On the high mountain

Tomorrow is the 2nd Sunday of Lent in Year B. It is an account of the Transfiguration as told by St. Mark. You can read a full commentary on the Gospel here.

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. 4 Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. 7 Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” 8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.

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Jonah – overboard

11 “What shall we do with you,” they asked, “that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea was growing more and more turbulent.” 12 Jonah said to them,Pick me up and throw me into the sea, that it may quiet down for you; since I know it is because of me that this violent storm has come upon you.”

These were the ending verses in the previous post. But there was also a question to ponder: What is the motivation for Jonah to suggest being thrown into the sea? To be fair, the narrative is silent on the matter, we only know of the suggestion. It seems there are at least two plausible motivations:

  1. Jonah has had a change of heart. He has realized that his choices and actions are a wrecking ball in the lives of the captain and crew. In an altruistic moment, he takes responsibility and offers his life as the solution, as the means of salvation. He is willing to die as he recognizes his guilt before God.
  2. Jonah is not done running. If Tarshish is not far enough away, then maybe death is. He would rather die than obey God and be part of a potential rescue of the people of Nineveh from their sins.

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Jonah – the tempest

The tempest rages, the crew prays, each to his own god, the cargo is being tossed overboard in an attempt to save the ship that is in danger of breaking up. Jonah is curled up in a corner below decks fast asleep.

6 The captain came to him and said, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God! Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.” (Jonah 1:6) Did the captain go looking for Jonah? I suspect not. I think he is below deck to see what other cargo can be tossed overboard when he stumbles upon Jonah asleep. Everyone else is working to save the ship, save themselves. The captain, exasperated shouts out “What are you doing asleep?” Seriously, dude, get your sorry self up and if you’re not going to lend a hand to help us, at least “call upon your God!” We’ve shot-gunned our prayers across a whole passel of gods seeing if we can appeal to the god behind this storm. “Perhaps God will be mindful of us so that we may not perish.” (Given that he is sea captain, there were no doubt some “salty” words mixed in the middle.) Continue reading

Ancient Law in Scripture

Many folks I know have committed to read the entire Bible – an ambitious plan, but one I highly commend and recommend. For some, their plan was to begin at the beginning with Genesis and read straight through to Revelation. That would never be my recommendation. The Bible is not a novel that moves seamlessly from book to book. Rather it is a collection of books. The Genesis-to-Revelation plan has been written about in posts about beginning and sometimes how tough that approach can be – especially when hits the book of Leviticus.

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Jonah – heading down

When last seen Jonah had booked passage for Tarshish in order to flee as far from God and the prophetic mission as possible. It certainly was his decision to make, but one of the points I believe the author is making is that our decisions are (a) never isolated from our other decisions, they form the path we walk, the character we are developing, and (b) never isolated from others. Consequences pour out from our choices into the lives of others. His personal choice leaves in place the wrecking ball of evil that is Assyria and Nineveh. He could choose to fulfill his mission and either (a) they are destroyed or (b) they repent. Either way the “wrecking ball” is out of action. But he is too self-centered, selfish to potentially sacrifice himself for the others, for the mission. And now he will drag others down by his choice to run.

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Jonah – heading westward

“But Jonah made ready to flee to Tarshish, away from the LORD. He went down to Joppa, found a ship going to Tarshish, paid the fare, and went down in it to go with them to Tarshish, away from the LORD.” (Jonah 1:3) So much for the son of faithfulness (Amittai).

Why run away? The wickedness of Nineveh. Would you want to go? Fear seems like a healthy reaction to avoid this mission. But there is more to it. For this we have to peek ahead to Chapter 4 (spoiler alert!). At the end of Chapter 3 the king and the entire city of Nineveh has heard Jonah preach against it and repented. “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” (Jonah 3:10)

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Jonah – the word came

This is the word of the LORD that came to Jonah, son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1)

Such is the traditional opening of God reaching out to communicate the divine will to a prophet. The 1st century hearers would have been attuned to the opening and then jolted by the verse’s end: Jonah son of Amittai. Nationalistic feelings ran deep in their memory. This name brought to mind the prophet of the Northern Kingdom, which had seceded from Judah and Davidic rule after the reign of Solomon. Unlike the prophets Amos and Hosea, Jonah did not rage against the sins and misdeed to tribes to the north and their rebel kings. Rather he prophesized the expansion of the rebel kingdom’s frontiers under King Jeroboam II, the thirteenth king of the north (mid-8th century BCE): Continue reading

Jonah – some history

There are several historical references that one encounters while reading the Book of Jonah. Rather than include this detail in later posts when the references appear, I thought it good to provide some details early on. The setting of the book is a period of Israel’s history when there is a lot going on – inside and outside the traditional boundaries of the Promised Land. The Kingdom of David had split into the Northern Kingdom (confusingly called Israel and consisting of 10 tribes) and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah consisting of two tribes) still loyal to the throne of David and centered in Jerusalem. Beyond the borders was the ever-looming threat of the Assyrian Empire whose capita city was Nineveh. It was located in the area of modern-day Mosul in Northern Iraq. Compared to Israel, it is to the northeast at some distance.

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Jonah – some details

In most commentaries there are discussions focused on the unity of composition (i.e., were there later editors?), date and purpose of the writing, questions of text preservation (consistency among known copies), underlying theology, and the “Sign of Jonah” from Matthew 12:40. If you are interested in a “deep dive” into some of these topics, any scholarly text will provide lots of details.  Let me just provide a few thoughts – not trying to rehearse all the opinions and arguments, but simply offering what makes the most sense to me.

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Jonah – about the book

Before we dive into the Book of Jonah, we need to understand what we are reading, in other words, the literary genre. Why? Simply put, you read a newspaper differently than a novel. You read poetry different than history. It is good to understand what the literary genre of Jonah is because there are many different literary types in the OT, including laments, love songs, parables, apocalypses, and histories. Jonah is generally included with the so-called “Minor Prophets” such as Joel, Obadiah and Micah, so perhaps it straight-up prophecy?

The opening of the book is classic: “This is the word of the LORD that came to Jonah, son of Amittai” (Jonah 1:1; also again in 3:1).  This is the classic introduction of a prophetic work. Consider the Book of Micah that immediately follows Jonah in your Bible. Micah is seven chapters of his poetic word oracles, speeches and accounts of visons. But Jonah is not a collection of poetic word, visions, etc.  It is a narrative.

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