Sunday, July 3, 2011

Jonah 1:1-3 (Extended Commentary Version)

Jonah 1:1-3
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 3 But Jonah arose 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 from the presence of the Lord.

Vs. 1-2 Jonah was a prophet of God from Gath Hepher; a town in the tribe of Zebulon in Northern Israel during the divided Kingdom era; when King Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.), an ungodly King (2 Kings 14:24) became king in Samaria, the capital of Northern Kingdom (2 Kings 14:23) and reigned from Tirzah, the former capital, which Jeroboam I reigned from, King Solomon’s servant who became the first king of the ten northern tribes when God divided Israel (1 Kings 11:26-40). Now Jeroboam II aligned himself with the sins of Jeroboam I (1 Kings 12:25-33) just as his father’s before him did (2 Kings 10:31; 13:1-2; 13:10-13). So King Jeroboam II was Israel’s thirteenth king (of the nineteen before their captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.) and he was the great grandson of Jehu; Israel’s commander under king Ahab, the king whose house God said He would destroy forever to avenge the blood of the prophets whom Jezebel his wife murdered. Therefore by the hand of Jehu; whom God foretold through the prophet Elijah that He would do this (1 Kings 19:15-18) raised up during the prophetic ministry of Elisha, Jehu whom He commanded to destroy the house of Ahab forever (2 Kings 9:1-13). And so God raised up Jehu a treacherous man to avenge the treachery done in Israel by the house of Ahab. Now for Jehu’s obedience towards Him in destroying the house of Ahab, and putting an end to Baal worship in Israel. Jehu was promised by God that he and his sons would sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation (2 Kings 10:30). Of which king Jeroboam II was the third (Zechariah would be the fourth and final king in the legacy, 2 Kings 15:11-12). Yet even with that promise Jehu took no heed to follow the Law of the Lord; neither him nor his sons after him (2 Kings 10:29-31). Now back to King Jeroboam II’s reign. The nation of Israel was prospering. His father and grandfather under the prophesying of Elisha had been shown great mercy by the Lord God for the oppression done to the nation by the Syrians (2 Kings 13:14-23). And this grace continued towards the nation down through the lineage of Jehu to King Jeroboam II, right up to the prophesying of Jonah the son of Amittai (2 Kings 14:23-29). Thus King Jeroboam II’s tenure would be one of great prosperity and growth as his military campaigns according to the Word of the Lord caused Northern Israel to reclaim many of its territories back from the Syrians to the farthest extent not seen since the days of King Solomon, just as God said He would do for them. “He restored the territory of Israel from the entrance of Hamath to the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which He had spoken through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet who was from Gath Hepher.” 2 Kings 14:25
Now the entrance of Hamath was the northern boundary that God originally assigned for Israel (Num. 34:8), which came up to the foot of Mount Hermon (Josh. 13:5). This year round snow covered mountain marked Israel’s northern extremity, which itself is within eye shot of Syria and Lebanon. While Hamath (outside of its surrounding territories) was an ancient fortified city located on the Orontes River, about 115 miles north of Damascus (Syria’s capital) that King Solomon in his reign conquered and built storage depots in (2 Chr. 8:3-4). Now Hamath at various times was ruled by the Hittites, Syrians (Or Arameam’s), and the Assyrians. Its importance was that it was on a major trade route, which linked Near Eastern trade and traders with those of Egypt. Thus Jeroboam’s II recapturing it according to the Word of the Lord around 780 B.C. paved the way for the immense prosperity his reign had. Its strategic location also provided an excellent military outpost for northern Israel to guard against Syrian aggression. While the Sea of Arabah is synonymous with the Dead Sea in the south marking the Northern Kingdom’s boundaries with Judah, the Southern Kingdom.
Now the Dead Sea is fed from Mount Hermon whose highest point exceeds 9200 ft. whose snowy peak feeds a stream system that begins the Jordan River and which ultimately empties into the Dead Sea. Their mention here is simply to indicate that Northern Israel had recovered all of its territories from north to south.

