Jonah: Born (not) to Run

Posted: March 9, 2011 by pastorerichann in Bible Studies / Helps, Church, Theology

During Sunday morning worship (10:15am) here at Cornerstone in Chariton, Iowa, we’ve started a series in the Old Testament book of Jonah entitled “Accepting Your Mission.” I’ve personally been praying through the themes of the book, and I’m trusting God that He will use this focus on its timely, poignant messages for His purposes. The following is some background material which may be helpful to some to shed additional light for further study, contemplation, and examination:

From Bible scholar John D. Hannah:  “The record of Jonah’s episode and mission to Nineveh was addressed to Israel. The book was written not simply to record a historical narrative’ – in addition it conveyed a message to the Northern Kingdom.  Also, in one sense Jonah is not the principal person in the book; God is. The Lord has the first word (Jonah 1:1-2) and the last 4:11)” … “One apparent message to Israel is God’s concern for Gentile people. The Lord’s love for the souls of all people was supposed to be mediated through Israel, God’s elect and covenant nation. Through Israel the blessing of His compassion was to be preached to the nations (Isa. 49:3). The book of Jonah was a reminder to Israel of her missionary purpose” (John D. Hannah, B.S., Th.M., Th.D quoted from “The Bible Knowledge Commentary” eds. John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck – SP Publications, Wheaton, Illinois 1978 pp. 1461-1462)

From Bible scholar H.L. Ellison: “‘The great city of Nineveh’ goes back to early postdiluvian days (Gen. 10:11); archaeologists date the oldest of the discovered remains about 4500 B.C. Though it was not always the capital city of Assyria, Nineveh was always one of its principal towns. In light of 4:11, it might be better to translate ‘great city’ as ‘big city’; for it is the number of its inhabitants that is being stressed” … “‘Preach against it’ has a shade of meaning that is not justified by the Hebrew. Probably JB has caught the sense best by ‘inform them that their wickedness has become known to me.'” “… Apparently ‘Tarshish’ comes from a Semitic root meaning ‘to smelt’; so there were a number of places involved in the mineral trade with this name on the Mediterranean coast. It is highly probable that the most distant of them, Tartessus in Spain, at the mouth of the Guadalquivir, is intended” (H.L. Ellison B.A., B.D., Kings College, London as quoted from “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary,” Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Zondervan Pub. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1985 p. 368 – 369)

From Bible scholar Frank S. Page: “Archaeology confirms the biblical witness to the wickedness of the Assyrians. They were well known in the ancient world for brutality and cruelty. Ashurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib, was accustomed to tearing off the lips and hands of his victims. Tiglath-Pilesar flayed victims alive and made great piles of their skulls. Jonah’s reluctance to travel to Nineveh may have been due to its infamous violence.” … “While the issue of personal safety may have been a factor, it certainly was not the predominant one. The reason for Jonah’s disobedience in flight, while not given in this verse, is explicitly stated by the author in 4:2. The issue was fear – fear that the Ninevites might repent and be spared the disaster they deserved.” … “Some think that Jonah’s fear of repentance from Nineveh was based on his belief that a spared Nineveh would eventually mean the destruction of Israel” …” Thus perhaps Jonah, in an act of rebellion and disobedience, had the capacity to second guess God’s plan. But like many through the ages who have sought to thwart God’s plans, Jonah was to learn by experience that such actions are ill-advised” … (concerning Jonah asleep) “Commentators point to the extreme emotional exhaustion and depression that is inevitable when a person directly rebels against the revealed will of the Lord”… “Some have taken the expression ‘from before (Heb. millipne) Yahweh’ to indicate that Jonah believed it possible to escape God’s presence. Many other Old Testament passages prior to Jonah’s time, however, show conclusively that the Hebrew did not think of Yahweh as a local deity, and Jonah himself in v.9 confesses his belief in the Lord’s universality as Creator. The clearest passage denying the possibility of escape from (or being lost by) the Lord is Psalm 139, especially v. 7 (which uses an almost identical expression): ‘Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence (Heb. mippaneyka)?’ What does it mean, therefore, to go ‘away from the LORD’? In Gen. 4:16 the expression (millipne) is used to describe Cain’s broken relationship with the Lord – his rebellion against the Lord and the Lord’s displeasure with him. D. Alexander suggests that we interpret the phrase in light of its use in the expression to ‘stand before (lipne) the LORD,’ which is an idiom used of being in the Lord’s service (cf. I Kgs 17:1; 18:15; Jer. 15:19). ‘By fleeing from the Lord’s presence Jonah announces emphatically his unwillingness to serve God. His action is nothing less than open rebellion against God’s sovereignty'” … “Jonah thought he could just walk away from a divine assignment. But the Lord was to make Jonah’s voyage into a ‘teachable moment'”  (Frank S. Page Ph. D. as quoted from The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Broadman and Holman Pub. 1995 pp 227-229, 231, 233; Also includes quote from T.D. Alexander, “Jonah” TOTC, Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1988, p.101) 

