Posts Tagged 'Prophecy'

Weird Bible Stories, Part 1

You probably saw this on your Facebook news feed a few weeks ago. Britain’s “Daily Mail” loves to hype things like this. But could it be true? Let’s find out.

The Bible is a marvelous book full of inspiring and life changing stories. It also has its share of odd, weird stories. Like the one about the talking snake. And the other one about the talking donkey. Some Bible stories read like a Netflix Original, a show full of liars and cheaters, spies and political intrigue, and even murderers.

The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is a book that is one complete weird story. It is also the most misunderstood, misinterpreted, and abused book of the Bible, so its inherent weirdness is compounded by all the dopey ideas floating around the Internet.

On September 23, 2017, there will be an astronomical event that some people think will be a fulfillment of Revelation 12. That chapter is a fascinating chapter in and of itself, and we’ll take a very close look at it over the next two studies. But to answer the question of whether or not it will be fulfilled on September 23, 2017, the short answer is: “definitely not.”  And here’s why.

There is a persistent desire – a need, really – among Christians to feel vindicated.  Vindication of our faith is a Biblical promise.  Our faith will become sight when our Lord returns, but we want it now. We desperately want our faith, especially in the Bible, to be proven true. We want to be able to say to unbelievers and skeptics, “See? I told you so.” And because of this, we are very quick to latch onto any teaching having to do with Bible prophecy as it relates to the end times.

God’s prophecies come true, man’s do not

Since the beginning, man has been looking for the “signs” of God’s involvement with His creation and of His personal interest in we who take our relationship with Him seriously.  We can think of “putting out a fleece” to discover God’s will. And how many of us have used traffic lights to interpret God’s direction? If it turns red before I get there, it’s a sign that I should do such-and-such a thing. That’s how some Christians use made-up signs on the micro scale. On the macro scale, many Christians through out the 20th and now the 21st centuries have tried to tie certain earth changes – like earthquakes, tidal waves, droughts, etc. – and astronomical events – like the infamous Blood Moons, eclipses, etc. – to the Second Coming and of the end of time. Without exception, all those attempts haven’t worked out well and, in fact, have served to raise the level of skepticism among unbelievers. A very large segment of the evangelical church has an interest in Bible prophecies not yet fulfilled and has a tendency to make certain events happening now fit the prophecies written thousands of years ago. For example, nobody ever saw an atomic bomb in the Bible until after one was used. Nobody saw an airplane in Scripture until one was invented. While we should applaud their Biblical worldview, at the same time, we should all be discouraged from taking “secular liberties” with the Bible.

The truth is, there are many verses in the Bible that speak of “signs” God will use in the last days to get mankind’s attention. God has used all kinds of signs throughout the history of mankind, and they are all over the Old Testament. But the signs pointing to winding up history will be a little different. They will be so obvious; so extreme, that there will be no question.

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:25 – 28 | TNIV)

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. (Genesis 9:12, 13 | TNIV)

These two examples refer to signs involving the sun, moon and stars and a rainbow, the first time it is mentioned in human history. But what we need to remember is that there were no telescopes or any other kind of visual aid to magnify the sun, moon and stars when Jesus spoke of signs in the sky.  There was virtually no light pollution to block the heavens from view, so when looking up at the night sky, a star gazer could see all kinds of stars and heavenly bodies.  Similarly, a rainbow could be easily seen with the naked eye.  These signs, one from the ancient past and fulfilled and one from the future yet to take place, will be seen by anybody on earth without any gadgets or gizmos.

Astronomers and scientists tell us there will be a unique planetary alignment on September 23 of this year. There is even a web page that keeps you abreast of the countdown. This event is so unprecedented (we are told), that Bible prophecy and end time watchers are convinced that it will be a fulfillment of the signs given in Revelation 12.

A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Revelation 12:1 | TNIV)

There are basically two reasons why the astronomical event of September 23rd can’t have anything to do with the Bible. First, those claiming it does, resort to using astrology, not astronomy, to make it fit what John wrote in Revelation 12:1. The problem is, God absolutely forbids using astrology for anything.

