In this episode I’m laying the groundwork for exploring the story of Jonah with new eyes: Who is Jonah? Why did he flee and get on a boat to Tarshish? And why is his story in the Bible?
We also ponder the question of why Jonah ran from God. He thought he was saving his own life, but in reality, he was running from real life. Followers of Jesus face the same choice today, whether or not we will let go of our own vision of the “good life” and instead take up Jesus’ vision for our lives.
Speaker in the audio file:
Tim: Hey everybody! I’m Tim Mackie, and this is my podcast, Exploring My Strange
Bible. I am a card-carrying, Bible, history, and language nerd who thinks that
Jesus of Nazareth is utterly amazing and worth following with everything that you
On this Podcast, I’m putting together the last ten years’ worth of lectures, and
sermons where I’ve been exploring this strange, and wonderful story of the Bible
and how it invites us into the mission of Jesus and the journey of faith. And I
hope this can be helpful for you too.
I also helped start this thing called, The Bible Project. We make animated videos,
and podcasts about all kinds of topics on Bible, and Theology. You can find those
resources at thebibleproject.com.
With all that said, let’s dive into the episode for this week.
We decided to launch this podcast with a five-part teaching series that I did back
in 2013 in the Sunday gatherings at Door of Hope Church where I was a pastor
for many years. And in this series we explore the Book of Jonah which is one of
the most fascinating, fascinating books of the Old Testament I’ve had going on
for two decades of obsession with understanding the brilliance of this book. I was
first introduced to the book of Jonah as a new Christian, in my early 20s, I had
this class on reading biblical literature with an amazingly brilliant professor of
Hebrew Bible named Ray Lubeck and he blew my mind. Teaching me to read the
Bible as Hebrew literature. So what this first message of five is going to do is
actually just go through the first couple of verses of the Book of Jonah, but then
set up what kind of book is before us, and how if you’ve only been introduced to
it through children’s literature or media, how unfortunate that is. Because this is
definitely not a children’s story. It’s very complex and subversive, challenging. So
this first message then is just setting you up for reading a book that’s so
sophisticated as the Book of Jonah. But I learned a ton in the process of
preparing for it, and I hope that it’s helpful for you.
How many of you are familiar with the story of Jonah? Show of hands here. I
think it’s important—how many are familiar? So the vast majority of us are
familiar with the story of Jonah. And this is the problem, I think. This is actually a
huge problem, and one that we’re going to have to overcome here in the next
five weeks. And it’s a problem because if I were to ask the question, how many of
you have thoughtfully read through the Book of Jonah in this entirety maybe
even more than once, maybe even read the Study Bible or something like that,
comment on it and learned about the Book of Jonah, and I did—I’m not going to
ask that question. It’s okay. But if I did ask that question, far, far fewer hands
would have raised. So I’m guessing actually many of us have probably never
actually thoroughly or thoughtfully read through the book. But you know about it
because of what? Yeah, exactly right.
So I call this the Veggie Tales factor. You know what I’m saying. The Veggie Tales
factor. And so honestly, when I said the Book of Jonah, what came into many of
your minds was the talking cucumber, you know what I mean? The talking
tomato or whatever. And this is a challenge and a problem I think, just in general
with especially in the Old Testament, the stories of the Bible because most of us,
if we have encountered the stories of the Old Testament at all, it has not been
through thoughtful reading of them. They’ve been mediated to us through
children’s media. And what happens in children’s media is that most of these
stories, they get watered down or they’re simplified, and somehow they all of a
sudden teach a bland moral truth, like be nice or something. Be a nice person.
Suddenly every story in the Bible is about that, and especially Jonah. Holy cow.
For Jonah it’s a no-brainer.
There is one element of this story that every, every children’s book fixates on. And
what element is that? It’s Jonah and the…? Come on, the fish. Come on, you know
this. Just random sampling of book covers from amazon.com. And so whether it’s
the 3D version, right? With the little glasses over here. Whether it’s the sticker
book version right here. I mean, just look at it, there you go. What’s the Book of
Jonah about? It’s about a guy and a fish, there you go. That’s the Veggie Tale
factor that we have at work with us. And so, you guys, the fish appears in two
sentences in this entire story, you know what I’m saying. The fish is not the thing.
The fish is not the thing. To make the fish the focus or the main theme is to
actually miss what the story is really about.
So the Book of Jonah is a part of the sacred scriptures. And the purpose of these
Scriptures is not to entertain children. The purpose of these scriptures is not to
teach us about fish. The scripture’s purpose is to reveal the character of God, is to
reveal Jesus to us, and His character, and His purposes, and what He’s up to in
the world. It’s what every book of the Bible is for: to reveal God, and reveal Jesus,
and His character, and His purposes to us. And so whatever the Book of Jonah is
about, it’s doing that. And whatever I think the Book of Jonah is about that
distracts from that, I’m probably like way on the wrong track, I need to get back,
it’s the Veggie Tales Factor.
