Wednesday, May 08, 2013

“Eager to Forgive (Jonah)”

Second Quarter 2013 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Eager to Forgive (Jonah)
For the week of May 11, 2013
     There are some people, today, who think the book of Jonah is mere symbolic fictional generalizations about human existence. However, Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites, and their response of repentance, was referred to by Jesus. He affirmed the great miracle of Jonah’s recovery from the fish (Matt 12:40). And further, Jesus based His call to repentance in His day on the validity of Jonah’s message of repentance to the Ninevites (Matt 12:41; Luke 11:29–32). No allegory here. It’s the real deal.
     Jonah’s name means “dove.” He was from Gath Hepher (2 Kings 14:25), a town in the land of Zebulun (Josh 19:10, 13). Jonah lived when Jeroboam II ruled the Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 14:23–25). The events in the Book of Jonah took place sometime in Jeroboam’s reign (793-753 b.c.). Jonah is the only Old Testament prophet who ran from God. Jonah had previously vowed to serve God. (Jonah 2:7-9). However, the record opens with the action of Jonah rebelling and running from God.
     Hosea and Amos prophesied about Assyria’s defeat and capture of the ten northern tribes. Assyria was a dreadful and dreaded enemy of Israel. Nineveh was especially well known for brutal atrocities it inflicted on its war captives (Nahum 3:1, 4). This, no doubt, contributed to Jonah’s reluctance to preach to the Ninevites. Think of the implication: why should Jonah help this terrible enemy that would later destroy his own nation? (Because the ten northern tribes later refused to repent, the Assyrians captured and ruled them. See Hosea 11:5). 
       The book of Jonah can be divided into two parts, both of which are about repentance. The first part has to do with the repentance of the prophet of God. Not only was the prophet reluctant, he was rebellious and in need of repentance. The other part has to do with the repentance of the enemy of God and Israel. The Assyrians were a cruel, extremely violent nation fearing no one, not even Israel’s God (cf. 2 Kings 18:33–35). They were the Stalinists, the Hitlerists, the Pol Potists (of Cambodia), in short, they were the terrorists, the jihadists, of that time. Because of this their fear of judgment from God and consequential repentance is startling.
      The two records of repentance. The first record is about the individual despair and repentance of Jonah while in the belly of the fish when the waters closed around him, as the seaweed wrapped itself around his head, as he sinks to the bottom of the sea (Jonah 2:1-9). The second record is that of the personal fear and individual repentance of the king of Nineveh, followed by the corporate repentance of the inhabitants in the city (3:5–9). In both cases – of Jonah and of the Ninevites – we see mighty deliverances of God following their repentances which was great (2:10; 3:10). (The words “great” and “greatly” occur frequently in the book of Jonah. Here are their locations: “great city,” Jonah 1:2; 3:2; 4:11; “great wind,” 1:4; “great storm,” v. 12; “greatly feared,” v. 16; “great fish,” v. 17; “greatly displeased,” 4:1; and “very [lit., greatly‘] happy,” 4:6.).
     Concerning the Ninevites, it is written that they first believed the message of Jonah, then they repented. Faith first; then repentance (3:5).  People may come to Christ, just as they are, and then be brought to repentance.
      [M]ust the sinner wait till he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour?
     The Bible does not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.… We can no more repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the conscience than we can be pardoned without Christ.[1]
     There are three leading ways by which a person may be brought to repentance. It can come through the preaching of the moral law, thus driving people to Christ and justification (Gal 3:24). It also can come because of calamities or disasters, either natural or supernatural, by the judgments of God (Hos 6:1). The third path to repentance comes from the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Rom 2:4).
      After a short but very successful evangelistic campaign by the reluctant prophet, Jonah wanted God to belie His character and destroy the Ninevites from sheer vindictiveness. He preached a time prophesy of 40 days at the end of which Nineveh would be overthrown (Jonah 3:4).
     Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. As the prophet preached doom and gloom, the people repented and changed. The preaching of Jonah caused intensive and extensive religious effects. People in every social strata, from the greatest to the least, hoped that God might spare them.
     The people listened to this judgment hour message, believed it and repented. Repentance is never a work to be rewarded. Yet this is not to say that God does not act in response to such repentance. Nineveh’s repentance delayed God’s destruction of the city for about 150 years. The people eventually turned completely from God and later the city was destroyed, in 612 b.c. (see the Book of Nahum).
