You Are My People

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    and bring her into the wilderness,
    and speak tenderly to her.
15 And there I will give her her vineyards
    and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
    as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

21 “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
    I will answer the heavens,
    and they shall answer the earth,
22 and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
    and they shall answer Jezreel,
23     and I will sow her for myself in the land.
And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
    and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
    and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:14-23 ESV

The holy and righteous God of Israel was going to punish His rebellious people for their sins against Him. Yet, as an expression of His grace and mercy, He would also redeem and restore them. He would keep His covenant commitment to them and fulfill the promises He had made to Abraham and to David. They would once again become a great and mighty nation, ruled over by a good and righteous king, a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16). But these things would not happen as a result of Israel’s decision to repent and return to God. He would be the pursuer.

“I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.” – Hosea 2:14 NLT

Like a husband with a promiscuous wife, God would have to purposefully pursue His wayward people, seeking them out even as they suffered the consequences of their own sin. The prophet Ezekiel describes God’s relentless pursuit of His rebellious people and explains why He refuses to simply abandon them to their well-deserved punishment.

“Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign LORD: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT

Any hope the people of Israel had of experiencing redemption and restoration rested in the hands of God. He would have to be the one to pursue them and whoo them back to Himself. Even when they found themselves living in exile as a result of their sins, they would refuse to seek and serve Him. But He would never give up on them. Reminiscent of the days when the people of Israel lived as slaves in the land of Egypt, they would once again find themselves miraculously and graciously delivered by God. Their days of trouble would come to an end and they would once again enjoy the fruits of a restored relationship with Him.

God promises to “make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (Hosea 2:15 ESV). That is a reference to a less-than-flattering scene from Israel’s past. Joshua was leading the people of Israel into the land of promise. They had just enjoyed a rousing victory over the city of Jericho. But when they attempted to defeat the much smaller city of Ai, they failed miserably. The reason for their unexpected failure was the sin of one man: Achan. He had violated God’s commands by taking plunder from Jericho and hiding it in his tent. When Achan had been exposed as the guilty party, Joshua confronted him.

And they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, “Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today.” – Joshua 7:24-25 NLT

In Hebrew, the word Achor means “trouble” or “disaster.” Achan’s sin had brought disaster upon the whole nation of Israel. On this site, Achan would suffer the consequences for his sin, along with his entire family.

And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. – Joshua 7:25-26 NLT

Now, God promises to lead His people back from their exile and, this time, when they pass through the “Valley of Trouble,” it will become a gateway to hope. They will enter the land of promise once again, where they will enjoy the goodness and graciousness of their loving God. But this future day will be like none other. It will feature a restored creation where the animal kingdom and humanity experience an Eden-like existence, with all animosity and fear having been removed. It will be a time of unprecedented peace between the nations of the world. But most importantly, it will be a day when Israel will enjoy unbroken fellowship with God. He promises to restore them and return them to their former place of prominence as His chosen possession.

“I will make you my wife forever,
    showing you righteousness and justice,
    unfailing love and compassion.
I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
    and you will finally know me as the Lord.” – Hosea 2:19-20 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah also recorded a remarkable promise of God, outlining His future plan to restore the people of Israel to their homeland.

“I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury. I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me. I will find joy doing good for them and will faithfully and wholeheartedly replant them in this land.” – Jeremiah 32:37-41 NLT

While God did eventually return a remnant of the people of Judah to the land after their exile in Babylon, the majority of these promises remain unfulfilled. These passages all speak of a yet-future day when God will miraculously restore His chosen people to the land and reestablish their covenant relationship with Him.

“At that time I will plant a crop of Israelites
    and raise them for myself.
I will show love
    to those I called ‘Not loved.’
And to those I called ‘Not my people,’
    I will say, ‘Now you are my people.’
And they will reply, ‘You are our God!’” – Hosea 2:23 NLT

Centuries have passed since Hosea recorded these words, and their fulfillment remains to be seen. Even when Jesus appeared on the scene, declaring that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, His words and His works were rejected by His own people. They refused to recognize Him as their rightful King and Savior. But there is a day when Jesus will return to the earth and establish His Kingdom in Jerusalem, where He will rule and reign for a thousand years. And in that Kingdom, He will rule over a restored remnant of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. At that time, every promise of God will be fully fulfilled and the words recorded in Hosea will come to pass.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

For Evil and Not for Good

1 I saw the Lord standing beside the altar, and he said:

“Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake,
    and shatter them on the heads of all the people;
and those who are left of them I will kill with the sword;
    not one of them shall flee away;
    not one of them shall escape.

“If they dig into Sheol,
    from there shall my hand take them;
if they climb up to heaven,
    from there I will bring them down.
If they hide themselves on the top of Carmel,
    from there I will search them out and take them;
and if they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea,
    there I will command the serpent, and it shall bite them.
And if they go into captivity before their enemies,
    there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them;
and I will fix my eyes upon them
    for evil and not for good.”

The Lord God of hosts,
he who touches the earth and it melts,
    and all who dwell in it mourn,
and all of it rises like the Nile,
    and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
who builds his upper chambers in the heavens
    and founds his vault upon the earth;
who calls for the waters of the sea
    and pours them out upon the surface of the earth—
the Lord is his name.

“Are you not like the Cushites to me,
    O people of Israel?” declares the Lord.
“Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt,
    and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Syrians from Kir?
Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom,
    and I will destroy it from the surface of the ground,
    except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,”
declares the Lord.

“For behold, I will command,
    and shake the house of Israel among all the nations
as one shakes with a sieve,
    but no pebble shall fall to the earth.
10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword,
    who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’Amos 9:1-10 ESV

In this final vision, Amos sees God standing next to an altar. But this scene does not take place at the temple in Jerusalem. Ever since the kingdom of Solomon had been divided in two by God, the ten northern tribes had abstained from worshiping Yahweh at the temple that Solomon had constructed in Jerusalem. Instead, they worshiped the false gods that Jeroboam I had set up in Dan and Bethel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there.

Jeroboam also erected buildings at the pagan shrines and ordained priests from the common people—those who were not from the priestly tribe of Levi. – 1 Kings 12:26-31 NLT

And long after Jeroboam’s death, the kingdom of Israel continued to worship the golden calves he had set up in Dan and Bethel. So, the altar in Amos’ vision is most likely in one of those locations. He sees God standing next to the sacred shrine dedicated to the golden calf of Jeroboam – the false god that had been meant to replace Him.

Amos sees Yahweh, the one true God, standing in judgment over the altar of the false god that the people of Israel had chosen to worship instead of Him. In essence, God is standing next to one of the golden calf statues that Jeroboam I had created. And in the very presence of this false god, Yahweh calls for the destruction of his house.

Strike the tops of the Temple columns,
    so that the foundation will shake.
Bring down the roof
    on the heads of the people below.
I will kill with the sword those who survive.
    No one will escape!” – Amos 9:1 NLT

Amos is being given a glimpse of the coming judgment of God upon the house of Jacob (Israel). With the destruction of the temple dedicated to Israel’s false god, Yahweh is displaying His unparalleled power and declaring His well-deserved judgment upon them for their rejection of Him. While a literal destruction of this pagan temple would only result in a few deaths, God assures Amos that “no one will escape” His wrath. They can run but they won’t be able to escape the judgment of God Almighty. And God uses language that is reminiscent of the words of King David, recorded in Psalm 139.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me. – Psalm 139:7-10 NLT

It doesn’t matter where they go, God will find them and mete out His judgment upon them. Rather than guidance and strength, they will find only the righteous indignation and full fury of the God they have chosen to abandon. And one of the fascinating things about this passage is its rather veiled but obvious reference to Jonah. God states, “Even if they hide at the very top of Mount Carmel, I will search them out and capture them. Even if they hide at the bottom of the ocean, I will send the sea serpent after them to bite them” (Amos 9:3 NLT).

Amos was a contemporary of Jonah, another prophet that God had appointed to the northern tribe of Israel. But at one point, God had given Jonah a commission to take His message of pending judgment to the Assyrians living in the capital city of Nineveh. Fearing that the pagan people of Nineveh would hear God’s message and repent, Jonah refused to obey God’s command. Instead, he booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, hoping to escape the presence of the Lord. But through a series of divinely ordained events, God pursued His rebellious and disobedient prophet. God sent a storm that placed Jonah and his fellow passengers in great danger.

Then the sailors picked Jonah up and threw him into the raging sea, and the storm stopped at once! The sailors were awestruck by the Lord’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.

Now the Lord had arranged for a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights. – Jonah 1:15-17 NLT

When Jonah was cast into the sea, he sank beneath the waves. He began to drown. And he later described for God what that experience had been like.

