Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Thought for the Day 01/07/21 - Caged birds don't sing







Quite a few of my Minister friends seem to have got quite worked up in recent months about singing ... specifically singing in church ... even MORE specifically, NOT singing in church.

I've missed it too!

Now, this is purely anecdotal of course, but it DOES seem to me to be mainly the ethnic English Ministers of my acquaintance that have been speaking out about this. I would have expected it to be our Welsh Ministerial brethren that felt strongest about losing singing in worship services during COVID.

And now, paradoxically, it is the Welsh that have been allowed to sing again while English hymn-singing is still on lockdown!

But WHY are we doing singing in the first place, I mean ... what an odd thing to ask people to do! 

You invite them into church and (most commonly) WAY before you give people you've invited a cup of tea and a biscuit you give them a BOOK and you require lots of choral singing from them!

Just ... WHY?!

Why do scientists think people sing?

First of all there's ...

The primeval scream thing


There are scientists who think people love to sing because singing is the first thing babies do.

I must say I find this implausible.

I've been present close up and personal with four births, and though noisy enough with their first breaths ...  I never once heard a birthing riff remotely resembling an aria from La Traviata (nothing LIKE it!)

Then there's the suggestion it's about ...

Well-being


Other more medical sorts of scientists suggest people sing because it involves physiological phenomena which produce well-being effects ... affecting mood ... because singing modifies heart-beat and respiration and the like.

Then there's ...

Tribal solidarity


But the sociologists are the ones that go to town on singing ... and there's quite a cohort of sociologists who seem to use their studies a good excuse to go to the football. 

Oh yes ... THAT's where you see people NATURALLY singing urself-consciously, with NO thought of propriety or performance.

Sociologists really LOVE that sort of thing!

Popular chants (as encountered at the football) seem to them to have deep roots in human culture. 

In fact, every social group ever studied from the Maori to the Whirling Dervishes ... even awkward-feeling English people at a wedding ... get involved in some sort of dancing, singing or chanting!

Then there's the issue of ...

Social cohesion


Psychologists tell us that when a group of people do stuff like that together it has a profound effect on how they think and feel.

It's not just (as a body of research shows) that group singing, dancing and chanting has a profound effect on the mood of depressed people.

It seems be the case for almost everybody that synchronising your voice, breathing and heart rate with a group of other people has the remarkable effect of making us feel connected to one another.

But that's not, of course, to say that football fans' chanting make them feel connected to EVERYONE  in the stadium, but you know what I mean!

LOTS of football chants ... which arise when people are less restrained from doing what come naturally ... are rude, offensive, racist and discriminatory.

Singing and chanting seems ... to the sociologist and the psychologist... to be more than anything else a way to express:

  • Social identity, and ...

  • Group values ...  for OUR group
... as you find for example when Liverpool fans chant 'Justice for the 96' in support of the Hillsborough victims.

Harnessing this phenomenon on the dark side


This singing, chanting dancing phenomenon is something that armies around the world capitalise on with 'drill'. 

What's the point of it?! 

(It's a question that I've heard young soldiers ask).

Marching in straight lines across battle fields has not been at a premium in modern warfare since the invention of the machine gun ... but moving and chanting together has been shown in experiments to steel the nerve for harnessed, corporate deployment of extreme violence. 

This feature of human psychology has its darker side too!

To sum it up ...


There are chants and songs in EVERY pre-literate culture ...

  • creating social identity, 

  • encouraging co-ordinated group action 

    • through support and 

    • encouragement and 

  • communicating and re-inforcing the chanting, singing dancing group's 
    • shared ideas

    • common values and

    • high ideals.

So why are we supposed to be doing that in Church?!

Worship in the Bible is most commonly, of course, directed to God.

Primarily that is what we aim to do, and we do that because we're convinced and we know, that our God is WORTHY of praise!

But THAT's just not the END of the story.