And so the fact is, the Book of Jonah especially is, I mean, it’s a great children’s
story, but to actually get what’s going on in this book, you have to be an adult.
Absolutely. The Book of Jonah is one of the most brilliantly told stories in the
entire Bible. It’s full of wit, and irony, and humor, there is humor in the Bible,
there really is, and sarcasm. And what this book is really doing; Jonah, as we can
see, he’s a representative character in the story. He represents the covenant
people of God through whom God wants to do His work in the world. And what
this book does is by exposing—Jonah is a horrible man, by the way. Do you know
this? He’s a horrible person. Every chapter of the book just exposes what a
horrible, flawed person he is. And by holding him up for ridicule, for shame, for
critique, what the story-teller is really doing—how many of you have seen this
kind of a stalk scene in many spy action movies where a dark alley or warehouse,
the good guys chasing the bad guy. And all of a sudden the good guy sees the
red, laser beam sight on his chest, you know what I’m saying, you know that
scene? You can name ten movies that have that scene in it right now. So that’s
the Book of Jonah. Because you’re reading the story, and you’re like, whoa this is
crazy, and this guy’s crazy, and the fish, and whoa this. And then all of a sudden,
if you’re paying attention, you realize, “Yeah, this is about me. This whole story is
aimed at punching me in the gut right now.” This story is aimed at exposing the
worst tendencies that tend to form inside of God’s covenant people which is
pride, hard-heartedness, judgementalism, tribalism, small-mindedness, and an
inability to grow and change and let God’s grace actually surprise me, and
explode the boundaries of what I thought was possible in the world. That’s what
the story is about.
It’s one of the things where you just think you’re reading this kind of like
harmless tale or something, and then you realize, someone’s socking you in the
gut. That’s the Book of Jonah. And so Sergeant General’s warning, this is probably
going to get hurt, five Sundays in a row, it’s going to hurt. But you’re kind of used
to that around Door of Hope, I think. It’s kind of why a lot of you are here, it’s
because you like the pain. You like the pain. I don’t know how else to say it. So,
think of these five weeks as kind of like a rescue mission. We’re going to rescue
the Book of Jonah from all of the layers of vegetation that have grown over it,
alright. We’re going to pull it out and try to understand what the story is really
saying, this profound revelation of the character and purposes of God. You guys
Alright, so you’re already open here. And specifically today, reading any book of
the Bible, especially the Book of Jonah, we’re kind of—it’s kind of like watching
afternoon soap operas when you have not been watching beforehand, and you’re
like, who are these people, and why do you I care about this, and it’s clearly all
these stories that have already been going, you know what I’m saying here?
Some of you are ashamed to even admit that you would watch soap operas. So
anyway, but that’s kind of what’s going on, is we dive into Jonah. There’s all of
these backstories that you’re just supposed to know, inform and help you grasp
what the author’s trying to do to you. He’s trying to mess with you here. But you
need to grasp the backstory. And so, we’re camping out on the three verses this
week to set the playing field, and so we can pick up and just run in the Sundays
Verse 1, let’s go for it lightning speed. “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah son
of Amittai.” Okay let’s stop. Stop here. There are two things we got to pay
attention to here. First of all, the author just landed big ball, easy ball, slow ball, I
don’t know, soft ball, underhand, I don’t know. I’m trying to say, he’s throwing us
a bone, different metaphor altogether, you know what I’m talking about. With
this first sentence, what kind of book am I reading? We just opened up the Book
of Jonah. What kind of book are we reading?
First clue right there. So the word of the Lord comes to what kinds of people in
the Bible especially in Israel. The prophets. It’s the prophets. So apparently this is
a book of—and the Bible, prophets doesn’t mean fortune-teller or something like
that. The prophets sometimes look into the future and discern what God will be
doing in line with this character, and so on. But for the most part, the most basic
definition, and role of prophets in the Bible is to speak on God’s behalf. They’re
just messengers to speak on God’s behalf, give God’s perspective on something.
And that’s what prophet is in the Bible. And so the word of the Lord comes to
prophets, turn the page to the next book of the Bible, it will just be one page for
most of you.
This is another book of the prophets, Micah, and how does it begin? Begins the
exact same way. There you go, “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of
Moresheth during the reigns of all these kings, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings
of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Judah.” Now here’s what’s
interesting, here's what follows; what follows in Micah is seven chapters that are a
collection of Micah’s words of his poetry, his poetic prophecy to Israel. And this is
how all the books of the prophets speak, Isaiah, Obadiah, or Ezekiel, or Zechariah,
and they all began with the words of this prophet or the word of the Lord came
to or the vision of that came from God that’s so—and Isaiah saw. This is how all
of the books of the prophets begin.