You threw me into the ocean depths,
    and I sank down to the heart of the sea.
The mighty waters engulfed me;
    I was buried beneath your wild and stormy waves. – Jonah 2:3 NLT

But God sent the sea serpent to bite him (Amos 9:3). But in Jonah’s case, the “serpent” was actually a symbol of God’s salvation. Even Jonah recognized that the “great fish” had been an agent of God’s mercy.

I sank down to the very roots of the mountains.
    I was imprisoned in the earth,
    whose gates lock shut forever.
But you, O Lord my God,
    snatched me from the jaws of death! – Jonah 2:6 NLT

After three days and nights inside the great fish, Jonah was unceremoniously vomited out on dry land. He was rescued and redeemed from death by the sovereign hand of God. After his miraculous and God-ordained deliverance, Jonah went to Nineveh and delivered God’s message of judgment, and the people repented. God’s will was done.

Jonah had rebelled against God and had suffered the consequences. He had thought He could escape the wrath of God and was proven wrong. And the people of Israel were going to learn the same painful lesson. Just as God had appointed the wind to create the storm that resulted in Jonah’s drowning, He would appoint enemies to destroy the people of Israel. The same God who “draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land” (Amos 9:6 NLT), was going to use His sovereign power to rain down judgment upon the disobedient people of Israel.

But, like Jonah, they would find that their God was merciful and longsuffering. Jonah did not drown, and the people of Israel would not be completely destroyed.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel…” – Amos 9:8 NLT

Jonah lived to tell the story of his own rebellion. And a remnant of the people of Israel would live to tell about God’s undeserved mercy and grace toward them. In the midst of His declaration of judgment, God promises to redeem a remnant of His people.

“For I will give the command
    and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    yet not one true kernel will be lost.” – Amos 9:9 NLT

There were still those in Israel who remained true to Yahweh, and He would preserve and protect them. Why? Because He was not yet done. The rebellion of His people would be punished, but His sovereign plan for the world would still be accomplished. God had set apart the people of Israel so that they might be a light to the nations, but they had failed to accomplish God’s will. Yet, He had a plan in place that would bring about the fulfillment of His original mandate that Israel be a light to the nations. And it would come about through His Son, the true Israel.

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus would accomplish what Israel had failed to do. He would be a descendant of Abraham and the son of King David who would fully accomplish God’s will. But for that to happen, God would spare a remnant of His people so that His Son could one day enter the world, born of the virgin, Mary, and the rightful heir to the throne of David. And, as Amos was about to see, while God was prepared to judge Israel, He was far from done with them, because He had a plan in place.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Right To Give Life

Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” Jonah 4:6-11 ESV

This is the second time that Jonah has fled from Nineveh. On the first occasion, he had been somewhere in Israel, probably not far from his hometown of Gath-hepher, in the region of Galilee. This would have placed him more than 500 miles from Nineveh. But for Jonah, that was not far enough. So, when he received God’s call to go to Nineveh and announce their pending judgment, he refused and headed in the opposite direction. He attempted to avoid his commission by fleeing from the presence of the Lord. But his plan didn’t work out so well. God sent a storm to delay Jonah’s departure. Then, when the sailors cast lots to see who was the source of their troubles, God caused the lot to fall on Jonah. In a last-ditch effort to save their lives, the sailors cast Jonah overboard, at which point God appointed a large fish to swallow His disobedient prophet. Then, after Jonah had spent three miserable days in the belly of the fish, God caused the fish to disgorge Jonah on dry land. From there, Jonah made his way to Nineveh, where he finally delivered God’s message. And the people believed.

Now, Jonah sits outside the walls of the great city of Nineveh, waiting to see whether God will rain down judgment on the enemies of Israel or if He will show them mercy and compassion. Jonah hopes for the former but fears that the latter will be what takes place. Sitting in his man-made shelter, Jonah is burning with rage. He is furious that his message of God’s pending destruction of Nineveh had been met with repentance and mourning. Rather than turn on Jonah as the bearer of bad news, the people had turned to Yahweh in faith. And Jonah knew that Yahweh was “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). He was afraid that the repentance of the Ninevites would cause God to change His mind about destroying them. But Jonah still held out hope that God might do to Nineveh what He had done to Sodom and Gomorrah. He was still longing for their destruction and not their deliverance.

But as Jonah fumed in his makeshift shelter, “the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort” (Jonah 4:6 ESV). It’s important to recall that when Jonah had been thrown off the ship and into the raging sea, God had appointed a fish to rescue him from certain death. Now, as Jonah raged outside the walls of the city, God appointed a plant to relieve his “discomfort.” Once again, the God of the universe intervened in the life of His rebellious prophet. Yahweh caused a plant to appear, virtually overnight, providing His sun-baked, pitty-soaked prophet with protection from the sun and relief from his anger. 

Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. – Jonah 4:6 ESV

The sudden and miraculous appearance of the plant had its intended effect. Jonah was relieved of his discomfort. But the author uses a very specific Hebrew word to describe the condition from which Jonah was relieved. It is the word, raʿ, which is most often translated as “evil” or “wickedness.” It can also mean “affliction.” It is the same word the author used in describing the behavior of the people of Nineveh.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. – Jonah 3:10 ESV

And when Jonah saw the people of Nineveh repent of their evil way, he refused to see it as a good thing. Verse 1 of chapter four states that “it displeased Jonah exceedingly.” This phrase could actually be translated as “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” Jonah viewed the repentance of the Ninevites as evil or wicked. And yet, it was God who deemed Jonah’s reaction as evil. His anger was not only unjustified, but it was also unrighteous. That is why God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” (Jonah 4:4 NLT). Jonah’s response was not good or acceptable. He actually preferred that God do evil by destroying the Ninevites. That is exactly what he meant when he expressed his concern that God might be gracious to the Ninevites, “relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). In Hebrew, that phrase reads nāḥam raʿ, which means, “repenting of evil.” In essence, Jonah wanted God to respond to the Ninevites with evil. He longed for God to devastate and destroy them.

But even in his fit of unrighteous and unjustified anger, Jonah was met with undeserved grace and mercy. God appointed a plant that provided Jonah with relief – and he was glad. But notice what the text says: “Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant” (Jonah 4:6 ESV). He gladly accepted the gift of God’s mercy but failed to show Him any gratitude.

So, “God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered” (Jonah 4:7 ESV). All throughout this story, the author purposefully portrays the sovereign hand of God behind all that happens. God appointed the fish. He appointed the plant. Now, He appoints the worm. Every step of the way, God has been ordaining the events of Jonah’s life in order to accomplish His sovereign will. The Creator-God orchestrated the actions of a giant fish and a tiny worm, all to accomplish His grand redemptive plan. He caused the plant that had sprung up overnight to disappear just as quickly. And His removal of the plant was followed by His appointment of “a scorching east wind” (Jonah 4:8 ESV). The soothing shade was replaced by the searing rays of the sun and a scorching sirocco wind.

The sudden change in his circumstances left Jonah in a foul mood. While he had gladly accepted the gracious gift of shade without uttering a word of thanks, he immediately declared his dissatisfaction when the shade was suddenly removed. He bitterly informed God that he would rather die than suffer any further.

…he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” – Jonah 4:7 ESV

But Jonah was missing the point. He was failing to understand the lesson that God was trying to teach him. So, God asks him a second question:

“Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” – Jonah 4:9 NLT

Did Jonah really have a right to be angry over the loss of his source of shade and comfort? Was he justified in expressing his desire to die? But before God could complete His thought, Jonah quickly interrupted and defended his actions.

“Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” – Jonah 4:9 ESV

Then God graciously exposes the absurdity of Jonah’s over-the-top response. He points out that Jonah was upset about the untimely demise of a plant he had done nothing to produce. He had no vested interest in the plant, other than the comfort he had received from it.

You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. – Jonah 4:10 NLT

Jonah was grieving over the loss of the plant, not because he had labored to produce it, but because he missed the benefit he had received from it. His motives were purely selfish and self-centered. Jonah’s only concern for the plant was in its ability to provide him with comfort – which was now gone. So, God uses the destruction of the plant to teach Jonah a lesson regarding His sparing of the people of Nineveh.

“But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” – Jonah 4:10 NLT

God describes the people of Nineveh as not knowing “their right hand from their left.” They are ignorant of the His ways. They were like children who lacked wisdom, discernment, and spiritual understanding. Unlike the people of Israel, the Ninevites had not enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Yahweh. They had not been given His law or instructed in His ways. The entire community was living in spiritual darkness, unaware of Yahweh’s identity and completely oblivious to the wickedness of their ways.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul would provide a powerful reminder to the Gentile converts who were part of that local fellowship.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. – Ephesians 2:11-12 NLT

Jesus would also emphasize the inclusion of those who were outside the nation of Israel.

