Category Archives: Jonah

The Jonah Project

Well, the cat’s out of the commentary bag: Rich Lusk and I are working on another commentary. Observers may have noticed my tweets or random notes on Jonah. I have been preaching through it and also writing and editing some of our joint efforts. As always, I like to say Rich Lusk is the exegetical genius and I am the fortunate guy who has the joy of working with him in these endeavors. The added benefit is that he and I share a lot of presuppositions about hermeneutics and general biblical exegesis which afford us an awful lot of common ground when we do these projects. In fact, if this is published it will be the third work I’ve done with Rich.

I will be posting occasional quotes from our future commentary. Here is a fairly descriptive summary of the Assyrians to whom Jonah was called to minister:

The ancient Assyrian emperor–just to give you one example of the wickedness that characterized the empire and the city — after a military victory would put giant fishhooks in the mouths of the vanquished and march them down Main Street in a kind of victory parade. And then he would impale them, he’d lift their skin off, and after skinning them alive, he’d cut off their limbs and throw them to the wild animals to be devoured. Now that’s wickedness. That’s what paganism looks like in the raw; paganism when it hasn’t been tamed in any way by the subduing grace of God. Nations that have been influenced by the gospel, even if they aren’t any longer officially Christian, even if they aren’t all that faithful, usually know better than to fight their ways in that way.

Jonah, Introductory Notes

If we are to understand the Book of Jonah rightly, we need to see Jonah as a theologian in Israel, a faithful pastor, and one deeply committed to God’s people. We often view this prophet as an ignorant prophet; an ancient Pharisee. But God is doing something spectacular in the Jonah Journey. He consistently asks Jonah, “Jonah, do you love me?”

This question is answered throughout these four chapters in various ways. In the end, Jonah becomes a scholar of paradox whose silence is itself the answer to Yahweh’s question.

Notes for Summer Camp on Jonah

I am about to head to Texas to preach on Sunday and spend the week with about 150 covenant-loving teenagers talking about Jonah. I am currently preparing/editing my talks. Here is a little section from my Jonah talks focusing on the use of the body as a ritual instrument:

It is interesting that the Protestant tradition, though not always consistent, developed in contrast to the desert fathers, a very strong theology of the body. From that theology, many have come to see that the body is more than a piece of meat with an expiration date on it, but rather a piece of redemption that walks and breathes throughout the earth. You are walking, breathing redemptive bodies.  You were created to be God’s redemptive instrument in the life of others. If that is the case, imagine what the body of Jesus meant to humanity; imagine what the incarnation meant to God, the Father. Imagine that when Jesus became flesh, God did not say: “Wow, what a bummer! Now, my Son is only half the man he used to be!” No, again and again, we hear the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!”

Fleshiness is good. For some of us, this is a new idea! There is a common view that says the body is a necessary evil for the human being. But I tend to think that liturgical traditions like ours where godly morality is emphasized, we have has a deeper awareness of bodily abuses. We need to be in the end of the day, equal opportunity offenders. We need to be critical of the individual who loves his body too much to the point that he forsakes others bodies, and also be critical of those who despise the body in favor of mystical practices sprinkled with Christian symbols, while calling it piety. We pray that we will have a greater stability on these matters in the next generation, especially as we grow in understanding the role of the body in life and worship.

Jonah and Jesus parallels

The parallels are really remarkable. Jonah is swallowed up by Sheol; Jesus is swallowed up by Sheol. Jonah repents; Jesus prays right before death that his enemies would be forgiven; Jonah spends three days in Sheol; Jesus spends three days in Sheol. Jonah proclaims that salvation is of the Lord in Sheol; Jesus proclaims that salvation is of the Lord in Sheol; Jonah is spat out of Sheol after three days; Jesus is spat out of Sheol after three days.

Jesus is the greater Jonah.


The Prodigal Jonah…

Aaron Gunsaulus observes a few of the similarities between the Prodigal Son and Jonah:

…the repentance of the most unlikely candidate(s) ; the anger over someone else’s repentance and acceptance; patient explanation by the one accepting the one(s) who repented; the story ending without giving us the response of the one offended by the repentance/acceptance.

The Repentance of God, Part 3 final

This is not foreign to the Biblical text. Jeremiah 18 says exactly what God will do in these situations: If a nation turns from evil, God will not destroy her; if the nation does not turn from evil, God will destroy it.

Let us go back to Jonah 3. In 40 days God will destroy Nineveh, but Nineveh repented and God turned His wrath away. Prophecy works in different ways so we cannot assume that every time God says something it is related to His eternal decrees. We maintain that when God decrees something, no human action will change His plan.