     Jonah is typical of some today who think as he did then. He did not care for the Ninevites in the slightest degree, just as those who feel the same toward certain of the inhabitants of the harlot city built on the seven hills (Rev 17:9, NAB). He got no comfort from their salvation. But in Nineveh there were 120,000 people more in tune with God than was this sulking prophet. He became angry with God and His message of salvation toward a people who did not deserve it (Jonah 4:1-2). Because of God’s mercy and loving kindness, judgmental Jonah became angry, despondent and depressed even asking God to take his life (4:3). [He later expressed this sentiment again (4:8).]
     Jonah next left the city. He sat down waiting and watching, perhaps hoping against hope that God would bring judgment upon the people of Nineveh. Instead, God worked a miracle in behalf of Jonah. He caused a plant to grow and thus to provide shade for his prophet. Jonah was grateful for the plant, but evidently was not so toward God (4:6). The next day God prepared a worm causing the plant to wither and consequently taking the shade from Jonah (4:7). Again his fiery temper exhibited itself. His anger was directed toward God who was in control of all things (4:8-9). But God had the last word. The book ends with God’s unanswered question to Jonah (4:11).
In summary and conclusion
The prophet most certainly had a clear grasp of God’s character. Jonah knew God was eager to forgive. In fact Jonah’s words about God are almost identical with Joel’s description of Him (Joel 2:13; also cf. Neh 9:17; Psa 103:8; 145:8). God is gracious and compassionate; slow to anger. He does not delight in punishing the wicked (2 Peter 3:9). Jonah also said He knew God relents from sending calamity. The prophet feared that all the attributes of God would be extended toward the despicable, cruel idol worshipping Ninevites—and it happened!
His grace is never earned. His mercies are always unmerited.
    Not only did God show mercy to his enemies, but also to His prophet. God had spared Jonah (chapter 2); next He spared Nineveh.
Earlier Jonah had repented, and now these Gentiles repented. As outward symbols of inward contrition and humiliation they fasted and put on sackcloth.
3:7–8. The king’s repentance and remorse led him and his nobles to issue a royal decree. As a result the decree instructed the people to fast to wear sackcloth (cf. comments on v. 5, to call urgently on God, and to relinquish their wickedness (evil ways; cf. v. 10). [2]
The conversion of the Ninevites (3:5–10)
4:1. Jonah blatantly rejected and repudiated the goodness of God to the Ninevites. In that attitude he symbolized the nation Israel. Jonah’s self-interests were a reminder to Israel of her lack of concern for the ways and mercies of God. The word but points up the contrast between God’s compassion (3:10) and Jonah’s displeasure, and between God’s turning from His anger (3:9–10) and Jonah’s turning toanger. Jonah’s anger (became angry is lit., “became hot”) at God for sparing Nineveh stemmed from his unbalanced patriotic fervor. Jonah probably knew from Amos and Hosea that Assyria would be Israel’s destroyer. Jonah’s fickle attitude toward God’s dealings with him are remarkably abrupt and variegated (disobedience, chap. 1; thanksgiving, chap. 2; obedience, chap. 3; displeasure, chap. 4).
b.   Jonah’s prayer (4:2–3)
4:2. Out of anger and disgust the prophet rebuked his Lord, saying in essence, “I know that You are forgiving and now look what has happened!” Jonah admitted that he fled toward Tarshish because he did not want the Ninevites to be saved from judgment. (He wanted to be delivered from calamity, 2:2, 7, but he did not want the Ninevites to be kept from disaster.) The Ninevites were more ready to accept God’s grace than Jonah was. Jonah, an object of God’s compassion, had no compassion for Nineveh’s people.
Jonah knew God is willing to forgive but he did not want his enemies to know it. Their threat of doom (3:4) could be diverted if his hearers turned to his forgiving God.
The prophet certainly had a clear grasp of God’s character, as reflected in his near-quotation of Exodus 34:6. In fact Jonah’s words about God are almost identical with Joel’s description of Him (Joel 2:13; also cf. Neh. 9:17; Pss. 103:8; 145:8). God is gracious (i.e., He longs for and favors others) andcompassionate (tender in His affection), slow to anger (He does not delight in punishing the wicked; cf. 2 Peter 3:9), and abounding in love (ḥeseḏ, “loyal love, or faithfulness to a covenant”). The psalmists often spoke of God being “gracious” and “compassionate,” though sometimes in reverse order (Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 111:4; 112:4; 145:8). Jonah also said He knew God relents from sending calamity. The prophet feared that all these attributes of God would be extended toward the despicable, cruel Ninevites—and it happened!