“I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” – John 10:16 NLT

The people of Israel had been chosen by God so that they might be a light to the nations. They were to shine in the darkness of the world, providing the Gentiles with a glimpse of God’s goodness, glory, and greatness. But they had failed to live up to their calling. The prophet Hosea declared of them: “Israel is swallowed up; already they are among the nations as a useless vessel” (Hosea 8:8 ESV). Just as Jonah had been swallowed by the fish, Israel would ultimately be swallowed by the Assyrians. They would fall to the very nation to whom Jonah had been sent. And God had proven to Jonah that He could redeem and rescue the worst of sinners. He could even use a reluctant and rebellious prophet to bring about the repentance of a city full of wicked and spiritually ignorant Ninevites.

God cared enough about Jonah to send him a fish and a plant. God cared enough about Israel that He repeatedly sent His prophets to call them to repentance. And He cared enough about Nineveh to send His reluctant prophet to deliver His message of redemption. But Jonah missed all of this. He failed to grasp the significance of God’s grand redemptive plan for His creation. Even the author’s reference to “much cattle” is intended to reveal that God has a plan to redeem and restore all that He has made.

The apostle Paul reminds us that the entire creation is living under the weight of the curse that came as a result of Adam’s sin.

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:19-22 NLT

And the book of Jonah ends with God reminding His self-consumed prophet that He loves and cares for the people of Nineveh because He created them. Like the plant, they exist because God gave them life. And as the author of life, only God has the right to give or take it away. Jonah was asking God for the right to die. But God wanted Jonah to understand that He had the right to let the Ninevites live. Because He cared for them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

They Believed God

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:4-5 ESV

Jonah arose and went to Nineveh. Those six simple words would have hit the author’s Jewish audience like a brick. The thought of the lone prophet of God entering the gates of the infamous city would have created in them a sense of fear and foreboding. The Assyrians had a well-deserved reputation for immorality, idolatry, and wanton cruelty. Their empire-building aspirations had been marked by incessant conquest and marred by violent savagery. During the ninth century to the end of the seventh century BC, they were an unstoppable military juggernaut that used the torture and executions of its conquered enemies as a powerful public relations tool. They eagerly promoted this less-than-flattering aspect of their success to create a sense of fear and subjugation among those nations that remained yet unconquered.

One of their kings, Ashurnashirpal II, referred to himself as the “trampler of all enemies…who defeated all his enemies [and] hung the corpses of his enemies on posts” (Albert Kirk Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, Part 2: From Tiglath-pileser I to Ashuer-nasir-apli II, Wiesbadan, Term.: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976, p. 165). He proudly chronicles his treatment of the nobles of one city that had refused to surrender.

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile [of corpses]; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile…I flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls” (Grayson, p.124).

It was not uncommon for the Assyrians to behead and dismember their conquered foes. One particularly gruesome form of torture was their impaling of prisoners on wooden stakes. These gory displays were intended to be a macabre form of outdoor advertising, informing the remaining citizens of a conquered city to cooperate or face a similar fate.

But the Assyrians were more than cruel. They were idolatrous and immoral. And as the capital city of this godless nation, Nineveh would have been the epicenter of Assyrian power and perversion. The author describes Nineveh as “an exceedingly great city” (Jonah 3:3 ESV). In Hebrew, the phrase actually says, “a great city even in God’s sight.” The word translated as “exceedingly” in the ESV is actually ‘ĕlōhîm, which was most commonly used to refer to a god or divine being. Throughout the book of Jonah, the author substitutes the name ‘ĕlōhîm for Yahweh when speaking of God in association with the Gentiles. So, when he describes Nineveh as “great,” he is essentially saying that “Nineveh was a great metropolis belonging to God.” Another interpretation of this enigmatic phrase is “an important city for God’s purposes.”

It seems that the author wants us to know that Nineveh’s greatness has been sovereignly ordained. It is an allusion to God’s divine role in Assyria’s rapid rise to power and fame. They are divinely appointed instruments in His hands, created to accomplish His coming judgment against the rebellious people of Israel. And if this book was written after the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 722 BC, then its readers would have clearly understood the author’s reference to Nineveh as belonging to God.

The greatness of Nineveh had been God’s doing. And this brings to mind another powerful and pride-filled king whom God would raise up as His instrument of judgment against the rebellious southern kingdom of Judah. King Nebuchadnezzar would eventually rise to power and use his Babylonian army to conquer the city of Jerusalem in 587 BC. But this very same king would end up taking credit for his success. At one point, he would stand on the balcony of his palace, pridefully surveying the work of his hands.

“Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” – Daniel 4:30 ESV

But Nebuchadnezzar would learn an important, if not humbling, lesson. God told the arrogant king that he was about to lose his mind and his kingdom. He would suffer a sudden bout of insanity and be forced to live like a wild animal in the wilderness. And the prophet Daniel told the king that his condition would last “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:32 ESV).

Nineveh and Babylon were “great” cities ruled over by “great” kings. But their domains and dominion were the sovereign work of God. And, whether he realized it or not, as Jonah walked through the gates of the “great” city of Nineveh, he wasn’t entering into enemy territory. He was walking into the realm of Yahweh. Nineveh did not belong to Sennacherib any more than Babylon belonged to Nebuchadnezzar. And while Ishtar was the primary god worshiped by the Ninevites, Yahweh was the one true God of the universe.

Just imagine this lone prophet of God walking through the streets of this massive metropolis declaring, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 ESV). That took courage. He was delivering a divine ultimatum to the citizens of the most powerful nation on earth. Jonah’s little encounter with the fish had made a powerful impression. He was motivated and took to his task with a renewed sense of vigor. But despite his zeal and enthusiasm, it seems that Jonah was fixated on one thing: The destruction of Nineveh. The author only records one message coming from the lips of the prophet: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And Jonah was probably counting the days. He was hoping and praying that God would rain down judgment upon the wicked people of Nineveh.

Jonah had been given a message from God, but it seems that he might have misunderstood what God had in mind. The key to understanding his confusion is found in the Hebrew word translated as “overthrown.” While that is an acceptable meaning of the word hāp̄aḵ, it is more often translated as “turn” in the Hebrew scriptures. It conveys the idea of turning about or turning back. Or to put it another way, it can refer to conversion. What God was telling Jonah was that within 40 days, the people of Nineveh would turn to Him. But Jonah heard what he wanted to hear. To him, the meaning of God’s message was clear: The Ninevites were about to face the wrath of Yahweh. So, he eagerly and enthusiastically walked the streets of Nineveh, delivering God’s divine ultimatum.

But he was in for a shock. His message did get a reaction, but not the one he had been expecting. It is likely that Jonah had fully expected to be arrested and executed for his efforts. After all, he had spent days walking through the capital city declaring its pending destruction. It was only a matter of time before his message was conveyed to the authorities and his prophetic career came to an abrupt and less-than-pleasant end.

Yet, the author states, “the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5 ESV). What’s fascinating to consider is that nowhere in Jonah’s message does he seem to share the nature of their crime or the form of their pending punishment. There’s no indication that he provided them with a way to avert their “overthrow.” And the most glaring omission is his failure to mention the name of Yahweh. And yet, the people “believed God (ĕlōhîm).” Whether or not Jonah told them about God didn’t seem to matter. The Ninevites inherently understood that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites was sending them a message. And they heard that message and believed.

They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. – Jonah 3:5 ESV

We can only imagine how this sudden and surprising reaction impacted Jonah. He must have been beside himself with frustration and anger. This was exactly what he feared would happen, and it’s what had motivated him to run away in the first place. He longed for judgment against his enemies but instead, God had shown grace, mercy, and love. Jonah had been hoping for their overthrow but, instead, God orchestrated their conversion. They believed and repented. And they exhibited their change of heart by entering a state of mourning. They knew they were guilty and deserving of God’s judgment, but He had graciously provided them with an opportunity to turn to Him.

Once again, this story would have conveyed a powerful and convicting message to its original readers. The Jews living in exile in Assyria would have understood that they were being exposed for their own stubbornness and refusal to turn to Him. God had given them ample opportunities to hear His calls of repentance and respond in humility and belief. But they had refused – time and time again. And yet, here were the pagan Ninevites, hearing the message of God’s prophet for the very first time and responding in belief and humble repentance. Centuries later, Jesus recognized the underlying message found in the book of Jonah and conveyed it to His Jewish audience.

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” – Luke 11:32 ESV

Even in 1st-Century Israel, the people of God remained just as obstinate and unwilling to hear God’s message of repentance. Jesus, the greater Jonah, had appeared, declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). But as the apostle John points out, Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). They refused to believe His message and rejected His offer of salvation. But John goes on to write, “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13 ESV).