And so we turn back to the Book of Jonah and we read the first sentence, and we
say, “Oh the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai.” Oh I know what
kind of book I’m about to start reading. It’s a book of prophecy. Am I right? I’m
wrong. I’m wrong. The first sentence throws you off. Everything is wonky in this
book, and that’s precisely the point. The first sentence throws you off because
you think you’re about ready to read a collection of Jonah’s poetic prophecy, like
every other book of the prophets, but that’s not what you get. What you get is a
story about this prophet. And I just want you to stop and think about that. God’s
word takes many different forms in the scriptures. Sometimes, God’s word to His
people is speaking directly through the prophet and through His words. That’s
God’s words to His people through Micah. The Book of Jonah is God’s word to
His people through a story about a prophet. And so if you want to hear God’s
word, you have to read, and re-read, and meditate, and think about the message
of the story. Not about a fish, about the message of the whole story, right.
Including the chapter. I have a children’s book that I read to my son with grimace,
clenched teeth or something. It’s the story of Jonah, and it completely leaves out
chapter 4. It doesn’t even mention the story that he gets angry at God in chapter
4. It’s because well that’s kind of—it’s a little inappropriate for kids to get angry
at God. No, you got to read the whole thing, and what is the message of this
whole book. So what that erases is…. Okay this is a story about a prophet. What
kind of story is this?
And so the Bible is like a small library, and there are many different books, there
are many different kinds of literature in these very different books. There’s
different kinds of stories, different kinds of narratives, there’s different kinds of
poetry, there’s erotic love poetry, the Song of Songs. But then there’s also
prophetic poetry which is a different character, there’s a—you can even read
someone else’s mail in the Bible, the letters of the New Testament. And there’s
lots of narratives. One-third of the Bible is narrative, and another third of it is
poetry. And you should not read all of those things the same way. Whenever you
open up the Bible, the first question you should ask is, what kind of literature am
I reading right now, and then how should that shape what I expect to get out of
this? And so, that’s a question we should ask is, “Okay this is a story about a
prophet, but what kind of story is the author telling me? Like how can I honor
God’s word and let it dictate what kind of story this is to me.” And so, there’s
essentially—I have to go very quick here because I don’t just want to give a
lecture about the Book of Jonah but I think it’s helpful because it’s teaching us
how to think and how to read the Bible more intentionally. There’s two basic
views on what kind of story the Book of Jonah is. There is nothing else like Jonah
in the Bible. There’s no other book about a prophet, and not only that, there’s no
other book that has this unique kind of story-telling style to it. And so you read
kind of teachers or commentators, and this kind of thing across the whole
spectrum. But even among Orthodox, Christian Scholars, the Bible is God’s word,
Jesus, God and human, that whole deal. So Orthodox Christian scholars, there’s
two views. You just come across them in all of the commentaries.
One, is that the author has received a historical tradition about this guy named
Jonah, son of Amittai, he’s a real historical figure.
And he’s passing on to us this story as a historical account of things that
happened in the life of Jonah, a brief revival in the city of Nineveh, and so on. So
that’s one view, and very common view. I think by most people who haven’t really
thought about it, they might assume that.
The second view, again, also held by Orthodox, Christian Scholars, is that there’s
something much more than meets the eye to this book. It’s that, that Jonah is a
form of narrative parable. And that this is a parable based off of a historical real
figure, because we’re going to see here, Jonah was a real figure based on history,
but that the author does not intend us to take the story as historical narrative, but
rather as a parable. Similarly, to the parable that Jesus told in Luke Chapter 16,
where He used a named character, the rich man and Lazarus in that parable, it’s
very clear to parables that it’s a collection of parables and so on. Has all the
features of Jesus’ parables. But Jesus used a named figure. Most likely a figure
that would have been familiar to his peers and so, and a beggar named Lazarus
but then puts that real character into the parable in a parable type setting. So this
is the two main views.
So here’s the problem, here’s the problem here, and let’s be very honest. What
has happened for the most part in the last couple of hundred years, especially in
many church circles, is because the fish is the main thing, the choice between the
two views all of a sudden becomes a litmus test on whether or not you really
believe in miracles or whether or not you even believe a man can survive in a
fish’s stomach for three days. And if you take the view that the book’s a parable,
then you don’t believe in the possibility of miracles. You’re sliding towards
theological liberalism and you’re denying the truthfulness of the Bible. Okay, let’s
just stop. Stop that. Stop. This is the wrong starting point altogether.
The fish is not the thing. What I want to do is humble myself before God’s word,
not tell it what I think it ought to be but let the author tell me what kind of story
he’s writing. And so, and this is where the bait comes in because Jonah is a
historical figure, there’s no doubt about that. Jesus mentions Jonah, and some
people say, well because Jesus mentioned Jonah and the people of Nineveh,
that’s a claim that the book is historical. If you go read those comments of Jesus
in context though, He’s not talking about what kind of book is or is not appealing
to the historicity to the Book of Jonah, He’s doing what He always does with the
Old Testament, says that these are stories and figures that point forward to me.