4:3. Jonah’s anguish over what God   V 1, p 1471  did led him to request that he might die (cf. Jonah 4:8; 1 Kings 19:4). Earlier he had prayed to live (Jonah 2:2). Perhaps now he was embarrassed that his threat was not carried out. Because God relented of His wrath and did not destroy the city, Jonah was so emotionally disappointed that he lost all reason for living. God was concerned about the city (4:11) but Jonah was not.
c.   Jonah’s action (4:4–5)
4:4–5. Though Jonah knew that God is slow to anger (v. 2) he still wanted the Lord to execute His wrath swiftly. Yet God, hesitant to be angry with even His prophet, sought to reason with him. God asked the sulking messenger whether his anger was justified (cf. v. 9). This question implied a negative response: Jonah had no right to be angry. A person should never angrily question what God does, even when it differs from what he expects or wants.
Jonah was so distraught that he did not reply to God. Instead he left the city and built a crude shelter, perhaps from tree branches, and sat down (cf. the king’s sitting in the dust, 3:6) in its shade (cf. Elijah under a broom tree, 1 Kings 19:4). Apparently Jonah had a clear view of the city. Why he waited to see what would happen to the city is difficult to understand. Perhaps he felt that God would answer his plea and judge the city anyway. Unable to imagine God not carrying out His justice on people who deserved it, Jonah was determined to wait till Nineveh was in fact judged. But he was wrong and his action was childish. Obviously he had forgotten that he, who also deserved death for disobedience, was delivered by God (chap. 2).
2.   the explanation of the lord (4:6–11)
a.   The illustration prepared (4:6–8)
God, being slow to anger (v. 2), again attempted to reason with Jonah (cf. v. 4). This time God gave him a visual lesson. God erected an object of Jonah’s affection (creaturely comfort) and contrasted it with the object of His own concern (the souls of people). God rebuked Jonah, not through a storm in this instance, but by exposing the selfishness of his likes and dislikes.
4:6. God provided (cf. “provided” in 1:17; 4:7–8) a vine to give the prophet shade that his crude shelter (v. 5) could not provide. The God of the sea, who could provide a fish to swallow Jonah, is also the God of the land (cf. 1:9) and its vegetation. Here is evidence that God is compassionate (4:2)—even when His servants are upset and depressed.
As this plant grew it covered the prophet’s hut. The shade from the green plant, covering his booth with its dense foliage, protected him from the rays of the desert sun. The plant (qîqāyôn) may have been a castor-bean plant (Ricinus communis), which grows rapidly in hot climates to a height of 12 feet and has large leaves. It easily withers if its stalk is injured. The fact that the plant grew overnight (cf. “at dawn the next day,” v. 7, and note v. 10) shows that more-than-usual rapid growth was as much a miracle as God’s providing the fish for Jonah. Delighted with this relief, Jonah, though he had been angry and depressed, was now overjoyed. Ironically he was glad for his own comfort but not for the Ninevites’ relief from judgment.
4:7–8. Early the next day God provided (cf. “provided” in 1:17; 4:6) a worm that destroyed the plant that had brought joy to the prophet. Then the following day God provided a scorching east wind that left Jonah comfortless and faint. The prophet’s own shelter was not enough to protect him from the terribly hot wind from the east. Strikingly in chapter 1 God intervened by a storm and a huge fish; now He intervened with a lowly worm and a sultry wind. Again the prophet was so discomforted—first by Nineveh’s repentance and now by the loss of the shade from the vine—that he wanted to die (cf. 4:3).
b.   The explanation stated (4:9–11)
4:9. God asked Jonah the same question He posed earlier. Do you have a right to be angry? (cf. v. 4) But here He added the words about the vine. God was wanting Jonah to see the contrast between His sparing Nineveh and His destroying the vine—the contrast between Jonah’s lack of concern for thespiritual welfare of the Ninevites and his concern for his own physical welfare. Both Jonah’s unconcern (for Nineveh) and concern (for himself) were selfish. Jonah replied that his anger over the withered plant was justified, and that he was so   V 1, p 1472  angry he wanted to die.
“Life for Jonah [is] a series of disconcerting surprises and frustrations. He tries to escape from God and is trapped. He then gives up, accepts the inevitability of perishing, and is saved. He obeys when given a second chance, and is frustratingly, embarrassingly successful. He blows up; his frustration is intensified” (Judson Mather, “The Comic Act of the Book of Jonah,” Soundings 65. Fall 1982, p. 283).
4:10–11. God wanted Jonah to see that he had no right to be angry over Nineveh or the vine because Jonah did not give life to or sustain either of them. Nor was he sovereign over them. He had no control over the plant’s growth or withering. The vine was quite temporal (it sprang up overnight and died overnight) and was of relatively little value. Yet Jonah grieved over it. Whereas Jonah had no part in making the plant grow, God had created the Ninevites. Jonah’s affections were distorted; he cared more for a vine than for human lives. He cared more for his personal comfort than for the spiritual destiny of thousands of people. What a picture of Israel in Jonah’s day.