Jesus’ message of the Kingdom would be heard by Gentiles and they would believe. But the majority of His Jewish brothers and sisters would continue to reject His offer and remain stubbornly unwilling to repent and believe.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Something Greater Than Jonah

10 And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah 2:10-3:3 ESV

Though the book bears Jonah’s name, it is really less about him than it is about the God he claims to worship. When quizzed by the sailors about his identity, Jonah had told them. “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). And his summary statement concerning Yahweh was far truer than even Jonah imagined. He knew that his God was the creator of all things. Yahweh was all-powerful and the one true God. Jonah also viewed Yahweh as “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2 ESV). And this great God of his, who had made the sea and the dry land, had been the one who sent the storm and had “appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17 ESV).

Jonah had failed miserably in his attempt to flee from the presence of God. Yahweh had never lost sight of Jonah and had been sovereignly orchestrating each and every aspect of his life, including the wind, the waves, and the giant fish. Once again, as the original Jewish audience read or heard this story, they would have been reminded of the greatness of their God. They would have recalled the words of the psalmists:

O Lord God of hosts,
    who is mighty as you are, O Lord,
    with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, you still them. – Psalm 89:8-9 ESV

Yahweh had made all the creatures in the seas and oceans of the world. And not only that, He had sovereign control over each and every one of them. When the author states that God “appointed” the fish that swallowed Jonah, he is essentially claiming that the fish was sovereignly ordained for its role. God had created this particular fish for this specific occasion. It had a pre-ordained role to play in God’s grand redemptive plan. Just as Jonah did. But Jonah didn’t like the part he had been assigned by God. So, he had run. But he didn’t get far.

In the vast depths of the Mediterranean Sea, the fish found Jonah and fulfilled the will of God. But the story doesn’t end there. God was not done with Jonah. And while Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish was far from pleasant, it was not intended as a form of final judgment. The fish would actually be the God-appointed means of Jonah’s deliverance. In his prayer, Jonah described his 3-day confinement as “the belly of Sheol” (Jonah 2:1 ESV). As a Hebrew, Jonah understood Sheol to be “the place of the dead” or “the place of departed souls/spirits.” From his perspective, he was as good as dead. But he cried out to God and was graciously delivered. But notice how God brought about that deliverance.

…the Lord spoke to the fish… – Jonah 2:10 ESV

Yahweh didn’t address His reluctant but seemingly repentant prophet. He talked to the fish. He gave the fish instructions and it obeyed.

it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. – Jonah 2:10 ESV

God spoke, and the fish obeyed. And that minor detail should not be overlooked. It stands in stark contrast to the opening lines of the book, where God spoke to Jonah and His self-willed prophet responded in disobedience. God had told Jonah to go, and Jonah had basically told God, “No!” He expressed his autonomy by rejecting God’s command. And it was his stubborn determination to live according to his own will that had resulted in his unpleasant “captivity.”

But Jonah had been miraculously released from his imprisonment in Sheol. The fish had conveniently, albeit unceremoniously, vomited the renegade prophet on dry ground. His life had been spared. And he soon found that his original mission had been preserved. God had not changed His mind regarding Nineveh or chosen another prophet to fill Jonah’s sandals. Jonah’s flight and three-day ordeal in the belly of the fish had changed nothing. God was just as determined as ever for Jonah to deliver His message to “Nineveh, that great city” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). And it seems that even before Jonah’s clothes had time to dry, God delivered His message a second time.

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” – Jonah 3:1-2 ESV

Jonah’s flight, the deadly storm, and his unpleasant confinement in the belly of the great fish, while all significant to Jonah, were of little consequence to God. They had done nothing to alter God’s original plan. In fact, from God’s divine perspective, they had been part of the plan all along. God had not been caught off guard or surprised by Jonah’s actions. The prophet’s refusal to obey and his plan to run away had not forced God to come up with “Plan B.” No, every aspect of this story reflects the sovereign will of God over the affairs of men. God had sovereignly raised up Jonah to be a prophet, and He had preordained Jonah’s role in the redemption of Nineveh.

Now, stop for a moment and consider the significance of what is happening in the opening verses of chapter 3. Jonah has rejected the word of God and responded by attempting to run from the expressed will of God. But his disobedience did nothing to change God’s mind or alter the divine plan. After all the running, sailing, hurling, drowning, swallowing, pain and suffering, Jonah found himself standing before God and faced with the same unpleasant task.

“Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver the message I have given you.” – Jonah 3:2 NLT

God had created the nation of Israel so that they might be a blessing to the nations. He had called, consecrated, and commissioned them to be a part of His divine plan of global redemption. They were not to be an end unto themselves. While they were the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8) and His “treasured possession among all peoples” (Exodus 19:5 ESV, they had been set apart for a grand and glorious purpose that was bigger than their status as God’s chosen people. And whether they realized it or not, God was going to use them, in spite of them. Like Jonah, they would run away from His divine calling, choosing to live according to their own wills rather than obey His. For generations, they would rebel against God’s commands and pursue their own selfish agendas. But while they could run from God, they could never successfully escape His presence or avoid His will for them. He had told Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV), and that promise would ultimately be fulfilled. Centuries of disobedience, seeming delays, defeats, and deportations would not keep God from accomplishing His plan. In fact, all these things would be part of the plan.

So, as the recently regurgitated Jonah stood on the shore, he heard those familiar words once again: “Get up and go…” And this time, he went.

So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. – Jonah 3:2 ESV

Nineveh was still there, and the people of Nineveh were just as wicked as they had ever been. But there was one more thing that remained unchanged: God’s plan for the city and its inhabitants. And whether Jonah liked it or not, God was going to use him to pour out a blessing on the immoral and totally unworthy people of Nineveh.

For those of us living on this side of the cross, this scene should remind us of the words of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son… ” – John 3:16 ESV

God loves the people of Israel, but His love is not exclusive to them. They were intended to be the conduit through which His divine love flowed to the nations of the world. And God had planned all along that His Son would enter the world, born a descendant of Abraham, and of the seed of David so that He might be the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. The apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus was the means by which God had always intended to bless the nations.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

Jesus wasn’t “Plan B.” He wasn’t some kind of last-minute stand-in, a divine proxy sent to fix what the people of Israel had failed to do. Jesus had been the plan all along, and Peter makes this point powerfully clear.

God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake. – 1 Peter 1:20 NLT

In a sense, the story of Jonah is like reading the Cliff Notes of a much larger work. It provides a synopsis of the greater story of redemption that runs from the opening lines of Genesis to the final verses of the book of Revelation. Jonah is a bit player in the grand narrative of God’s divine plan for the restoration of all things. He, like Israel, is portrayed as a reluctant and sometimes rebellious tool in the hands of the sovereign God of the universe. He is one of many characters found in the Scriptures who, despite their flaws and failings, are used by God to accomplish His plan to bless the nations. Ultimately, Jonah points to Jesus. And, centuries later, Jesus would use the life and ministry of Jonah and the repentance of the Ninevites to condemn the unbelieving, unrepentant Jews of His day.

“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. – Luke 11:32 ESV

Something greater than Jonah is here. And it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the ultimate blessing to the nations.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

With God, All Things Are Possible

17 And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:17 ESV

Now we come to the part of the story that catches everyone’s imagination. The very idea of a giant fish swallowing a man is both terrifying and fascinating. It catches the reader’s imagination and creates a certain sense of incredulity. Up to this point, the account of Jonah’s life has had a decidedly biographical and historical feel to it. But when the big fish enters the scene, it all takes on the character of a tall tale. Suddenly, the chronicle of Jonah’s travels reads more like a page out of Aesop’s Fables. This one aspect of the story, while not entirely impossible, seems highly improbable. That is what has led so many modern biblical scholars and commentators to classify the book of Jonah as either allegorical or parabolic. They reject the historicity of the book, characterizing it as an allegorical story that portrays Jonah as a symbol of Israel and the fish as a representation of Babylon. The rebellious Jonah is swallowed by a divinely ordained monster, just as God’s rebellious and unrepentant people will be consumed and taken captive by the Babylonians. They will spend an extended time in “the belly of the great fish” only to find themselves graciously disgorged back into the land of promise at the end of their 70-year exile.

Others have chosen to interpret the story of Jonah as simply a parable. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a parable is a “short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle.” It is a common teaching methodology that attempts to convey deeper truths using simple, easy-to-understand stories that utilize simile and metaphor. Seen as a parable, the story of Jonah becomes a visual illustration that decries the danger of narrow-minded nationalism or promotes the universal love of God. Everything in the story takes on a comparative quality, requiring the reader to determine the symbolism behind each actor and action.

