God’s People, part 91: Jonah

Read Jonah 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“As the crowd pressed in on Jesus, he said, “This evil generation keeps asking me to show them a miraculous sign. But the only sign I will give them is the sign of Jonah.” (Luke‬ ‭11:29‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 91: Jonah. Thus far, we have covered the major prophets prior in the Hebrew Scriptures; however, before we follow the people of Judah into the Babylonian exile, there are several more prophets and/or figures we should pause to look at. One of them is a prophet who is very well-known because of the grandiosity of his story; however, with that said, very little is known about this prophet as a whole.

The prophet I am referring to, of course, is Jonah. In fact, scholars debate whether Jonah was a real prophet or not. There is, of course, an obscure reference to a prophet named Jonah in 2 Kings: “Jeroboam II recovered the territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-hepher” (2 Kings‬ ‭14:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬).‬‬

This leads me, and others, to believe that the book of Jonah was based the historical prophet mentioned in that book. Of course, the fact that there might have been a prophet named Jonah does not mean that the accounts in the book of Jonah were word-for-word historical. Jonah lived in the 8th century BCE, while the book was written somewhere between the 5th and the early 4th centuries BCE. The book itself is written in the style of a satire or a parody, and it may have been poking fun at a faction within Jewish society who were pushing for separationism. This faction believed that the wrath of God befell people who disobeyed them, destroyed wicked cities, and that God’s mercy was not given to people outside the Abrahamic covenant.

If this viewpoint sounds familiar, it should because it was the viewpoint of a faction that was on the rise around the post-exilic time period the book of Jonah was written. That faction became known as the Pharisees and they were pushing for strict observance of Jewish Law (Torah) and separation from Gentile culture. There very name means “set apart”, or “separated”. Jesus of Nazareth, like the author of Jonah, would go on to challenge this group and so would the earliest Christians who ended up seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as being the opening of the Abrahamic covenant to all of the people of the world.

But as for the prophet Jonah, as detailed in the book, most are familiar with his story. He was commanded by God to go to Ninevah and proclaim God’ wrath upon the city. At first he refuses and heads in the opposite direction, running away from God’s call. After being swallowed by a giant fish (not necessarily a whale), and after having stayed in its belly for three days, Jonah is spit up on land and reluctantly goes to Ninevah.

Having proclaimed the destruction of the city to its people, Jonah witnessed the Ninevites repent en masse. He then realizes that God had heard their repentance and, in an act of mercy, chose not to destroy the city. This angered Jonah, who believed that the city ought to be destroyed for he does not believe that the repentance was enough. In protest, Jonah stormed out into the wilderness and refused to eat or drink anything. He sat there and waited for God to destory Ninevah. When that failed to happen, he hoped to die in the wilderness since the LORD was showing mercy, rather than venegful wrath, toward the Ninevites. God did not allow Jonah to die, which further frustrated and angered him.

Jonah’s attitude counters the attitude Christ taught us to have toward our enemies and toward our culture as a whole. Yet, with that said, we see many “separatists” in the Christian today. These people would have Christians separate themselves from the “secular” culture in order to remain “set apart” and holy. Such people push people to buy exclusively from Christians, to listen exclusively to Christian music, to burn their secular CDs and to disengage from secular culture. Such people, sadly, are not learning from Jonah or from Jesus.

While we should not be joining in with the “wickedness” of the secular culture, we should also not be disengaging it. The challenge for us is to enter back into the model practiced by the earliest Christians. This model of evangelism engaged the culture and utilized it in a way that pointed to Christ and brought glory to God. Those who read Life-Giving Water’s devotions know that I often use secular culture as a springboard to Jesus Christ and the divine call placed upon all of us. Let us learn from Jonah and, instead of separating ourselves, let us engage the secular culture for the glory of Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The sign of Jonah, prophesied by Jesus of Nazareth, was both a prophesy of Jesus death (in the belly of Sheol) and resurrection, as well as a prophesy that God was going to show great mercy through Christ to all the world, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. That was the sign God was going to give the self-righteous Pharisees and others who thought that only they were deserving of God’s grace.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to not only acknowledge you are merciful toward me, but help me to model your compassionate mercy to others. All who repent are forgiven. I praise you Lord! Amen.

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