Big Idea: God’s love is offered on God’s terms not ours.
Do you find that there are people in your life that are hard to love?
Sometimes there are people who are harder to love than others, right?
Sometimes they are individuals; other times we struggle to be loving towards whole groups of people.
We will return to this question at the end of the message.
If you have ever OR do presently have someone in your life – or even some group of people – that is hard for you to love – including yourself, LISTEN UP, because today’s message is for you. God’s Spirit may just have something for you to hear.
So we know this story of Jonah, don’t we? It is one of the most well-known stories from the Bible, even for those who have never read the Bible OR did not grow up in church.
As much as anything, it is known of course for the crazy, fantastical story of a gigantic fish swallowing then vomiting up a man. But that is almost always where we stop. We… unlike Paul Harvey… rarely get to that “rest of the story.”
So that is what I want to make sure we do today because we cannot understand the story of Jonah and its message to Israel – and its potential message to us today – unless we look at, pay attention to, and heed the rest of the story.
As I was researching and preparing for today, I stumbled on the perspective of one evangelical scholar who sees the story of Jonah and his experience as a prophet with Nineveh, as:
“…the greatest satiric masterpiece in the Bible […] Jonah epitomizes the satire in the Bible.” Leland Ryken
This identification of genre is important to our understanding of the book. Let me show you why. Stick with me here.
So let’s answer, what is satire exactly and why does it matter that we understand Jonah as satire?
Satire is when someone uses a medium – be it TV show, movie, literary work, song, or even art – to make commentary (often critically) on vices of society.
· We have plenty of examples in our day: The Daily Report or The Simpsons or Doonesbury cartoon strip or literary works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Gulliver’s Travels.
With satire, people take it on themselves to expose vices in order to warn the public OR change the opinion of the public about a prevailing condition in society that they believe needs to be changed, changed ultimately for the society’s improvement.
Satire is known for its prevalent use of irony – we will see a lot of this in Jonah - exaggeration, juxtaposition, and sometimes even ridicule and sarcasm.
So for example, Doonesbury - the authors behind the comic strip are making, most often, political commentary on the conditions that they believe they need to alert society to – that they feel they need to expose the vice of a societal condition so that things might change.
Another example: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain wrote Huck Finn as a satire in order to expose the societal vice of slavery.
With Jonah, the story of Jonah’s experience was captured by the author, recorded and preserved in order to satirically comment on the condition of the society of Israel.
Remember, every book in the Scriptures is there ON PURPOSE. There is a reason why the story was not only experienced, but also recorded and preserved in the Scriptures for all generations of the people of God thereafter to read and learn from – to be shaped by. Every book was present so that the people of God would stay on mission with God for His purposes in the world.
And every book has its genre. And the genre of a book matters in helping us interpret the meaning of the Scriptures. For example, poetic writing in the Scripture naturally is interpreted different from narrative or parables or what’s called apocalyptic literature like Revelation.
Knowing Jonah is (a) satirical narrative aids us in how we are to understand the message God was seeking to convey.
Though Jonah is a written in story form, it can’t just be narrative because narrative is just descriptive (telling the story). Jonah is prophetic, which means it is prescriptive. It isn’t there just to be descriptive of something that happened. It is there to make a point that will continue to call Israel to their purpose as the called people of God meant to make God known to the world as the one true God.
Recognizing the satirical nature of the narrative, we can ask these questions:
· How does this satirical story (narrative) keep the people of God on mission with God?
· What societal condition within Israel was so broken that God wanted to creatively make a point to correct that condition?
· And does that same societal condition exist for us today where we too can be implicated by Jonah’s story and change?
Let’s look at the story together.
Turn with me to Jonah, pg. 654 in the house Bibles for those of you at the 146th St. campus. For those at the Fishers campus, raise your hands and an usher will bring you a Bible.
As you are turning, let me remind us of our series and why we are even looking at Jonah today.
RE-CAP and OVERVIEW:
We are continuing our Legacy Revisited Series: Tough Love. This is our look at some of the prophets who in particular spoke as God’s mouthpiece to Israel in the 8th century BC.
With the prophets, we are in the portion of the story where God has called a people to convey his mission in the world – his mission in particular, as Barry mentioned the first week of this story, to bring redemption to all of creation. To redeem humanity to Himself and redeem the creation itself back from decay into wholeness by using a called people, a group of people set apart to God’s self to represent Him in the world – to do His work in the world.
The prophets specifically then were used by God to speak his words that His called people needed to hear. They were commissioned by God to keep Israel on track with their purpose to represent God to the rest of the world as the one true God.
This purpose is especially pertinent to the message Jonah was sent to proclaim and the message his experience was meant to embody.
Now we’ve already recapped the story of those first two chapters.
But before we get to the rest of the story I want us to see a couple of notes regarding historical context AND THEN in particular look at how the irony of Jonah’s experience makes it satirical.
First, look at the beginning of chapter 1 so we can set this story in its historical context:
· Vs. 1 – Jonah son of Amittai – same reference in 2 Kings 14:25
· Time period = mid-8th century
· Nineveh – Assyrian capital; modern day = northern Iraq
o Assyria will become prominent and powerful again in a few decades, but at this point, they are not a threat to Israel yet
Now to the irony.
