Jonah And Racism


I know. The title of this article is supposed to be “Jonah and the Whale,” right? I mean, that’s what everyone know about Jonah. But I’ve recently heard a couple different pastors on the radio, and to a man they cut to the heart of the story.

Jonah is not about some miraculous rescue from the sea, though that’s a part of the story. It’s not even about a disobedient prophet who finally, when given a second chance, repented and relented and did what God told him to do. Though that also is part of the story.

The real issue for the prophet Jonah was his hatred of the Assyrians. You know, the people who lived in Nineveh, where God told him to go and preach. If God had said, Go to Bethlehem or Bethel or Jericho or Dan, I imagine Jonah would have been happy to obey, because we know from 2 Kings that Jonah did in fact prophesy certain things about Israel.

But Nineveh? Jonah didn’t want to go to the enemy. He told God why: he knew that when he preached the message of judgment, those violent idolaters who had fought against Israel on more than one occasion, would repent, and then God would forgive them. Yep, that’s why he didn’t want to go. He didn’t want them to repent. He didn’t want them to receive God’s mercy.

Again, that’s right there in the book of Jonah—in the chapter that doesn’t make it into the nice little picture Bible story books we so often see. After God saw the Ninevites change their ways and turn from their wicked deeds, after God relented of the destruction he had planned to send against them, what did Jonah do? He went up on a hill outside the city to watch, hoping that perhaps God would stay with the judgment He had planned.

Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. (Jonah 4:5)

While he sat there, God prepared another object lesson for Jonah. He gave him a plant that provided additional shade from the heat, but just as miraculously He sent a worm that destroyed the plant. And Jonah was angry. Why? He had liked that plant. He wanted the plant to live. He hadn’t actually planted it or cultivated it or done anything to give it life. But he wanted that plant to live.

God made the comparison: Jonah and his attitude toward the plant in juxtaposition to God and His attitude toward Nineveh.

Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

Jonah had no compassion for the thousands of people who God was warning about the coming judgment. His actions—going the opposite direction in order to avoid giving God’s message, becoming angry when God relented and determined that He would not destroy them after all, sitting outside the city in hopes that God would still judge them—followed by God’s confrontation of him, show us Jonah’s heart.

He wasn’t thinking along with God, here. He wasn’t rejoicing with the angels that sinners had turned from the errors of their ways. He wasn’t thinking about mercy or forgiveness. Instead, he was thinking about revenge.

My guess is that Jonah would have been happy to deliver God’s message of judgment: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4b). If, that is, he hadn’t figured out that God, being merciful, would give them a second chance.

He didn’t want them to have a second chance. One way to keep them from repenting, was simply keep them in the dark about their coming judgment. So, one ticket to Tarshish, please.

The whole story is so ironic, because Jonah himself experienced God’s second chance when he was plucked from the sea by a God-appointed fish. When Jonah repented, God appointed the fish to hurl, then gave Jonah a second chance:

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time (Jonah 3:1a)

Jonah reminds me of the man in one of Jesus’s parables who had been forgiven much but who would not forgive those who owed him even a small amount.

The story also reminds me that God loves the world. He loved the people of Israel and He loved their enemies. He wasn’t playing favorites or picking sides. He sent Joseph to Egypt, Daniel to Babylon, and Jonah to Assyria.

In essence He’s sent Christians to those places, too, as well as to many other places. That’s our “marching orders,” our perpetual assignment. And never has it been easier to “go” without really even having to go. We can preach the gospel—the good news that has to start first with the same kind of warning Jonah was to deliver—by supporting those who leave their homes and go in person. We can tell others through the internet, radio, print, podcasts, videos, so many, many ways. We can even go to our homeless or unchurched neighbors right where we live.

Our choice is simple: we can behave like Jonah or we can show the compassion of Christ, the love of the Father for those thousands who are confused and don’t know what is right.

