Monday, March 16, 2015

Preamble to the Book of Jonah

Because Adam was the father of all mankind, so too would be the second Adam, the Christ. That’s why Abraham in Gen 12 was told that the plan of salvation was for the whole Earth: “…through you shall all nations be blessed.” And it’s the why that matters there--it’s not enough that God used the prophets to convey His words, He was trying to get them to understand their meaning as well. God doesn’t just want us to pass on a bare message, He wants us to understand Him, to see and feel His inexhaustible love and mercy. That’s what He’s really trying to communicate, the why not just the what. And that’s what I love about Jonah, why I’m drawn to this book in particular about a stubborn prophet who didn't get it. Elijah got his taste of Gods wide mercies early on when he was called to live with the Gentile widow from Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8). Elisha, having learned the lesson from him gave that lesson to all when Naaman the commander of the Syrian armies came to him (2 Kings 5:9). But Jonah didn’t learn it because he wasn’t called to rebuke or be among Gentiles. In fact he’d learned the opposite lesson during his career, he’d learned that the plan of salvation was for Israel. 
You can’t fault him for his nationalistic attitude however, because he lived during a good time. Although Elisha had just died, the sons of the prophets had experienced such growth in their seminary that they needed to build a new campus to hold everyone coming to learn (2 Kings 6:2). In high society the Lord had turned around the hearts of the people and the King to fear Him again (compare how Ahab and Jezebel treated Elijah with how Jeoram treated Elisha). And with Baal worship having been totally eradicated under Jehu (2 Kings 10:25) the Lord was foremost in the minds of the nation.

Politically things could not have been better with the recent death of the terrible king Hazael of Syria, particularly given the incompetence of his son Ben-Hadad to rule by himself. So although Syria had smashed Israel and nearly deported everyone, reducing the army to 50 horsemen and 10 chariots (2 Kings 13:7) in the not-distant past, their reign of terror was now at an end. Further abroad the weak kings Adad-Nirari and Assurdan III and a couple of severe plagues in Nineveh (765, 759BC) meant the Assyrians were in no position to plunder either.

Meanwhile Hosea is announcing that the Lord loves Israel, and calls her still, even though she was unfaithful to Him. Amos too is out proclaiming the love of God. With Isaiah and Micah working in Judah at the same time it’s easy to see God’s goodness has really begun to manifest itself everywhere.

And it’s into this time of snowballing peace and security that the message of God comes to Jonah, son of Amittai: under Jeroboam II Israel is going to rock it like its 950BC. Go tell everyone that the Lord is going to be gracious to His people because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and she is going to conquer Moab, Syria, Ammon, and make peace with Judah. Ascension is imminent.
How amazing would that be? It’s the opposite of Jeremiah’s message--you get to tell everyone that Israel is loved by God and as a result is going to own it all. If I could pick any of the prophets to be, I would without hesitation pick Jonah. That’s the message I want to proclaim. I want to tell Israel that God loves her and hates everyone else. I want to proclaim her promised success and their failure. I want to tell everyone that because of the sins of the world and the promises to our fathers Israel is going to soar. What an awesome time that would be.
And just as it was predicted it came to pass: “He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spoke by the hand of his servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher.” (2 Kings 14:25)

What a great ministry.
It’s to this man, a man who'd been given the task of delivering good news of prosperity that a new message comes: “Arise and go to Nineveh, that great city.” This could not be more clear. "I’ve made you the good news preacher Jonah. Your ministry has been to tell the nation I send you to to rise and crush their enemies. I've sent you to Israel, now I want you to preach that message to Assyria. It’s their turn. They will be blessed. They will ascend. And I will make them great because of what you say to them, and once they’re great I will use them to destroy Israel.
Small wonder his response. That would be mine too.


It can’t be.
And it won’t be through me.

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