Obadiah & Jonah

(352) December 18: Obadiah, Jonah 1-4 & Revelation 8

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider what we learn about God.

To ponder:
Amos concluded asserting God’s sovereignty over the nations, and how his people would eventually possess Edom and the wider world (Amos 9v12). Obadiah and Jonah now develop this.
            Much later than Amos, Obadiah spoke after the exile of the southern kingdom by Babylon. His vision is against Edom – the nation descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother. An envoy is pictured calling the nations to battle in order to humble Edom for its pride in assuming none could bring it down. Unlike the work of thieves or grape pickers, Obadiah states that nothing will be left. Esau (Edom) will be totally plundered, being deceived and overpowered by her allies who eat her bread, ie. benefit from her goods. Her wise men will be destroyed, warriors terrified, and the nation shamed, all because of her violence to Jacob (Israel). Not only did Edom stand by and rejoice when Babylon plundered and destroyed Jerusalem, its people even marched in too, and cut down and captured Jewish fugitives for Babylon. So on the nearing day of the LORD (judgement) for all nations, Edom will receive back for what she did, whilst Mount Zion will be delivered and be holy, and Jacob (Israel) will possess (repossess) her inheritance. Here Obadiah details how the land taken by Edom, Philistia, Assyria and Babylon will be taken back. As Israel never actually conquered Edom, the image of Jacob and Joseph (probably referring to the south and north) consuming Esau like fire probably refers to how the faithful will somehow share in the final judgement, which will be executed by their king – Christ (Rev 2v26-27). The prophecy ends with the kingdom being the LORD’s, implying that then the people will truly obey him (1v1-21).
            Jonah lived around the same time as Amos, when Assyria was a key threat to Israel, being the dominant nation or empire within the world of his day. However, the book’s message is not God enabling Israel to possess Assyria, but about God’s concern for it. He commands Jonah to go to its capital, Ninevah, and preach against it because of its wickedness. In response Jonah ran in the opposite direction to Joppa in Philistia, from where he set sail, at cost to himself, to a distant place called Tarshish. Throughout we see God is sovereign over the entire creation, and this is first seen as he “sends” a storm after Jonah. The impotence of other gods is seen in the fact that the storm continues despite the desperate praying of the pagan sailors. Jonah is asleep in denial. Yet God’s control, even of the lot, signals to the soldiers that Jonah is responsible for the storm. Ironically, this forces Jonah to actually speak to them of the LORD so that they recognize he is the creator who is outraged at sin. With a sense of submission to his fate, Jonah then tells them to throw him overboard so that the storm would end and the soldiers be saved. The men continue trying to reach land, not wanting to be punished for taking Jonah’s life. But failing this, they then pray to God, asking him not to hold them accountable, throw Jonah overboard, and on seeing the sea calm, greatly fear God, offering him sacrifices and vows. Jonah here patterns Christ, who slept in a boat in a storm – but who himself could calm that storm with a word. We also see him acting in a Christ-like way, sacrificing himself so these pagans could be saved. It all implies that God’s salvation is for all peoples, which is displayed in the pagans adopting Jewish worship (1v1-16, see 2v9).
            As for Jonah, God, who governs all creation, sent a “big fish” to swallow him, and in which he remained for three days and nights – again, patterning Jesus’ experience in the tomb before his resurrection (Matt 12v40). Jonah’s prayer is one of thanksgiving not salvation – recognizing that his being swallowed was God’s answer to his calling on him when drowning in the sea. It echoes much from the psalms. He recounts how God hurled him into the sea, and how as he sank down, he recognized he had been banished from God’s sight, but determined to pray towards God’s temple – the place of God’s presence, where Solomon had asked God to hear prayers of repentance (1 Kgs 8v22-53). Jonah’s prayer concludes stressing the lesson of chapter 1 – that those who cling to idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. And like the sailors, he too commits to make a sacrifice with thanks for his deliverance and to fulfilling vows. His key point is simple: Salvation is from the LORD (1v17-2v9).
            Yet again, God’s governance of all creation is seen as he commands the fish, and it vomits Jonah onto land. God’s word comes again, and this time Jonah obeys in going to Ninevah. Its size and importance are stressed, signalling that it shouldn’t just be dismissed. And the people there put Jonah – and the stubbornness of Israel in their sin – to shame. Jonah proclaims 40 days until the city will be overturned in judgement, and the people believe God, and fast in repentance. Even the king was prepared to get off his throne (symbolising submission to God) and discard his royal robes to grieve. Moreover, he commanded not just people but animals in the city to fast, mourn, call urgently on God for mercy and give up their sin, all on the possibility that God might relent and have compassion, turning from his anger (2v19-3v9). Often the sincere repentance of the new Christian only highlights the lack of true repentance in those who have considered themselves Christians for a while. Indeed, it would have shocked the Israelite to see God do just as Ninevah hoped (3v10), proving what Jonah stated in his prayer: Those who turn from idols, whatever nation they are from, will receive grace (2v8 and 1v13-16). This would be an apt lesson for Israel at the time, who were immersed in idolatry themselves.
            What we then see, is that Jonah knew God might do this all along, recognizing that because God’s very nature is to be compassionate (4v2 with Ex 34v6), he will show mercy to all who repent, even if they are not those he initially made a covenant with. This was why Jonah hadn’t wanted to preach to Ninevah. No doubt reflecting the wider racism of Israel, he wanted Israel’s enemy to receive judgement not grace, and so was now so furious that he would petulantly wish himself dead. God’s response was that Jonah had no right to be angry, not least because he himself deserved only judgement for his actions, but had received grace instead. However, in frustration Jonah went and sat east of the city to see if God would yet destroy it. This time, what God sent, was a vine to grow and give Jonah shade – making him happy. However, he then provided a worm to chew it so it withered. Growing faint in the sun, Jonah again displayed his petulant nature, declaring it would be better for him to die than live. In asking if Jonah had a right to be angry about the vine, God highlights that Jonah had not tended it or made it grow, and so had no right to be angry at all. His point is that, similarly, it was him as God who caused Ninevah to grow, and as God he can therefore do with Ninevah as he sees fit. Moreover, the city is far more important than a vine, with 120,000 people who were ignorant as to God’s will, and many cattle too – stressing God’s concern for his whole creation (4v1-11). The book is helpful reminder after reading so much of judgement in previous books, that God is concerned for all humanity, desiring that they repent and are saved. It is also a sharp rebuke to our reluctance in evangelism, resentment of those God may choose to save, or skewed priorities that are more concerned for our comfort. Those who have freely received grace should be ready to freely give of it to others.

Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God for his compassion that readily shows mercy to all who repent. Pray that you would share his concern for the world, being more active in your personal evangelism.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Obadiah, click here.
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Jonah, click here.

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