In the words of our Verse for the Day, the Apostle Paul writes to the young church at Colossae:

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you 

teach and 
admonish 
one another 
with all wisdom 

through 
psalms, 
hymns, and 
songs 
from the Spirit, 

singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

‭‭Colossians‬ ‭3:16-17‬


Yes, we worship God primarily, but it has a useful effect  on the Body of Christ ... the group.

Here's the point ... 

The Point

Churches in some parts of the world have a culture of singing in their meetings very quietly. 

They haven't always been free to worship God, and they're still in the habit of singing God's praises in ways that don't get overheard.

Our church in the West have had liberty to sing God's praise loudly, but in the last eighteen months of COVID lockdown we've had to learn not to take that privilege so lightly.

We've MISSED the psychological, well-being benefits of singing together.

We've MISSED the maintaining of our togetherness and unity as the people of God which is a leading source of encouragement and identity-building ... as the fall-off in adherence and involvement in what churches are doing has clearly shown. Many churches seem to have lost around 50% of their previous attendance.

And we've missed the spiritual stimulus of teaching and admonishing one another as we sing psalms, hymns and songs that have been inspired by the Spirit (to God, but) TOGETHER. And this SHOWS in the impact it's had on the quality and fervour of our Christian discipleship.

The Takeaway

If this hugely beneficial thing for us ... corporate worship ... has been curtailed at least with the permission if not as the purpose of God, then He will have done or at least allowed that for a reason.

When blessings are withdrawn, then we have to ask questions. And we have to ask them primarily of ourselves.

What could there be in our walk with God that might give rise to such a thing?

Have we neglected His heartfelt, Spirit-inspired, truth driven praise?

Have we displeased Him by being distracted from His worship by the music?

Have we been worshipping the way WE like it, but not for Him?

Have we been taking the privilege of His free worship too long for granted?

As the opportunity to sing together now gently returns, it's surely time to stop raging at 'the Government' who stopped our fun, and seeking God for why He directed this in the first place?

I for one wouldn't want to make a mistake that could cause such a thing EVER again.

Thought for the Day 30/06/21 - Confidence and Assurance in the dark

 

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We live in a world struggling with the effect of lost certainties.

Truth is considered to be no longer 'out there' and verifiable, but 'in here' and personal.

Right is considered to be no longer revealed and certain but a man-made construct and variable.

Even 'love' is like a jelly-fish that wobbles away from definition any time you poke it with a rational stick.

In a world where being 'true to your own beliefs' seems to be the only remaining moral imperative, we are seeing quite a lot of violations of that principle being treated as inconsequential even by leaders in public life.

Fairness and integrity do seem to lie bleeding in the dust just now.

In a culture that thinks like that, no-one really knows where they are and anyone who steps outside the relativistic intellectual and moral morass MUST be demonised because their confidence and assurance seem just too threatening to everybody else.

So here's a plea not to buy into this dodgy thinking that leads into the loss of your certainties, truth, morality and even love.

This is important, because we can't live well without any of those.

In a world that decries the possibility of certainty, the letter to the Hebrews comes with relevance and force as it stands up for confidence and assurance ... values that the thought system of our culture attacks from the roots.

Let's hear Hebrews out, because its Biblical definition of faith puts believers at odds with our certainty-killing culture.

Here is the Verse for the Day:

“Now faith is 

confidence in what we hope for and 

assurance about what we do not see.”

‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬

https://www.bible.com/113/heb.11.1.nivuk


The Point

Faith IS confidence 

... specifically confidence in what we do not see, but really do anticipate.


And we do not feel it, we PLACE it in reliable things, people and truths.


Faith is also assurance 

... specifically assurance about things we have been told or even promised by One in Whom we have placed out trust.

And we don't feel that either, we PROCLAIM it to ourselves (first) and to others.

That really looks like swimming against the tide, so we'd better be clear about our basis for this!

The basis for both these things

Our culture may see our confidence as arrogance and our assurance as presumption ... but it isn't reckoning on the fact that we have had these things promised to us on the Word of the God Who cannot lie (Titus 1:2), which is more reliable than the philosophising of human thinkers and philosophers.

Does our culture have a problem with that?