He says that the book Jonah in the whale is a symbol or a type of His coming
death and burial here. So Jesus’ words don’t resolve the issue for us. You have to
go to the Book of Jonah itself. And so here’s what’s interesting, no matter what
view you hold, the Book of Jonah is unique in how it tells its story. It doesn’t tell
any dates, other than Jonah, it doesn’t give you any names. It names one of the
most important figures in the ancient world, it’s the king of Nineveh. He’s like the
king of—he’s the equivalent of the US President in the world today, he’s the ruler
of the biggest, baddest, empire the ancient world has ever known, and he has no
name in the story, which is very, very curious. Usually when biblical authors like
telling the stories of David or Solomon or like the four biographies of Jesus in the
New Testament, they make the historical claim just out there. They’re telling you
names, and dates, and other events going on in history. And look, everything,
everything is keyed in to make that claim. And the Book of Jonah is just different.
It has a different kind of style. And what both camps agree on, whatever view you
hold, what both camps agree on, is that the Book of Jonah is a beautiful piece of
literary story-telling, and so my lecture is over now.
This is where I think you’ll really be interested here, is that no matter what view
you hold, everybody agrees that the Book of Jonah is a story that reads like two
forms of literature we have in our culture, and those two forms of literature: one
is Saturday Night Live, and the other one is comic books. So the story-telling style
of this book is a form of satire. Are you guys familiar with that term? Some it
seems not to be. So just think Saturday Night Live. So satire stories are where you
take very known figures, popular figures who are kind of stocked, generic
characters. So in Saturday Night Live, you take political figures or celebrities, this
kind of thing. You place them in extreme, ridiculous stories that just highlight
how flawed and screwed up these people are, right? And they’re just the butt of
every joke, and you just watch it and go, “Oh, ridiculous. These people are so
ridiculous.” And satires are always aimed, not simply telling you about some
event that took place.
They’re aimed at critiquing you, the reader, but getting you to laugh while they’re
making fun of you, you know what I’m saying? That’s Saturday Night Live. They’re
making fun of American Culture which is you, but you’re laughing while they’re
doing it, and holding up these characters for ridicule. And so that’s exactly the
Book of Jonah. The Book of Jonah is all about stocked, generic characters. So you
have the prophet, the Man of God, right? The religious prophet, and he’s the one
who immediately runs away from God. He’s actually the most hard-hearted,
hateful person in this entire story, right? God has to physically, like take him on
the mission that he’s going and vomit him out of the fish to get him to do
anything, and then all Jonah does is, he preaches the five word in Hebrew, a fiveword
sermon in Nineveh, and it was very successful, it was very successful. And
he’s so angry he wants to die. And the book ends with him chewing God out for
being too merciful and he would rather die than live with his God. That’s the man
of God in the story. And then you have the bad guys, right? The heathen, pagan
sailors in chapter 1, and the big bad Ninevites, and they’re the most murderous,
oppressive people the planet has ever known, and they have paper-thin
“consciences,” and they respond to God and repent immediately and turn their
hearts towards him. Even the cows repent in Nineveh, in chapter three. So, it’s
just… everything is kind of extreme, and crazy and it’s just like, whoa, this is the
Book of Jonah. So that’s Saturday Night Live. The generic kind of nobody behaves
according to their stereotype.
The other feature, and this is great. I’ll point this out as we go along, is that the
book is just full of what you could call, comic book style. Everything is over the
top. The word great or huge in Hebrew is gadol and it occurs fifteen times in
these short, two pages. Everything’s huge in the Book of Jonah. The storm is
huge, the ship is huge, the fish is huge, the city is huge. The city is so huge, it says
it takes three days to walk through it which any ancient reader would be like, “Oh
this is a good one, that’s a good one,” because it’s like a 45-mile wide city. There
is no city in ancient world that was 45 miles wide. Nineveh was 7 miles around,
and that was gigantic for its day. But it’s blowing everything out of proportion
because it was the most significant city on the planet at that time. Jonah is hugely
happy, he’s hugely afraid, he’s like manic depressive or something. He’s just the
crazy person who needs to see his ancient therapist. So, do you guys get the feel
here? Just everything’s crazy and extreme. And this is exactly what the author is
trying to do. He’s telling us a tale, and wrapping us in, and we go, oh, this is so—
what a great, what an incredible story, this is so… look at that guy, he’s so stupid.
And then you finish the story, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s me. Dang it.” You know
how run away or something like that. The power of the Book of Jonah. So it’s the
ancient, the Biblical Saturday Night Live Comic Book.
So that’s all just kind of orient us. I think part of it too is that we just don’t expect
this kind of thing in the Bible, therefor we never find it. It’s kind of like, to a
person with a hammer in their hand, everything looks like a nail. So just reverse
that. To a person who doesn’t have a hammer in their hand, they never see any
nails. It doesn’t… I just did that on the spot, that didn’t really work, but you kind
of get my point, right? If you don’t think there’s satire, and humor, and irony in
the Bible, of course you’re never going to see it. But once you do, all of a sudden,
you realize, dude, this Jonah is a piece of dynamite that is just being logged at
God’s people in love and compassion to help wake us up to the worst tendencies
that always intended to be going on in the community of God’s people. That’s
the Book of Jonah.