God’s words to the prophet indicate that Jonah had no right to be angry. Donald E. Baker paraphrases the Lord’s response this way: “Let’s analyze this anger of yours, Jonah It represents your concern over your beloved plant—but what did it really mean to you? Your attachment to it couldn’t be very deep, for it was here one day and gone the next. Your concern was dictated by self-interest, not by genuine love. You never had the devotion of a gardener. If you feel as bad as you do, what would you expect a gardener to feel like, who tended a plant and watched it grow only to see it wither and die? This is how I feel about Nineveh, only much more so. All those people, all those animals—I made them; I have cherished them all these years. Nineveh has cost Me no end of effort, and it means the world to Me. Your pain is nothing compared to Mine when I contemplate their destruction” (“Jonah and the Worm,” His. October 1983, p. 12).
Whereas Jonah had thought God was absurd in sparing the Assyrians, God exposed Jonah as the one whose thinking was absurd.
In contrast with an insignificant vine, greater Nineveh was significant; it had more than 120,000 people. The words, who cannot tell their right hand from their left, may refer to young children, in which case the population of Nineveh and its environs may have been, as some commentators state, about 600,000. But other commentators suggest that the 120,000 were adults, who were as undisciplined or undiscerning as children, thus picturing their spiritual and moral condition without God. (In that case the total population may have been about 300,000.) The figure of 120,000 for Ninevehproper accords with the adult population of Nimrod (Gen. 10:11–12; also known as Calah, a suburb of Nineveh). An inscription states that Ashurnaṣirpal II (883-859) invited 69,574 people of Nimrod to a feast (Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, p. 234, n. 27; Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1924, p. 116). And according to Donald J. Wiseman, Nineveh’s walls enclosed an area twice that of Calah (“Jonah’s Nineveh,” Tyndale Bulletin 30. 1979, p. 37).
Jonah is a remarkably tragic example of the plight of the nation Israel. Both Jonah and Israel were accused of religious disobedience and disaffection. What a tragedy when God’s people care more for creaturely comforts than for the interests of God’s will among men.
By contrast, God is unselfish. He has a right to be concerned about (ḥûs, “to spare”; cf. Joel 2:17) that great city, a city with many people who needed His grace.
The two Minor Prophets that deal almost exclusively with Nineveh—Jonah and Nahum—each end with a question (cf. Nahum 3:19). The question in Jonah 4:11 leaves the reader with a sense of uneasiness, for the curtain seems to drop abruptly. No response from Jonah is recorded. How is this silence to be understood? Most likely Jonah could not have written the book unless he had learned the point God was seeking to bring home to him. Apparently Jonah perceived his error and then wrote this historical-biographical narrative to urge Israel to flee from her disobedience and spiritual callousness.
  V 1, p 1473  As the book concludes, Jonah was angry, depressed, hot, and faint. And he was left to contemplate God’s words about his own lack of compassion and God’s depth of compassion. The Lord had made His points: (a) He is gracious toward all nations, toward Gentiles as well as Israelites; (b) He is sovereign; (c) He punishes rebellion; and (d) He wants His own people to obey Him, to be rid of religious sham, and to place no limits on His universal love and grace.[3]
I.          The Disobedience of Jonah (chaps. 1–2)
A.  The commission of the prophet (1:1–2)
B.   The disobedience of the prophet (1:3)
C.   The consequences of the prophet’s disobedience (1:4–2:10)
1.   The great wind (1:4–16)
2.   The great fish (1:17–2:10)
II.          The Obedience of Jonah (chaps. 3–4)
A.  The recommissioning of the prophet (3:1–2)
B.   The obedience of the prophet (3:3–4)
C.   The conversion of the Ninevites (3:5–10)
1.   The action of the people (3:5)
2.   The action of the king (3:6–9)
3.   The action of God (3:10)
D.   The sorrow of the prophet (chap. 4)
1.   The displeasure of Jonah (4:1–5)
2.   The explanation of the Lord (4:6–11) [4]
I.    Jonah’s Refusal Shows God’s Patience (1:1–17).
A.  The order (1:1–2): God specifically told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness.
B.   The objection (1:3): Jonah refuses and boards a ship going to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh! He underwent a sudden sharp change in value. Thought to escape from God to avoid going to Nineveh. Left hastily in violation of his agreement to serve and to obey God.