Now though the nation was immensely prospering under King Jeroboam II, this prosperity was severely polluted by the moral corruptions within. The idolatrous sins of Jeroboam I; that is the golden calves by which he made Israel sin; were still being worshipped. The poor were being severely oppressed, even as the upper classes grew proportionately and more affluent, often at their expense (Amos 4:1-2). For there was institutional bribery, greed, oppression, immorality, arrogance, and blatant idolatry (Amos 2:6-8; 11-12; 3:9-10, 15; 4:1-5; 5:10-13; 6:3-7), even while God chastened the land to turn them back to Himself (Amos 4:6-13). And especially during the tenure of King Jeroboam II these sins were heightened. It is against that backdrop of false worship and God’s nation being devoid of true justice, righteousness, and holiness (Amos 4:4-5; 5:4-9; 21-24) that Jonah’s contemporaries Amos and Hosea also prophesied. In this Amos prophesied against six foreign nations or their capitals that surrounded Israel and Judah, then Judah herself. But the bulk of his prophesying was against the arrogance and corruptions within Israel. Declaring a spiritual famine on the land, of hearing the Word of the Lord, that would conclude with God’s judgment on all those who swore by the sin of Samaria; that is the golden calves that Jeroboam I set up for it (Amos 8:1-14). Thus Jeroboam’s II prosperous tenure was illusionary; a calm before the storm; an Assyrian storm that was rising up in the east to bring God’s judgment on the whole house of Jeroboam II; and ultimately end the Northern King’s dynasty forever. As the nation itself would be taken into captivity (Hosea 1:4; Amos 7:7-11) and it's kingdoms dynasty permanently abolished. That’s the backdrop against which Jonah the son of Amittai was called to go and preach to Nineveh.

Now Nineveh was an ancient city founded by Nimrod, the mighty hunter who also built Babylon (Gen. 10:10-12). It was located on eastern bank of Tigris River, opposite present day Mosul, Iraq. Later Sennacherib, the Assyrian ruler (705-681 B.C.) in the days of King Hezekiah would make it his capital. And though the Assyrians as a people cover a wide span of Old Testament history, Nineveh’s mention outside of Genesis in the Scriptures is silent until the time of Jonah, when it was at the height of its prosperity. In many ways than Nineveh’s importance to the Assyrians will revival that of Babylon to the Babylonians. Now Nineveh was an incredible achievement, of engineering and beauty, whose partially excavated site supports the Biblical account of Jonah. While Assyria at the time of Jonah was an expanding world power, whose increasing campaigns into Judah and Israel were the cause of a deep seated hatred by God’s people. For the Assyrians were known for their fireceness in battle and brutality towards those whom they captured. Now they first came up to Northern Israel beginning with King Jehu (841-813 B.C) and would continue to do so until the Israelites were according to Word of the Lord taken into captivity by Assyria in 722. B.C.
Therefore the Word of the Lord to Jonah, which was go and warn Nineveh to repent of their wickedness, for God’s judgment was imminent to fall upon them, but that was not something Jonah wanted to do. For God wanted the Ninevites to repent so He could spare them His judgment. And this was looming at the height of their prosperity; which in many ways parallel’s Israel’s own prosperity around this time. Thus Nineveh’s later repentance in many ways could be said to model what God wanted for His own people, as Jonah would later declare of the foolishness of idolatry, after being delivered from the belly of the giant fish; which became literally, as well as symbolically, a place of death, as Jesus would later cite Jonah in regards to His own (Jonah 2:8-9; Matthew 12:39-40). However God does not make people obey Him, not even His own people, He offers conditions of peace, but ultimately leaves the choice up to us all. Still Jonah wanted God to destroy Israel’s enemies without first offering conditions of peace. Not send him to go and preach repentance to the Ninivites so that they might be spared if they did indeed repent.

Vs. 3 Therefore instead of obeying the command of the Lord to go and preach to Nineveh so that they might be given a chance to repent. Jonah (likely in great anger) arose to go from the presence of the Lord. Going down to Joppa a beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea coast where he found a ship heading to Tarshish, another city renowned for its wealth and trade (2 Chr. 9:21). Now Nineveh was a land journey located near the Tigris River northeast of Jonah’s hometown, readily accessible by trade routes to him, while Tarshish was a major ships voyage in the opposite direction heading west across the Mediterranean Sea! And so Jonah, after paying the ships fair to go to Tarshish “…went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”
Take note thn that Jonah after fleeing from the presence of the Lord “went down” to Joppa, a seaport city on the Mediterranean coast. Then he “went down” into bowls of the ship heading west for Tarshish. The word used in the Hebrew to describe Jonah's "going down" is quite literal meaning just that, “to go downwards” and it used twice to describe Jonah’s “progress” after fleeing from the presence of the Lord. Which stands juxtaposed if he had gone “up” to Assyria, which was the Lord’s command to him. The point is that in defying the will of the Lord Jonah was basically on a self-directed downward spiral. By outward appearances Jonah may have been heading to some beautiful Mediterranean locals where he thought he could flee from the presence of the Lord, and or would see no more of the Assyrians, Israel’s enemies; but apart from the Lord, and obeying His will for him, Jonah’s chances at success were nil. And as we will see the Lord can, and will, move heaven and earth to motivate His children to obey Him.

Scripture Quotations
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982

Resources consulted for geographical and historical information:
Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.

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