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. (Deuteronomy 18:9 – 12 | TNIV)

The Hebrew behind “interprets omens” is obscure but important to know. It means “observer of clouds” or “gatherer of clouds.” It pictures a person who looks to the sky – not to God – for direction or guidance. When the Bible speaks of God using the sun and planets as signs for His people, it’s not referring to astrological signs!

Second, if the planetary alignment of September 23rd is a sign from God, who would see it on earth? When Revelation 12:1 was written, there were no telescopes and a sign from God was meant to be seen! Something happening out yonder in the universe that can’t be seen by man on earth can’t be sign be a sign from God. It can be an interesting event, but it has nothing to do with Bible prophecy.

What Revelation is about

So just what is Revelation 12 about? Let’s re-read the first verse again very closely:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Revelation 12:1 | TNIV)

John wrote “a great sign appeared in heaven.” He did not write “in the heavens,” but “in heaven.” As John saw this sign, he saw it in heaven because he was in heaven. He wasn’t dead, but God transported John to heaven to see certain things that would take place on earth in the future.  Here’s the verse that tells us that:

After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. (Revelation 4:1, 2 | TNIV)

I told you the book of Revelation was weird! But John wasn’t the only person in the Bible transported to heaven to be shown things.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1, 2 | TNIV)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. (2 Corinthians 12:2 – 4 | TNIV)

The prophet Isaiah was allowed a short peak into the Lord’s throne room.  This vision took place “in the year that King Uzziah died.”  It was an incredible thing that Isaiah saw, and it changed his life.

The apostle Paul also had an experience in heaven, and he was nothing if not honest as he recounted it. He’s humble so he refered to himself as “a man” or “this man,” but he made it clear he’s not sure how it happened. Was he in heaven boldly or not? He doesn’t know, but he does know he was in heaven. God allowed him to see things and hear things that, unlike John, he was not allowed to talk about.

So John wasn’t the first person to see into heaven. But he did tell people what he saw. And what he saw was stunning: Before his eyes, the apostle John saw the panorama of history unfold. I say “history” because even though John was given a glimpse into his and our futures, history is what prophecy really is: history written backwards; history written before it happens. God can do that, by the way. Man can’t possibly foretell his or anybody’s future, but God can because He exists far, far, beyond the confines of space and time. That’s what he told John before He gave John the visions that make up the bulk of Revelation:

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8 | TNIV)

God is like the alphabet. He is the A and the Z – His existence bookends the stream of time from beginning to end. Think of the alphabet as time. He existed before the letter “B” and He will outlive the letter “Y.”  He was around before time began and will be around long after it comes to an end.  And because he is the A and the Z, God is able to travel along the stream of time; He is able to see it as it happened and as it happens and as it will happen. To Him, the future is past and the past is present. That’s why we read verses like these:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4 – 7 | TNIV)

Fascinating, isn’t it? God sees you and me – right now, today – already seated with Christ in “the heavenly realms.” But we haven’t even lived our lives yet! We’re not in heaven, yet God sees us there. He sees the future. And He sees us in heaven, where we belong. Think about that the next time you get down and discouraged. Think about that the next time you think God has forgotten about you. He hasn’t. He sees you as you will be, and where you will be. Today you’re stuck on earth, fighting the temptation to sin, struggling with doubts, just trying to keep your head above water, and God sees you in heaven. You just have to hang on and get from “here” to “there.”

Next time, we’ll put Revelation 12 under the microscope to discover what’s really going on in this weird and remarkable vision John saw in heaven.