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Published in: on September 27, 2019 at 5:00 pm  Comments (9)  
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God Created


As I alluded to in my last post, I have now dived into Genesis, which of course begins with creation. I don’t know if there is a more controversial subject. In discussion after discussion and debate after debate atheists and Christians come at the beginning of . . . everything, from differing perspectives.

The bad news, or maybe the good news, is that I don’t take a traditional view of Genesis 1, starting with the first verse. In case it may be unfamiliar, here it is:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

I’ve heard traditional Bible scholars who hold to the infallibility of Scripture explain that this verse is a sort of prelude to the more detailed account of creation that will follow. The problem, as I see it, is the next verse:

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

Followed by this: “Then God said, . . .”

In other words, before God said the things that would initiate the “six day creation” there was already something there, a formless earth, empty, water covering it, darkness. As I read these verses, it seems to me that God created before He created, if we are to limit Him to six days. I think it has to be this way, if for no other reason than that during the “six days,” God never made water. He divided the water. He gathered the water, but He never spoke and the water came into being, as He did with light and stars and fish and animals and plants. So water, I suggest, was part of the verse 1 creation. So is that formless void and the darkness.

Then there is the issue of the “days.” Some Bible scholars adamantly hold to the fact that these were 24-hour days. Except . . . the first “day,” God did not create the sun by which we determine time. In fact on the second “day” God still had not created the sun. Nor did He create the sun on the third “day.” Not until the fourth “day” did God bring the elements of the universe into being—the sun, the moon, the stars—by which we tell time.

And of course “we” have not been created yet, so who is actually calculating these 24 hours of a “day” of creation?

As it happens, God Himself explains that in His reckoning of time, a day is like a thousand years.

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (2 Peter 3:8)

In fact, the Hebrew word for day, transliterated as yowm, not only means “day” but also “time, period (general)” and even “year.”

In truth, God didn’t even need 24 hours to create. He spoke and out of nothing, that which He commanded, came into being. “Let there be light; and there was light.” How long did that take? Twenty-four hours?

My point is this: the interpretation of the meaning of “day” is not something to fight over. It’s not a significant part of the narrative, though I’ve heard sermons that say otherwise. I’ve heard preachers say that someone who doesn’t believe in a six 24-hour day creation, doesn’t really believe the Bible. That preacher never addressed the issue of water or the void earth and when those might have been created. Because according to the Bible, they didn’t come about in the six “days.” He also never correlated the verse in 2 Peter and God’s reckoning of time as different from ours with the Genesis account.

In other words, the people who hold staunchly to a six 24-hour day creation are, in my opinion, missing the Big Picture. What Genesis teaches is that God created. He did so in an orderly manner, bringing into being that which He made by speaking those things into existence, including stars, which we know today would include solar systems and galaxies. And finally, as an example for us, He separated the creative process into six time periods which He equated with days, before resting on the seventh day.

I’m not sure what precisely that means, either. Did God pick up and continue working at the end of the seventh 24-hour period? Did He only rest from His work of creation? Does that mean He created more afterward? Or did He work at something else? Does He continue to rest every seventh day?

Those questions are kind of silly, but I think it illustrates the point: God wanted to give us an example about how we are to construct our week. What’s especially funny, I think, is that I suspect some of the very people who cling so tightly to the idea of a six 24-hour day creation, completely ignore the idea of rest on the seventh day.

Of course, on the flip side are the atheists who scoff at the idea of God creating at all, whether in six seconds, days, thousands of years, or any other time period.

The thing they miss is that the universe coming into existence is not something that science can speak to, apart from saying that yes, the universe had a beginning. But this one time, unrepeatable event is beyond the purview of science that depends on observation and repetition.

The idea that evolution is somehow part of the equation is erroneous. Evolution has nothing to say about the origin of the universe. Honest scientists agree: when it comes to how the universe started, they have no clue, though they have theories and hope that one day we’ll figure it out. Below is a short video that gives the basics in the first 1:15:

The conclusion of this scientist that something sprang into existence from nothing, is exactly what Christians have been saying since Genesis was written. But what the scientist has apparently missed is God who spoke.

