Monday, February 15, 2016
The Rebellious Prophet
From 11 Kings 14, we learn that Jonah prophesied during the reigns of Joash of Israel and Joash of Judah. This puts his prophecies around 825 BC, approximately a hundred forty years before the Assyrians conquered Israel. It was a period of judgment on Israel because they had turned to Idolatry. An understanding of Assyrian history helps in understanding Jonah’s prophecy.
The Assyrian Empire began around 1770 BC. It was a fierce dictatorship allowing no freedom in the countries they conquered. Eventually their subjects rebelled and they were taken over by the Hurrians, a Hittite group, about 1680 BC. About 1400 BC, the Assyrians broke away and started rebuilding, eventually conquering even Babylon. The Aramaens rebelled and conquered thaemabout 1076 BC, but the Assyrians regained power in 934 BC. They moved their capital to Nineveh and began their last period of expansion. In an effort to prevent future rebellions they became even more dictatorial and cruel, torturing and murdering people indiscriminately.
“Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” (Jonah 1:1-2)
God was aware of the wickedness of the Assyrian Empire and told Jonah to go to Nineveh, and warn them of his impending Judgment. Nineveh was about six hundred miles to the east of Israel.
“But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.” (Jonah 1:3)
Jonah knew the history of the Assyrians and that they were becoming a threat to Israel again. He hated them and refused to go and warn them for fear they might listen. Instead, he went to the coast and found a trading ship headed in the opposite direction, toward southern Spain. It would take weeks to get there.
“But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. So the shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.: (Jonah 1:4-6)
God sent a violent storm, perhaps a typhoon or hurricane, and the waves were so violent the there was danger of the ship breaking up. Terrified, the sailors began to cry to the gods of their different religions and to throw their merchandise overboard to lighten the ship, reducing the amount of water they shipped and the stress on the framework. Unawares, and with nothing else to do, Jonah had gone to sleep. The ship’s captain woke him up and told him he had better start praying if he didn’t want to die.
“And they said every one to his fellow, Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon Jonah. Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause this evil is upon us; What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou? what is thy country? and of what people art thou?” (Jonah 1:7-8)
Usually the sailors would have considered such storms normal but this was so bad they suspected a supernatural cause. They prayed and cast lots in an attempt to determine who had done something so bad as to make the sea Gods so angry. The lot identified Johan as the culprit and the sailors began asking who he was and what he did in and effort to find out what he had done.
“And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land.
Then were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous.” (Jonah 1:9-11)
Jonah told them that he was a Jew and a prophet of the God who created the earth. and that he was going to Spain to get out of doing what God had told him to do. Desperate to save themselves, the sailors asked what they would need to do to pacify God’s anger.
“And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them.” (Jonah 1:12-13)
Jonah told them that to satisfy God’s anger, because it was his refusal to obey that caused the storm, they would need to throw him overboard. Not wanting to have his death on their conscience, the men tried to row the ship to shore instead. They storm was so bad they made no progress so that they couldn’t remain on course.
“Wherefore they cried unto the LORD, and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, hast done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows.” (Jonah 1:14-16)
Finally it got so bad the men decided their only hope of survival was to do Hat Jonah said and throw him overboard. They prayed and asked God not to hold them accountable for causing his death by doing what God said. When they threw him overboard the sea started settling down immediately. As a result, the sailors developed and extreme respect for God, and offered sacrifices to him.