 

 

 

 

JEREMIAH, PART 1

Jeremiah 1:1—10

In 70 AD, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed and its inhabitants scattered to the four corners of the world; the result of a terrible judgment of the Jews’ rejection of the Messiah. But this wasn’t the first time God judged His people, nor was it the first time the Holy City was destroyed. In 586 BC, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and most of Judah’s population was carried off as captives. For a century Mount Zion was little more than a wasteland, inhabited by a variety people; some Jews left behind by Nebuchadnezzar’s army, other people from other countries destroyed by the mighty Babylonians wandered around, settling in and around what was once Jerusalem. What an odd assortment of misfits; a rag-tag-band of fugitives, that now called the Holy City home.

Yet a scant century later, a remnant of exiles returned to what was left of Jerusalem, eventually rebuilding the city and the Temple. But the glory and splendor that was Mount Zion never returned. It won’t be until the dawn of the Millennial Age that the world will see that splendor and magnificence again.

The books the prophet Jeremiah wrote are key in understanding what happened in 586 BC, for they were composed just prior to and during Jerusalem’s destruction. They give us a glimpse into what his world was like and provide key historical data of the period. As Jeremiah’s book comes to an end, so does the very last remnant of what had been David and Solomon’s magnificent 12-tribe kingdom. Reading this part of Hebrew history brings to mind T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men—

This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper.

The book called “Jeremiah” is one of five books in the Old Testament we call “The Major Prophets.” They are “major” because of their length. The book of Lamentations, also written by Jeremiah, is quite short, but it is part of the Major Prophets because it serves a kind follow-up to Jeremiah’s main book of prophecy. The shorter prophetic books—and there are many of them—form “The Minor Prophets,” again because of their brevity, not because they are any less unimportant than the Majors.

Though written in the sixth century BC, the books of Jeremiah are vitally important to those of us living in the 21st century. Though ancient, they paint a picture of a society frighteningly similar to ours. Today is a troubling time of sin and complacency, very much like Jeremiah’s day. Apostasy and hypocrisy are seen in seen in ever increasing frequency, just as in Judah of old. The balance of power among the nations was shifting in the sixth century BC, and today nations once thought unshakable are teetering on the brink of economic and moral collapse. Preachers of righteousness are in short supply today; and during Jeremiah’s day, nobody wanted to hear the truth of God’s Word, either.

It becomes painfully obvious as we read the book of Jeremiah that nations rise and fall, not of their own accord, but according to God’s plan. Our destiny as a people in not in our hands, but in God’s. We are living in the last days, and during these last days the message of Jeremiah is timely and inescapable. Jeremiah is sad book to read, not just because it was written during an extraordinarily sad time for God’s people, but because it forces its readers to confront the state of their own lives before the righteous demands of God. But at the same time, the book of Jeremiah is a book of hope that teaches believers that there are better days ahead; there is a Savior coming and a New Covenant is on the horizon. Jeremiah teaches us that for those who hold fast to their faith and serve God to the best of His ability, there is always hope!

As we begin our study of Jeremiah’s great book, we need to look at the man himself. Jeremiah, like the other Old Testament prophets, knew nothing of human ordination. He did not attend a seminary, take ordination exams, and sit before a denominational examination committee before he began his ministry. He also didn’t rush headlong into it. In fact, Jeremiah often shrank from the message he was compelled to preach. But in this, he was in good company! Moses offered God the lame excuse that he wasn’t eloquent enough to preach and Isaiah famously exclaimed that he was a man of “unclean lips” after God called Him to preach. Jeremiah said:

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” (Jeremiah 1:6)

The great voices for God of the Old Testament were no different than believers today who so often get all tongue-tied as they try to share their faith. Take heart, though, out of our weakness, God ordains strength.

1. Jeremiah’s Call, 1:5

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. 

Jeremiah was born in the small village of Anathoth, about two miles from Jerusalem, in 648 BC. He lived in and his ministry spanned tumultuous times spiritually, politically, and economically. He preached from the days of Judah’s last righteous King (Josiah) to Judah’s last actual King (Zedekiah). He lived long enough to see Jerusalem burned to the ground. All during his life and ministry, Jeremiah came to learn a profound truth: all events on earth, good or bad, are under God’s sovereign control. It is He, not kings or armies, that govern human history.

