We’ve made our way through The Whole Story to one of the most famous stories in all of the Bible, and maybe all of literature. The story of the prophet Jonah.
If I were to ask you to consider what you think the story of Jonah is about, what would likely jump to mind is a great fish (or whale), a disobedient prophet being swallowed by a great fish (how did he survive that?!), and a city filled with such wicked people it warranted destruction (Ninevah). But is that what this story is really all about? I don’t think so. I think we’re meant to learn about something else. And we see it most clearly near the end of the story, in chapter four, verse two:
“And Jonah prayed to Yahweh and said, “O Yahweh, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” (Jonah 4:2, ESV)
A couple of things worth noting.
First, don’t miss that Jonah tells Yahweh that this is what he told him before he even left home. Which means that Jonah had said this very same thing at the very beginning of the story, right after chapter one, verse one. He had pointed out how loving God is, and how often that causes him to extend grace and mercy, and relent from punishment planned. So now we can clearly see that this story begins with a meditation on the fixed reality of the rescuing and transforming love of God, and it ends with a meditation on the fixed reality of the rescuing and transforming love of God.
Second, don’t miss that this meditation is based on something Jonah had come to know (“I knew…”, 4:2) because he knew The Whole Story. You see, he is quoting something that Yahweh himself had proclaimed about himself to another of his prophets, Moses, way back in the book of Exodus, when Yahweh met Moses on Mount Sinai:
So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:4-7, ESV)
Which among other things, shows that even for disobedient prophets, studying and knowing all of Scripture is pretty foundational to understanding who God is, and how he operates, and how he relates to the people he has created.
From this understanding, again, I think we find that the main point of the book of Jonah is a meditation on God’s love, and how he wants to rescue and transform not only Ninevah, but Jonah himself. And as we watch God sovereignly bringing that about over the course of this story, I think we learn two things about God’s love. One, his love is sometimes expressed in the painful circumstances of our lives to transform us into the vision of who he wants us to be. Two, his love is aimed at his enemies, to rescue and transform them.
And what gets really fascinating is to then jump forward hundreds of years to another story, connected to this one. The story of the Son of God, Jesus, in the midst of some pretty disobedient Israelites (just like Jonah) who are asking him for a sign. In his response (see Matthew 12), we learn how Jesus understood and applied the very real story of Jonah in his preaching and ministry, and what that means for us today. (Are you beginning to see how important our little adventure is, which we are calling the Whole Story? Once again, we find ourselves agreeing with Eugene Peterson, “In order to read any part of the Bible you have to read the whole Bible.” Namely, to properly read Jonah, we must go all the way back to Exodus, and all the way forward to Matthew’s Gospel!)
If you’d like to know more about how all that is found in this story, you can watch or listen to my sermon on this fascinating piece of history, which is a part of God’s overall redemptive purpose to rescue people out of the kingdom of darkness, and transform them within the Kingdom of his Son.
And, for further study on Jonah, head over to our friends at The Bible Project. There you will find videos, milestones, study resources, and recommendations for further reading and study on this book, as well as all the books found in The Whole Story of God (which we call the Bible).
Finally, just a reminder that this coming Sunday we will turn our attention to Micah. Be sure to read it a few times this week so that you may come with a ready and expectant heart as we gather together Sunday morning at 10:30am at Calvary.
Standing in Wonder at the Overwhelming, Never-ending, Boundless Love of God,
We Are Calvary
To say that we live in times of rapid change may be the very height of understatement. Our culture, and its norms, is changing at an unprecedented rate, making it increasingly challenging for the church to remain relevant—and faithful—in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, in a way that will bring about the expansion of that kingdom.
This past Sunday we (finally) made it out of the weighty, dark, somber, and serious writings of the Prophets of the Exile, and stepped into the Return from Exile of the people of God. Our first look into this aspect of the redemptive drama comes via three courageous servants of Yahweh—Zerrubabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. There story is found in the book of Ezra-Nehemiah (although our English Bibles separate them, through the centuries the Jewish people have always treated them as one book; so we will too.)
Especially When You Don't Feel Like It
Sunday is just about my favorite day of the week (“just about”…because my day off each week, our family’s Sabbath Saturday, is a tie or really close second). I love getting up that morning, making my smoothie, sitting in my favorite chair in our fireplace room, and pulling my Bible onto my lap. I relish the time spent listening to my Father speak, and I delight in those moments spent talking with him about the morning’s ministry, the people in our gathering that I hope he will transform, as well as the eleven other pastors (and their congregations) on whom I pray his blessing every Sunday.
This past Sunday we completed our journey through the weighty, dark, somber, and serious writings of the Prophets of the Exile, focusing our study on Ezekiel. We discovered in Ezekiel a book filled with dark visions and confrontational language. And one of the visions (probably the central, controlling metaphor of the book) Ezekiel presents is Israel as a beautiful bride who turns against her bridegroom, God, and breaks all the stipulations of her covenant.
Day Thirty: Vistas of Wisdom
I am very near the end of this little writing experiment called “31 Proverbs.” While I’m unsure how helpful it has been to how ever many have read it, I know that the process of sitting down six days each week to read, ponder, and then ponder some more by plunking on a keyboard has helped me grow in my understanding of wisdom.
Day Thirty-Two: A Mother's Wisdom (part two)
Yesterday, we heard from what was likely King Solomon’s mother imparting worthy words of wisdom in the area of leadership. For the sayings of wisdom we find here are those “which his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1). And she now turns her attention to the search for a woman of virtue and noble character, suitable to be a wife and mother.
Day Twenty-Nine: Please—Quietly Hold Your Tongue
Anger. noun. “a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) As I entered day twenty-nine of Proverbs this morning, and came to 29:11, it struck me that this book has quite a bit to say about anger, strife, wrath, quarreling, fights, and rage. It is a theme that Solomon keeps coming back to, probably because he knows that it is a theme woven through humanity and history. Sometimes the best way to see a theme is to pull on that string so all the wisdom he has offered comes together for our observation. The accumulation helps us feel the weight of it.