Category Archives: The Bible

Jonah 1:4-10

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lost fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Jonah 1:4-10

Jonah had found his way to Joppa, there to find a ship going to Tarshish, as far away from the special presence of the LORD as he thought he could get. He had refused to be the mouthpiece of the LORD by which He spoke a message of judgment to the Assyrians at Nineveh in order to lead them to repent and be spared; in other words, Jonah had relinquished his vocation as a prophet of the LORD and was seeking to flee from his duty. In God’s providence, Jonah found a ship in Joppa headed for Tarshish, and the LORD allowed him to gain passage aboard the merchant ship. It would seem that Jonah’s plan to run away had worked… but the LORD our God is not the God of the land only, but He is “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” The stormy Mediterranean was God’s obedient servant, even if Jonah was not. And stormy it certainly was. Josephus, writing in the late first century AD, says of Joppa (and another maritime city called Dora, on the coast north of Joppa), that they are “not fit for havens, on account of impetuous south winds that beat upon them, which, rolling the sands that come from the sea against the shores, do not admit of ships lying in their station; but the merchants are generally there forced to ride at their anchors in the sea itself.”[1] The winds were one thing; it also had a semicircular reef 300 feet off-shore, making entrance from the south impossible. Despite its reef and weather, and though once belonging to the Philistines, Joppa had become the main port for Israel during the time of Solomon, as we’ve seen. However, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib came to put down a revolt in 701 BC,[2] he records that he destroyed the city and that it belonged at the time to the Philistines. It would later pass to the Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, etc. It is here in Joppa that Jonah successfully boarded a ship to Tarshish… a victory he would soon regret.

The prophet writes, But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. It’s unclear how far the ship had made it before the winds picked up, and with the winds came a tempest so terrible that it was like to break the ship apart. Usually, when we think of hurricanes, we tend to think of the Caribbean; but, Mediterranean tropical-like cyclones, sometimes known as Medicanes, have been known to occur. It’s not that the storm that was now destroying the ship to Tarshish was a medicane (though it’s possible), but the weather of that sea can be extremely treacherous. Consider the storm at sea in Acts 27. Luke writes, “Soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster (sometimes called the Euroclydon), struck down from the land. And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began next day to jettison the cargo. And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”[3] Jonah and the mariners are sailing the same sea as would Paul and Luke so many centuries later, and it was just as tempestuous in Jonah’s time as it would be in the time of the Apostles. In both instances, though, we see that the storm is not outside the sovereign control of the LORD. Jonah’s storm has been hurled upon him by the LORD he is seeking to flee; Paul’s storm will be used by God to display God’s sovereignty over the sea and the lives of 276 men.[4] The storm, as are all things else, is directed by “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” He Who created the universe, providentially controls the universe.

Psalm 107 relates: “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.”[5] But the frightened mariners do not call upon Him, at least, not at first. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. So deluded are these pagans, that they cry out to gods that are no gods at all; for the LORD our God is one![6] They put out their hands to save themselves; but salvation belongs to the LORD![7] There is one aboard whose prayers would be answered by the living God, but where is he? But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. On deck the men were scrambling for their lives, and for Jonah’s; but the disgraced prophet was nestled below, asleep. Though the mariners were pagans, they were more pious than Jonah, for they were at least awake and praying to their abominations. But Jonah, who knew the living God and had sought to escape His presence, was peacefully slumbering. Matthew Henry writes, “Sin is stupefying, and we are to take heed lest at any time our hearts are hardened by the deceitfulness of it. What do men mean by sleeping on in sin, when the word of God and the convictions of their own consciences, warn them to arise and call on the Lord, if they would escape everlasting misery? Should not we warn each other to awake, to arise, to call upon our God, if so be he will deliver us?”[8] Indeed, this is precisely what the terrified captain does when he finds that Jonah is below decks and sound asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.” How shameful that a prophet of God should have to be reminded of his duty by a pagan sea captain!