This sovereign God is also a personal God, and when Jeremiah was about 20 years old, God called him to be a prophet. In fact, in a personal conversation with Jeremiah, God told him that Jeremiah was created and “set apart” before he was born to be a prophet. What a stunning verse: he was called before he was created; set apart before he was even born! God had a plan for Jeremiah just as He has a plan for all of us.

Why did God choose Jeremiah? What was there about this man that set him apart from all others? We aren’t told. God didn’t explain it to Jeremiah and as far as we know Jeremiah never figured it out. God has a sovereign will that makes complete sense to Him, even if it doesn’t to us. Our part is to respect God’s sovereignty, not deny it or frustrate it. We don’t have to understand it to hear it and obey it. Jesus said this:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27)

Notice Jesus said His sheep “listen” to His voice; we don’t always understand completely what He’s saying! We listen and we follow in faith. We should never worry about God’s sovereignty as it concerns us and our destiny:

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

When it came to serving God, Jesus never failed. And neither will you if go with God’s flow for your life!

2. Jeremiah’s excuse, 1:6

“Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”

Like most excuses God hears from any of His children, Jeremiah’s was just as pathetic. Since when is a 20 year old a child? To Jeremiah, he was highly unfit to be a prophet. He came from a small village, born to a humble priest. But in a humorous turn, Hilkiah named his son “Jeremiah,” which literally means “Whom Jah [God] Appoints.” He certainly lived up to his name! God appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet. He didn’t ask Jeremiah or check with him to make sure he had the proper education and credentials! Clearly it is God who does the calling, not any man or organization.

Jeremiah, though he felt under prepared, would come to learn a valuable lesson: our sufficiency is NOT in ourselves but in God:

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. (2 Corinthians 3:5)

3. Jeremiah’s Commission, 1:7

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.”

Though Jeremiah felt inadequate and inexperienced, God knew his man better than he knew himself. Rarely does any of us have an accurate picture of ourselves; God does and it’s His opinion that counts. Verse 7 is a rebuke, make no mistake about it. Jeremiah has ONE master and ONE purpose in his life: to go where he is sent and to speak what God wants him to speak.

Jeremiah’s mission was clear, but he needed some encouragement:

Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (vs. 8)

When anybody declares the unadulterated Word of God, they will face opposition from all quarters. Jeremiah had much to fear, but God would be with him through it all. It is better to obey God and face trouble in this world than to cave into the demands of this world and face a disappointed God! At a young age, Jeremiah learned a lesson he would carry with him for a lifetime: God’s is always with those who serve Him.

So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)

There is no way the darkness of this world can overtake any believer while the light of God’s presence is in him!

4. Jeremiah’s equipment, 1:9

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

Whom God calls, God equips! This divine touch, which the prophet Isaiah also experienced, serves as a kind foreshadow of the tongues of fire that touched the believers gathered in the Upper Room in Acts. His “touch” and His “words” are vitally connected. With a divine command comes a divine enabling! Jeremiah needed power as all believers need power in order to fulfill God’s purpose for them.

God put His Words in Jeremiah’s mouth, which is very poetic way of saying God would simply speak through His prophet. Now, that sounds great, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to become a preacher if God personally said, “I will put my words in your mouth?” As they say, however, the Word of God is a double-edged sword, and in Jeremiah’s case, more so! God’s Words in Jeremiah’s mouth were almost exclusively words of doom, gloom, and destruction. Through most of Jeremiah’s ministry, God’s Word was hard to speak and even harder to hear.

5. Jeremiah’s work, 1:10

“See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Gloomier words cannot be found anywhere: uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. That is not an encouraging message to give or hear. Yet, this was Jeremiah’s message from God. Yes, sometimes God’s Word is a big pill to swallow. Sometimes God’s Word is difficult and seemingly not very helpful or positive. It is, nonetheless, God’s Word.