But for centuries, most Jewish and Christian scholars used the historical interpretive model when approaching the book of Jonah. They viewed Jonah as a real person and the contents of the book bearing his name as a record of actual events. They viewed the fantastic and somewhat fanciful scenes described in the story through their understanding of God’s omnipotence and the clear record of God’s inexplicable actions as found in the rest of the Scriptures. The likelihood of God causing a great fish to swallow Jonah is no less plausible than His dividing of the waters of the Red Sea so that the people of Israel could cross over on dry ground. In their minds, Yahweh was the God of the impossible. It was Jeremiah the prophet who wrote, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17 ESV). And God would respond to the prophet with a rhetorical question: Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 ESV). Jesus Himself said of His Heavenly Father, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

To claim the historicity of the book of Jonah is not to say that it contains no allegorical elements or parabolic lessons. It clearly does. But to deny that the book has any credible historical value seems to contradict the view that Jesus held. Over in the gospel of Matthew, there is a record of Jesus’ encounter with some scribes and Pharisees who had demanded that He perform a sign. These skeptical Jewish religious leaders were attempting to set Jesus up. They were hoping they could entice Him to perform a miracle that would violate their laws against doing work on the Sabbath. But Jesus refused to take the bait. Instead, He recounted the story of Jonah in the belly of the great fish.

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” – Matthew 12:39-41 ESV

Jesus did not treat the story of Jonah as some allegorical tale or a parable with a moral lesson. He described Jonah as spending three days and nights in the belly of the fish. And this historical event was meant to foreshadow His own pending death and burial. These men would have been intimately familiar with the story of Jonah. Jesus doesn’t mention Jonah’s release from his aquatic confinement, but they knew that the “resurrected” Jonah eventually made it to Nineveh and declared the word of the Lord. And the result was the redemption of the city’s pagan inhabitants. Yes, Jonah was intended to be a sign of something greater to come, but that does not eliminate the fact that the events of his life actually happened. And Jesus will revisit the story of Jonah’s life again. As Jesus’ popularity increased so did the size of the crowds who followed Him. But He knew that many of the Jewish people were attracted to Him for the wrong reasons. They were intrigued by His miracles and wished to see Him do more. This led Him to compare them to the people of Nineveh.

“This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be to this generation.…The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” – Luke 11:29, 31 ESV

In this case, Jesus doesn’t mention Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the fish. Instead, He declares that Jonah himself was “a sign” to the people of Nineveh. After his “resurrection” from the dead, Jonah appeared in Nineveh preaching a message of pending judgment.

“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” – Jonah 3:4 ESV

But this message of doom was accompanied by a call to repentance because the text goes on to say, “the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” ( Jonah 3:5 ESV). And Jesus goes on to commend the wicked people of Nineveh for heeding the words of Jonah and experiencing the salvation of God. Then He declares boldly declares Himself to be greater than Jonah. He had come preaching a message of repentance but the people of Israel were refusing to respond and believe. They wanted to see signs, but were rejecting the “sign of Jonah” – the call to repent.

On yet another occasion, a contingent of Sadducees and Pharisees came to Jesus demanding that He perform a “sign from heaven” (Matthew 16:1 ESV). They were looking for verifiable proof that He was the Son of God. They refused to believe that He was the Messiah and viewed all His previous miracles as nothing more than the works of Satan. But, once again, Jesus refused to give in to their demands. Instead, he exposed their inability to see “the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3 ESV). They could successfully predict the weather by looking at the sky but were blind to the many visible proofs of Jesus’ identity and mission. So, He told them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16:4 ESV).

These religious leaders were experts in the Hebrew Scriptures and would have been very familiar with the story of Jonah. They would have believed in the historicity of Jonah’s encounter with the fish and his ultimate rescue by the hand of God. The story of the prophet’s venture into the Assyrian capital and the repentance of its wicked inhabitants would have been familiar to them. But Jesus wants them to know that the only sign they are going to receive will be His own death and resurrection. And even that miraculous sign will refuse to convince them. Despite the incredible nature of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, the majority of the Jewish people will remain “an evil and adulterous generation.”

As the apostle John wrote in his gospel account, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11 ESV). The light of God penetrated the darkness of the world, but “people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV).

Jonah was a Hebrew prophet who had ministered to the king of Israel (2 Kings 14:25). Yet God had commissioned him to go to a pagan city full of wicked idolaters. But Jonah chose to disobey God’s orders by seeking passage on a ship headed in the opposite direction. In his attempt to escape God’s call, he soon found himself surrounded by pagan sailors in the midst of a life-threatening storm. And his stubborn refusal to obey the word of Yahweh resulted in him being thrown overboard and swallowed by a giant fish.

Preposterous? Possibly. Difficult to believe? Most certainly. But the story’s believability does not invalidate its credibility. Everything about this story is meant to be beyond the scope of human reason. Why would God send His prophet to a nation that was marked by wickedness and evil beyond description? Why would He threaten the lives of the men on board the ship, by hurling “a great wind upon the sea” (Jonah 1:4 ESV)? What was the purpose behind the sailors casting lots and Jonah being exposed as the guilty party? And what are we to do with the unbelievable statement that “the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17 ESV)?

Simply put, we are to believe. The story of Jonah is real and it points to the even greater and more implausible story of God sending His Son into a world darkened by sin so that He might be the light to the nations. And the apostle John succinctly summarizes the incredible story of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:9-13 ESV

Jonah was swallowed by the fish. Jesus was swallowed by the grave. But both were resurrected by the sovereign will of God the Father and went on to declare the gracious plan of redemption to all those who would believe.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Man Overboard

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.” 10 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.

11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. 12 He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. 14 Therefore they called out to the Lord, “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. 16 Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Jonah 1:8-16 ESV

Proverbs 16:33 states: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” In other words, the sovereign God of the universe is the final determiner of all matters. And a similar thought is expressed in Proverbs 16:9: “A man’s heart plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” Jonah had come up with a plan to “to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3 ESV). But God was determining his every step – from the boat he sailed on to the crew he sailed with. And God was the one who “hurled a great wind upon the sea” (Jonah 1:4 ESV). And when the frightened sailors cast lots to discover the identity of the one with whom the gods were angry, Yahweh determined the outcome. Lot was divinely exposed as the cause of the storm. The violent wind and waves were directed at this unidentified stranger who had been sleeping soundly in the hold of the ship. He was the guilty party.

And these weary sailors stop their frantic efforts to save the ship just long enough to pepper Jonah with questions. First, they diplomatically avoid any direct accusations against Jonah. Instead, they simply ask him to explain what had happened to bring down the wrath of the gods.

“Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us.” – Jonah 1:8 ESV

Had someone placed a curse on Jonah? Had he done something to offend his god? This led them to ask what he did for a living. Perhaps he was a priest or some kind of royal dignitary. Could his occupation have something to do with their current dilemma?

These questions seem to come in rapid-fire succession, with the fear-filled sailors shouting them out over the noise of the storm. One demands to know where Jonah comes from. They know his destination is Tarshish, but they have no idea about his place of origin. Another sailor hones in on the identity of Jonah’s home country. Where does he hail from? Maybe this will shed some light on their desperate situation. Finally, one of the sailors asks Jonah to reveal his nationality?

It seems obvious that these men were looking for an answer to their pressing problem. Their ship was beginning to succumb to the relentless crashing of the waves and the damaging impact of the wind. They had bailed water, discarded cargo, and rowed until their muscles ached, but nothing was working. So, when the lot fell to Jonah, revealing him to be the one responsible for their predicament, they redirected all their attention to him. But his response to their questions provided little in the way of an explanation as to what was happening and no hope as to a solution.

“I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” – Jonah 1:9 ESV

Evidently, this was not the full extent of Jonah’s answer. At some point, he confessed that he was attempting to run from God.

the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. – Jonah 1:10 ESV

Even these pagan sailors recognized that this was a very bad idea, and they express their consternation to Jonah. “What is this that you have done!” (Jonah 1:10 ESV). Their shock and confusion seem to be based on Jonah’s admission that he worships “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). They are dumbfounded that Jonah was attempting to escape by sea from the very God who created the sea. What was he thinking? To their simple way of thinking, Jonah’s God had dominion over the sea and the land because He had created them. So, how did Jonah think he could ever get away from his God? His venture had been doomed from the beginning and now he had dragged them into it.

While this dialogue between Jonah and the sailors was taking place, the storm continued to rage. In fact, it actually increased in intensity.

the sea grew more and more tempestuous. – Jonah 1:11 ESV

By this time, the sailors are desperate to find a solution to their growing problem. So, they turn to Jonah for an answer. They had no knowledge of Jonah’s God or what kind of sacrifices He might require to assuage His anger. This led them to ask Jonah, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” (Jonah 1:11 ESV).

At this point in the narrative, it’s important that we pause and reconsider the original audience to whom this story was directed. The author had a Hebrew readership in mind when he penned this epic tale. His retelling of Jonah’s story was intended to strike a nerve with the people of God. In a way, this entire book is a historical record of one man’s life that serves as a powerful allegory for the nation of Israel. As the Jews read this riveting account of Jonah’s life, they couldn’t help but see the striking similarities to their own national story.

