Sunday, 20 August 2017

Jonah - Prophet on the Run (1)

Like so many stories in the Bible, Jonah is so well known that we hardly give it a second thought. Yet there is so much in Jonah that we miss.  Jonah is sometimes seen as a slightly comical figure and there is definitely an element of absurdity in Jonah, particularity in chapter 4.  This prophet who had just witnessed an incredible revival was now furious at God over a plant.  But Jonah is not primarily about a fish (mentioned 4 times), or Nineveh (mentioned 9 times), a plant or ultimately even Jonah (mentioned 18 times), it is about God (mentioned 38 times).  The book shows us beautifully how God's grace and love reaches beyond the ethnic nation of Israel towards notorious pagans in the Assyrian empire.  It is a forerunner of the gospel that would spread through the incarnation, life and death of Jesus.

The first thing to say about Jonah is that he was a real person.  The style of Jonah has sometimes been portrayed as parable or allegory, but it is in fact historical narrative.  Jonah was a Prophet from Gath Hepher in Zebulun.  He is quoted in 2 Kings 14 v 25.  He prophesied that despite moral and spiritual decay in Israel, God in his patience allowed the nation to have greater prosperity and expansion. Of course Jesus mentioned Jonah in Matt 12 v 41 and Luke 11 v 32.  There are some similarities between Jonah and Jesus.  Both brought the truth of God beyond the Jewish nation to Gentiles.  Both were prophets proclaiming God's truth.  But of course Jesus was so much greater in both his person, His message, His obedience and in His mission.  Jonah was a very imperfect and flawed prophet pointing forward to the ultimate prophet, ultimate message and ultimate mission.

The second thing is that Jonah was part of history.  Nineveh was a real city.  It has been extensively researched and archaeology backs up the Biblical narrative.  The Assyrians were a cruel and barbaric race.  They were ruthless in how they dealt with their enemies: they would decapitate men, women and children and stack up there skulls at city gates.  They would take their enemies out into the desert and impale them and roast them alive in the sun.  Sometimes they would skin conquered enemies alive.  Jonah, after his initial rebellion took to the task of preaching judgement with great relish. Jonah was not preaching to friends but brutal and ruthless enemies of everything good.  This is why he struggled so much with Gods love and mercy to his enemies.  How could God love such a brutal and violent group of people?  God was showing Jonah what grace looks like.  Grace is God's undeserved favour and love.  It is particularly spectacular when God bestows his love on the most unlikely candidates.

Thirdly Jonah shows us the consequences of rebellion and running from God.  The theme of running from God is something all of us can relate to.  Whether you are reading this as an unbeliever or someone who knows God, we can all relate to the theme of rebellion against the will of God.  Jonah has much to teach us about the disastrous consequences of disobeying God's will.

Fourthly, Jonah has much to teach us about the character of God.  As with all theology, almost everything comes back to our view of God.  Jonah struggled with the loving kindness of the Lord and expresses his rage in chapter 4.  His view of God was that he was only a God of the ethnic Jews and Jonah wanted God to wipe out the Assyrians.  One of the key questions all of us need to ask is 'who is God?' and what is he like?  The great problem with so many atheists is that they create a completely false God and then spend their lives raging against that God. The God of Jonah is a God who forgives a brutal and barbaric city through His grace and love.  This show us His remarkable love for sinners.

So there are some big themes in Jonah.  If you want to dig deeper I would highly recommend Hugh Martins commentary on Jonah published by the Banner of Truth.  I got a huge about from Warren Wierbe's commentary 'Be Inspired' which can be ordered here.  Alastair Begg as always is excellent through his series 'Man Overboard'.  I hope to do several articles on Jonah. Most of all I hope that if you are running from God that through studying Jonah, you will see a God who loves sinners and who offers you salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jonah is not abandoned by God because of his rebellion and bad attitude, he is shown grace and given another chance.  God is not like us, he forgives and he offers us a fresh start.  Isn't that an offer too good to refuse?

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