In Jeremiah’s case, destructive work had to be performed before the constructive work could begin: build and plant. A garden must be weeded before it can be seeded! Sin always has to be be dealt with and put away before godly character can be established in a person. This is as true in the case of a nation as it is of the individual. God is about judge Jerusalem because they had been rejecting Him for years and years. God would restore them in time, but first, they had to be broken. It is the good and pure heart that produces good fruit. Jeremiah could preach and preach, sowing the Word everywhere, but if there were no pure hearts to receive it, no good fruit could be produced. This was the situation in Jerusalem. Hearts were not ready to receive the “good” Word of God. Those hard, dry hearts needed to be tilled up like fallow ground, cleaned out and made ready to receive what God wanted to give. In short, the people needed to be either broken or destroyed before God would be able to do anything in His people.

God gave His people every chance. Jeremiah preached for decades, warning them to get right. And he wasn’t alone; other prophets were preaching the same message! Sadly, the die had been cast. Hard hearts make for deaf ears. But God did His part in making sure Jeremiah would proclaim His Word.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5)

A SURVEY OF THE MINOR PROPHETS, Part 6

Jonah and God’s Compassion

Jonah

What we know about the prophet Jonah we find in 2 Kings 14:25—

He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah, son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.

The “he” of this verse is Jeroboam, king of Israel, who reigned from 781—753 BC, so we know the date of Jonah’s ministry. During the Jeroboam years, Israel experienced a time of political and economic revival as the fortunes of Assyra waned.

Even though our glimpse of Jonah’s life is only 48 verses long, they are a powerful 48 verses, full of great spiritual truth. Scholars have found these to be the major themes in the book:

  • The sovereignty of God. God accomplished His plans in spite of Jonah’s failures.

  • Mercy and grace. God is compassionate to whomever He wants to be, whether a sinful nation or a struggling prophet.

  • Responsibility. If we claim to know God, we have a responsibility to serve Him to the best of our ability.

  • Servanthood. Jonah’s disobedience is a classic example of how NOT to serve God.

  • Repentance. God always gives people time to repent.

  • Missions. God reaches out to people everywhere.

1. God’s patience with disobedient believers

You don’t see a lot of missionary activity in the Old Testament. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that “evangelism” is a New Testament concept and activity. The book of Jonah, though, teaches us that even way back in the days of the Old Testament, God was concerned with sinners, those outside of the Covenant.

Jonah is the reluctant missionary. God called him to a task that he wanted to avoid. He was, after all, a prophet. His job was to proclaim God’s Word to his people. Why in the world did God now want this prophet to take God’s Word to other people?

a. The fleeing prophet, 1:1—3, 17

Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”

This is God’s commission and call of Jonah. Nineveh is referred to here as “the great city” because at this time it was a world power. Even though the Assyrian Empire was struggling, Nineveh was the seat of power in the ancient world. It may have been a great city, but it was also a wicked city. The fact that God was concerned about this city shows us that God’s concern and even love reached beyond His chosen ones, even though they believed they were only ones He truly loved.

But Jonah, full of fear and apprehension, decided that this mission was not for him. So he boarded a ship that was sailing in the opposite direction. But of what was Jonah fearful? We might think he was afraid of the Assyrians; afraid that they would harm him. But, in fact, he was afraid they would turn and repent and that God would indeed forgive them. It’s not that Jonah wanted people to die in judgment, it was that if Nineveh was spared, then he would appear to be a false prophet in the eyes of his people back home.

Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (verse 17)

Jonah was clearly in disobedience to God, and in act of discipline mingled with mercy, God provided a big fish that swallowed up the errant prophet. We aren’t told how big this fish was. Matthew 12:40 speaks of “a whale,” but the Greek word used there means “a huge fish” or even a “sea monster.” For three days and three nights Jonah remained in the belly of the fish. This expression is probably a colloquial expression suggesting a relatively short, indefinite period of time.