There are two primary forms of prophecy:

a)      Some prophecies are promises of what God will do. They are connected to a divine oath. They are tied to covenant promises: a) The prophecies of a Messiah, b) the promise of a Final Judgment, c) the recreation of the world, etc. These are not contingent on man’s response.

b)      The second form of prophecy is relational or covenantal. God’s relationship to His creatures may change over time. We need to understand that prophecy is not future-telling; prophecy is ethical and evangelistic. If we approached all prophecy in a que sera sera manner, we might as well be Muslims. The God of Islam does not relate to His people, but the God of the Bible is a relational, covenantal God. So in Jonah 3 God is giving them a conditional threat that did not necessarily need to happen. There is an implicit condition in the threat.

Listen to Calvin’s words in the Institutes:

Who now does not see that it pleased the Lord by such threats to arouse to repentance those whom he was terrifying, that they might escape the judgment they deserved for their sins? If that is true, the nature of the circumstances leads us to recognize a tacit condition in the simple intimation. Institutes 1.17.14

There is a tacit condition implied. God does not operate like an unmoved mover, but He operates as a heavenly Father. Pastor Rich Lusk says:

God is passionate, involved and consistent, but you never know what He is going to do next. We are not to de-personalize God. God is jealous; He expresses joy and delight; he shows patience and wrath and even repentance.[1]

Does God change His mind? What does Jonah 3:10 mean?

We are to learn two important truths:

a) God’s eternal decree does not change. God can’t be surprised or mistaken and He is not dependent on His creatures in anyway.

b) But on the other hand, God does change His mind in the sense that He is involved, engaging and He is in a personal relationship with us. He is intimate. In the end, we better hope that God changes His mind, because this is the heart of the gospel. This is the point of Nineveh where God turned wrath into grace; and God changed His mind about us as well. God changed His mind at the cross. God relented at the cross.[2] He decided not to send us all to hell, but to give us eternal life through Christ our Lord.

[1] Sermon series on Jonah 3.

[2] Quote from Lusk.

The Repentance of God, Part 2

Let me prove this point from the Scriptures:

Daniel 4:35: All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

In Daniel, God does what He pleases in heaven and on earth.

We see in that long chapter in Lamentations 3 that good and bad things come from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

In Proverbs, God controls the steps of man.

In Ephesians 1, God is the author of salvation. He calls and elects us according to His good pleasure. And even Jonah admits this in the end of his prayer in 2:9: Salvation is of the Lord.

James 1 says that God is unchanging. Whatever He decrees He performs.

But… in the Bible we find another set of passages, which seem to be in tension.[1]

The Bible uses terms like “repent,” “relent,” “regretted,” “grieved” to refer to God’s actions towards a particular situation. So, which is it? Is He sovereign or is He a mutable/changing/limited God?

At this point, let me give you an important principle of interpretation. The principle is that when either/or seems to do injustice to the Bible, consider both/and.

Ask yourself the question: “Would a both/and approach harmonize the Bible better than an either/or?” Do not feel that you always have to choose one position or the other? Sometimes both sides are complementary rather than antithetical. For instance, God is only a God of love! No, God is a God of love and a God of wrath. He is loving when He deems divinely appropriate to be loving and He is wrathful when He deems appropriate to be wrathful.

Sometimes two different ideas may be two sides of the same coin.[2]

Let give you an example from I Samuel 15:

The chapter begins with God telling Samuel to anoint Saul as king. God tells Saul to destroy everything in the city of Amalek. Saul is not to spare anything or anyone; women and children included. Saul destroys the city of Amalek, but then asks that they spare Agag, the sheep, lambs and so on. Then a few verses later, God says in verses 11: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” In a matter of verses God regrets having made Saul King. Then the last verse of the chapter stresses this point again: And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. Continue reading The Repentance of God, Part 2

The Repentance of God, Part 1

Jonah 3:9-10 – Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

According to verse 9 in Jonah, the one who is hopeful of God’s repentance is the King of Nineveh. This is not coming from a prophet of God, though the prophets do affirm this truth elsewhere. The King of Nineveh is defending a view of God that is compatible with the prophet Jeremiah.

In fact, let us read Jeremiah 18: 7-10:

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8 and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. 9 And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.

These verses provide a framework for the Biblical view of God’s repentance. This is the clearest passage in the Bible about the relationship of God with nations and kingdoms.

I want to come back to this point, but first I want to lay groundwork for the Biblical position of divine repentance.

First, let me first explain that the idea of “repentance” has a two-fold significance. The Greek word for repentance is the word metanoia and the Hebrew word here used is nacham {naw-kham’}. Both ideas are identical. They speak of turning from one thing to another. It can also be translated as to be “moved to compassion or moved to pity.” When we speak of human repentance, we are speaking of turning from sin. This is not what we are talking about when we speak of divine repentance, because God cannot sin. What we are talking about is a change of mind. However you parse the word “repentance or relent,” we are still left with the Biblical idea that God changed His mind.