Remember I mentioned earlier that satire is marked by various literary devices irony being a prominent one. And irony especially makes the point of satire because irony is the difference between what is said or done AND what is actually meant or what is actually true / real.
Here’s some examples:
· Irony: flee from God / Ps. 139
o “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there… if I settle on the far side of the sea even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
· Irony: sleeping in the bottom of the boat… in the midst of a horrific storm
· Irony: Jonah says, “I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea…” / as he is hurled to and fro in the storm...on the sea that are getting rougher and rougher!
· Irony: “I fear the Lord” / but not enough to obey Him!
· Irony: Jonah guilty of disobeying His God / pagan sailors come to revere God with sacrifice and vows
· Irony: the whole prayer of chapter 2, especially his statement that “Salvation comes from the LORD” in light of what is to come.
Now with that background and look at the initial irony that conveys Jonah as satire, go with me to chapter 3 for that “rest of the story.”
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Jonah to Nineveh TAKE 2.
From somewhere along the coast of the Mediterranean, it would have taken Jonah about 25 days to get to Nineveh. Here we learn that it was considered a great city. It likely had about 120,000 people.
That is says it would take 3 days to get through the city was a reference to Jonah’s mission to preach. For Jonah to proclaim God’s message to Nineveh, it would take 3 days in order to speak at all of the main gates of the city as well as several temple areas at the appointed times he would have been allowed. Jonah didn’t take a bullhorn and just walk through the streets yelling.
And his message was simple: impending judgment. NO call to repentance NOR conditions offered by which God’s judgment would be avoided. Just a proclamation of wrath because of her wickedness!
· The message fits God’s original call. At the beginning of the story in chapter 1 Jonah is called to preach “against” Nineveh.
But what happens next is not what was supposed to happen, at least in Jonah’s mind.
The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Nineveh repents! And God relents. That was ironic in and of itself!
Nineveh’s repentant response was not typical for this culture and their religion. But here, somehow they know that fasting with sackcloth and ashes is what will appease and please the God of Israel. So that is what they do. And though it is tempting to think that this act of repentance meant Nineveh converted to monotheism and to following YHWH only as the one true God, it is much more likely that they were repenting to the God of Israel like they would to any god that they feared.
To be honest, that’s a little disappointing to me. I want to think that these Ninevites got it! That they came to know and rely on the one true God of the universe as their God. To know they repented before YHWH like they would have to any other god takes a bit of the luster out of the story. But their repentance only accentuates the gracious love of God even more.
And accentuating God’s grace and love is exactly what this satirical narrative is all about. We see that explicitly as we come to chapter 4.
But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing 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, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Now we are really getting the rest of the story! Have you ever heard this part of the story?
First of all, there’s this clarity that we get about Jonah’s flight to Joppa and the boat. When you initially hear the story you might think he is running from God because he doesn’t want to face wicked Nineveh. He’s scared or something and therefore goes the other way.
But no! Jonah runs from God and His call to go to Nineveh because he’s prejudice! Jonah doesn’t want Nineveh to receive grace! Jonah wants God’s love to be given on Jonah’s terms, NOT God’s!
In addition there is the huge irony that Jonah, who was just the recipient of God’s gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, unfailing love in being spared on the stormy seas and delivered to life again through a big fish, is ANGRY that Nineveh received the same!
As Eugene Peterson comments:
“Jonah had been quarreling with God because he had been surprised by grace… But he didn’t surrender to grace. Not (even) the way Nineveh surrendered. And so he sulked.”
And the irony continues in the final part of the story. Jonah goes out of the city to watch what happens to Nineveh after expressing his anger to God. It’s scorching hot – maybe as much as 100-110 degrees. And so God has a plant of some kind – in some texts called a gourd, in others a vine, in others just a plant - grow up basically in the moment (yeah… not normal) to shade Jonah from the heat. It was a grace.
But then the next day the story goes that at dawn God provided a worm that chewed up the plant. And so when the sun rose and the scorching east wind began to blow, Jonah was so hot and uncomfortable that he wished he was dead – which leads to this final interchange between Jonah and God:
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” “It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” 10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Ironic again, yes? And called out by God specifically. It’s God saying, “You didn’t do anything to deserve the plant, but I gave it freely out of my love for you. Should I not do the same if I please with Nineveh – and you have no right to be mad about it?”
You know, even Jonah’s name is ironic: his name means “dove” the universal sign of peace and hope… and when that comes to Nineveh, he wants NO part of peace and hope for them!
And that’s the rest of the story. But what’s the point?
What is this satirical narrative trying to say to Israel?
Remember… that is our question. Jonah isn’t just narrative. It is prophetic, and in this case, satirical narrative meant to make a point.
So what societal condition within Israel was so broken that God wanted to creatively make a point to correct that condition?
