Monday, May 18, 2009

Jonah's Reluctance and Jesus' "Sign of Jonah"

Why did Jonah flee after the Lord told him that he was to go to Nineveh and warn the people that if they did not repent they would be destroyed? Was it cowardice? Was it laziness?

What is often overlooked by commentators is that Nineveh—the city in story of Jonah which repents―was at the heart of the Assyrian Empire. Of course, Assyria was a huge threat to the northern kingdom, i.e., the house of Israel. In fact, the prophets foretold that God would destroy Israel by their hand.

The news that God was about to destroy Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria, would have been welcomed by the people of Israel.

Thus Ancient Israelite readers would no doubt see Jonah’s hesitance to preach there as patriotic--he gladly anticipated the destruction of Israel's enemy and did not want to prevent their destruction by preaching to them.

The story is ironic--Jonah saves the Assyrians at Nineveh from destruction through calling for repentence. The Assyrians repent and are saved. The northern Israelites however persist in their sin and are eventually destroyed.

In the Gospels Jesus speaks of himself as Jonah, specifically speaking of performing the 'sign of Jonah' (e.g., Matt 12:39-41; Matt 16:4; Luke 11:29-32). Of course, Matthew and Luke’s readers would have been aware that the preaching of Jesus, rejected by the Jewish leadership, was being accepted in Rome. They knew of course that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and, of course, it was well-known who the destroyer would be--Rome!

No one wonder then Jesus is linked with Jonah!


Anonymous said...

An interesting post. However, Jesus himself explains his meaning at Mt 12:
He replied, 'It is an evil and unfaithful generation that asks for a sign! The only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah remained in the belly of the sea-monster for three days and three nights, so will the Son of man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.Of course, this sign was fulfilled literally, yet many people then (Acts 1:6) and now try to bend Gospel to a particular political turn.

BTW the passages you cite help explain the comment Jesus made to the Repentant Thief at Luke 23:43.
He answered him, 'In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'
That is from the New Jerusalem Bible; note the position of the comma. It says that Jesus and the thief would be in paradise "today".
Yet Jesus had prophesied that he would be in his grave for some days after his death. The difficulty is resolved by noting that the written Greek of Luke's day had no punctuation; that comma has to be added by a modern translator. If the comma isn't used, the English is perhaps unclear, but not incorrect. If the placement is chosen otherwise, the difficulty is resolved with no violence done to the English:
And he said to him: “Truly I tell you today, You will be with me in Paradise." That is how the New World Translation puts it.

Another misunderstanding is resolved if we consider the historical context, as you do with your comments on Assyria and Rome. To Jewish hearers, like the thief and the bystanders whom Luke interviewed, "paradise" meant 'an earth with Edenic conditions', not the Heaven of Revelation. If we say that Jesus and the thief 'went to Heaven' that day, or any day together, we are contradicted by the forty-some days of apparitions by Jesus before he ascended, alone. (Acts 1:9)
Also, the teleological passage at 1 Cor 15 tells us that there is a strict order for entry into heaven; again, Jesus enters first, alone. (Cf. Heb 9 & 10) But if we say that the thief is later restored to the Earth-wide paradise of Ps 37:29 and many other passages, then "everything is done in a proper and orderly fashion." (1 Cor 14:40, NJB)
Regards, Doug

His Prince Michael said...

Wow. The "theologians" often
get so tangled-up in the letter, thus unwittingly, nullifying The Spirit.
Coincidentally, in the 1990's,
I founded a music production named
"Jonah Productions", whose music
(and more importantly, it message)
was blacklisted by the Music Industry
at-large. Of course, soon after-wards, the industry's serious woes

Sister Mary Agnes said...

Dear His Prince Michael,
I do not understand what you mean by “nullifying the Spirit.” Words are important, and many modern translations of the scriptures twist or distort the meaning. I think hearing about the original context and how things would have sounded to Jewish ears in the first century gives valuable insight into the meaning of scripture passages. Maybe it can give us new insights into what the Spirit is saying through the scriptures.

His Prince Michael said...

Beloved, Sister Mary Agnes, I was merely noting that at times, too immersed in the letter, may slighty
diminish the Spirit. Indeed, we must become relatives to both, Word and Spirit. Your excellent insight, is always appreciated!

Michael Barber said...

Nothing here was meant to imply that the 'sign of Jonah' was not a reference to the resurrection. That's obvious! I was just talking about a further connection which might be made.

Thanks everyone for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I was always impressed by the fact that the people of Ninivah changed their hearts and lives and repented at Jonah's preaching. What a sign THAT is, in the latter days the people will be of such disbelief and seek a sign but the only sign that will be given them is the sign of Jonah. Whenever I hear a really good preacher I think of that idea. Of course the Roman Catholic Church is the only body with the power to definitively interpret scripture, therefore the Church's long standing tradition that the Sign of Jonah is the resurrection is the best interpretation. I think a lot of these other lesser signs are seen as well though.

His Prince Michael said...

Mr. Barber, thank-you for a much-needed perspective, great work.
Then again, what else would you expect from a guy named MICHAEL!
ALL, for The Greater Glory of GOD!