This incident brings back to our minds the beautiful words of the Psalmist—

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?…If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. (Psalm 139:7, 9—10, NKJV)

b. The returning prophet, 2:1—10

Jonah knew he was in the wrong and cried out to God for help from within the fish. Jonah was wrong to rebel and run away from God, as if hiding among a bunch of Phoenician sailors would work! Jonah was also wrong about by taking refuge among these godless sailors, because he was implicitly declaring that, for this moment in time at least, he was preferring the Canaanite way of life to that of Israel.

Rather than dying inside the big fish, Jonah called to God for help, and we have recorded for us in poetic form, the prayer he prayed. It chronicles how dumb he was to do what he did. Yet even in his stupidity, Jonah had the presence of mind to remember God and His compassion. The prophet recommits his life to the Lord:

But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, “Salvation comes from the Lord.” (verse 9)

On the heels of Jonah’s confession and his recognition that God alone is his deliverer, the big fish pukes up the prophet, right onto dry land. We are not told just where he was deposited, but he was free, once again, to do God’s work. This man of God learned the hard way that fleeing from God’s will in an effort to avoid difficult tasks always results in even greater difficulties.

2. God’s compassion for unbelievers, 3:1—10

God is a God of second chances, even in the Old Testament. Abraham, Moses, Saul, and David are among the people in the Old Testament who personally experienced a “second chance” to make it right with God. In chapter 3, Jonah’s story reboots with his “second chance” to fulfil his mission to evangelize the great city, Nineveh and save it from certain destruction.

a. The prophet obeys, vs. 1—4

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I will give you.” Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord… (verses 1—3a)

At this point in the story, it seems as though our intrepid prophet has learned his lesson. There is a New Testament parallel in the experience of Peter. His first commission is found in Mark 1:16, 17 and Luke 5:10. After his failure and restoration, Peter was recommissioned as we read in John 21:15—17. How wonderful it is to serve a God that knows us and gives us the opportunity to hear and to respond to His call more than once!

Jonah had been forgiven by God, but he had to take up his cross where he laid it down. He had to go to Nineveh and preach the Word God would give to Him. To keep God’s restored favor and blessing, he, like all of us, had to face up to the same issue we sought to escape. God is compassionate, but He is also firm. Remember what what Samuel cautioned Saul:

To obey is better than sacrifice, to harken than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22, KJV)

Or, as Father Mapple said in his classic sermon:

And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves, and it this disobeying ourselves wherein the hardness of obeying God consists. (Herman Melville’s Moby Dick)

b. A surprising response, vs. 5—10

What an amazing site greeted the prophet as he approached Nineveh. The inner city was surrounded by a wall 100 feet thick, wide enough for 3 chariots to drive side-by-side on. The walls had 1,500 towers, 100 feet in height. Huge lions and bulls carved our of stone guarded its 27 gates. Stunning gardens surrounded the public building, which were ornamented with alabaster and beautiful sculptures. Acres and acres of lush gardens were to be found within the city walls so fresh produce was always available. But, at the same time, Assyria’s national economy was in dire straights. The whole Empire, and Nineveh in particular, was in the grips of a devastating depression. And this could explain their readiness to hear, listen to, and respond to the Word of God as they did.

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (verse 10)

God spared the city just as He had spared the sailors. God’s incredible response to sinners in this short book foreshadows Paul’s teaching in 1 Timothy 2:4—

(God) wants all people to be saved and to come a knowledge of the truth.

3. God illustrates His compassion, 4:1—11

a. The prophet’s prejudice, vs 1—3

Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live. (verse 3)

Maybe it was his national pride and his self-esteem that caused Jonah to resent the fact that God responded in compassion and forgiveness to the Ninevehites. He may have felt that if Assyria, the promised destroyer of Israel were destroyed, then Israel itself would be spared. This, of course, would have been faulty reasoning, since it wasn’t really Assyria that destroyed Israel, it was Israel’s own sins.

The petulant prophet blamed God for everything from sparing a godless city to his own disobedience. Amazingly, he defended his own failure by blaming God’s loving-kindness!