It's of the essence of the faith a Christian lives and dies by, so if our culture IS going to have a problem with that, then we're all going to have to get over it!

The Takeaway

In a world that esteems doubt and uncertainty but cannot live well like that, the believer needs to model confidence and assurance in the dark, about the things that we believe but do not see. 

And we need to be very clear about why we practise faith like this ... it's because we live trusting all our lives and holding to the promise we've received on the surety of the God Who does not lie.

Faith is not something we feel. Faith is something we set to and do, and the confidence and assurance that faith amounts to is something to set about and DO, today.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Thought for the Day 29/06/21 - Correct and Clear Trumpet Calls

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This week the bishop of Liverpool came out in favour of churches marrying same sex couples and the bishop of Manchester was on the television news describing the recently publicly revealed adultery of the last Health Secretary as trivial ... 'a bit of a fling',he said.

None of this is what you might call biblical - or historical - Christianity, really, and it gets a bit confusing trying to work out where they are getting their ideas from.

So it came as a bit of a relief to see an Evangelical Anglican minister writing:

"Two marriages have broken down, with all the heartache, tears and loneliness of the innocent parties. One wedding ring has been thrown to the floor in the passion of betrayal; another still worn in the sorrow of defiance. It has been a very public humiliation, and six children are now crying every night in their brokenhearted beds. The pain is deep, and their scars will last a lifetime."

All in all, there's been quite a lot of hand-wringing from Bible believing Christians about some of the things being said by members of various ecclesiastical hierarchies in the last few months.

For example there was the Methodist denomination in England which has recently met and, seeking 'relevance', affirmed the validity of marrying people of the same sex.

But what happens when you do that is that you LOSE your relevance by joining the thought world and culture that you are there to move.

You can't speak to it or move it for God, because you've become just the same as it.

The Bible addresses this issue of motivating and moving the people of God in this world to impact this world for God ... and in a few places it does this with reference to trumpets ...
Trumpet Icons - Download Free Vector Icons | Noun Project

Blowing the right tune

Numbers 10 is a classic case in point here.

Moses had the problem of moving 600,000 men (plus dependents) away from Sinai in Numbers chapter 1, and he had to do that without WhatsApp or Telegram!

The Lord's solution for getting them to advance as one, was to use signalling with two trumpets. He established a well-known protocol of different tunes on those trumpets, to get this vast diverse group into action.

There were tunes for getting them moving.

There were tunes for getting them to stop and 

There were tunes to get the people to pitch camp.

But perhaps most significantly of all, there were tunes for 'stand to' for military action, to get the people going into battle: 


"When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. 

Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies."

Numbers 10:9


You can see how IMPORTANT it was for them that the correct tune was clearly played to inspire focused and appropriate, united activity.

Correct.

Clear.

But there's no point playing the right tune if it's not played loudly and clearly so all the people who need to hear get the message.

Blowing a clear tune


The Apostle Paul launched a serious point about unclear messaging off this historical background in Numbers as he wrote to the Corinthian church in  1 Corinthians 14.

That chapter is about the use of a miraculous spiritual gift in the church at Corinth of being able to speak languages that you haven't learned. 

It sounds a bit spooky but it was something that happened first on the Day of Pentecost at the birth of the New Testament church in Acts 2, but they'd got a little bit carried away with it in Corinth when there were more important things they should have been concentrating on.

"Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 

So it is with you. 

Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? 

You will just be speaking into the air."

1 Corinthians 14:8‭-‬9


Paul is REALLY taking us to the heart of the matter now, there!


The Point

The correct tune that calls for the right sort of action, and a clear tune everybody can hear and understand ... that's what both church and nation need to hear, and they need to hear it BOTH from 'the Church' and from Christian Leaders.

Without that NO-ONE is going to rally to the cause.

No-one is going to be moved.

Nothing is going to be changed.

We will NOT be getting going in the right direction.

The Takeaway

What have we got coming from the bell at the end of our trumpet, and HOW is it coming out of there?