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai.” Now you’re supposed to
laugh right there. This is the laugh check. So Jonah’s name means, dove. Jonah
means dove. Son of Amittai means, son of faithfulness. So dove, images in the
Bible of innocence, purity, so on, the pure, innocent one, the son of faithfulness,
that’s rich. That’s rich. Because he’s the most faithless character in the entire
The word of the Lord says, “Go to the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it
because its wickedness has come up before Me.” So again, there’s a whole
backstory here. You’re just supposed to know about Nineveh, you’re supposed to
know about Jonah because he appears one other time in the Old Testament, and
all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, this is rich. This is so great. This is so great.” For a
number of different reasons.
Jonah, he’s the perfect person to be the main character in this story. I mean
there’s—it’s absolutely brilliant that he is the main character here. For a few
different reasons. Here’s the one other time that Jonah is mentioned in the Bible,
in the Old Testament, here. It’s in the second Kings 14,
and just to kind of give you a sweep of the story of Israel, there Jonah comes
kind of midway through the kingdom period after David, before the last book of
the Old Testament, he’s right in there. And here’s the story, here, It’s about
Jeroboam II, now Jeroboam II, he was the son of Jehoash and he began to rule
over Israel in the fifteenth year of King Amaziah’s reign in Judah. Now Jeroboam
reigned in Samaria for 41 years, that’s a long term in office, yeah? 41 years. And
he did what was evil in Yahweh’s side. He refused to turn from the sins that
Jeroboam, son of Nebat had led Israel to commit. He also recovered the
territories of Israel between Lebo-hamath and the Dead Sea, just as Yahweh, the
God of Israel had promised through Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from
Gath-hepher. Now I’m guessing that most of us, if we came across this paragraph
in Kings, you’d be like, okay, guy with a funny name, bad guy, won the battle,
now I’m moving on. You know, “oh Jonah, that’s interesting…”
Okay. Now moving on, I think that’s what most of us would probably do. Now
really think about what’s going on here, Jeroboam II, good guy or bad guy? He’s
a really bad guy, right? He’s named after Jeroboam I, who was the king who led
the northern tribes to secede, essentially start a civil war, a civil split between the
tribes of Judah. And Jeroboam actually built two alternate temples as a rival to
the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, and he put golden calves in them. That’s
what Jeroboam did, and this guy’s named after him. And apparently, he didn’t
not only—not only did he just like, keep it up, he made it even worse. He’s a bad
guy in the biblical imagination, he’s a bad, bad king. Bad as they ever came.
Jonah prophesied favorably. Favor in victory for this “depostate,” faithless king.
Now granted, we’re told that it was a prophecy through Yahweh that Jeroboam
was able to gain through a battle, all of these different territories up in the
northern area. But in the later imagination, later biblical readers that would be
reading this, would be like, “Jonah, yeah, he’s that guy who prophesied favor over
that really horrible king.” And not only that, in the book of Amos, chapter 7,
Amos actually reverses this. He says, people of Israel have gotten so bad that
Yahweh is going to let Assyria come and wipe out all of the same territories.
Again he’s going to go back. Go back because Israel was disobedient. And so
readers of the Bible would view, again if you know this backstory here, when you
hear Jonah son of Amittai, Dove son of Faithfulness, you’re like, “Hmm, yeah, I
don’t know about this guy. I don’t know about this guy.” He prophesied that
Israel would increase its national territory, that’s what he’s known for. And now
he’s being asked to go preach a message to Israel’s most hated enemies, and
we’ll see why, why he runs in just a minute.
Now Nineveh, good guys, bad guys? Need to do too much work here. So
Nineveh was the capital city of the Ancient Assyrians, and Assyria was the empire
that came and wiped out ten of the tribes of Israel, wiped them right off the map.
They don’t exist anymore because of Assyria. They were the most brutal,
oppressive, and violent of the ancient empires. Their general practice was to
plunder a city, and skin alive all of the leaders of the city in front of everybody
before they deported them back to Assyria. It’s horrible, it’s horrible. And so
God’s depicted as this great king, and He’s surveying His realm, so to speak, and
the oppression and the injustice of Nineveh rises before Him, and He’s like done,
like that’s not going to continue. And so He sends a messenger, Dove, son of
Faithfulness. How’s the story going to go?