The real issues of Genesis, then—the narrative that matters—is that God created and that He revealed to us what He wanted us to know about the process. How long was a “day”? God didn’t say. Where did the light come from when the sun had not yet been created? God didn’t say. Did God use evolution to bring life into existence? Well, actually, that one He did say.

For one thing, He stated that the animals were all made after their own kind. That rules out Mankind evolving from lower forms of animals or other animals doing likewise. In addition, He created in an orderly manner, which rules out the element of chance. Thirdly, in chapter three of Genesis we also learn that death came about as a consequence for sin, so the idea that various animals went through a mutation from a previous form and that they did so in order to survive, is not possible because death was not yet a factor.

In truth, Genesis gives us the only reliable account of the origins of the universe because the only person who was there, who knows how it all went down, is God. And He says very clearly, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Published in: on September 25, 2019 at 5:30 pm  Comments (8)  
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The Bible Is The Word Of God


I finished reading the book of Revelation this morning and the plan is to begin reading Genesis tomorrow. It works for me. I don’t need a lot of fancy reading plans—a Psalm a day, a chapter in Proverbs, one from the New Testament and another from the Old, that sort of thing. Those plans can be helpful and I know a number of people that prefer them. I mostly get confused.

I did try to read the Bible in a more linear manner, once matching the various books of prophecy with the appropriate books of history. It worked pretty well, but I don’t really need those kinds of change ups. I happen to like reading books from cover to cover and the Bible is really no exception.

Of course there’s all kinds of criticism about the Bible today, maybe more then at any time in history. I saw a video today that answered some of the big questions, such as, hasn’t the Bible been corrupted down through the ages so that we have no way of knowing what the original actually said.

I never quite understood that point of view, but this video clarified the position and then contrasted it with what has actually happened. The criticism essentially goes this way: the original books of the Bible were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and in Greek. Years later, as the culture changed, someone translated these books into the common language of the day. So one change would be, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew and Aramaic into everyday Greek. Later, when Rome came to power, the going language was Latin, so both the Old and New Testaments were translated into Latin. The idea, though, is that the ancient manuscripts—the Hebrew and Aramaic ones and the Greek ones—were discarded, no longer used, and no longer available.

On the process went, according to this erroneous view, so that the European languages—German, then French, and eventually English—because the translations of the day. Now, today, we have multiple English translations and none of them is anywhere close to what the originals actually were.

It works, these critics say, on the same principle as the old telephone game many of us played as children. The teacher would whisper something into the first student’s ear and then he would repeat it to the next person, who repeated it to the next, then the next and the next until the end. The last child would say aloud what he had heard and it was usually a complete distortion of the original.

But that’s not the way the actual translation of the Bible works. Rather, modern scholars have this great advantage of thousands of copies of early manuscripts.

With all these multiple copies, they can compare and contrast, so let’s say 100 of the manuscripts say X but a 1000 say Y. That’s a 90% chance that Y is the original. But they don’t stop there. The older manuscripts carry more weight than do the more recent ones.

So here’s what the scholars have found when they compare manuscripts:

More than 70 percent of all textual variants are mere spelling differences that affect nothing. And several more involve inner-Greek syntax that can’t even be translated into English (or most other languages). Then there are variants that involve synonyms, such as between “Jesus” and “Christ.” The meaning is the same; no theological issues are at stake. And there are variants that, though meaningful, are not viable. That is, because of the poor pedigree of the manuscripts they are found in (usually few or very late manuscripts), no plausible case can be given for them reflecting the wording of the original. Remarkably, less that 1 percent of all textual variants are both meaningful and viable. (from Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, Appendix by Daniel B. Wallace)

Here’s a three-minute video created by this same Bible scholar:

A case in point: a friend of mine is attending a Bible study in which the leader uses one translation, but my friend has one of the more modern translations. She’s said more than once, they are different . . . but they mean the same.

In short, the Bible has not become a corrupt version of the original. All those multiple copies give scholars a chance to ferret out what parts of the Bible are the same and are different. From that we can have an accurate idea of what the original said. The God-breathed original.

