Contend Earnestly: Forget about the fish

Monday, December 04, 2006

Forget about the fish

Heading into chapter 2 of Jonah, we see the prayer of a man finally broken by the hand of the Lord through discipline. Verse 17 of chapter 1, however, tends to make people focus on the wrong thing. Yes, it is amazing that this prophet was swallowed by a fish, and was preserved in the stomach for three days and three nights. But remember the more important truths of (near context) God's desire to save Nineveh and (far context) Jonah being a type of Christ.

Matt 12:39
"An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet."

Notice that the sign is not the fish. The sign is not, primarily, that Jonah was in the fish. The sign is Jonah himself. He is a type, or foreshadowing of Christ's work. Jesus continues in vs 40:

"for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. "

The correlation is this; Jonah was swallowed and contained for three days and night. He then re-emerged to preach. Jesus, in a much greater fulfillment of the sign, did precisely the same thing! Praise the Father for sending His triumphant Son!

There is much to say about chapter two, but here are a couple of interesting truths. It is likely that Jonah does not realize that he has been swallowed by a fish until verse 10, when he is vomited onto the dry land. Besides the fact that we have the benefit of revelation, and we are so familiar with account (and Jonah could not have imagined this scenario), the description Jonah himself offers of his experience in chapter two is one of chaos. He uses terms such as "sheol" (vs 2), death (vs 5), the bars of the earth were "around (him) forever" and "pit (vs 6). It appears that he believes that he is experiencing death. The unsettling churching of the sea, the tangling of the seaweed is suddenly replaced by total darkness and (in all likelihood) suffocating confinement. No one alive knows what the process of death is like (except for the few rare exceptions in Scripture, including Christ Himself), but even then this information has never been shared (as a tangent, it is interesting to note that we never hear from Lazarus' own words after he is raised. The Holy Spirit held back information about his amazing experience. But I digress).

More notably however, Jonah does not mention a fish in his prayer. Further proof that he does not realize what is happening. And, back to our original premise of a man who has finally been broken, it is shocking that he does not offer any supplication in these 8 verses. Some have argued that it is at this point that Jonah repents. But I would strongly disagree. True biblical repentance does not need to be repeated. And even though sincere believers do falter in their ongoing repentance, Jonah displays his most extreme blasphemy in chapter 4. This indicates that even though here in chapter two he is frightened and humbled, he is not demonstrating repentance. But God, in His merciful way, breaks Jonah and brings him to the place of a correct perspective on what he has been called to do:

Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD."

In other words, Nineveh, who has regarded vain idols has so far been cut off from faithfulness (or better translated mercy, kindness or pity). The only source of mercy is from the true God, YHWH. Judgment is coming, but mercy is being offered one last time. As a prophet, he has vowed that he will speak what YHWH speaks. He is now ready to pay that vow. And he will no longer try to manipulate who receives salvation. "Salvation is from the LORD". The LORD will save whom He will save!

At this point, God commands the fish and Jonah is delivered.


Seth McBee said...

Very well said...good insights to Jonah...keep it coming.

Anonymous said...

I see in Jonah 2 a remarkable look at repentance, though he certainly falters once again in chapter 4. The repentance is not merely a turning from his sin (the incomplete goal of repentance), but a turning all the back, once again, under the rule and reign of God ("what I have vowed I will pay"). Jonah is transformed, not by increased devotion, not by a new heart for the Ninevites, but a restored heart under the Lordship of God. We are reminded in Jonah 2 that the goal of repentance is not a cleaner, renewed believer, but a resurrendered believer. Though he still had some serious heart issues to deal with, he was once again surrendered to the King's call, whatever that might be. In chapter 4 we see that though he was now surrendered to the Kingdom call of God, he was not yet surrendered to the Kingdom results of God. (Like believers today who surrender to God's call, but expect the results of that surrender to match their personal desires). I also like the blessing that comes from being back under the rule and reign of God, that we see in verse 8. Jonah expresses a peace and satisfaction completely unexplained by his circumstances, and even expresses pity on those up above on dry ground ("those who cling to worthless idols") who do not have what he is now experiencing.

Justin Evans said...

Andy, thank you for your thoughts on this. I think regardless where you fall on the truth of whether Jonah repented or not in chapter two, we would all agree that it is shocking that God's own man could behave the way he does in this book. As Seth said early, may we never be like this in our service.

There are a couple of other things to consider when thinking of repentance, directly related to Jonah. Remember that the thing that he is angry about in chapter one is the same thing he is angry about in chapter four. And when we get there in this mini series, we'll see that the force of the Hebrew language suggests that he actually swore at YHWH. So I see no change of heart in him. In fact I see his behavior worsening as the text goes on. We are witnessing that God will use whom He will to complete His tasks. Jonah is not indispensable. God could have used anyone. It is also important to note that it is one thing to respond correctly when under the heave hand of the Lord. It is another to respond after the rescue has come and we are safe once again. I think we see his true colors when he is again out of danger.