The societal condition in Israel that Jonah’s experience and recorded story was meant to expose was Israel’s exclusivism. And in exposing their exclusivism – their attitude that YHWH was their God and had no care for the nations – that YHWH was only for Israel and all others would be destroyed by God, the story also exposes God’s true heart: God’s universal gracious love for all.
God is the God for all people! And God’s gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, unfailing covenantal love is meant for all people on God’s terms, not exclusively Israel on their terms.
And this would have been scandalous precisely because of vs. 4:2.
Jonah’s litany of adjectives to describe God’s love is one that was well-known in Jewish literature. It is used nearly verbatim six other times in various areas of Jewish literature and its theme is expressed over and over again.
And the key word in it all is the word “love” because in Hebrew, it is that beautiful word: hesed. Hesed is the term for God’s covenantal love – hence often translated “unfailing” or “constant” or “steadfast”. Israel was the people who were in covenant relationship with God. Not the nations – or so they thought. Yet here Jonah names that the covenantal love of God – unfailing, constant, and steadfast – has been offered to a pagan nation! It isn’t supposed to work that way!
Yet that is exactly the message God was using the narrative of Jonah’s life to convey.
Prophets were the mouthpiece to speak God’s message. In this case, the scandalous message was God’s universal offer of covenantal love for all nations – all people - and the medium was Jonah’s life NOT his mouth.
And this scandalous message wasn’t just for Jonah, nor just for Israel just in the time of its writing.
There is a poignant moment in the gospel accounts where Jesus is specifically asked to give OR do some sort of sign by the Pharisees that will indicate that he is the Messiah. And here’s what Jesus says:
A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now someone greater than Jonah is here.
Now certainly the sign of Jonah is the sign of resurrection. Three days, three nights in a deep grave.
But as I was reflecting on this connection, I wonder if the Pharisees caught the other aspect of the sign of Jonah: that Jesus’ sign communicating that he was the Messiah was not just going to be his death and resurrection, BUT would also be that his coming as Messiah – wasn’t exclusive for Israel, but was for the nations!
I wonder if they caught the connection from Jonah’s description of the gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, unfailing love of God to its personification in Jesus Christ!
That Jesus was redeeming Jonah.
Jonah who was resentful and entitled about God’s love is being redeemed in God’s meta-story (grand narrative) with the joy-filled, selfless embodiment of God’s unfailing love in Jesus Himself!
Jesus the medium of whose message was embodied in His story:
God’s love is offered on God’s terms, not human terms.
But the last most important question for us is whether this has any relevance to us today.
Does this same societal condition that Israel dealt with - does it exist for us today where we too can be implicated by Jonah’s story?
Do we ever love on our terms instead of God’s?
Let’s go back to our original question of the day:
Do you find that there are people in your life that are hard to love?
Do you have a Nineveh?
You might find individuals hard to love. Is there a person that you are treating – maybe even judging resentfully OR with an attitude of entitlement – on your terms INSTEAD OF loving them on God’s terms?
Are their people whose choices OR actions make it for you that you think they should be judged before they can be loved? Oh you want God to be gracious to them in the end, but first they need to get some consequences for what they have done, the sin they have committed.
But maybe it’s not an individual in your life. Sometimes “love on your terms” can sometimes go to a group of people. Have you ever found yourself polarized with regard to certain groups of people?
This polarization where people treat whole groups of other people on their terms is still prevalent in our culture. If you need an example, just look back two weeks ago to when RFRA was at its height. At each extreme and everywhere in between, take one look at a facebook or twitter feed and you can see people deciding what they thought of whole groups of other people – whether it was, “I can’t believe those conservatives could write such a law,” OR “I’m so tired of the LGBT’s agenda!
How about ISIS? If all of ISIS repented and came to follow Jesus scot free of consequences, are you excited or annoyed that they didn’t get some payback first?
The group you struggle to love might even be the church. What you see in the church is condemnation. In fact it has kept you from receiving God’s unfailing love that is offered to you. Can I just say if that is you – if you have resisted God’s love offered in Jesus because the church has too often loved on her terms instead of God’s – can I just say please stop looking at the Jonah’s of the church and look at Jesus?
Do you ever step back from a situation or relationship to see that you are loving on your terms not God’s terms? Do we as the church need to step back and see if and where we have done that?
And do you ever do that – “love on your terms” - to yourself?
Maybe your Nineveh is you. God is offering gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, unfailing love and you are offering yourself judgment and condemnation?
Have you received God’s love that’s been offered to you in Jesus Christ on God’s terms or yours? Have you surrendered to His love?
God doesn’t care what your sin is NOR that you clean it up before He offers His gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, unfailing love to you.
For God is always and forever FOR YOU, not against you, having made the way in Jesus Christ for all to enter in without fear to receive the overflowing love of God.
God in Jesus Christ wants to pour this love over you, wave after wave of His love crashing over you as you surrender to Him.
God’s love so overwhelmingly yours that you can’t help but to love JUST LIKE God – gracious, compassionate, slow-to-anger, unfailing love of God – you can’t help but love on God’s terms, not your own.
SONG LYRICS: You Make Me Brave
I stand before You now
The greatness of your renown
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow
As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in
I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way