But Jonah ran away from the Lord, and he headed for Tarshish. He went down to
Joppa, he found a ship bound for that port, that is for Tarshish, and after paying
the fare, he was an honest man I suppose after all. He went aboard, although in
the children’s book that I read to my son, he’s hiding in a little basket, so it makes
it look like he snuck on the ship. Anyway, it says here he paid the fare. He paid
the fare, and he went aboard the ship, and he sailed for Tarshish, to do what? It
says twice in verse 3. What’s Jonah’s ultimate aim here? To flee, where it says,
right at the beginning, right at the end. This is his goal. Now again, another
chuckle, oh that’s rich, that’s a good one. That’s a really good one. I’m really fully
geeking out here tonight. So let me show you a map, so you can see the Assyrian
Empire here, and you can see Nineveh is what direction from Israel?
East. Where does Jonah go? West. Now not just West, Tarshish is the equivalent
in the Bible, like English, we say, Timbuktu. No, literally because it’s the last port
before you go through, what’s that, the strait of Gibraltar? Is that what is there?
Yeah. The Strait of Gibraltar out to the vast ocean. That was the edge of the
Jonah doesn’t just flee; he actually flees as far as you can in the opposite
direction as was humanly possible. That’s the idea here. This guy’s—he’s booking
it to Tarshish. He’s trying to get not just like, he doesn’t just go down to Egypt,
that would be fine, he actually goes as far in the opposite direction as you could
possibly can. We’re supposed to be on it. That’s crazy! This guy’s crazy; what he
keeps doing. And he’s a prophet for goodness sakes. Surely he’s read Psalm 1:39
that Josh preached from last week, right? Can you do this? Can you flee from the
Lord? Of course you can’t. I mean, He’s part of the Bible itself. Clearly he should
have known Psalm 1:39 There’s something going on inside his heart, and inside
his mind, that’s just scrambled his view of reality and we’re going to camp out in
just a second here.
So everything is rich, everything is crazy and upside down in the story. And what
raises the question is, why. Jonah is the only prophet in the Bible who runs away
from God. He’s this upstanding religious man of God so we think, but yeah, he’s
actually running farthest from God than any other character in the story, why?
Why does he do this? Why? And why do you think? I mean Nineveh is in the
habit of skinning people alive when it conquers a city. And you’re being asked to
go march into the capital city of the empire, and preach against it. This should be
like parachuting into Berlin or Munich during World War 2, and something like
that. You just go up and carry up a sign, down with Third Reich. You know you
don’t do that, right? So we think he’s scared. He’s scared, right? God’s asked him
to do something, he’s scared, doesn’t want to do it. But that’s not why. That’s not
why he runs.
Look at chapter 4, this is again part of the brilliant story-telling of the Book of
Jonah. Chapter 4 verse 1, in chapter 3 he preaches five-word sermon, the city, the
king, and the cows repent. But to Jonah, the fact that the Ninevites should find
forgiveness and mercy, this all seem very, very wrong. He’s angry at the success
of his own preaching. He became angry. He prayed to the Lord, you can imagine
through gritted teeth here, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still back at
home? This is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that You were a
gracious, and compassionate God. You’re slow to anger, You’re abounding in
love, a God who relents from sending calamity, and now Lord, take away my life.
It would be better for me to die than live.” Dove, son of Faithfulness, right? So,
what? Okay, so clearly, he needs to see an ancient therapist. That’s clear after
reading these three verses here. But he tells you exactly why he ran. Right here.
He was not afraid. Why did he run?
He knew that somehow, Yahweh would find a way to bring His grace, and His
mercy to His people through their repentance. He just knew that somehow this
was going to have a happy ending. And he does not want a happy ending for his
enemies. And so here, this is really what’s going on here, is that Jonah has… he
has a plan. He has a wonderful plan for his life. That’s why he asked, right? He has
a vision of how his prophetic career is going to work out, and it doesn’t include
this mission. So he—for especially as a prophet up in the northern kingdom. To
be a prophet that brings forgiveness, and life, and repentance to the most hated
enemies of your people. Like that’s not going to great—go over great. That’s not
a way to win friends and be popular at parties or something. So let’s just not
going to make him suspect among his own people. Of course he doesn’t want
this to work out. And so this is, at the base of what is really happening here,
inside of Jonah’s heart. He knows perfectly well that Yahweh loves to show mercy.
He knows somehow the Ninevites are going to find mercy. That just does not fit
into my vision of what my life is about, no thanks. And so he books it to Tarshish.
And so really, how the Book of Jonah begins is with a really profound, just
exploration of the nature and the psychology of disobedience. It’s really what this
And I don’t know what you—if I say the word obey. Obey or obedience. I’m
guessing that most of us don’t have like really flowery, positive associations to
the top of our minds, right? But essentially obedience isn’t a positive idea in or
culture. And that’s because for the most part, I mean we read this, Word of the
Lord came to Jonah, go to the great city, and we go, “Oh, here’s God
commanding people again. He sure loves to do that in the Bible, doesn’t He? So
that’s how many of us vision how God is. He’s the power trip whatever, kind of
volatile, deity, and just loves to conflict people around, tell people what to do,
better submit, right?” That’s the vision that many of us have of God, our default.