Either way though, I want to be sure I don't make this point (about repentance) the focus of the narrative; the major truth we lean learn is about how gracious our Heavenly Father is to all His creation; not just the Jews. And also His supreme power to save. Without these two truths, I would still be heading for eternal damnation.

Seth McBee said...

I have to agree with Justin on this one, as we know to "repent" means to turn and Jonah shows no true repentance at the end of the book.

Andy, you said:

"but a restored heart under the Lordship of God"

How do you figure? He says at the end of the book:

"I do," he said. "I am angry enough to die."

Jonah seems to have no repentance nor a restored heart. I don't understand how you can get this from chapter 4. Seems as though it wasn't true repentance because of what we see in Chapter 4. We also see that Ninevah as a city wasn't truly repentant either as God sends Nahum later to call for its destruction.

True repentance is change, we see this is the very popular verse 2 Cor are a new creature, old things have passed away behold new things have come.

I don't see this in Jonah.

by the way, I also want to echo Justin in thanking you Andy for your thoughts and the discussion on this, for this is what I enjoy the most. So please keep up the thought provoking questions.

Anonymous said...

Justin and Seth, thank you very much for your thoughts. I see what you are saying, and I appreciate the points you make. You may be entirely right. I suffer from a tendency to hold onto the way I see things, at times longer than I should. Let me pose a few more thoughts to support my view, but forgive me if I'm just being stubborn. When the word of the Lord came the second time (Jonah 3)it was not modified or diluted, but was the same call. Something happened to make "Jonah rise and go" instead of "Jonah rise and flee". That something could have been the sovereign hand of God forcing him to go. I think that something that happened was repentance, though unfortunately it was short lived at best. When Jonah heard the word of the Lord that second time, his heart (I believe) had turned back to God, and when His master said "go", he went. The new creature, again I believe, is when repentance is coupled with the finished work of Christ on the cross. Jonah's repentance would not be expected to display II Cor 5:17 results. I can't explain Jonah arising and going apart from the point of view that he at that moment had turned back to the Lordship of God (he did say, in sharp contrast to his chapter 1 actions, "what I have vowed I will pay"). He turns from God in chapter 4, strays, sins, and is once again out of fellowship with God. God rebuked him with that question that He left open (I believe so that it would remain an alive question for us all to personally answer, "do I have the right to do my Kingdom plans for my glory through your life" ...verse 11 paraphrased). We don't know Jonah's answer, but by God's grace, may each of us repent, turn back from our self-directed ways and our demand for our personally desired outcomes, and say, "yes Lord, you do".

Again, I hope I'm not just being unbending to another's wisdom. I'll appreciate your thoughts, and will prayerfully consider them.

Seth McBee said...

let me first say that you hammered the nail on the head when you said:

"We don't know Jonah's answer, but by God's grace, may each of us repent, turn back from our self-directed ways and our demand for our personally desired outcomes, and say, 'yes Lord, you do'."

Very good insight. I would say though I still believe we can see 2 Cor 5:17 results, even though they wouldn't be as powerful as today as we have the Holy Spirit in us and they just had the Holy Spirit "upon" them at differnt times.

The key again I believe is found in the New Testament to give us insight. 1 John 2:19

"They went out from us but they were not of us for if they had been of us they would no doubt have continued with us but they went out that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us"

Jonah, as you point out, does change in some sort and that cause we may never know but John here makes the point that the perseverance of the saints is crucial to true repentance. One time acts or the appearance of true fruit will show itself in time and I believe that is what we see in Jonah. Even if he was an Old Testament "saint."

Did the Old Testament saints sin? Yes, we don't need to look hard to find that, but those who were truly of God turned to Him, we don't see that from Jonah at the end of this book. Could he of? Yes, of course, did he? Not from Scripture he didn't.

Seth McBee said...

by the way take a look at the difference in prayer from Jonah and Paul concerning the lost. I hope I am not stealing your thunder for later posts Justin...sorry

"But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."

Jonah 4:1-3

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race,

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved

Romans 9:1-3 and Romans 10:1

Pretty interesting contrast. One angry at repentance and the other praying to be separated from Christ forever if only his brethren would repent.

Justin Evans said...

Andy, thank you for your gracious approach to this discussion. When Seth and I set up the blog originally, this is really what we envisioned. What is even better is to see that kind of brotherly discussion with someone we have not met, and we rejoice in our common faith in Christ with you. I have seen other discussions on other blogs go pretty sour when disagreements arise. So again, I appreciate the gentleness of the tone of this string.

Seth, in terms of Nineveh's repentance, I heard a sermon recently that indicated that when they were destroyed as a nation under the preaching of Nahum that it was roughly 100 years after the preaching of Jonah. I have not studied that book to verify the statement, but if that is true then it is possible that another
generation had risen who had returned to the wickedness of the former city. This coupled with God's own direct response to relent from His destruction would lead me to believe that the repentance in response to Jonah's preaching was genuine (see this is good because this is prepping me for my lesson on Sunday morning!) Thoughts on this?