The children of God had a long and infamous track record of running from God. And like Jonah, they were proud of their Hebrew heritage and would have gladly claimed to “fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, they had constantly turned their backs on Him. They were guilty of apostasy and disobedience. God had called them to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:3), but they had failed to live up to that calling. Through their countless acts of disobedience, they had actually damaged the name and the reputation of God among the Gentiles.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And as they read this account of Jonah’s life, it was like looking into a mirror and seeing their own reflection. Jonah was on a boat in the middle of a raging storm, surrounded by pagans who were desperately seeking to know what they needed to do to be saved. These helpless Gentiles were asking the sole Hebrew on their sinking ship for advice. Like the Philippian jailer in the book of Acts, each of these hapless sailors was asking Jonah, “what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30 ESV). And God had positioned the nation of Israel to be a light to the nations, shining the brightness of His grace and mercy in the darkness of a sin-stained world.

But look at Jonah’s answer to the sailors’ desperate plea for direction. When they ask, “What shall we do?,” he simply responds, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you” (Jonah 1:12 ESV). Jonah’s solution to their plight is the sacrifice of his own life. But before we assume that Jonah is driven by some sense of compassion for his pagan shipmates, we have to recall that Jonah had made a conscious decision to reject God’s call to go to Nineveh. And as we will see later in the story, Jonah’s offer to be thrown overboard was little more than a death wish. He would rather die than obey God. And, once again, the Jews who read this story would have been reminded of their own obstinate refusal to repent and return to God. Over the centuries, they had proven that they would rather face the wrath and judgment of God than live in keeping with His commands.

Amazingly, the sailors show more compassion than Jonah. Rather than listen to his advice and throw him into the sea, they make one last attempt to reach landfall. But the storm only grows worse and they are forced to call out to Jonah’s God.

“O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.” – Jonah 1:14 ESV

These men become instruments in the hand of God, meting out His judgment on the disobedient prophet. They reluctantly hurl Jonah over the railing of the ship and, immediately, “the sea ceased from its raging” (Jonah 1:15 ESV). The action of these unbelieving Gentiles accomplished the will of God and satisfied the wrath of God. And they believed.

Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. – Jonah 1:16 ESV

As Jonah sank beneath the waves, these unregenerate Gentiles sank to their knees in adoration of “the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). They worshiped Yahweh, the God of Jonah, by offering Him sacrifices and making vows. Jonah had remained unrepentant to the bitter end. He would rather drown than return to Joppa and obey the command of God. And as the Jewish audience reached this point in the story, they should have learned a powerful lesson. God was going to bring the light of His glory and grace to the Gentiles one way or the other. God wasn’t dependent on Jonah to accomplish His will for the nations. And God’s plan of redemption for the world would not be stymied by Israel’s refusal to live in obedience to His commands. His will would be done. And like Jonah, they would discover that their own day of judgment. But their seeming demise would not be the end. Their “death” would only serve to bring life as God would graciously preserve His people so that He might send His Son as the seed of Abraham and the light to the world.

And God foretells the coming of His chosen servant through the prophet Isaiah.

“You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
    I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
    and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 NLT

God was not done with Israel and, as we shall see, He was not done with Jonah.

 English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

More Than A Fish Tale

1 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 ESV

The rather diminutive book of Jonah contains one of the most familiar and well-loved stories in the Bible. This seemingly far-fetched but delightful tale about a disobedient prophet who gets swallowed by a whale has been recited by generations of parents to their children as a cautionary warning of what happens to those who fail to obey God. Over the centuries, countless children’s books have been printed that depict the adventures of Jonah and his aquatic companion with colorful cartoons and kid-friendly language.

But could there be more to the story than a moralistic Sunday School lesson about obedience and faithfulness? Do the four chapters of this Old Testament book contain a deeper and more significant message than most of us realize? I think the answer is yes. And over the next weeks we, like Jonah, will go to great depths to see what God may be trying to tell us through the pages of this timeless book.

To truly understand the book of Jonah, we have to remember that its author was not just telling a story, he was communicating a message from God. Like every other book included in the Canon of Scripture, Jonah was “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). And Paul goes on to tell us that each and every book in the Bible has a far more important purpose than simply conveying a story. They exist so  “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In the end, the 66 books of the Bible are not just a collection of ancient stories, poems, historical records, or biographical accounts. They are the Spirit-inspired revelation of God to man. Together, they contain the story of God’s relationship with humanity. It is, in reality, a single book with one solitary author: God Almighty. And like all good books, it has a beginning (Genesis) and an end (Revelation). And between its opening chapters and its closing epilogue, it contains a wide range of divinely-inspired stories that are designed to provide its readers with a greater grasp of and appreciation for God. And the book of Jonah is no exception.

Yet, over the centuries, scholars and biblical commentators have debated the authenticity and veracity of the story of Jonah. Some have labeled it as nothing more than an allegorical tale containing hidden intended to convey important spiritual truths. Others have deemed the book of Jonah as parabolic in nature. In other words, it is nothing more than an extended parable designed to teach a heavenly message through a fictional story – much like Jesus did.

What makes the story of Jonah so hard to accept as a historical or biographical record is the very thing that makes it so compelling: The part about Jonah being swallowed by a whale or large fish. This one aspect of the story challenges its credibility and forces many to deem it a fictional account that was never intended to be considered factual. But the book of Jonah is not unique in its depiction of inexplicable and seemingly unbelievable stories of supernatural phenomena. In fact, in many ways, the book of Jonah mirrors the biblical records of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The lives of these two men, as described in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings, are filled with seemingly impossible and incomprehensible stories that defy explanation and stretch the bounds of credulity. Elijah called down fire from heaven that “consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” ( 1 Kings 18:38 ESV). On another occasion, Elijah met the needs of a starving widow by providing her with a  jar of flour that never went empty and a jug of oil that never ran dry (1 Kings 17). And when it came time for Elijah’s prophetic career to come to an end, God removed him from the earth in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2).

From the creation account found in Genesis to the record of Jesus’ resurrection contained in the gospels, the Bible is filled with stories that defy the imagination and explanation. But, after all, it is the story of God. And according to Jesus, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

In studying the book of Jonah, we must keep in mind that its author had a Jewish audience in mind when he wrote it. There are aspects to the story that would have immediately resonated with them as the chosen people of God. They would have recognized the bigger story contained in the description of Jonah’s epic and ill-fated journey from the land of Canaan to the depths of the sea in the belly of the whale. Written at a time when the Assyrian empire was reaching its zenith of power, they would have understood Jonah’s reticence to heed God’s call to go to Nineveh. The Assyrians were immoral and brutal. They were feared for their excessive acts of cruelty and their insatiable hunger for conquest.

But the Jews who heard the account of Jonah would have recognized that this was far more than a story about an individual man and his stubborn refusal to heed the call of God. They would have clearly understood that Jonah was intended to be a not-so-subtle representation of them. He was a Hebrew who had been called by God to deliver a message to the most powerful and sin-plagued city on the planet. But he would refuse God’s commission, choosing instead to run from God’s presence and accept the consequences for his disobedience. He would rather die than run the risk of watching the despised Assyrians repent and be spared by a merciful God.

When the author’s Jewish audience heard God order Jonah to “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh” ( Jonah 1:2 NLT), they would have been reminded of God’s call to Abram, the great patriarch of the Jewish people.

“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” – Genesis 12:1 ESV

Abram, a resident of Ur, located in the region of the Chaldees, had been ordered by God to pack up his family and belongings and head to the land of Canaan. And God had promised this Gentile unbeliever that He would make of him a great nation.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2-3 ESV

Don’t miss that last statement. God had promised Abram that his descendants would be a blessing to the nations of the earth. And God would later explain to Abram’s descendants how that was going to take place.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
   to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
– Isaiah 42:5-7 ESV

And God would later reiterate that promise through the prophet Isaiah.

“I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 ESV

Now, centuries later, God is issuing a call to Jonah, a descendant of Abram, and demanding that he leave the land of Canaan and head to “Nineveh, that great city” (Jonah 1:2 ESV). He is being commanded to leave the land of promise and head to a people who epitomize godlessness and unrighteousness. The city of Nineveh is evil incarnate and yet God is calling Jonah to carry the light into the darkness so the blind may see and those imprisoned by sin might be set free.

