the ship’s captain) whom He sends to wake us up!

...  There is so much more we discussed on Sunday, and I desire to share it all with you … But for whatever reason, I sense that I’ve said enough. I would encourage you to read all of Jonah 1. As always look for repetition both within and between verses. Specifically consider the mariners’ fear in verses 5 and 10 as well as the level of reverence of the Lord in verses 9 and 16.

I’ll leave you with a few "I wonders." Comment if you have thoughts! I wonder …
  • if there was another way (aside from Jonah being cast overboard) for the storm to cease.
  • about the mariners. How do you think their story continues?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Checking in ...

I just wanted to check in.  Yes, I’m working on a summary of Sunday’s class, so if you’ve been looking, it should be finished and posted tomorrow (Fri, 7/13) … LORD willing!  We studied the remainder of Jonah 1 in case you want to read ahead.
In preparation for this Sunday’s lesson (7/15/12), I would like for you to think about a verse that holds personal meaning for you.  Mine is one that I had seen 100 times (probably more), but one day … out-of-the-blue, it became more than just words on a page. 
For those of you who attend class, I would like for us to share with each other this Sunday (as you feel led).  For our on-line friends, it would be AWESOME if you added a comment to this post!  I'll be adding our class Scripture list early in the week.
Talk to you soon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jonah who?

This Sunday (7/1) we dipped our toes into the book of Jonah … and by “dipped,” I mean we only got through the first three verses.  Jonah is a short book, but it is rich in detail.  I don’t yet know exactly how long God has for us in this book; I guess we’ll find out together.

Jonah 1:1 “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying,” (Amplified)
So many of us have learned about Jonah from childhood, that we feel as if we know him have met him, at the very least.  The first word in the book is Now.  In preparing for this lesson, I wondered what about before now?  Is anything known about Jonah before the account described in this book?

Let’s start with the verse itself.  We learn is that Amittai was his (fore-)father.  Is Amittai significant in his own right, biblically speaking?  If you look him up in a concordance, you’ll find him only through his connection to Jonah.  Okay, so what about Jonah, is he mentioned anywhere else?  There is only one other Old Testament verse that speaks of Jonah:
            “Jeroboam restored Israel’s border from the entrance of Hamath to the        [Dead] Sea of Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel,      which He spoke through His servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet            from Gath-hepher.” (2 Kings 14:25)

What do we learn here?  Well, we now know where Jonah was from.   Gath-hepher was a town in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean.  Also, when set chronologically, the event described in 2 Kings happened before those of the book of Jonah (as many as 30 years before).  So we also know that Jonah had a history with God – a good one!  Jonah not only had the privilege of God speaking through him, but God had allowed him to see “his” prophecy fulfilled and quickly so.  “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah” again, but what was the word this time?

Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
Jonah was given three commands in verse 2.  First, Jonah was told to “Arise.”  This “get up” command is seen over and over in Scripture, especially when God has pressing business for His servants.  Second, Jonah was told to “go to Nineveh.”  Nineveh was a city, not in Israel or Judah, but in Assyria (a pagan nation in modern-day Iraq). 

In the 2 Kings verse, Jonah was a prophet with a positive message to his own people.  A message and result that would have been well-received.  Not so with these new words God had for him.  I wonder how the book of Jonah would have changed if Jonah had simply been asked to speak judgment from the comfort of his homeland of Israel, as opposed to going to Nineveh to deliver God’s judgment in person, but discussing changes to the ending would be premature – given that we’re only in the second verse and there may be readers who don’t yet know how the real story ends.

Third, Jonah was told to “proclaim against” Nineveh.  Other versions translate proclaim as “cry” or “announce my judgment.”  The Hebrew word used includes the idea of calling out.  As Jonah had prophesied for Israel once before, he was now being called to prophesy against Nineveh.  Set beside each other, it occurred to me that prophecy, in general, can be thought of in two broad categories.  (1) Revelation of God’s knowledge.  Jonah’s first prophecy, concerning the restoration of Israel’s border, seems to be an example of this.  Prophecies concerning Jesus as Messiah could also fit here.  (2) Call to action.  Jonah wasn’t just going to Nineveh to yell at them.  His job was to call them out on their wickedness, but what action was God calling them to?

Jonah 1:3 “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from being in the presence of the Lord [as His prophet] and went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish [the most remote of the Phoenician trading places then known].  So he paid the appointed fare and went down into the ship to go with them to Tarshish from being in the presence of the Lord [as His servant and minister].”
This verse contains repetition.  When we notice awkwardness in reading Scripture (caused by repetition), it should serve as a signal to us that we need to look more closely at what was repeated and why.  Two times it is said that Jonah was fleeing “from the presence of the Lord.”  There were a few cross-references that my Bible connected to this verse.  Both gave examples of others who had left the presence of the Lord – Cain (Gen 4:16) and Satan (Job 1:12, 2:7).  Jonah had gone from being a notable prophet, listed with Elijah, Elisha, Joel, Obadiah, etc. to being lumped into the same group as Cain and Satan himself.  Searching out a ship in Joppa did not put Jonah in good company!  He would soon learn that it is impossible to flee from the Lord.

Jonah was fleeing from the Lord, but where was he fleeing to?  This verse mentions Tarshish three times.  Again a cross-reference helped to clarify things, and actually brought a whole new dimension to Jonah’s story.  Back in Genesis 10, both Nineveh and Tarshish are listed as descendants of Noah. 

Noah had three sons who left the ark with him Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen 9:18).  Some time later Noah became drunk and passed out on the floor of his tent, where Ham found him.  Instead of covering his father, Ham ran to tell his brothers, who went to Noah’s tent and covered him up (Gen 9:20-22).  Noah blessed Shem, his eldest son, and Japheth was to be blessed through Shem.  Against Ham though, Noah spoke a curse.  The Hebrew people the Israelites were descendants of Shem (blessed son).  Tarshish was a descendant of Japheth.  Nineveh was a descendant of Ham (cursed son).

In the first three verses of Jonah, we actually have a portrait of the family of Noah.  As Noah called Ham out on his disrespectful behavior, God was going to speak through Jonah to call out Ham’s descendants.  But was it to curse them again?  I guess we’ll just have to see about that.