Andy, I agree with you that ultimately the text does not say (directly) regarding Jonah's own standing before YHWH. This coupled with the fact that this is a historical narrative does make it more challenging at times to be dogmatic about certain aspects (such as how much time passed between 2:10 and 3:1. Some have said that while Jonah was still on the shore and sodden from the fishes insides that he rose and went. While that is a possibility, ultimately we do not know.)

I did read an interesting comment that even after Jonah was humbled while in the fish, and vowed that he would pay his debt as a prophet, God still had to command Jonah to go after he was vomited from the fish! If Jonah had been going already, this command would not have had to come again from the Lord. Another indication that Jonah still was hesitant, even after his unbelievable ordeal.

Seth McBee said...

I should have been more clear on my point on Ninevah's repentance. As a city, or generations they didn't seem to be truly repentant, we would say the same thing for the Israelites in some cases. Many years pass but their rebellion and forgetting what the Lord had done shows us the "kind" of people they were as does this repentance of the Ninevites.

It is possible that the Ninevites were not visited by Nahum until 100 years later but in Nahum 1:14 states:

...I will cut off idol and image from the house of your gods...

How long were these houses there? Or did they ever take them down in the first place after Jonah came? We don't know but if Nahum came 100 years later this does not mean that it was 99.5 years later that they started to worship false gods, it would seem that they had been doing this for a while. And not only did they have these gods and idols that they pillaged from wars but they also had sorcerers.

Nahum 3:4...mistress of sorceries...families of her sorceries...

We aren't defending Ninevah and her wickedness but I would contend that there definitely many still alive and may have still had some who were rulers during the time of Jonah.

It would just seem as though true repentance from a nation as a whole would last longer. There were probably some people who were truly repentant but I don't see that as a city as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Justin and Seth, thank you both for your insight, and clear focus on the Lord. Your thoughts/comments have been very good and helpful. I think I have just one more point to make re: the position of my previous statements. First, let me give a quick overview of how I have viewed the lessons from Jonah, and then make one last point about his position before God. My main application of the book has been this: it is a picture of a believer whose personal, "Christian-life view" of his life is found to clash with God's Kingdom view of his life. We so easily see our Christian lives from a Christian-life view, while God sees our lives with a Kingdom view. The day before the call from God come (that was about God's Kingdom plans) the prophet was at peace (I believe) .... not fleeing....enjoying a nice life of ministry and devotion. God though has a Kingdom purpose for Jonah that he didn't want, and the conflict between his view and God's view of his life was exposed. Jonah fled, not from the presence of God (the day before He didn't want to flee), but from the plans and purposes of God. That is what he wanted to flee from. In Jonah 2 (as you know)I see Jonah turning back to the rule an reign of God in his life. He ends up going where his "Christian life" would have never taking him, to a people that his "Christian life" would have never had him minister to. And, he saw the Lord do a Kingdom work the likes of which he had never witnessed before. In Chapter 4 he opposes that results that God did, and the chapter ends with that penetrating question, left alive to penetrate into our hard hearts as well.

(Forgive the lenght of this). So, my last point for my view is this: the correct view of repentance is God-centered, not man-centered. Is repentance genuine? I would say that repentance is, as all the Christian life, a work of God in our hearts. It is God who leads us to repentance. It is God striving with us, calling us back to Himself. Repentance does not reflect our tight grasp on God, but His tight grasp on us. It does not reflect our not giving up on God, but on God not giving up on us. God's love for us leads us to repentance, and we are secure in His grasp on us. Now, from our perspective it may appear quite varied. One may show deep repentance, one may show a radically redirected life, and another may appear less genuine, and may still stumble over old ways.

I would say that Jonah shows us a man that the Lord was pursuing, and holding tight in His grasp. He didn't need Jonah, of course, but after Jonah's flight, the Lord pursued Him in love. God tenaciously held onto Jonah. God didn't want Jonah to lose the great privilege that He was lovingly offering to him, the precious treasure of being used for the will and glory of God. The fish was becuase of God. Jonah's prayer in the fist was because of God. Jonah's going in verse 3 was because of God. So, though we Jonah fail miserable, behind it all I believe we see the loving, tenacious hold of God upon Jonah's life. Did Jonah repent? Not, do we think his words and actions were adequate, but do we see a God-initiated work of turning in Jonah's heart. I believe we see repentance - not a work of man, but a work of God that He was doing in this rebellious son's heart.

Those are my last thoughts, I believe. I have been helped by your thoughts, and see your points very clearly. I appreciated your thoughts as well on Ninevah. I will appreciate any last thoughts you have on this. I'm not really far away from your view on this, though it may sound like I'm stubborn.

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