Sunday, August 31, 2014

Reading Through Jonah

The story of Jonah is a picture of the story of Israel. God put himself into covenant with Israel and promised to bless them so that they could be a blessing to others. Jonah ChartInstead, for much of its history, Israel selfishly used the blessings God gave them on themselves. This led to complacency, corruption and finally God’s judgment. Instead of being a blessing to the nations around them, they became just like them. So Jonah was written to remind Israel of their covenant obligation to be a blessing to the nations and to point out the selfishness of people unwilling to share God's blessings. God wanted Israel to be the means of saving the world because he is a compassionate God who desires all the world to come to Him. He shows compassion to His people so that we can be compassionate to the world by taking the message and blessings of relationship with God to them.

The quotations below are taken from the New American Commentary, Jonah by Franklin S. Page

First, God calls people to his service. Here Jonah is called to preach to a foreign city, Nineveh. Second, God cares enough about sinners to send a word of hope, love, and grace. Finally, implied here and told later in the story, no one can run from God.  Jonah 1.3, 228.

Superficial solutions to the entanglements caused by our rebellion and disobedience seldom work. Repentance often requires radical action. Jonah 1.13, 236.

Jonah ran from God because he did not share God’s compassion for people. Like Israel, he was full of national pride that assumed Israel was chosen because they were better than other nations. His wrong ideas led to wrong actions that could only be remedied by the extreme action of tossing him into the water. The irony is that the Gentile sailors (who Jonah looked down on as idolaters) displayed God’s character and obeyed YHWH  much better than Jonah did.

In this text Jonah sermonized during his prayer regarding an issue where he himself had failed. While he advocated total dependence upon the Lord and the forsaking of idols, his recent history showed that he was the one who fled and forsook God. Jonah 2.8-9, 252.

Jonah is like many believers who are more than happy and expect to receive God’s forgiveness and grace for themselves but would, judgmentally, deny it to others, especially people who are different than themselves.

The very thought of God “changing his mind” causes difficulty for some believers. In perfect consistency with his justice, righteousness, and mercy, he spared Nineveh. There is absolutely no contradiction here. God’s character and his promises do not change. But many other verses show that God does change his plan of action according to his purposes...Again and again the Old Testament relays the truth that God is responsive to his creation. Jonah 3.10, 269.

God truly does enter into relationship with his creation. He responds to our prayers. He takes joy or is hurt by our actions. Yet in all of this he still remains God.

God attempted to deal with Jonah’s inconsistency by asking him, “Do you have a right?” The question is identical to the one God asked in v. 4. Stuart is right in saying that this question is central to the whole book. “What right do we have to demand that God should favor us and not others?..As Wolff explained, Jonah “neither wished to live under the governance of free grace (vv. 1–3), nor was he prepared to live under a government without grace. Jonah 4.9, 280–281.

The issue is that of grace—grace and mercy. Just as Jonah’s provision was the shade of the vine he did not deserve, the Ninevites’ provision was a deliverance they did not deserve based upon a repentance they did not fully understand. God’s wish for his creation is salvation, not destruction. He will work to see that the salvation is accomplished if there is willingness on the creation’s part. Can a person ever rightly resent the grace of God shown to another? Jonah 4.11, 282.

An experience with the forgiving, gracious, compassionate heart of God obligates us to show His heart to the world by forgiving those who hurt us and showing grace and compassion to those who are unlike us, outside our circles, or, even our enemies.

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