Jonah felt humiliated and discredited. Overcome with self-pity, he felt it would be better for him to die rather than face embarrassment back home.

Another prophet, Elijah, also got depressed over the outcome of events of which he was a part. He too wanted to die.

He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4)

The difference between Elijah and Jonah was that Jonah was depressed because so many sought God, Elijah was hurt on God’s behalf because so few sought God. We could say that Elijah was jealous for god, but Jonah was jealous of God.

b. God’s compassion on Jonah, vs. 4—6

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”

God had rescued Jonah from death when he was in blatant rebellion against Him. But now, the Lord reasoned with him. God wanted to know why His prophet was so angry. God was displeased with Jonah’s attitude, yet He did not openly rebuke Him. Like a parent who practices good parenting skills, the Lord worked with Jonah so that he would see for himself how childishly he was behaving, and then hopefully he would change his attitude.

c. A stern lesson, vs. 7—11

This group of verses is interesting:

  • God provided a gourd.

  • God provided worm that ate the gourd.

  • God provided a scorching wind.

What lesson was God trying to get Jonah to learn?

Jonah was thrilled with the plant, but was angry when it went away. Jonah could see no further than his own discomfort. Then God drove the point home. Jonah had been upset over something insignificant—a plant which he neither planted nor tended. Why didn’t he have the same concern over the eternal destiny of the population? Yes, Jonah’s priorities were completely out of whack.

The book of Jonah ends with God asking his prophet a final question, to which there was no answer recorded:

...should I not have concern for the great city, Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals? (verse 11)

God was trying to show Jonah that he was blind; his religious exclusiveness blinded him to the needs of ignorant sinners. Almost all believers, from time to time, behave like Jonah. We overvalue the less important things of life, like the gourd. We also, from time to time, even when thinking about spiritual things, do so in their relation to ourselves, or our own “little world.” However, God’s concern reaches out the last person on earth.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd

Studies in Daniel and Revelation

What must soon take place, Part One

That phrase, “What must soon take place,” refers to the future events Jesus revealed to John while John was in exile on the island of Patmos. During his exile, the apostle was given a glimpse of what the world would be like in the future, both his and ours. It is interesting to note that both John and the Old Testament prophet Daniel both saw prophetically the same future time and both men were in exile when they were given their visions.

The future begins with Revelation 4:1, so everything John saw from that point on is what will be happening in the future, even though John writes as though the events were happening at the moment he saw them.

1. The future in heaven, 4:1—5:14

A. The Heavenly Tabernacle. From chapters 4 and 5, we learn that there exists and will exist in heaven a literal tabernacle, after which the on Earth was patterned, Hebrews 8:1—5; 9:1—10, 22—24; 10:1.

  1. The heavenly door, 4:1.
  2. The heavenly throne, 4:2—5. This throne is seen throughout the book of Revelation. It is also described in Daniel 7:9—14; Isaiah 6; Hebrews 8:1; 12:1—2.
  3. The heavenly elders, 4:4—11; 5:8—10; 7:13; 11:16—19; 14:3; 19:4. These elders are redeemed individuals; the word “elder” is never used to describe angels or other worldly creatures. Their white robes represent their righteousness.
  4. The sea of glass, 4:6. This area is located in front of God’s throne and is where the saints and angels gather to worship the Lord at various times (7:9—17; 15:2—4).
  5. The living creatures, 4:6—8. These created beings sole purpose seems to be to declare God’s holiness. They are seen throughout the book.
  6. Worship, 4:9—11; 5:8—14.
  7. The scroll, 5:1—4; 10:1—11. This scroll or book is central to the Revelation for within its pages are contained the events that make up our future. This particular book is not the “Book of Life,” nor does it contain any names or promises or anything other than the Biblical text indicates. The “seals” that secure the scroll are the seals of 6:1—8:1.
  8. The Lamb, 5:5—7. This is the symbol of Christ, the root of David, as taught in Gen. 49:10; Micah 5:1—2; 2 Sam. 7:8—17; Ps. 89:35—37; etc.