Low reverberations that come dribbling off the bell end?

Or a clear clarion call that challenges the depths of a person's being and stirs up their blood to go FORWARDS in the faith, in the cause of the glorious God of Heaven?

so, just what sort of leadership are we praying for?

And what sort of leadership will we back?


Monday, 28 June 2021

Thought for the Day 28/06/21 - Truth and Power






Let's be absolutely clear, there is no place as far as I can see for Ministers of Religion to engage in - far less to promote - Party politics.

It impairs their ability to minister to ALL people (the way they should) and in any event there are things that offend against God and His Word in whatever party we may personally favour.

But what the representatives of God ... His apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers have ALWAYS been forthright about is unrestrained human nature and sin against God both in His people and in national leaders ... political leaders, religious leaders, society leaders and business leaders.

Scared off


And I think THAT is something we are currently a bit scared of.

Now, Isaiah lived through a time of huge and traumatic change during the eighth century BC.

God called him to interpret for a people God had promised His protection, just exactly what was happening as God's protection and provision seemed to be swept away, and the people were conquered and devastated, then eventually carried off into Exile. 

Isaiah's calling led him into all manner of personal trials and discomforts, but Isaiah was FAITHFUL, and didn't shirk it.

The roots of the reason for the hard experience of Isaiah's people at that time lay in the behaviour of its leaders and people who had lost their focus on God, including His priority of protection for the poor.

No ... it ISN'T a political point Isaiah makes, it's a point about the God of the Covenant's priorities!

The God of the Covenant's priorities


Here's how the prophet puts it in Isaiah chapter three:

"The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people."

Now, there ARE currently a number of court cases being launched against Westminster's ministers about alleged corruption in the awarding of Government contracts and the like. 

A number of those cases have been successful. 

But it may be worth noticing that Isaiah warns all manner of leaders against litigation in the far higher courts ... being arraigned to the High Court of God.

He continues:

"The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: 

‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses.

What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’ declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty."

Isaiah 3:14‭-‬15


It's NOT just an Old Testament thing


Before anyone says that the mandate for God's people speaking truth to power is an Old Testament only phenomenon ... just check out Peter's approach to Jerusalem's leaders on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:23 and Acts 2:36, or Acts 3:17, or Acts 4:9-12 ...

Speaking God's truth to power is a Biblical, not merely an Old Testament responsibility laid on the leaders of, and on the people of God.

The Point

What's my point?

It seems to me that the church in our land at this time - and that's US - has ceded the role of speaking truth to the land into the hands of political, social and economic leaders ... and the outcome of that has historically often been not far short of disastrous.

It gets disastrous for the poor and the vulnerable.

It gets disastrous for those political, social and economic leaders.

And it gets disastrous as the country affected takes a dive. 

The Lord calls His church to be salt and light in the world, proclaiming His definition of what is wrong and confronting society's ills as the precursor to (and without which there is no justification for) preaching the Good News of salvation.

The Gospel is about repentance from and forgiveness for human sin. If we lose God's definition of the former we imperil the latter.

And "grinding the faces of the poor" rides very high on God's definition of sin and of sinfulness.

It doesn't make God a One Nation Conservative nor a Socialist for Him to speak like this. It actually make Him the thrice holy God!

The Takeaway

Let's not let the world around us and its powerful leaders impose on you THEIR definitions of right and wrong, permissible and scandalous, wise and foolish. 

Let's rather confront those today where they are in error, as if the Gospel were at stake if we don't ... because actually, it probably is.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

Bible Exposition - 27/06/21 - Jonah 2:1-10 - Me, Myself and I

 

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              Introduction, v. 1

Jonah has been UTTERLY unwilling to go to Nineveh to call for repentance from the utterly awful people there because he is not at all keen that they should receive grace and mercy rather than judgement and punishment.

He has therefore FLED the Lord’s commission, shown remarkable godlessness as a prophet whilst the sailors on the ship he boarded to take flight have shown remarkable godliness for a bunch of pagan sailors.