Here is the longer address (nearly 40 minutes) that I watched this morning.

Published in: on September 24, 2019 at 5:20 pm  Comments (2)  
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A Story: Surviving On Your Own


One day a great storm devastated an isolated village. Only one man and his small family survived. They decided to look for food and water in a nearby forest that, strangely, seemed untouched by the storm.

After days of hunting and gathering, they came upon a quaint, tidy cabin made of logs.

“What a wonder,” the man’s wife said. “A place where we can live away from the wild animals and the night frost.”

“It’s a little far from water, though,” the man said. “We’ll stay here for a few days while I scout out a better location where we can build our own house.”

A few days passed as the little family busied themselves with the necessities of survival. Early the first of the week, the man set out to scout for a place near a stream or river. Surprisingly, he returned in a matter of moments.

“Why did you come back so soon? Did you forget something?” his wife asked. “Are you hurt? Are we in danger?”

“Not at all,” the man replied. “I found a source of water, so there’s no need to look for a better place.”

“A stream we overlooked?”

“No. A well. It’s fairly new, as if someone dug it recently.”

“What good fortune! Unless they are planning to come back. Do you think someone owns this land? Maybe we should try to find out who built the cabin and dug the well. We could offer to rent from him. Maybe someday buy.”

“That would be a good plan,” her husband answered. “But I don’t think anyone actually does own the land, the cabin, or the well. We should just enjoy what nature has provided.”

When winter came, the man could no longer hunt as he had before, and his wife and children had no berries or nuts or roots to gather. The food that they had dried for the cold months became scarce.

After a particularly fierce storm, the man made his way to the well. There, off to one side, dug into the side of a small knoll, he discovered a cave. Carefully he peered inside. Hanging from meat hooks just inside the entrance were several boar carcasses. The cave was apparently a smoke house that they simply had overlooked.

Gratefully he took down the nearest slab of meat and returned to the cabin.

A day or two later he found a barn with a milk cow inside. Still another day he came upon a small silo filled with grain.

All winter his small family lived on the meat, milk, and grain from these outbuildings. Surprisingly, when they were low on meat, another wild boar appeared in the smoke house, along with a bin of roots and another of spices. They had all they wanted to live by.

One day as spring approached, the man’s oldest asked, “Daddy, where does the food come from?”

The man puffed out his chest and smiled. “I find it for you, my son.”

“But when we first came to the cabin, I didn’t see a smoke house or a barn or a well. No silo either.”

“I guess we didn’t look closely,” his mother said.

“Or perhaps we didn’t know the area well enough to know where to look or what to look for,” the man added. “Or maybe the things just happened. The storm might have caused them to form.”

“And the animals?” the boy asked.

“They may have wandered in to get out of the cold,” his mother said.

“I’m glad the cow wandered into the barn and not the smoke house,” the boy said. “I like her milk.”

Up on a hill overlooking his forest strode the king of the land with several of his attendants.

“How long do you want us to provide meat for the little family, Sire,” one of the servants asked.

“As long as they need it,” his royal majesty said. “They’re bound to realize soon that they have sheltered on my land, that I’ve supplied them with what they need. If not, I’ll send one of you to tell them.”

“I’ll go,” the prince said. “Surely they’ll recognize the royal robe and the crown. I’ll tell then you’ve been watching over them since they entered the forest, and that they can stay as long as they would like. I’m sure they’ll be happy to learn they are not alone, that you are generous and kind and that they have nothing to worry about.”

But the little family wasn’t glad. They didn’t know this king, they said, and they weren’t about to take the word of a so-called prince, that somebody else owned this land. Hadn’t they lived there now for six months? By right the place was theirs. They weren’t going to pay tribute or follow some imaginary king’s rules. Why, he’d probably say the man could only hunt certain animals and had to give away a portion of the milk.

When the prince turned his back, the man picked up the nearby pitchfork, and made his plan.

Published in: on September 23, 2019 at 5:02 pm  Comments (14)  
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