Friday, October 25, 2013
The book of Jonah was written about 760 B.C. Jonah was one of God's prophets during the period of the Divided Kingdom. His ministry was to the Ten Northern Tribes called Israel. He was the son of the prophet Amittai. He was probably popular because he had revealed to the people that it was God's will to allow Israel to add many territories to their borders.
To summarize the bible story, God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell the people that God was going to destroy their city if they didn't turn from their wicked ways. Notice that Jonah lived in Gath-hepher in Israel, near Nazareth. God wanted him to go to Nineveh, which was northeast. Instead, he travelled to Joppa (the Southern Kingdom of Judah), which was 35 miles southwest. He had the intention of traveling even farther to Tarshish, which was 2,500 miles from Joppa, on the west coast of Spain. It was located about as far from Nineveh, as one could imagine of going in Jonah's day.
While on the ship the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, so bad that they thought that the ship would break. Even the experienced sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. They even threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he was in a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish." Then the sailors decided to cast lots to see whose "fault" the storm was. The lot fell on Jonah. The sailors asked him who he was and where do you come from? He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land." This terrified them and they asked, "What have you done?" (They knew he was running away from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, "What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?" "Pick me up and throw me into the sea," he replied, "and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you." After trying their best to row back to land, they realized that it was impossible. So, they cried to the LORD, "O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man's life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. 1At this the men greatly respected the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him. But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.
To make this story more meaningful, I want you to put yourself in Jonah’s place. See if you can identify with him. As you read this narrative, please note that I have taken “literary license” as I’ve filled in some of the “dialog” in the story.
You’re Jonah. The Bible doesn’t say how, but you get the definite “feeling” that God is calling you to go to Nineveh. You think: Surely that can’t be right. Assyria is our enemy. They’re known for their wickedness….and God wants me to go there and preach against their wickedness? Well, they certainly deserve to be preached to. Actually, they deserve a lot more—total destruction—but I’m not going there. Those people are crazy. They’ll torture and kill me.. Besides, what would my countrymen think of me if they found out that I had told the Ninevites, our enemy, about the Living God. I’m sorry, God, but I just can’t do that. I can work for you here at home. I can work for you in some civilized, foreign country….but Nineveh? I don’t think so!!
So, you go to as far West as you can get. You could go to the closer port at Tyre, but you decide to go south to Joppa. During the several days of travel time, you become even more convinced that you’ve made the right decision. Go to Nineveh….NEVER! Besides what would happen if God changed His mind and spared the Ninevites?
Imagine walking the streets of Joppa, making your way to the sea. There are several ships, and you’re exhausted from going from ship to ship, trying to seek passage. Finally, the captain of a cargo ship agrees to take you as a passenger. So, after paying a hefty fee, you’re on your way. You’re so tired, and with the arrangements made, you go below the deck of the ship and fall into a deep sleep. Suddenly you’re awakened by the captain screaming at you to come up on desk to pray that the storm will let up. You don’t know what’s going on. The ship is swaying, and you can hear the wind practically blowing through the ship. You rush to climb up the ladder. All of a sudden, the ship tilts and you fall, crashing to the floor. Above the screaming storm, you hear the sailors crying and wailing to their gods. It doesn’t surprise you that they were praying to a multitude of gods. After all, that’s common practice…to cover all you’re bases by praying to many gods. What did shock you was the fact that they were so scared. After all, these were seasoned men of the sea. When you climbed up onto the desk, you could see that they were throwing their precious cargo overboard, trying to right the ship. You hear the sound of cordage snapping and a pole falls, almost hitting you. All of the men are now screaming at you to pray. Before you even have time to think of a response, one of the sailors suggests that they cast lots to see who’s responsible for the storm. They quickly get a cup and put the divining bones inside. No one wants to get the black stone. While they pass the cup around, each person taking a stone, and hiding it in his hands, you think: Oh no, this is my fault. Businessmen will lose their cargo because of me. Families will be in financial ruin because of me. These men will die because of me. These men are innocent. The families of these sailors will be devastated and left destitute. I can’t believe that God will allow these men to die because of me. What should I do? About that time in your thought process, it’s time for everyone to reveal his stone. As you open your hand, all eyes fall on you. Now it’s time to admit your sin of disobedience. All of these men should not die because of you. You tell them: “It’s my fault. God, the One True God, called me to go to Nineveh, but I ran away. Throw me overboard and save yourselves.” The sailors are reluctant. They don’t want to be responsible for your death, but you insist. “Throw me overboard and save yourselves!” Two huge men quickly pick you up, one holding your shoulders and the other holding your feet. You try not to fight them, but it’s a natural reflex. All of a sudden, you feel yourself falling and sinking deep in the sea. You feel that you will never re-surface. Finally, you fight your way to the surface. With burning salt water in your eyes, you start treading water and turn to look at the ship. Quickly you realize that something is different. The sky is the bluest of blues. The storm has subsided. The ship is sailing away. The men are safe. You can’t help yourself. You scream, “Help!” There’s no use; the ship is so far away that it’s barely visible. You shut your eyes, turn your face toward heaven, and cry, “God, help me.” You hear a strange noise and turn. Oh, God, what’s going on? All you see is a dark hole coming toward you. Oh, God, it’s a sea monster. It’s as big as a ship! You try to swim away. Then, all you feel is a soft wetness, and it is pitch black. What happened? What is that awful smell? Where am I? Oh, my God…the monster swallowed me!! This can’t be happening. Am I really in the belly of this fish?