And many of you have that for lots of different reasons. Primarily because many
of you had moms and dads that were like that, the same moms and dads who
taught you about God. And so of course you’re going to project that back on to
the sky. But the biblical vision of God is very different. And think about this
command, God is commanding Jonah to go preach to the city of Nineveh.
There’s so many ways the story could have gone, you guys. God could do like
what he did at Mt. Sinai. He could move in, in a big, dark cloud, and lightning,
and yell down from a blow horn. And I’m sure that would have been very
effective over at Nineveh. I mean, turn from your ways, and what you’re doing
wrong, it’s horrible, stop it. And I’m sure that would have been effective. But God
almost never does that kind of thing in the Bible. What happened there at Mt.
Sinai was very unique. The way that God works through almost all events
throughout the story of the Bible, is what He called His people into being for in
the first place. He chooses to work through His people, the primary vehicle that
God chooses to work through, is through people. His covenant people.
And so what’s actually happening here, is Jonah is being invited to step into a
story that is much broader, that’s more risky, it’s way bigger than anything he
ever signed up for. That’s basically what’s happening here. Jonah has a vision,
here’s what my life is about, here’s what my prophetic career is about, here’s that
whole God thing clearly calling me in that direction, I’m just not interested. And
so—and it’s rude, what this comes down to—the way we rethink what obedience
means in the Bible, is that God has and we have competing visions of what life is
about, of what the good life is, of what actually constitutes true life as a human
being. And you and I operate according to that vision as just default that’s in
there. And we behave in ways that makes the most sense to us given our
circumstances. That’s just what we do, that’s how we operate.
And so Jesus comes into the picture, and He’s like, “Follow me.” And there’s a
whole bunch of things that you’re doing that you think is life but actually it’s not
life at all. That’s what’s happening right here. It’s competing visions of life, and
when God calls His people, the first thing that we’re confronted with is, am I
going to settle for the path of life that I’m on and what I call life or am I going to
entertain this new invitation to life?
And so you have the sad irony here, right at the Book of Jonah. It’s the first
expose of this brokenness of people, is that it’s very easy to train ourselves
through to just being in a church community or something that we’re doing
pretty good, and we’re involved or whatever, doing whatever. And so we’re like,
“yeah, okay.” Just making progress here. But then there’s this clear, glaring area
of our lives where we know we’re being called to grow, we’re being called to
change. And somehow we just end up, especially religious people, we just
compart—we’re able to compartmentalize that off, and be like, “Yeah, yeah. Not
really. Not so much there, Jesus. But I’ll go to a Sunday gathering. And then won’t
You be happy with me then?” I mean that’s totally how we operate. And so here’s
this very religious man, who when it comes to it, here’s core issue where his
vision of his life is being challenged, and he’s booking it to Tarshish. And the sad
irony is that he thinks he’s running for his life. He thinks God is ruining his party.
And the tragedy is that he’s actually running from life. I mean look what he has a
chance to participate in, a movement of God’s Grace that is on a greater scope
than anybody had ever known, and he totally missed out on being a part of it,
and enjoying it because he won’t give up his little vision of the good life. What an
ancient, irrelevant story.
I have two sons. One of them is named Roman, he’s two, and he’s awesome. And
the other one is August, who you’ve been hearing something about, and he’s a
little over a month old. And so right now what we’re working on is this very basic
thing which is, “Please stop,” and “Come here now, Roman.”
That’s—if we could just make progress there, I’ll be very happy, very happy
because, you know… So we were walking down the neighborhood, and I could
tell this story 25 different times, we’re cruising on the sidewalk going for a walk,
and he really doesn’t know how to walk, he just runs. He just runs everywhere.
And so he’ll see a dog or a dump truck or a bike or something he likes, he’s long
ways off, and he’s just on it. And so, I turn my head five seconds, and he’s halfway
down the block, that kind of thing. And so, I was talking to somebody about this.
Being a parent of toddlers is essentially, you feel like a rescue person everyday
because you’re saving them from mortal danger, like ten times every single day.
Kind of funny. So he’s cruising, and obviously, there’s busy streets. Division’s a
busy street for traffic and bike traffic, and so on. So we’ve gotten to the point
we’re making progress because I’ll say, “Roman, Roman, buddy, stop. Stop and
come back here.” And we’ve gotten to the point where he will slow down. He’ll
slow down, and he’ll look at me. And he knows, I mean it’s all right there. He
knows exactly what’s going on.