The prophet continues, And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Solomon writes in the Proverbs, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”[9] The mariners would have been unlikely to know of this proverb, and were relying on their false gods, or perhaps on some fatalistic philosophy; yet it was the LORD Who manifested the culprit through their use of lots. Just as He is the God of heaven, the God of the sea, and the God of the land, so He is the God of the lot. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” That which is translated here “on whose account” is more literally, though idiomatically, “for what to whom”; thus, they are asking Jonah what he has done, and to whom he has done it. At this point it would also be expedient to know that the word that is translated “evil” can also be translated “disaster”.[10] Earlier, when the LORD commissioned Jonah to go to Nineveh, He had told Jonah that “their evil has come up before me.”[11] There it had born an ethical connotation; that is, the wickedness of Nineveh was going to result in the disaster that was to come upon them unless they repented at Jonah’s preaching. Here, the disaster that had befallen Jonah and the mariners was the result of the wickedness of Jonah perpetrated against the LORD and against the people of Nineveh, whom the LORD pitied.[12] The mariners ask Jonah of his occupation; one wonders if this was not a prick to the prophet’s conscience. They also ask concerning his nationality and ethnicity, lest he be of a people particularly hated of their gods. And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. That he had told them, probably means that he told them then, and that this was an abridged version of the actual relation. We’re told that the men were exceedingly afraid. Note that LORD is in all-caps in your English Bible, thus denoting the covenant name of the God of Israel. Apparently, these mariners were not ignorant, nor were they obtuse; they had likely heard of the God Who had brought His people out of Egypt with “a mighty hand and an outstretched arm”.[13] He is not some tribal deity like their pathetic chunks of wood and stone;[14] rather, He is the God of heaven, Who made the land and the sea! In the frightened voice of the mariners one can hear the devastated din of despair. “Jonah, you’ve doomed us all.”

Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the LORD sometimes allow our folly to succeed?
  2. For Paul, God’s providential control over the storm was a comfort; for Jonah and the mariners, it spelled disaster. What’s the difference?
  3. Jonah is reminded by the pagan captain to arise and do his duty. What implications does this have for a slumbering church?

[1] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.9.6.

[2] Isaiah 36-38; 2 Kings 18-19

[3] Acts 27:14-20

[4] Acts 27:38

[5] Psalm 107:23-30

[6] Deuteronomy 6:4

[7] Jonah 2:9

[8] Matthew Henry, Concise Commentary, Jonah 1:4-7

[9] Proverbs 16:33

[10] רַע

[11] Jonah 1:2

[12] Jonah 4:11

[13] Deuteronomy 4:34; Psalm 136:7

[14] Isaiah 44:9-20

Jonah 1:1-3

We’ve recently begun a study through the Old Testament book of Jonah at the kirk. For those nearby and able, feel free to join us on Wednesday nights; for everyone else, I’ll be posting the manuscripts here with a week’s delay. The LORD bless you and keep you!

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was a contemporary of Hosea and Amos; he was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II. We read in 2 Kings, “[Jeroboam II] restored the border of Israel from Lebo-hamath as far as the sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher.”[1] Within only thirty years of the death of Jeroboam II, though, the Northern Kingdom would fall to a conquering world power. First, during the reign of Pekah, the tribes of the Transjordan (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) would be captured and sent into exile.[2] In 722 BC, the Assyrians would conquer Israel, which at that time was a vassal state to the greater empire. “Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria, and for three years he besieged it. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.”[3] Though Israel was blessed with expansion during Jonah’s time, the coming judgment of God against their idolatry had been prophesied “by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God.”[4] Amos, for example, prophesied to the Northern Kingdom, saying, “An adversary shall surround the land and bring down your defenses from you, and your strongholds shall be plundered.”[5] Thus, Jonah, the prophet of the LORD, knew that unless Israel repented, they would eventually be destroyed, and that by the great empire of the day, Assyria, the capital of which just happened to be Nineveh.

Imagine, then, if you can, the prophet’s distress when we read vv.1-2. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” To Nineveh? The LORD commands His prophet to go outside of the Promised Land, and prophesy to a Gentile people; the Assyrians are not only Gentiles, but they are also the very means God will use to bring down the Northern Kingdom of Israel! Why in the world would God send Jonah to warn the Ninevites of their coming destruction? We see a hint already in the way the LORD refers to Nineveh – that great city. Throughout the book we’re told of the massive size of the city of Nineveh. It was three days’ journey in breadth,[6] and contained a population of over 120,000 people.[7] The destruction of Nineveh would mean the destruction of many, many lives. Thus, Jonah was to go and call out against it because of their evil… and Jonah knew exactly why. It was through his preaching that God meant to work repentance among the people. He is “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”[8] Jonah knew the character of God, because God had revealed His character to His people. When Moses was given the revelation of the LORD’s name, “the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.’”[9] Jonah knew from God’s character that if the people of Nineveh heard the word of the LORD and repented, God would forgive and relent from the disaster He meant to do them. Indeed, this chance of repentance is what He continuously gave His own people Israel through His prophets, though they would not repent. Indeed, this same word had been preached by Joel in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The prophet writes, “‘Yet even now,’ declares the LORD, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”[10] What would be the result of Jonah’s preaching? Jonah believed it would be the repentance of the Ninevites, and God’s relenting to bring disaster upon Israel’s Gentile enemy and future conqueror.

