Monday, December 28, 2009

Matt 12:38-41 and Matt 16:1-4 : Jonah and Rome

Matt 12:38-41 and Matt 16:1-4 : Jonah and Rome

Matt 12:38-41
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
The men of Nin'eveh will arise 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.

Matt 16:1-4
And the Pharisees and Sad'ducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, `It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.' And in the morning, `It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah." So he left them and departed.


Jonah was sent up to Assyria and Assyria is going to come down and destroy Israel in 721/722.
So Jonah goes up to Assyria before God uses Assyria to deal with Israel.
That is a critical point for understanding Jonah.

Jonah as a prophet undoubtedly knew Gods plan. The plan was to use Assyria to chastise Israel.

Now Jonah is a patriotic Israelite. He loves his people even though he knows they are sinful.
So when he gets the message from God “Go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance saying in 40 days you are going to be destroyed.“

How would Jonah as a patriotic Israelite respond to a call from God? “Go preach to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. The military empire destined to conquer your own people”. You would think he would not be interested in giving them a second chance. If God is going to destroy them why do I need to preach?

Jonah knows if they survive God will use Assyria - Nineveh to chastise and destroy my people. So what does he do?
He is not a cowardly prophet. He is a patriot! He hops on the next ship to Tarshish moving in the opposite direction from Nineveh.

Here comes the storm and the sailors are wondering why, Jonah tells them and so they throw Jonah overboard. The great fish swallows him, it doesn’t say a whale by the way. A lot of people have trouble understanding or appreciating the message of Jonah because they wonder how can a man live in the belly of a great fish for three days. Some defenders of the faith point out that people in fact have survived inside a large fish for two or three days.

I think people miss the point because in Matthew 16 Jesus speaks of the sign of Jonah. What is the sign of Jonah?
The sign of Jonah is being in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights like the Son of Man will be in the earth for three days and three nights. But I think there is something more to it than that. I think that in fact there is a lot more to it than that.

How would Jesus have understood His own usage of the sign of Jonah when speaking to His own contemporaries?

When you go back to Jonah you realise of course he wasn’t really a cowardly prophet, he was a patriotic prophet who is willing to lay down his own life for his countrymen because in effect by fleeing in the opposite direction and not going to Nineveh, Assyria but heading for Tarshish, he was in effect saying throw me overboard. I would rather die than go to Nineveh and preach a message of repentance which will have the effect of causing the Assyrians to repent so God doesn’t have to destroy then in 40 days. Instead He will be able to use them to chastise, to uproot, to destroy my own fellow Israelite countrymen.

He is prophet who is willing to lay down his life. So when he is thrown overboard he is swallowed by the great fish.
I don’t think we have to solve the problem of how could he have survived in the fish for so long.
How could the fish have gotten indigestion and coughed him up there in Nineveh which isn’t really close to any ocean.

I think what happens is more miraculous and I think the Book of Jonah suggests as much.

This is my own interpretative opinion but when you read Jonah’s prayer prayed from the belly of the fish in Jonah 2, he doesn’t speak about the belly of the fish in verse 2 he says ‘out the belly of Sheol I cried’. That is the underworld, the netherworld. He goes on to talk about in verse 6 how he prayed to the Lord to bring up my life from the pit. In other words, there are some suggestions here that what Jonah experiences are not just the indigestion of a big fish but a sort of death.

Then coming up out after three days wouldn’t just be indigestion it would be a kind of resurrection or a resuscitation. So when he comes out again he finds himself there in Nineveh and finally and somewhat reluctantly he begins to preach the message and it has its full effect. The king of Nineveh hears it, rises up takes off his robe covers himself with sackcloth and ashes and proclaims three days of repentance and fasting. It has its effect because Gods wrath is averted, the decree of destruction is lifted and Jonah responds –how? What is baffling for many people is Jonah chapter 4. ‘It displeased Jonah exceedingly. He was angry.’

Well why would he be angry if they repented?
Now we understand because Jonah knows their repentance means their survival and their survival points to the usefulness by God in chastising Israel.

And he prayed to the Lord and he said “I pray thee Lord, is this not what I said when I was in my country” That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish for I knew that you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger.” In other words, I knew you were going to do this.

I was afraid your mercy might extend beyond the Jews and Israel.
Even to the Assyrians who were in a sense the most terrible people of the day.
They knew shock tactics in destroying people. Decimating populations.

Jonah had every reason humanly speaking to make Nineveh the last spot on his prophetic itinerary and he says to the Lord “I knew you’d do this and you did it” and now they are spared.

And within 40 years Nineveh turns on Israel, Jonahs own country and destroys it utterly.
So what do we have? A perfect sign of Jonah for Jesus!
Because Jesus does in effect what Jonah did.

That is, Jesus preaches a gospel not just to his countrymen who he wants to spare.
He lays his life down for his countrymen but he also goes and proclaims the Gospel to the gentiles.
And so the wicked Romans hear it, they repent so that God spares them even in spite of their wickedness and 40 years after Jesus death and resurrection, Rome is used by God in a way that is remarkably similar to how God used Nineveh and Assyria to bring covenant judgement and punishment upon the Jews in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple.

That is so significant. I believe we need to understand it much better.

Source: Scott Hahn - “Our Fathers Plan” Bible Study

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