OT Gospel Doctrine lesson #33 - Sharing the Gospel with the World
The Divine Comedy
Jonah and the Whale
The book of Jonah is one of the Minor Prophets, or one of the small books of the Old Testament prophets. It tends to be very different than most of the other books, due to its narrative style, with prophesy as background to the story line. With most of the books of the prophets, prophesy takes the front seat, and narrative is used to fill in for clarity.
The story of Jonah is considered by many Hebrew scholars as evidence of the humor Jehovah has, or at least the humor of the author of the book. It includes much sarcasm and irony. One early Jewish work tells us:
"Warning: if a congregation has no conception of spiritual humour, if it has no sense of irony and has quite failed to discover the secret of laughter, it is perhaps better to let [Jonah] lie; for here the laughter never lets up." (Mishkotte, 422)
In the book of Jonah, we discover satire. For instance, we are told that Jonah flees God’s presence. Yet, how does one flee God’s presence? Even Jonah admits that he is the God of earth and sea! Of course, this occurs just before the sailors toss him into the Mediterranean Sea.
We find irony in the fact that God sends Jonah to call Nineveh to repent, and they repent in an outlandish form that reflects but mirrors Jewish customs of repentance (sack cloth and ashes not only for the people, but also for the animals). Then instead of being happy that God is saving the people from destruction, Jonah pouts. All of this, even after God saved Jonah from his sins of fleeing God. While Jonah reluctantly agreed to preach to the city, his heart was not in it, but God saved him. Nineveh’s heart was into their full repentance, God saved them, but Jonah was incensed enough to beg to die. Finally, God shows Jonah the irony of his anger, by temporarily providing the prophet a gourd to shade him from the scorching sun, only to have him angry when the plant withered the following day. He could not appreciate the blessings he had, or that God wanted to do good for all people. In all this satire, we find that God is very patient with all those playing their parts in the story.
Why the Rash Action?
The book of Jonah begins like many prophetic books with Jehovah telling the prophet to go forth and preach repentance to the sinners. Yet it quickly takes a wrong turn in the pattern we normally see with the writings of the Prophets in the Old Testament, because Jonah heads out, but in the exact opposite direction (west to the Mediterranean Sea, rather than east to Nineveh). There is suddenly a dilemma for the reader, for instead of the prophet going forth to solve the problem, Jonah creates a conundrum for the student. Why would the prophet flee?
Yet, when we consider the human condition, we find it a very common thing for humans to run away when God calls them forth. How many of us, when we are asked by a church leader to step up to the plate, say it is a “hard thing that is required of us” and we rebel rather than obey? Whether it is fleeing to the movie theater instead of doing our home teaching; or ducking into a bar instead of living the Word of Wisdom, we all have moments when we react to the call from God or his servants with a sudden attempt to escape to the safety of the world. Yet, no matter where we try to run to, God is already there awaiting us to come to our senses, repent, and do as he has commanded.
How often do our lives become a comedy of errors as we disregard what many would consider common sense, or to disregard the commandments and guidance of a loving God? Eventually, we must choose to be as Jonah or the King of Nineveh. Do we choose the ridiculous in fleeing God, or choose the ridiculous in trying to follow and please God? While we may not need to put sack cloth and ashes on our pets and farm animals, we can choose to intensely believe and follow the commandments of God for ourselves.
Often we find that the addictions, habits and behaviors that we normally exhibit seem to be natural to us, and may even reward us in the short term. But how do they work in the long term? We see from the Great Recession that while some benefitted by extremely relaxed loan and investment models, in the long run it affected everyone. Yet, for those who listened to President Hinckley’s warning in 1998 to get out of debt, pay off one’s home, and prepare for tough times, this time of trouble has not hurt them as much. Only those who ignored, or moved in the opposite direction that the Lord directed through his prophet’s counsel, were most often left desolate, foreclosed and bankrupt. Eventually, the disobedient are swallowed by the big fish, enduring a time of darkness and struggle until vomited back on shore, where they may start over.
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah, prophesying near the end of Isaiah’s time, according to the Seder Olam (ch 20). He was the last of four prophets (Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah) who prophesied during the reigns of kings Joram, Ahaz and Hezekiah, about 758-698 BC. Micah prophesied against both Samaria and Jerusalem, the capitols of Israel and Judea. During Micah’s period, Israel was destroyed, while Jerusalem held onto some independence, even though the territory of Judea was severely reduced by the invading Assyrian army. Micah prophesied primarily during the time of King Hezekiah, a righteous king, and so was not punished for calling the people to repentance and prophesying the destruction of Judah.
The Torah (Books of Moses) include 613 commandments. In the Talmud’s section Makkos 24a (Jewish writings that explain the Bible) we learn that Micah explains all of it in three Principles: “He hath showed thee, O man, what [is] good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? “ (Micah 6:8).
In Micah chapter 1, the prophet foresaw tragedy not only for Judah and Israel, but the whole earth. The Lord speaks from his holy temple, the link between heaven and earth. In the last days, God would leave "his place" (the temple) to cleanse the earth of all the high places-locations to worship the gods of the world.
Micah then explains that Judah and Israel (Samaria) are currently in such a state. Jacob's (all Israel) sin is found in Samaria’s apostasy: the heretic calves that represented Elohim, and the worse apostate worship of Baal. Jerusalem’s temple had become as the high places, altars in the wilderness that did not worship Jehovah, but Baal and other gods. Idols had been placed within Jehovah’s temple at Jerusalem, desecrating his holy place.
And while Micah proclaimed the destruction of the Israel and Judah, he yet foresaw their restoration in the last days. The mountain of the Lord’s house would be reestablished in the last days, and many would flock to it from all the nations of the world (Micah 4). The restoration of Israel would be a literal restoration, as other nations would also repent and believe, coming into the house of the true God.