Secondly, let me defend the Biblical view of God’s sovereignty, because that ought to be first and foremost in our minds when we consider the question of God relenting.

You cannot read the Bible, no matter what tradition you come from, and deny the sovereignty of God in some sense. I want to emphasize the sovereignty of God in every sense. To echo one of my heroes Abraham Kuyper: “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!'”

The Bible simply affirms this truth.

Jonah 3:1-10, Third Sunday of Epiphany: A Light Unto the Gentiles

Providence Church (CREC)

Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 25th, 2009.

Third Official Sermon

Jonah 3:1-5,10.

Audio for the sermon.

Prayer: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and the boldness to proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may see the glory of His marvelous works. This is our prayer, O Lord. Amen.

When Queen Esther feared going to the Persian King to intercede for the Jews, her uncle Mordecai said to her: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”[1]

Esther, convicted of her task, asked the Jews to hold a fast on her behalf. Then her noble response was: “Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” [2] As a result, the mercy of God poured on Israel. Israel was delivered, her arch enemy, Haman was hung, Esther was exalted and her people had light and gladness and joy and honor and they shouted and rejoiced.[3]

Now consider another narrative. The narrative of a prophet called Jonah. In chapter 1 Jonah is called by God to arise and go to Nineveh that great city and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.

Nineveh was the great capital of the Assyrian empire. The prophet Nahum describes Nineveh as the “embodiment of evil and cruelty.”[4] Some have referred to it as the “Assyrian war machine,” [5] because of its atrocities. Instead of seeking the peace and repentance of the city of Nineveh, Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord. Jonah forgot that even if he fled to Sheol, God would also be there. [6] Anyone with a vague familiarity of the Jonah narrative knows that when Jonah fled he went on a downward journey. First, he went down to Joppa, then down into the tumultuous sea, then into the depths of the fish. Indeed Jonah went to the belly of Sheol only to find out that God was there. And in Jonah chapter 2, he cries a psalm of repentance.[7] Jonah concludes his prayer by declaring that salvation belongs to the Lord.[8] But if salvation belongs to the Lord, then He gives mercy to whom He wills and elects whom He will. Jonah is thinking in nationalistic terms. He believes that the gospel ought to remain with God’s chosen people. Jonah’s problem is a theological problem. Jonah is not thinking as a Biblical Theologian. Jonah is not thinking of the promise of the Abrahamic covenant; Jonah is not thinking about the promise of Genesis 3:15; Jonah is not thinking of God’s plans in redemptive history.

Application: I wonder how often we think in those terms. How often do we think that America is God’s chosen nation and she can do no wrong? The only antidote to this form of unbiblical nationalism is to be a missiological church; a church that is deeply concerned with God’s work among the nations; a church that prays for the persecuted church throughout the world. This is who we are to be!

We come to our text this morning in chapter 3. Jonah has a rare chance to re-consider his mission. The same mission that he had in chapter one is now re-addressed to Jonah. Jonah’s prayer indicates that he has matured. He had a David-like repentance.

“Then the word of the JEHOVAH came to Jonah the second time, saying, rise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”[9]

Jonah now will be restored to his prophetic role if he obeys and calls out against Nineveh. According to verse 3, Jonah arises from his disobedience and goes to Nineveh. He is going to preach to the Ninevites. But he is not going to preach any message from his Jewish sermon collection. According to verse 2, “he is going to preach the message that God tells him.” How crucial this is for the success of Jonah’s mission! Only the authoritative word of the Lord can bring reformation to any land.

This Reformation is to take place in the “exceedingly great city of Nineveh.” Why does the text say that Nineveh is a great city? Is it because it has a great reputation? It may even be great because of its size or significance throughout the known world. All these things are true, but what the text appears to imply is that this city is great because God sees His work of the conversion of Nineveh as great. In other words, this is an exceedingly great city because it will experience an exceedingly great repentance from an exceedingly great God! Continue reading Jonah 3:1-10, Third Sunday of Epiphany: A Light Unto the Gentiles

Jonah and AD 70

The point is often missed, but the 40 days  in Jonah (40 indicates testing, judgment, etc.) is parallel to the Matthew discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem (Mat. 23,24). From the ministry of Christ to the destruction of the temple, we have 40 years. In Matthew the Jews kill the prophets (23:37) and fill the measure of their guilt. Consequently, they are judged by Messiah. In Jonah, the prophet is not killed, but accepted. His message leads to repentance and the Ninevites become the recipients of grace.