Friday, August 31, 2007

Looking Past The WHALE

Let’s play a game of word association. I will give a name of a Bible hero and you give the first word that comes to your mind. Ready? Here we go! "Noah?" What did you think of? Probably the ark. What if I said the name, “David?” You would probably think of Goliath or maybe Bathsheba. But what is the first thing that comes to mind when I say the name, “Jonah?” That’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Everyone would think of the whale.

Throughout the month of September our entire ministry will be taking the time to look at the story of Jonah. Whenever we think of the story of Jonah, our mind always goes to the whale that swallowed Jonah and vomited him up on dry ground. There is no question that the whale is an amazing part of the story. But to really understand the story of Jonah we have to look past the whale. The real theme of the story is God’s love for the world. Over the month of September we will see how this fits into the story of Jonah.

The story of Jonah has been one of the most ridiculed books in the entire Bible. Skeptics and liberal theologians find all kinds of ways to explain away the reality of this story. Some take a mythological approach where they view Jonah like a Robinson Crusoe or like the Phoenician story of Hercules and the Sea Monster. Others take an allegorical view and see the book as one big extended parable where Jonah is really Israel, the sea represents the Gentile Nations, the fish represents the Babylonian Captivity, and Jonah being vomited on dry ground is the return of Israel out of captivity under Ezra.

Others get even more creative. Some explain away this story by saying that it was all a dream that Jonah had while on the boat. Others say that Jonah accidentally went overboard into the water and was rescued by a boat which had the sculpture of a fish as its figurehead. My favorite liberal view of Jonah is that Jonah fell into the sea and climbed inside a dead fish that happened to be floating by to escape from the storm. When it comes to the story of Jonah, you can either believe these creative attempts to explain away the truth of Scripture or you can see it for what it really is, a real and historical account about a prophet of God who didn’t want to obey God.

How do we know that Jonah was a real historical person? In 2 Kings 14:23-25, Jonah is listed with names of real people and real places. In Matthew 12:38-41 and Luke 11:30, Jonah is connected with the actual event of the resurrection. In fact, Jonah is one of only four Old Testament characters mentioned by Jesus. Jonah was real and so is his story.

Another remarkable thing about the book of Jonah is that this little four chapter book is packed full of miracles. There is the miracle of the storm. There is the miracle of the lots. There is the miracle of the calming of the sea. There is the miracle of the fish appearing. There is the miracle of the preservation of Jonah inside the fish. There is the miracle of the ejection of Jonah from the fish. There is the miracle of the gourd. There is the miracle of the worm. There is the miracle of the east wind. And then there is the most amazing miracle of all, the repentance of the entire city of Nineveh.

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