C.   The ordeal (1:4–17).
1.   The furious storm (1:4): God sends a violent wind that threatens to sink the ship.
2.   The fear (1:5–7).
a.   The sailors attempt to protect the boat in the storm (1:5–6): The sailors pray to their gods and throw the cargo overboard to lighten the ship.
b.   The sailors attempt to point the blame for the storm (1:7): They cast lots to determine who is responsible for their trouble, and the lot falls upon Jonah.
3.   The fault (1:8–16).
a.   The confrontation (1:8): The sailors confront Jonah, demanding to know who he is and what he has done.
b.   The confession (1:9–11): Jonah acknowledges that he is running from God.
c.   The counsel (1:12–14): Jonah advises them that if they throw him overboard, the storm will calm.
d.   The calm (1:15–16): The sailors throw Jonah overboard, and the storm stops at once.
4.   The fish (1:17): God arranges for a great fish to swallow Jonah.
II.    Jonah’s Prayer Shows God’s Power (2:1–10).
A.  Jonahs despair (2:1–6)
1.   The waters close around him (2:1–5a).
2.   Seaweed wraps itself around his head (2:5b).
3.   He sinks to the bottom of the sea (2:6).
B.   Jonahs dedication (2:7–9): He remembers and renews his previous vow to serve and obey God.
C.   Jonahs deliverance (2:10): God commands the fish to spit Jonah up on the beach.
When Jonah preaches to the Ninevites, they repent and are saved. But Jonah resents God for saving his enemies, so God has to teach him about compassion.
I.    Nineveh’s Revival Shows God’s Pardon (3:1–10).
A.  Jonahs commission (3:1–4)
1.   The nature (3:1–2): For the second time, the prophet is ordered to Nineveh.
2.   The numbers (3:3–4)
a.   Three days (3:3): Nineveh is so big, it takes three days to see it all.
b.   Forty days (3:4): Jonah says God will destroy the city after this time if the people do not repent.
B.   Ninevehs confession (3:5–9).
1.   The ruler repents (3:6–9).
2.   The rest repent (3:5).
C.   Gods compassion (3:10): Nineveh’s repentance saves the city from divine destruction.
II.    Jonah’s Resentment Shows God’s Compassion and Jonah’s Lack of Pity (4:1–11).
A.  Jonahs twofold complaint (4:1–9)
1.   About God sparing Nineveh (4:1–3)
2.   About the suns glare (4:4–9)
a.   The watch (4:4–5): Jonah waits outside the city to see what will happen.
b.   The wonders (4:6–8): God now creates three things:
(1) A welcome vine (4:6) : It shades Jonah from the fierce heat.
(2) A worm (4:7) : It destroys the vine.
(3) A wind (4:8) : It almost scorches Jonah.
c.   The whining (4:9) : Jonah continues to complain, this time about the death of the vine.
B.   Gods manifold compassion (4:10–11)
1.   The rebuke (4:10) : God chastens Jonah for his concern over the vine.
2.   The revelation (4:11) : God says his concern is for the people and animals living in Nineveh.[5]
The structure of 1:4–16 is a chiasm, as seen in the following chart (adapted from Yehuda Radday, “Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Literature,” in Chiasmus in Antiquity: Structures, Analyses, Exegesis. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1981, p. 60).
a. The sailors’ fright (vv. 4–5a)
b. The sailors’ prayer to their gods (v. 5b)
c. The sailors’ unloading the ship (v. 5c)
d. The captain’s speech to Jonah (v. 6)
e. The sailors’ word to each other (v. 7a)
f. The sailors’ question to Jonah, Who are you? (vv. 7b–8)
g. Jonah’s confession (v. 9)
f‘. The sailors’ question to Jonah, What have you done? (v. 10a)
e’. The sailors’ question to Jonah, What shall we do? (vv. 10b–11)
d‘. Jonah’s words to the sailors (v. 12)
c’. The sailors’ rowing of the ship (v. 13)
b‘. The sailor’s prayer to the Lord (v. 14)
a’. The sailors’ fear of the Lord (vv. 15–16)[6]
-Jerry Finneman
[1] Steps to Christ, pp 25-26.
[2] Hannah, J. D. (1985). Jonah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), . Vol. 1The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (1469). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[3] Hannah, J. D. (1985). Jonah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), . Vol. 1The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (1470–1473). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[4] Hannah, J. D. (1985). Jonah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), . Vol. 1The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (1464). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
[5] Willmington, H. L. (1999). The Outline Bible (Jon 1–4:11). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
[6] Hannah, J. D. (1985). Jonah. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), . Vol. 1The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Ed.) (1465). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.