Thus, we read, But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. What does it mean that Jonah sought to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD? We would first do well to consider the whereabouts of Tarshish. If the coast of Israel made up the eastern border of the Mediterranean Sea, then the strait of Gibraltar was the farthest point in the Mediterranean away from Israel. Through the strait, on the west coast of Spain – that is one possible location of Tarshish. But, even if we’re not completely sure of the precise location, from the context, Tarshish is meant to imply a place far away from Israel, and thus far away from the Temple, where God’s special presence resided. Interestingly, this isn’t the only place we find someone going out from the presence of the LORD. In Genesis 4, after Cain has murdered his brother Abel and has been sentenced by the LORD, we read, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.”[11] What is likely meant here and in Jonah is not a denial of the omnipresence of God, but both Jonah and Cain were going out from the place of God’s special, and in a sense, immediate, presence – Jonah from the Promised Land and the Temple, Cain out from before the very gates of Eden. Hugh Martin writes, “Most probably, in the days of the first family of our race, the gate of the garden of Eden, where God placed the cherubim and the flaming sword, constituted the seat of sacred worship; occupying the place and serving the purpose which, in after generations, were occupied and served by the tabernacle in the wilderness and in Shiloh, and ultimately by the temple, on Mount Moriah.”[12] Jonah is fleeing the face of the LORD, as He was present with His people in Israel, and more particularly in the Temple. Essentially, in this act, Jonah is refusing to speak the word of the LORD, he is renouncing his office as God’s prophet. If the LORD wants to send a prophet to the Assyrians, wicked Gentiles who would eventually be the undoing of the people of Israel, then He could send someone else; Jonah would have none of it. Much like the elder brother in our Lord’s parable of the Prodigal Son, Jonah is appalled at the mercy of the Father.[13] The correlation between the two – Jonah and the elder brother – will become much clearer in the fourth chapter of the book.

The prophet continues, He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. Again we see Jonah’s motive in fleeing – to be away from the presence of the LORD. To accomplish this, he goes to Joppa. Joppa was a haven on the west coast of Israel. It was to Joppa that Hiram, the king of Tyre, had sent from Lebanon the timbers used by Solomon to build the Temple in Jerusalem.[14] Now it was from Joppa that Jonah wished to flee the special presence of the LORD in that very Temple. And providence seemed to smile upon him, for when he reached Joppa, he found a ship bound for Tarshish. He paid his fare, climbed aboard, and went down into it. Perhaps Jonah’s going down into the ship was a matter of simply being unused to the seafarer’s life above deck. The people of Israel were not exactly known as the greatest sailors in the Mediterranean world, after all. Or could it be that he was ashamed of his actions? Was he seeking to hide his face, in a sense, from the face of God? Whatever may be the case, Jonah knew that what he was doing was wrong, and in time, the (proverbial and literal) sailing that seemed to be running so smoothly so far, would become a tempest that would toss him up and out, into the very hands of the LORD he was trying to flee.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is there a particular group of people that you feel shouldn’t be granted God’s mercy? Why is this attitude wrong?
  2. How does God work repentance through the preached Word?
  3. We who are in Christ are certainly beneficiaries of God’s grace. Do we often give thanks for God’s gracious acts, and praise Him for His gracious character? Consider David’s confession in Psalm 51.
  4. We, of course, affirm God’s omnipresence. But, biblically, where is God present in a special way today? Consider Ephesians 2:19-22.

[1] 2 Kings 14:25

[2] 2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26

[3] 2 Kings 17:5-6

[4] 2 Kings 17:13-14

[5] Amos 3:11

[6] Jonah 3:3

[7] Jonah 4:11

[8] Jonah 4:2

[9] Exodus 34:6-7

[10] Joel 2:12-13

[11] Genesis 4:16

[12] Hugh Martin, A Commentary on Jonah (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1995), 35.

[13] Luke 15:28

[14] 2 Chronicles 2:16

Farewell to Falstaff: Growing Up and Moving Forward in Christ

There aren’t a lot of people who read and enjoy Shakespeare these days. At least, that’s been my experience. Of course, it was (I hope still is) required reading for high school students, but usually, after that initial taste, not many return to the feast. Whenever I break out the Bard in general conversation or for sermon illustrations, eyes begin to roll before I’ve even fully expressed my enthusiasm. Part of me has made peace with it; part of me wants to shout, “You don’t know what you’re missing, you Philistine!” The former part has won out… mostly.

Of the few people I know who still enjoy reading and watching Shakespeare’s plays, most know the great speech from “Henry V”: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…” (Act IV, Scene III). King Henry delivers this stirring speech before the Battle of Agincourt to encourage his fearful army; his words are beautiful and encouraging, putting fire into the fearful hearts of his army and inspiring them to take the field and defeat the French.