And so here’s what’s so hard, you guys. And it’s so crazy. I have only good will for
my son. I love him more than anything. I want him to go see that dog so badly,
alright. But all he gets in that moment is, “Dad, you are crashing my party right
now,” you know what I’m saying? Like his view of the world—he has a vision of
his life, and where things need to go, and how it’s going to work out and I’m
ruining that, clearly. Clearly ruining that. And so, in his mind, he’s running for his
life, for betterment, for the good life because he wants to go see the dog. What
he cannot see is he’s actually running from his life. If he runs across that street
and there’s a car, done. I’m very aware of that. And this is precisely the image of
what’s happening here in Jonah. It’s exactly the image of what’s happening. God
wants Jonah to participate in this amazing, amazing event of His grace and mercy
coming to these people that you would never expected and he’s so fixated on his
little deal, he can’t see that. He’s blind to it. And so he thinks he’s running for his
life, the sad reality is, he’s running from his life. And it seems to me, this is the
situation every single one of us finds ourselves in every single day when we face
the decision of whether or not I’m going to follow, I’m going to follow Jesus. And
in a way, this whole vision of obedience and what’s happening here, I mean this is
all summed up at the cross. Because when Jesus calls us to follow Him, He’s
calling us to see that He was the human being, He was the faithful human being,
the faithful covenant, partner of God, human being, that none of us ever was, or
ever fully will be. The side of His return. And He lived for us in a way that I could
never live. And He died to absorb the cumulative weight of just the horrible,
stupid decisions that we make when we run from life, when we run according to
our vision of the good life. And in His mercy, and in His love, He conquered it by
raising from the dead so that He can offer us life, and grace, and forgiveness.
And so what we did at baptism last week at the park. When I come to Jesus,
there’s a death that takes place. And it’s a death to your vision of the good life,
your vision of what your life is about. You got to let it die. And you got to let it
die in faith that what Jesus is asking you to, and inviting you into is so much
richer form of life than you could ever imagine. Which may not involve whatever.
Like big house, and nice cars or something, no. That’s a different gospel. So what
we’re talking about is what Jesus calls, abundant life. Like that is so rooted in His
love for me that I see He only has goodwill for me, and that when He tells me to
stop, and turn around, and come His way, He only has my best in mind. And so
this is a big room, and there might be some of us here—we’re on the
investigative side, we wouldn’t self-identify ourselves as Christians or maybe
would, you’re kind of seeking whatever, trying to figure this whole thing out. And
so you know for those of you—first of all, we’re just stoked that you’re here.
Thank you for being here. And you know just to put it straight to you, that’s really
what’s involved here.
Becoming a Christian involves letting my vision of what my life is about to let it
die. And it may be that I’ll take a whole bunch of that up again on the other side,
but with a whole different perspective now because it’s not my little story that’s
at the center.
It’s the fact that I’m now a bit player in the story of Jesus who’s at work in the
world and inviting me to become a part of it. And so, could it be that your vision
of what your life is all about is just too small, and Jesus is inviting you to
something different. And for those of us who are here, majority of us, we’d self-identify
as Christians. I mean this is everyday.
And so for some of us, we might have patterns. Patterns of behavior that we need
to stop, patterns of thinking of ways of acting, and they don’t lead to life, and we
know it, and we’re scared to let go of that because that’s what we know. That’s
the only life we know. And following Jesus is going to involve letting that die and
who knows what your life is going to look like in the other side of that. It’s choice
you have, it’s the choice you have. For some of us, it might not be stopping
behaviors, it might be starting new behaviors that will invite us into life.
And so the reason why we did the Prayer Series over the summer was to invite
the whole church into a new phase of growth through learning the language of
prayer, and so on. That’s the path of life. And some of us, whatever. We run, we’re
lazy, we don’t want to do the work that’s involved with carving out times for
solitude or quiet, and so what we just—it’s not a part of our vision of the good
life. So we’re never going to get there. And that’s to our loss. And so whatever
form, it’s forgiveness of someone who’s wronged you, it’s finally like spending
less money on yourself, and giving more of it away. I don’t know, that step is for
you. It’s a competition of use of life.
And so as we go into our time of worship, as we come towards the Bread and the
Cup, I would just encourage you to just hear this first of five punches in the gut
from the book of Jonah. For those of us who can be honest and self-aware
enough to know that we’re running. Some areas in your life, you may be doing
good. I guarantee for all of us, there’s some part of your life where you’re
booking it to Tarshish and Jesus is not welcome there. And if you want to
experience life, we have to let them go there. We have to stop running. And
tonight some of us need to make a decision to do that. And so as we come to the
Bread and the Cup as always in our time of worship. And for some of us, I would
just encourage you, make this a moment where you get that issue, that person,
that thing in your mind and as you take the Bread and the Cup which symbolizes
His death, His broken body, He’s shed blood on the cross for you. Just ask Jesus
to let that part, let that issue for you, whatever it is, to let it die with Him at the
cross, and allow Him to speak his life to you tonight in His Grace. And that’s—if
there’s anything about the character of God revealed in this story, it’s one of
extravagant mercy and grace. Amen. Amen.
Thanks for listening to this maiden voyage of exploring My Strange Bible. We’ll
have the next episode up very soon exploring more of the Book of Jonah, and
we’re looking forward to that. So join us again next time.
[End of transcription 48:26]