Jonah has now himself received the sort of legal punishment he wanted for the Ninevites whilst the pagan sailors have received the sort of gracious mercy that Jonah didn’t want to see extended to the Ninevites.

And whilst the sailors suddenly find themselves bobbing on a calm sea, Jonah now finds himself desperate at the very gates of death … imprisoned inside a fish and sinking as far down as anyone could go, to the roots of the mountains underwater.

But what you’ve got in Jonah 2 is a psalm of praise (vv. 3b-10) inside a narrative framework which tells you the story of the events that led to that psalm.

As a piece of literature, this book is once more proving to be an astonishingly well-told story.

So … Jonah’s journey from where God’s commission came to him in the Holy Land DOWN to Joppa, then DOWN to the ship, then DOWN into the hold, then DOWN into the sea … it all represents Jonah’s journey from the realm of life and order into what the Semitic mind saw as the realms of disorder and death.

And then, of course, Jonah passed into the chaotic sea monster this great fish which carried him down and down in the Sea … the realm of deepest chaos and death to the very roots of the mountains where the gates to Sheol were reckoned in ancient Near Eastern thought to be located …

But unlike the ship … which Jonah paid for and trusted in … it is the FISH that becomes God’s appointed means to bring Jonah (contrary to appearances) back from the deepest chaos and the jaws of certified (three day long) death to the land of the living and into the second chance that arises at the start of chapter 3 when the Word of the Lord came again to the prophet Jonah saying … ‘go to Nineveh, that great city’ - in precisely the same terms Jonah heard at first.

There are so many thematic links and connections, contrasts and ironies in this account that you really need to pause your progress through the narrative or you will COMPLETELY miss them!

So, it is utterly relevant that the central psalm section in chapter 2 is poetry and the rest is prose (vv. 1c-3a and v. 11) … as the poetic section pauses the fairly racy narrative to give the reader the chance to process the story and reflect on what is going on in the story-line and have a first go at working out what this all means.

In fact, if you dropped out the psalm section, the prose text would read pretty well without it - straight through minus the reflective stuff in the poetic section … but then you wouldn’t have had the benefit of reflecting on the story and considering its meaning.

That prayer/ psalm of Jonah’s winds up with a climactic statement that goes directly to the heart of the point the Divine and human authors are making: 2:10c “Deliverance belongs to YHWH”

It is a confession at this point which becomes DEEPLY ironic when in 4:1-4 Jonah AGAIN tries to restrict YHWH’s grace, mercy and deliverance.

Jonah KNOWS the truth alright … but there’s a big ‘BUT’ there, too!

In fact, what the narrative first sets out to show us is Jonah getting ‘judged’ in the sea with the fish in a way that DIRECTLY leads to his unmerited deliverance but the question remains very much in the balance as to what effect this actually has on the man’s life and attitude

              Jonah’s deliverance, vv. 1-2

It is really ironic that what so clearly looks like the means of Jonah’s judgement - this great fish - turns out to be the means of Jonah’s deliverance.

It certainly doesn’t seem to be what Jonah would think of as his means of deliverance!

““From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”

Jonah 2:1-2

https://www.bible.com/113/jon.2.1-2.nivuk

 

That word ‘I’ there … we’re going to hear a lot of that.

The eight verses of Jonah’s prayer in direct speech here contain twenty-seven first person references to himself and fifteen first or second person references to the LORD.

It’s just an early indication that something is definitely up with this prayer … and that this indicates something is still wrong in the prophet Jonah’s heart, before God.

Let’s look at it now, as the text makes the transition into the poetic section, and in doing so invites us to CONSIDER what is going on here behind the story-line …

                Jonah prayed in his distress, v. 2 a

“He said: ‘In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.”

Jonah 2:2

https://www.bible.com/113/jon.2.2.nivuk

 

By the testimony of Jonah’s own mouth Jonah NOW begins to pray.

Equally by that same testimony, he only does so when he is DESPERATE.

The pagan sailors prayed to Jonah’s God while Jonah was fast asleep hiding from God in the hold of the ship, and those men made offerings and vows to Him LONG before Jonah, God’s prophet, actually did.

