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Jan 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 8, 2017 – Jonah 1:1-3

Once Upon A Time

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3

Intro: The Book of Jonah is a story, and it is a wild one

Yet facets of the storyline sound very familiar
– a person trying to escape his or her destiny,
• a ship caught in a storm at sea,
• a large fish that shows up at exactly right moment
– these are elements found in the world’s most beloved folktales
• the story does not require much background information to understand it
◦ everything we need to know is in the text
• the only troubling questions are the big ones:
◦ What is this story? and, Why is it in the Bible?

Was Jonah meant to be read as a record of historical events?

If so, why isn’t it included in the historical books?
– for example, in the one place Jonah is mentioned (2 Ki. 14:25)
• the Elijah and Elisha stories are told in the places they appear in 1 and 2 Kings
– Jonah was not recognized as being primarily historical, but as prophetic
• note that prophecy does not mean “prediction”
◦ it was an inspired event in which one received and delivered God’s word
• even still, the Book of Jonah is not like any other prophetic writing

  1. The other books of prophecy are exactly that–mostly prophecies
    They have little or no narration
    Jonah, however, is all narration with one short prophetic sentence (3:4)
  2. Jonah’s unparalleled success–an entire populace turned to God
    Not even one of the big name prophets experienced this response
  3. Jonah did something no other prophet did; he ran away

Sometimes prophets told parables (Hebrew, mashal)
– Nathan’s rich man, poor (2 Sam. 12:1-8); Isaiah’s vineyard (Is. 5:1-7); Ezekiel’s many parables (notably Ezekiel 16:1-42)
• but it is like the whole book of Jonah is a parable
• it is the story itself that conveys God’s prophetic word

What is the message of Jonah?

It has to do with a man’s struggle with God over justice
– it’s like the Book of Job in this way; he too struggled with justice
• but Jonah’s concern had a very different twist
◦ Job: Why do bad things happen to good people?
◦ Jonah: Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?
Why don’t they get what they deserve?
• but this struggle isn’t the main point of the story, it just sets it up
◦ spoiler alert!

The message of Jonah is about attunement
– obviously, I am using a word that comes from our context
• but it captures the essence what Jonah did not know and needed to learn

Daniel Siegel defines attunement as, “how one person, a parent, for example, focuses attention on the internal world of another, such as a child. This focus on the mind of another person harnesses neural circuitry that enables two people to ‘feel felt’ by each other. This state is crucial if people in relationships are to feel vibrant and alive, understood, and at peace.”

• we’re blessed – we know God is attuned to us
◦ through the suffering of Jesus, God knows what we feel
– but God also desires for us to be attuned to him
• he wants us to see through his eyes, and from that perspective, feel what he feels
◦ his love and compassion for the whole world
• we will never understand God or be on the same page without this

The central thrust of the story is Jonah’s education
– one that leads to transformation (hopefully)
• but it is a difficult and painful education
◦ it has to break him
• and, at the end of the book, we’re not certain that it took
◦ Jonah’s story ends with a question

The word of the LORD came to Jonah

This is a typical introduction to a book of prophecy
(cf. Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Mic. 1:1; cf. also Lk. 3:2)
– these introductory words are important, but they are not what grabs our attention
• they appear here to assure the audience that what follows is inspired
• but the reader’s (hearer’s) attention is directed to Nineveh
◦ the prophet is incidental
– sometimes nations have symbolic associations in the Old Testament
• one nation may epitomize violence, another idolatry and false gods, and so on
◦ think of images that are evoked by mention of the Philistines, Assyrians, or Babylonians
◦ they represent everything opposed to God and all that being heathen meant
• if you want to know Israel’s feelings re: Nineveh, read the Book of Nahum

The great city
– this line appears at beginning, middle and end (1:2; 3:1; 4:11)
• great is a key word: great city, great wind, great storm, great fear, great fish, etc.
◦ nothing is little or unimportant in this drama
• if I were telling the story of Jonah to children, I would replace great with “really big”
◦ to make certain they heard the repetition
cry against – another key word and it is the same as cried to God (1:5)
• it will be used to highlight Jonah’s stubborn streak
• his job was to cry out to Nineveh so they would call on God
◦ but he himself refused to do either

Jonah rose up as God told him, but instantly deviated from God’s command
– there is a device that biblical storytellers sometimes used
• it is referred to as a type-scene:
• it has to do with an episode in person’s life that establishes a pattern
◦ the same pattern is then repeated in the stories of other characters

Robert Alter, “Since biblical narrative characteristically catches its protagonists only at the critical and revealing points in their lives, the biblical type-scene occurs not in the rituals of daily existence but at the crucial junctures in the lives of the heroes, from conception and birth to betrothal to deathbed.”

◦ I believe we can identify a type-scene in a prophet’s initial calling

  1. The person has an undeniable encounter with God
  2. God assigns the person the role of prophet
    He may also give him an idea of his general task
  3. The person’s immediate response is to back away and argue his inadequacy
  4. God resolves the prophet’s objection and sets him to work

• when the audience heard a storyteller began to narrate the type-scene
◦ they would know what to expect
◦ the punch of a type-scene is not in its similarities with others, but how it breaks from the norm
– Jonah made radical break from the typical type-scene
• and we do not know why–yet
• he does not protest or argue his inadequacy, he simply runs the opposite direction

From the presence of the LORD 
presence translates panyim (lit., face)
• the same word is translated before Me in verse 2
• a person who lived before God’s face or in his presence was conscious of God
◦ and knew that God was at the same time conscious of him
• do you remember how Adam and Eve tried to hide from God’s presence?
– Jonah made a horizontal dash to the seaport at Joppa
• but he was also moving vertically
(“up” occurs twice in vv. 2 & 3, now “down” occurs twice in v. 3; down to Joppa, then down into the ship)
◦ up represents progress, down is regress
◦ up is good, down is bad
◦ up is hope, down is despair
◦ up is life, down is death
• God called Jonah up, he chose to go down

There will be enough up and down movement in this story to make us feel seasick

Conc: Two men in the Bible launched from Joppa
Both of them were sent with a message from God to Gentiles
– and both of them had problems with that assignment
• why did Peter have to be shown a vision in which he was told not to call unclean what God called clean?
◦ and why did he have to be shown this vision three times?
• because his religious prejudice was so entrenched in him that he mistook it for reality
• both Jonah and Peter needed an education

Transformation is one of those popular words in Christian jargon
– but what is it?
• it begins when I can see that my feelings are flawed
◦ perhaps by ego, resentments, culture, or prejudice
– transformation has occurred when I feel what God feels
• and I begin acting on what I see through his eyes and feel in his heart

The education Jonah and Peter received is one we all need
If we are going to experience the transformation into Christ’s image
that we hear so much about
Of course, if we don’t want to be transformed,
we can always try running from God

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