And when Jonah refused God’s call, the Jewish audience would have recoiled at his stubborn act of disobedience. But as the story of Jonah’s flight from God unfolds, they would have recognized that his rebellious response was intended to condemn their own failure to be a light to the nations. Jonah will later describe himself as “a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV). Yet, here he was refusing to obey the very one He claimed to fear. He was running from God. And this story of his flight from God rather than be the light of God, is the story of Israel. Jonah becomes the stand-in for the people of God. And this story will reveal how God’s rebellious people failed to play their appointed role as His light-bearers to the world. But this very same story will point to God’s unwavering love for the world and His grand redemptive plan to save the lost from every tribe, nation, and tongue. In a sense, Jonah foreshadows the coming of another Hebrew who will heed the call of God and take the message to the Gentile nations, opening the eyes that are blind, bringing out the prisoners from the dungeon, and releasing from the prison those who sit in darkness. Jesus will become the faithful Jonah and the true Israel who would fulfill God’s call to be a light to the nations.

Centuries later, Jesus would read from the book of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, not far from the place where Jonah was born.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
    and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:17-18 NLT

And when He was finished, Jesus would close the scroll and boldly proclaim, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT).

So, there is far more going on in the book of Jonah than a tall tale regarding a runaway prophet and a large fish. And it is so much more than a moral lesson about obedience. The book of Jonah is ultimately about the love of God for a lost and dying world and His unstoppable redemptive plan that no stubborn prophet or rebellious people will keep from being fulfilled. This entire book is about the faithfulness of God, not the unfaithfulness of Jonah. And it is about His unstoppable plan to shine the light of His grace and mercy into the darkness of sin that pervades His creation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light On the Horizon

22 And over the people who remained in the land of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had left, he appointed Gedaliah the son of Ahikam, son of Shaphan, governor. 23 Now when all the captains and their men heard that the king of Babylon had appointed Gedaliah governor, they came with their men to Gedaliah at Mizpah, namely, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Seraiah the son of Tanhumeth the Netophathite, and Jaazaniah the son of the Maacathite. 24 And Gedaliah swore to them and their men, saying, “Do not be afraid because of the Chaldean officials. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and it shall be well with you.” 25 But in the seventh month, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, son of Elishama, of the royal family, came with ten men and struck down Gedaliah and put him to death along with the Jews and the Chaldeans who were with him at Mizpah. 26 Then all the people, both small and great, and the captains of the forces arose and went to Egypt, for they were afraid of the Chaldeans.

27 And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evil-merodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison. 28 And he spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. 29 So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table, 30 and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given him by the king, according to his daily needs, as long as he lived. – 2 Kings 25:22-30 ESV

The scene in Jerusalem was one of utter destruction and devastation. The once-formidable walls of the city had been reduced to rubble. The massive doors that stood at the gates into Jerusalem had been torn from their hinges and burned. The homes of both the rich and the poor had been destroyed, leaving the city virtually uninhabitable. Even the king’s royal palace had been ransacked and turned into a smoldering ruin. And the Babylonians had not spared the house of God either. It had become a place of refuge for many trying to flee from the bloodthirsty Babylonians, but they found no help or hope within the walls of the temple they had long neglected.

The Babylonians killed Judah’s young men, even chasing after them into the Temple. They had no pity on the people, killing both young men and young women, the old and the infirm. – 2 Chronicles 36:17 NLT

The grand house that Solomon had constructed, the long-standing symbol of God’s presence and power among His people, was desecrated and then destroyed.

The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. Then his army burned the Temple of God… – 2 Chronicles 36:18 NLT

And none of this should have come as a surprise to the people of Judah. On the very day that Solomon had consecrated the newly opened temple, God had warned him:

“I have answered your prayer and your request for help that you made to me. I have consecrated this temple you built by making it my permanent home; I will be constantly present there. You must serve me with integrity and sincerity, just as your father David did. Do everything I commanded and obey my rules and regulations. Then I will allow your dynasty to rule over Israel permanently, just as I promised your father David, ‘You will not fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons ever turn away from me, fail to obey the regulations and rules I instructed you to keep, and decide to serve and worship other gods, then I will remove Israel from the land I have given them, I will abandon this temple I have consecrated with my presence, and Israel will be mocked and ridiculed among all the nations. This temple will become a heap of ruins; everyone who passes by it will be shocked and will hiss out their scorn, saying, ‘Why did the Lord do this to this land and this temple?’ Others will then answer, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God, who led their ancestors out of Egypt. They embraced other gods whom they worshiped and served. That is why the Lord has brought all this disaster down on them.’” – 2 Kings 9:3-9 NLT

More than three-and-a-half centuries had passed since God had issued that warning to King Solomon. And during that time, the majority of the kings of Judah had chosen to abandon Yahweh for the false gods of the nations around them. They had led the nation into idolatry and apostasy and now, as the people of Judah made their way in chains to Babylon, they could look over their shoulders and see the fiery fulfillment of God’s words to Solomon.

As Nebuchadnezzar and his forces departed Judah, they left a destroyed city and decimated populace behind.

King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land. – 2 Kings 24:14 NLT

And he appointed a man named Gedaliah as governor over the greatly diminished and demoralized citizenry of Jerusalem. There would no longer be a king to rule over Judah. Gedaliah was a Jew, but not a descendant of Solomon. He had no royal blood and would wield no kingly authority. He served at the behest of Nebuchadnezzar and was under the watchful eye of the ever-present Babylonian garrison. His was a thankless job that was more managerial than magisterial. And in time, he would come to be seen as nothing more than a puppet of the occupying Babylonian forces.

The commanders of Judah’s army who had fled from the city of Jerusalem when the walls were breached, returned when they heard that Gedaliah had been appointed governor. But they didn’t like the pro-Babylonian rhetoric that Gedaliah was spouting.

Gedaliah vowed to them that the Babylonian officials meant them no harm. “Don’t be afraid of them. Live in the land and serve the king of Babylon, and all will go well for you,” he promised. – 2 Kings 25:24 NLT

This compromising stance would ultimately cost Gedaliah his life. One of the former military commanders, a man named Ishmael, orchestrated the assassination of Gedaliah. It’s not exactly clear what Ishmael had hoped to accomplish by the murder of the Babylonian-appointed governor. But it seems obvious that this was an act of rebellion against the occupying forces. Along with Gedaliah and his Jewish officials, Ishmael murdered members of the Babylonian garrison, and this resulted in a swift reprisal from Nebuchadnezzar. Ishmael’s attempt to drive the Babylonians out of Judah backfired on him. Instead, “all the people of Judah, from the least to the greatest, as well as the army commanders, fled in panic to Egypt, for they were afraid of what the Babylonians would do to them” (2 Kings 25:26 NLT).

This scene is intended to convey a strong sense of irony. The disobedient people of God were returning to the very place from which He had free them centuries earlier. While some of their friends and family members had been deported to Babylon as slaves, this remnant of God’s chosen people would seek refuge in the land where their forefathers had been captives for more than 400 years.

Once again, all of this had been predicted by God. Centuries earlier, as the people of Israel stood on the shore of the River Jordan, preparing to enter the land of promise, God had given them a word of warning through Moses. He had told them that if they would faithfully obey Him, they would experience His blessings. But if they chose to disobey God, Moses warned them that they would experience “long-lasting afflictions and severe, enduring illnesses. He will infect you with all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will persistently afflict you. Moreover, the Lord will bring upon you every kind of sickness and plague not mentioned in this scroll of commandments, until you have perished” (Deuteronomy 28:59-61 NLT).

And Moses had been very specific when outlining the devastating nature of the curses they would encounter should they failed to “fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:58 NLT).

The Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship other gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of wood and stone. Among those nations you will have no rest, nor will there be a place of peaceful rest for the soles of your feet, for there the Lord will give you an anxious heart, failing eyesight, and a spirit of despair. Your life will hang in doubt before you; you will be terrified by night and day and will have no certainty of surviving from one day to the next. In the morning you will say, ‘If only it were evening!’ And in the evening you will say, ‘I wish it were morning!’ because of the things you will fear and the things you will see. Then the Lord will make you return to Egypt by ship, over a route I said to you that you would never see again. There you will sell yourselves to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.” – Deuteronomy 28:64-68 NLT

Some 850 years after God had redeemed the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, a remnant of their still rebellious descendants would return. But it’s interesting to note that these poor disheveled exiles will find no hope in Egypt. They won’t even be able to sell themselves as slaves. They will become paupers and aliens living outside the land of promise and under the curse of the God they had chosen to reject.

But despite all the dire imagery portrayed in this closing chapter of the book of 2 Kings, there is a silver lining on the dark cloud of Judah’s history. The author ends his book with a new king ascending to the throne of Babylon. These closing verses seem to be a mirror image of the scene found in the book of Genesis that preceded Israel’s 400-year enslavement in Egypt. Exodus 1:8 records, “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” This new Pharaoh came to power and, having no first-hand knowledge of Joseph and the people of Israel, decided that they were a threat to his administration. So, he launched a campaign to afflict and enslave them. This would lead to four centuries worth of unprecedented misery and maltreatment.