2. The Lesser Tribulation, or the first half of Daniel’s 70th Week, 6:1—9:21

The seven seals and the first six trumpets take place in succession during the first half of the Tribulation. The seventh trumpet introduces the second half of the Tribulation, also known as the Great Tribulation.

A. The First Six Seals, 6:1—17.

  1. The first seal, 6:1—2. The rider of the white horse seen as this seal is opened in represents the rise of the Anitchrist at the beginning of the Tribulation. The events of this seal fulfill the prophecies of Daniel 7:8—9, 23—25; 8:8—10, 20—23; 11:35—45.
  2. The second seal, 6:3—4. This is picture of the war that will result following the rise of the Antichrist, Dan. 7:24; 11:40—45.
  3. The third seal, 6:5—6. This symbolizes a great famine following the war.
  4. The fourth seal, 6:7—8. Death and Hell are symbolized by riders on horseback. Death and Hell are always the result of any war. See also Matthew 24:6—7.
  5. The fifth seal, 6:9—11. Here is a picture of the first martyrs of the Tribulation. These are people who will find the Lord after the Rapture and during the Tribulation. They will be killed sometime between the Rapture and fifth seal.
  6. The sixth seal, 6:12—17. This seal introduces the time of God’s wrath. The first five seals describe the wrath of man, which will be bad enough but nothing compared to the misery that many will face when God pours out His wrath because of the persecution of His people. There will seven horrific events that happen under this seal: an earthquake, the dimming of the sun, the darkening of the moon, a meteor shower, and cataclysmic events in the sky and changes in the geography of the earth.

Parenthetical Passage, 7:1—17

Chapter 7 is the first of several “parenthetical passages” in the book of Revelation. These are so named because they contain additional information about events just revealed. They are a pause in the action that gives the reader an expanded view of particular events or persons that will help them to understand what John saw.

This parenthetical passage sheds some light on events in-between the 6th and 7th seals that will be happening concurrently during the main events of those two seals. These two events are as follows:

  • The sealing of the 144,000 Jews, 7:1—8. We know these people will be Jews because they are taken from the tribes of Israel. They get saved after the Rapture and will be sealed or marked by God as they pass through the coming trumpet judgments so they would not be harmed (9:4). The 144,000 will be caught up to heaven under the 7th trumpet. The seal will be the name of the Father written on their foreheads.
  • The Tribulation saints, 7:9—17. These Gentiles will find the Lord, like the 144,000, after the Rapture and will die for Christ, the majority of them slain by the Antichrist.

C. The 7th Seal, 8:1

The 7th Seal, 8:1. The 7th seal seems pretty mild; silence in heaven.

Parenthetical Passage, 8:2—6

This is the second pause; it explains the work of the priestly angel and the preparations for the upcoming trumpet judgments. These are events that will happen after the 7th seal and just before the first trumpet.

The following trumpet judgments are literal; they are just as literal as the plagues upon Egypt and will be for the exact same purpose: to protect Israel during the first half of the Tribulation.

D. The First Four Trumpets, 8:7—12

  1. The first trumpet, 8:7. Hail, fire and blood, the destruction of a third of the earth.
  2. The second trumpet, 8:8—9. One third of the sea turned to blood.
  3. The third trumpet, 8:10—11. One third of the fresh water rivers poisoned.
  4. The fourth trumpet, 8:12. Destruction of one third of the planets.

Parenthetical Passage, 8:13

The third parenthetical passage is a brief one, a single verse; a pronouncement of three woes.

E. The Final Two Trumpets, 9:1—21

  1. The fifth trumpet, also known as “the first woe,” 9:1—12. Demonic creatures will be let loose upon the Earth. They will torment human beings but will not kill them.
  2. The sixth trumpet, or “the second woe,” 9:13—21. Two hundred million supernatural demonic creatures will be freed from the Abyss and will proceed to slay one third of all human beings.

This event will conclude the first half of the Tribulation. The worst is yet to come.


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