Agonizomai: Jonah Chapter 3 - Afterthought

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Jonah Chapter 3 - Afterthought

Drawing lessons from the Bible is akin to writing a book. The writer is never satisfied that his manuscript is quite right. There is always something that needs refinement, improvement, revision etc. But because "of the publishing of books there is no end" - authors must somehow manage to overcome their perfectionism (thanks to editors, one assumes).

Now, no person can ever exhaust the Bible of meaning. The same passage will yield many different applications to a single reader (though there is only one true exegetical meaning) - never mind the fact that there are numberless readers.

In the interests of clarity and self-control I would normally keep my secondary or subsequent applications to myself. One message at a time. But my dear friend, Peter, who has the purest and simplest faith of any person I know - in his own inimitable fashion and with only a fraction of the verbiage I use - came up with something I cannot let pass.

The warning to Nineveh was as follows:
Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
My understanding of this solely as a threat (even though designed to bring about repentance) led to much discussion in the Sunday School class about whether this was the whole message because people wanted to see the "softer" side of God, even in a passage that clearly does not show it.

Enter Peter. He saw the statement not as a threat but as prophesy. God did overthrow Nineveh within 40 days, just as He promised. But the overthrow was by His Spirit, through His word out of the mouth of His prophet. The whole city was indeed overthrown - but by repentance and faith at the instigation of God.

In just the same way, God overthrows each human heart that He saves. When we look at the story of Nineveh we see the outward things. We see wickedness and idolatry followed by repentance and faith. But what we are seeing in the outward behaviour of these people is merely the evidence of the the work of the Spirit of God upon the heart, changing the nature from which all volitions flow. You must be born from above!

And this itself gives rise to numerous lines of thought that there is not room to develop here. Nevertheless, I am so grateful that in the body of Christ there are brothers and sisters who see things differently from me - and that, through loving and peaceful fellowship, their insights can be not only God's means of keeping me from becoming dogmatic and ossified about my own thoughts - but also a source of great enrichment and blessing.

My moniker - that's John Hancock to Americans


Blogger THEOparadox said...


Leave it to me to comment on your post some 11 years later. But I am compelled. It is remarkable that you posted this insightful thought from your friend Peter. Only a couple of months ago, while wrestling through some "open theism" arguments that invoked Jonah in a vain attempt to back up a dangerous heresy, it suddenly dawned upon me that I should look up the Hebrew meaning of the word "overthrown," as used by Jonah.

Here it is:

Heb. HAPHAKH = to turn, overthrow, overturn, turn over, turn around, change, transform, reverse"
In the LXX, the Greek word KATASTREPHO is used: to overturn, upset, cp. Eng. "catastrophe"

What is more, the specific Hebrew verb form, the Niphal Participle, makes the intended meaning even more clear:

1b) (Niphal)
1b1) to turn oneself, turn, turn back
1b2) to change oneself
1b3) to be perverse
1b4) to be turned, be turned over, be changed, be turned against
1b5) to be reversed
1b6) to be overturned, be overthrown
1b7) to be upturned

Within this wide and interesting range of possible meanings, either destruction or conversion could easily fit. I rejoiced greatly in this when I saw it. Tomorrow, if the Lord wills, I will take our adult Sunday School class on a guided tour through Jonah chapter 3, and will share this important bit of insight with them. Naturally, preparation for that led me to review your series on Jonah and find this encouraging confirmation, posted long ago as an "afterthought."

God is sovereign and wise, and He "appointed" a great blog. Just like the plant that sheltered Jonah from the burning heat, it offers its excellent shade.

Hope you are well my friend!

Blessings in Christ,

9:05 pm  

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