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Thu May 23, 2013
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‘Each next risk is the biggest one’: James MacDonald talks with Mark Driscoll
Wed May 22, 2013
by Mark Driscoll
Tue May 21, 2013
by Amanda Edmondson
Jonah: Fact or Fiction?
We don’t know much about the personalities of most Old Testament prophets, but God occasionally parts the curtains, permitting us to go behind the prophecies to meet the men themselves. We see Moses agonizing in prayer; Jeremiah protesting, "Lord, I don’t want to speak any more" (Jer. 1:6); and Habakkuk wrestling over what is happening to his nation (Hab. 1:2–4).
We’d expect the book of Jonah to follow a similar pattern: lots of emphasis on the prophet’s message with a few occasional glimpses of the man behind it. In actuality, the balance between message and man is completely reversed. Jonah’s prophecy consists of eight words—half a Bible verse—and the rest of the four chapters unveil God’s work in Jonah’s life. Action and attitudes outweigh words in this amazing drama.
Just too fantastic
It is no wonder some people say the story of Jonah must be a fable. The miracles are too numerous and incredible: the sudden storm; the fish swallowing Jonah; the prophet’s survival in its stomach; his exit onto dry ground; national repentance; the plant that springs up one day and dies the next. Or perhaps it’s a parable; a learning aid concerning the people of Israel who disobeyed God and didn’t fulfil their calling to be a voice to the nations.
Fantastic but true
Such interpretations fall apart when you begin to investigate further. Myths don’t have fathers or addresses, and we read that Jonah was the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1), he came from Gath-hepher, and prophesied about the boundaries of Israel (2 Kings 14:25).
Gabriel came from heaven to tell us that nothing is impossible with God, at whose command a virgin conceives; a blind man receives sight; a rock produces water; the Red Sea parts; a storm is stilled; people are raised from the dead, and someone who is swallowed by a big fish lives to prophesy to a nation that repents and turns to God.
Jesus told us about Jonah
Jesus made it clear Jonah was a real person by referring to the prophet in the same context as the historical Queen of Sheba, who came “to listen to Solomon’s wisdom” (Luke 11:31). Jesus further endorsed the prophet’s story by reminding his hearers that the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah (Luke 11:32).
According to The New Bible Commentary:
Jonah is the only Old Testament prophet with whom Jesus directly compared himself. Jesus obviously regarded Jonah’s experience and mission as of great significance...Jonah’s town, Gath-hepher, was only a few miles to the north of Nazareth, Jesus’ town. It was less than an hour’s walk away. Jesus must often have gone there. Perhaps even in his day the tomb of Jonah was pointed out there… Was it here that, in the days of his obscurity, Jesus began to meditate on the significance of Jonah and of his own mission?
As we follow Jonah’s story, we’ll find that his very experiences contain a prophetic word for us today.
Kicking back or stepping up
Jonah lived at the time of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25). During that king’s forty-one year reign, Israel grew strong and prosperous. No king after Solomon established such power as Jeroboam II, though he continued in the sins of Jeroboam I. Amos, the prophet who followed Jonah, prophesied against that whole generation for its greed and self-indulgence.
Life for Jonah could have been easygoing. A powerful king ruled over national prosperity. The nation’s borders were extending as Jonah had prophesied, but the people, rich and unrepentant, were still living sinfully. It was a dangerous time for a prophet: the temptation to settle down and simply enjoy everything must have been great.
A unique challenge
Into this sleepy, complacent atmosphere the word of God suddenly came to Jonah: “Go to the great city of Nineveh” (Jonah 1:2). All the other Old Testament prophets were called to remind Israel of its unique relationship with God and his law. Jonah, however, received an alarming and unparalleled command: “Go to the heathen.”
To be continued.