But when Evil-merodach replaced Nebuchadnezzar as the ruler over the Babylonian empire, he made a decision to release King Jehoiachin of Judah from his enslavement. He released him from prison and “spoke kindly to Jehoiachin and gave him a higher place than all the other exiled kings in Babylon” (2 Kings 25:28 NLT). For the remainder of his life in Babylonian, Jehoiachin lived like a king. He was given royal robes to wear and allowed to dine at Evil-merodach’s table.

But why is this important? Because it foreshadows something highly significant. Back in the book that bears his name, the prophet Jeremiah pronounced a curse on Jehoiachin, who was also known as Coniah.

“Why is this man Jehoiachin like a discarded, broken jar?
    Why are he and his children to be exiled to a foreign land?
O earth, earth, earth!
    Listen to this message from the Lord!
This is what the Lord says:
‘Let the record show that this man Jehoiachin was childless.
    He is a failure,
for none of his children will succeed him on the throne of David
    to rule over Judah.’”– Jeremiah 22:28-30 NLT

And yet, if we fast-forward to the gospel of Matthew, we find the following words in his genealogy of Jesus.

Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah. – Matthew 1:11-16 NLT

Here, in the genealogy of Jesus, we find the name of the Jehoiachin. The very man who was told that none of his children would succeed him as king is listed as a progenitor of the King of kings. Of Jehoiachin’s seven sons, not one of them would ascend to the throne of David. But Jesus would. God would graciously reverse the curse, producing a royal heir who would reign in righteousness and deliver His people from their enslavement to sin and death.

Notice one more name in the lineage of Jesus: Zerubbabel. This descendant of Jehoiachin would later become the governor of Judea when the exiles returned from their captivity in Babylon. And the prophet Haggai would pronounce a blessing on Zerubbabel that foreshadowed a great reversal of fortunes for the people of God.

“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” – Haggai 2:21-23 NLT

The book of 2 Kings ends on a positive note because God’s will concerning the people of Israel was far from done. The story of the redemption of His chosen people and the restoration of the world He created was not yet over. The Messiah, the Savior of the world, would one day come. And His arrival would usher in a new day and a new hope for the people of God and the nations of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

So, He Saved Them

23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash, king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, began to reign in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. 24 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 25 He 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. 26 For the Lord saw that the affliction of Israel was very bitter, for there was none left, bond or free, and there was none to help Israel. 27 But the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.

28 Now the rest of the acts of Jeroboam and all that he did, and his might, how he fought, and how he restored Damascus and Hamath to Judah in Israel, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 29 And Jeroboam slept with his fathers, the kings of Israel, and Zechariah his son reigned in his place. 2 Kings 14:23-29 ESV

Sometime during the reign of King Jehoash of Judah, the other King Jehoash of Israel made his son, Jeroboam II, his co-regent. He was named after the very first king who ruled over the northern kingdom after God had divided the nation of Israel in half. This division of Solomon’s kingdom was done as a punishment for his idolatry and apostasy. In the latter years of his reign, Solomon had begun to worship the false gods of his many foreign wives.

So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods. 1 Kings 11:6-8 ESV

As punishment for Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God raised up Jeroboam and placed him over the ten northern tribes of Israel. But Jeroboam proved to be just as unfaithful as Solomon. One of his first official acts as king was to establish his own religion, complete with golden calf idols erected in the cities of Dan and Bethel. He even created his own priesthood and sacrificial system so that the ten northern tribes would have no reason to go to Jerusalem to worship at the temple of Yahweh.

And it reveals a lot about the character of King Jehoash of Israel that he chose to name his son after this man. But the author seems to assure his readers that this decision was fitting because Jeroboam II lived up to the reputation of his infamous predecessor.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. – 2 Kings 14:24 ESV

At his father’s death, Jeroboam II transitioned from his position as co-regent to that of king over all the northern tribes, a title he would hold for 41 years. He would become the longest-reigning king in the history of Israel, outlasting the monarchy of King Jehoash of Judah and that of his son, Amaziah. But other than the note describing the sinful disposition of Jeroboam’s reign, the author provides few other details about his accomplishments. There is a brief mention of his expansion of the territorial boundaries of Israel but it would appear that this was the work of God and not Jeroboam.

Verse 25 mentions the name of Jonah. He was one of three prophets, including Hosea and Amos, who ministered to the ten northern tribes of Israel. This is the same Jonah who would later receive a divine commission from God to call the pagan people of Ninevah to repentance (Jonah 1:1-2). But long before Jonah was sent to the Assyrians, his responsibility was to act as God’s spokesman to the kings and the people of Israel. It would appear from the text that Jonah gave King Jeroboam a word from Yahweh, commanding him to expand the borders of Israel, and the king obeyed.

He 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. – 2 Kings 14:25 ESV

By faithfully fulfilling this divine mandate, Jeroboam II was able to restore the borders of Israel close to where they had been during the reign of King Solomon. While Jeroboam was anything but a godly king, he did prove to be an accomplished leader who helped reestablish Israel’s power and prominence. In fact, both the northern and southern kingdoms would experience unprecedented prosperity during this period of time. This fact seems difficult to reconcile when you consider that both kingdoms were being ruled over by godless kings who promoted idolatry and apostasy. Yet, the author reveals that God was at work, behind the scenes, protecting and preserving His people.

the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, so he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash. – 2 Kings 14:27 ESV

God had made a covenant commitment to preserve His people. Despite their repeated demonstrations of disobedience and unfaithfulness, He had never allowed them to suffer the full and well-deserved consequences of their sin. He had stepped in and rescued them time and time again. Long before they ever entered the land of Canaan or established themselves as a nation, God had clearly communicated His expectations to them.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God… – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Then God outlined all the blessings they could expect if they lived in obedience to His will. But He had also warned them that disobedience would bring curses.

But if you refuse to listen to the Lord your God and do not obey all the commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come and overwhelm you… – Deuteronomy 28:15 NLT

The list of potential curses that followed was intense and terrifying and ended with the warning: “The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone! You will become an object of horror, ridicule, and mockery among all the nations to which the Lord sends you[ (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 NLT).

There would be dire and devastating consequences should they choose to disobey. But as the author of 2 Kings reveals, “the Lord had not said that he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven” (2 Kings 14:27 ESV). While God had warned of destruction and even eventual deportation, He had never spoken of Israel’s obliteration. He was committed to keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And it was Jacob whom God had renamed Israel.

“Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel.

Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” – Genesis 35:10-12 NLT

This scene took place in Bethel, and it just so happens that Bethel became one of the towns in which the original Jeroboam set up a golden calf idol. The very place where God had promised to make of Jacob (Israel) a great nation, Jeroboam I had erected an idol that would lead the people away from Yahweh. He had promoted disobedience and, in doing so, had brought upon the people of Israel the curses of God.  And yet, the author of 2 Kings reveals that God chose to show His rebellious people compassion.

…the Lord saw the bitter suffering of everyone in Israel, and that there was no one in Israel, slave or free, to help them. – 2 Kings 14:26 NLT

Yes, they were rebellious. The people of Israel had forsaken Him time and time again. But God looked on His chosen people and saw them as helpless and hopeless. They had no one to save them. Their kings had proven themselves unwilling and incapable of providing godly leadership. Jeroboam II was no different than his namesake. And yet, God chose to use this godless king to protect His chosen people.

…because the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel completely, he used Jeroboam II, the son of Jehoash, to save them. – 2 Kings 14:27 NLT

God was preserving His people. Not because they deserved it, but because He had a plan that required their continued existence. Hundreds of years earlier, God had made a promise to the patriarch, Abraham:

“I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed—all because you have obeyed me.” – Genesis 22:17-18 NLT

God had made a commitment to bless the nations of the earth through Abraham’s descendants. Yet, as we have seen, the seed of Abraham had proven to be anything but a blessing. They had brought shame to the name of God through their repeated demonstrations of unfaithfulness. But God was choosing to preserve them because He had a plan in place that would bring about the blessing of the nations. And He would do it through the “seed” of Abraham. And the apostle Paul tells us exactly how God fulfilled that promise.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT

God preserved the Israelites so that Jesus, who was born a descendant of Abraham, might become the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bless the nations. And Paul goes on to describe how God’s commitment to protect and preserve the nation of Israel has impacted all the nations of the earth.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT

All along the way, God had been watching out for His chosen people because He had set them apart for a reason. They were to be the conduit through which He brought the blessing of salvation to a lost and dying world. And that is why, even after He eventually sent them into exile in Babylon, God restored them to the land of promise.

“I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:15-16 NLT

God was faithful to keep His promise and preserve His people so that, one day, He might send His Son as the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson