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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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"Three Days and Three Nights" -- Jonah 1:4-17

Sermons on the Minor Prophets:  The Book of Jonah (2)

God called the Prophet Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh (in the heart of the Assyrian empire) and preach his word to the Ninevites.  Refusing to go to Nineveh, instead Jonah undertook the fool’s errand of attempting to flee from YHWH, boarding a ship which Jonah hoped would take him as far away from Nineveh as humanly possible.  But why was Jonah, known to us as the “reluctant prophet,” so hesitant to go where YHHW was sending him?  The answer is both religious and political.  Jonah is an Israelite.  Assyria is Israel’s enemy and a serious military threat.  Jonah knows that his own people (Israel) are hardening their hearts against YHWH and are likely to come under YHWH’s judgment.  Jonah also knows that should he go to Nineveh and preach, YHWH might bring about the city’s repentance, sparing it from imminent judgment.  As a loyal Israelite, Jonah fears that his preaching might be YHWH’s means of sparing Assyria from judgment.  Jonah refuses YHWH’s call to go and preach and attempts get as far away from Nineveh as he can.  But his plans are about to change in ways he cannot yet begin to imagine.  YHWH will change Jonah’s mind and his destination.

We continue our time in the Book of Jonah, moving this week into the heart of the prophecy (chapter 1:4-17), where we read of Jonah fleeing YHWH’s prophetic call, only to find himself thrown overboard by terrified sailors and then swallowed by a great fish, in which’s belly Jonah spent three days and nights entombed in conditions beyond human imagination.  As we discussed last time, when we raised and answered the “Who?” “When?” “Why?” and “What?” questions, the assumption often made by readers and about the Book of Jonah is that the story is so implausible that it cannot be historical.  When viewed in this manner the fictional story of Jonah becomes an object lesson or moralistic tale about obeying God’s will so as not to suffer the consequences–like those which befall the reluctant prophet.

But when we look behind the well-known details of the Jonah story and consider God’s greater purpose in calling Jonah to go and preach YHWH’s word in Nineveh, we discover the true message of this prophecy–God’s purpose is to save Gentile sinners outside the limits of his covenant people, Israel.  When we established the redemptive-historical context for the Minor Prophets, we saw that while in Canaan, YHWH’s people were to be witnesses of his mercy and righteousness to the Gentile nations all around them.  Because of Israel’s failure to drive all the Canaanites from the promised land (as recounted in the Book of Joshua) over time, the people of God became more pagan than Hebrew (the message of the Book of Judges).  Israel’s idolatry and failure to keep the terms of Israel’s covenant with YHWH, led to a terrible civil war and a divided nation–Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  Given Israel’s rapid and downward spiritual spiral the Northern Kingdom never did serve as a missionary witness to the surrounding Gentile nations.  Instead, Israel became a sad example of sin, disobedience, and religious compromise.  Israel faced certain judgment as YHWH’s long suffering patience came to an end.

But had Israel been faithful to God’s word and covenant, YHWH would have protected his people from the surrounding Gentile nations, including Syria and Assyria to the north.  A very important element to the back story of the Book of Jonah is that YHWH’s call of Jonah is part of YHWH’s greater missionary purpose to ensure that his word is preached to Gentile nations–even to Israel’s enemies.  We saw that YHWH sent the prophet Amos to Israel to call the nation to repentance.  But YHWH sends Jonah to Nineveh in Assyia–Israel’s fiercest enemy.  Although the Jews are YHWH’s chosen people, his redemptive plan includes Gentiles.  YHWH will extend salvation to the very ends of the earth.  

We risk completely missing the message of the Book of Jonah if we understand it merely to be a moralistic fable about not obeying God’s call and suffering the consequences.  The Book of Jonah is a prophetic revelation of God’s missionary purposes for his people as is typical of the Minor Prophets.  Since Israel has failed in its mission to be YHWH’s witness to the Gentiles, YHWH calls Jonah to be his witness to Assyria.  Jonah’s reluctance to go to Nineveh reflects the fact that he is a loyal Israelite who does not want to see his enemy (Assyria) repent, when he knows his own people will be crushed by the Assyrians unless YHWH intervenes and saves Israel.

To read the rest of this sermon:  Click Here

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