But even among we happy few, even fewer have read or watched the three great plays that precede “Henry V”, plays that narrate the fall of Richard II and the rise and reign of Henry Bolingbroke (later, King Henry IV). Interestingly, though King Henry IV is a main player in his titular plays, much of the drama surrounds the king’s son, Prince Hal (later King Henry V). In “Henry IV, Part One”, we find the young prince being, essentially, a disappointment to his royal father. Hal spends all his time drinking and carousing at the Boar’s Head Inn with a group of misfits, chief among whom is Sir John Falstaff.

Falstaff is vain. Falstaff is fat. Falstaff is vulgar. And, for wayward Prince Hal, Falstaff is a terrible influence leading him into more and more trouble. The king laments that his son has soiled his honor with such unsuitable living; after all, Hal is to be the new king after his father passes. Hal is aware of his father’s displeasure, but though he knows he must leave Falstaff and friends and his riotous life behind, though he promises to become the prince he should be, he doesn’t do it right away. Like Augustine before his conversion, it’s not hard to imagine Hal praying, “Grant me chastity and continence… but please, not yet.” (Augustine, Confessions, 8.7.17).

We see this in the young prince and think, “Why don’t you just grow up and be a man? Your father needs you, your brothers need you, your people need you, and all you do is goof off with Falstaff and Poins and others of Sir John’s band of miscreants. Don’t you know you’re meant to be more than this?” But in thinking this we often betray ourselves. How many princes and princesses of heaven wallow in some lingering sin saying, “I know I should give this up… but not yet”? How often do we turn the looking glass on ourselves and say, “I’m meant to be more than this. It’s time for me to grow up!”?

There are no Peter Pans in the Kingdom of God. Those who are content to remain what they once were reveal a serious lack of maturity. Indeed, it’s likely that those who feel no conviction for their sin whatsoever and are content to wallow in the filth of the flesh are not Christians at all! If you truly are a believer, though, the Spirit will continually remind you through His convicting work that you need to grow up, you need to be moving forward in sanctification, becoming more and more like Jesus every day. The Spirit primarily performs this maturing work through the Word – preached, taught, studied, read, meditated upon, and ultimately believed and lived! The goal is that we would reach “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:13-14).

But sin is not the only hindrance to our walk with Christ. Oftentimes there are other things, even good things, that are holding us back and weighing us down. The author of Hebrews exhorts us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (the “Hall of Faith” of ch.11), let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1). The faithful saints who have gone on before us witness to us that if we are going to finish this race well, we’re going to have leave our sin behind, to put to death what we were and to become the new creation that we are in Christ (Romans 8:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17), to put off the old self and to “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Note, though, that the author of Hebrews doesn’t say that we should just lay aside every sin, but also every weight; if there’s anything that is holding us back from growing in Christ, from running our race, from seeking God’s glory, then we are to cut it off. Practically, this means the binge-watching needs to go; the hours on social media wasting time that could be better spent in service, prayer, study, etc. needs to bite the dust; the “friendship” that always seems to lead you away from God needs to be reevaluated and perhaps ended or distanced. This reality plays out in many practical ways that even a brief self-examination would probably clarify for you.

Growing up and moving forward in the Christian life means that we must leave behind those sins and weights that hold us back, that keep us children; it means that we must become the new people we are in Christ, people who are and are being remade after His image.

Returning to my illustration, throughout the events of “Henry IV, Parts One and Two” we see multiple points in which Hal is forced to face the reality that he must cease living as he is, and become what he really is, what he was born to be. There is, of course, the battle with the rebel, Hotspur, and his forces, in which Hal has to step up and be a leader of men, defeating his enemy and winning the day. But the place where we see what could be called the tipping point is found at the death of Hal’s father, King Henry IV. In their final dialogue together, the rift between them is healed as Prince Hal promises to “rightfully maintain” the throne “‘gainst all the world”. (“Part Two”, Act IV, Scene IV).

After Hal is crowned King Henry V, it seems that the change from boy to man, from the riotous way of life in which he had indulged to the royal purpose to which he had been born, has been completed. As he royally processes near Westminster Abbey, the new king is approached by his old companion, Falstaff; rather than the warm reply he had expected, though, Falstaff receives a rebuke and banishment from King Henry V:

Presume not that I am the thing I was;

For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,

That I have turn’d away my former self;

So will I those that kept me company. (“Henry IV, Part Two”, Act V, Scene V)

In other words, King Henry V had become what he was meant to be, and would no longer live as he once did, nor carouse with Falstaff and his ilk. It would do us well, as Christians, to remember likewise that we are not the things we were, that the old man must die, and that whatever hinders us from growing up and being what we are meant to be in Christ must be banished from us. We, like Henry, must bid farewell to our Falstaffs.