From expositor and pastor Harold Ironside: “No spiritually minded person can read it (Jonah) without discerning the fact that Jonah’s whole history, or at least that part of it here recorded for our instruction, is in itself a prophecy, setting forth, as it does, the course of Israel, of whom Jonah was a type, or picture, and likewise exhibiting beforehand the wondrous mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection” … “Unquestionably, the great theme of this book is the divine sovereignty. The expressions ‘the Lord prepared’ and ‘God prepared,’ frequently repeated, would manifest this. Throughout, however man may plan, and whatever he may attempt, it is God who is over all, and working all things in such a way as to bring glory to His own name” … “Like the nation for whom he stands, Jonah was called to be the bearer of a message from God to the Gentiles. Israel had been separated from the nations, not to dwell in a cold, formal exclusiveness, in utter indifference to the fate of the people about them, but to be a light in a dark world, making known the mind of God and manifesting the character of Jehovah to those who were sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. In Jonah’s subsequent history we see a picture their failure in this respect, and the disasters that came upon them because of that failure, as also the foreshadowing of the day when, restored and brought again into blessing, they will once more be entrusted with a commission from the Most High” … “evidently he, himself, it is who narrates, for our learning, the experiences he had undergone; but the very manner of the relation of them manifests the fact that it is as a recovered and chastened man he does so” … “He simply lets us know something of his own pride and self-will, and the manner taken by the Lord to humble and bring him into touch with Him once more” … “To get away from the pathway of obedience is invariably to go out from the presence of the Lord; that is, so far as the reality of it is concerned in one’s own soul. Actually, it would be impossible to get where the eye of God was not upon him; but in his own consciousness of communion and enjoyment, the moment that Jonah made up his mind to act in disobedience, he lost the sense of the Lord’s presence in his soul” (Harold Ironside Litt. D; D.D. Notes on the Minor Prophets, Loizeux Bothers, Inc. Neptune, N.J.; first ed. 1909; twentieth printing 1983 – pp. 193 – 200)

From expositor Warren Wiersbe: “The book of Jonah is about the will of God and how to respond to it. It’s also about the love of God and how we share it with others” … “(Jonah) had the wrong attitude toward the Word of God. When the Word of the Lord came to him, Jonah thought he could ‘take it or leave it.’ However, when God’s Word commands us, we must listen and obey. Disobedience isn’t an option – ‘But why do you call Me’ Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?’ (Luke 6:46, NKJV)” … “Jonah forgot that it was a great privilege to be a prophet, to hear God’s Word, and know God’s will. That’s why he resigned his prophetic office and fled in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah knew that he couldn’t run away from God’s presence (Ps. 139:7-12), but he felt he had the right to turn in his resignation” … “At one time or another during their ministries, Moses, Elijah, and Jeremiah felt like giving up, but God wouldn’t let them. Jonah needed Nineveh as much as Nineveh needed Jonah. It’s in doing the will of God that we grow in grace and become more like Christ” … “Jonah the rebel suffers for his sins” – “for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6, NKJV) …”Jonah could say with the Psalmist, ‘The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death” (Ps. 118:18)… “Jonah also lost his spiritual energy (v. 5b). He went to sleep during a fierce storm and was totally unconcerned about the safety of others. The sailors were throwing the ship’s wares and cargo overboard, and Jonah was about to lose everything, but still he slept on. ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come upon you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man'” (Prov. 24:33, NIV) (Dr. Warren Wiersbe; “Be Amazed” Old Testament Study – Selected Minor Prophets; Victor Books 1996 pp. 71-76

Again from H.L. Ellison: “… while in one way the fish is secondary in the revelation to Jonah, it was needed for the prophet to grasp that God’s love is operative in a world that is entirely under divine control, however hostile it may be to him (cf. Rom. 8:28) … “ (H.L. Ellison B.A., B.D., Kings College, London as quoted from “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary,” Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Zondervan Pub. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1985 p. 375)

“On ‘three days and three nights,’ Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (c. AD 100) said, ‘A day and a night make an ‘onah (i.e, a twenty-four-hour period), and the portion of an ‘onah is reckoned as a complete ‘onah” (j Shabbath 9.12a). This shows how these terms were used in Jesus’ time, and there is no reason for thinking that this had not been the understanding of the phrase ‘a day and a night’ all along. The difficulty some find in reconciling the expression ‘three days and three nights’ with the time of Jesus’ body was in the grave comes from undue concern with clock time” (as footnoted from H.L. Ellison B.A., B.D., Kings College, London as quoted from “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary,” Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Zondervan Pub. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1985 p. 375)

Examination Extracts from Jonah 1:1-17:        

– In what ways have I given into the temptation to forget that no sin goes unnoticed by God? (Ecc. 12:14; Luke 12:2) Are there some “Ninevehs” in my world that I really think God is ignoring? What about my own sins? (Ps. 19:12)

– Are there some things God has called me to do about the “Ninevehs” of my world? (Matt. 9:36-38) Have I obeyed immediately? After some time? Rarely? Never?

– Are there some ways I’ve deceived myself into thinking I can really “run” from God? (or maybe better put, run from God’s will, calling, service, and intimate fellowship within the framework of all of these?) What are some ways I’ve tried to utilize “escapism” as a means of hiding from the challenge of God’s will? In what ways have I tried to go “against the grain” of my identity in Christ? (Philippians 3:17-21) If I search my heart – do I actually find there that I know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing (and not doing) and exactly what God thinks about it? (Jonah 1:10, 12; Romans 1:18-21) Will I surrender today to do it? (Luke 9:57-62)

– Am I sensitive enough to the Holy Spirit in my life to view certain “storms” as “teachable moments” in my relationship with God? (Hebrews 12:5-11). What are some unexpected means God has used (or might currently be using) to “deliver” me from my waywardness? Will I surrender to God’s plan for me today?


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