But once in the desperate straits of being in the fish’s belly, Jonah prays.

All previous references to prayer in the book (by the sailors) have used other terms (like ‘crying out to God’) but now for the first time the technical word for prayer gets used  … we’ve moved from the realm of the words used to describe the sailors’ hearty seeking after God in non-technical terms into the realm of the faulty but correctly described prayers of the prophet.

In fact, the next time this correct word for prayer gets used is in 4:2 where Jonah does this in COMPLAINT against Gods mercy being shown to the people of Nineveh!

He knows all the right words … but has none of the right heart, this prophet Jonah!

The summary introduction to Jonah’s psalm here reveals this point clearly.

It has all the ‘right’ elements in it for a psalm of thanksgiving (like Pss. 18:6, 22:24, 81:7 and so on) because it goes:

1. I was in trouble

2. I called to the LORD for help

3. He rescued me

4. I will give Him thanks

Those elements summarised here in the introduction then get repeated and fleshed out in the psalm that follows, but … do you see … NO mention by the prophet of his guilty act which gave rise to this nor any word of remorse over that guilty act let alone repentance.

Just correct liturgical, Temple language and structures.

This is not the expression of a heart that longs for God, his presence and His fellowship but of a mind that is well-versed in liturgical correctness.

From being like Jonah, good Lord DELIVER us!

                God answered, v. 2b

Jonah sounds like a guy well-versed in the religion and liturgy of his people but whose actual belief system is far from the sort of heart for God that the Lord longed for in His covenant people.

 

“Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the stomach of the fish and said, “I called out to the Lord from my distress, and

he answered me;

from the belly of Sheol I cried out for help,

and you heard my prayer.”

Jonah 2:1-2

https://www.bible.com/107/jon.2.1-2.net

 

It’s almost as if in this first part of the poetic ‘think about this’ section, we are being invited to think … why on earth DID God listen to that cry for help and hear his correctly phrased technical prayer?!

 

That’s fascinating because in v. 1 we’re told the LORD sent a huge fish (masculine) and Jonah was in the STOMACH of that fish three days and nights, but the next mention of the fish from whose belly Jonah PRAYED is now in the feminine which leads some to translate ‘stomach’ for the first masculine mention of the fish and ‘womb’ for the second feminine mention of that same fish … the first being a place of digestion and disolution (which is how the ancients thought of death) but the second being a place from which deliverance and new birth emanate.

Contrary to Jonah’s and everyone else’s expectations, that fish was an agent of life and not death as v. 3 confesses.

The situation works out contrary to all expectation.

What makes the difference?

Jonah has now cried out for mercy from God!

And when Jonah gets vomited up eventually onto dry land, the first thing God calls for from Jonah is a change of heart expressed in practical repentance … go to Nineveh!

But first, we’re being poetically helped to reflect upon all that’s ocurred so far …

              The depth of Jonah’s descent, vv. 3-6a

The prayer ‘proper’ begins here in v. 3 with the verb ‘and he said’, marking the change from narrative to direct speech.

v. 3’s “From Sheol’s belly I screamed for help, you heeded my voice” sounds very like Psalm 18:6’s choice of words … and Psalm 120:1’s choice of words too.

Jonah is very well acquainted with his own spiritual heritage … he seems very well able to quote the psalms but seems sadly unable to grasp their implications.

Jonah exaggerates his description of the condition from which he cried out to God, making it sound almost as if he was dead already, but God - YHWH - heard Jonah’s cry even from where he was and reached down to rescue His prophet from the jaws of the netherworld.

At least the drastic circumstances have served to rescue Jonah from complacency, as the choice of the word ‘screamed’ seems to show!

From v. 3 Jonah begins to recount his salvation experience … not from the point of deliverance but with a prayer-exploration of the place from which God drew Jonah back.

Revealing now he realises that it wasn’t the sailors but God Who put him in the water:

 

“You hurled me into the depths,

into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers swept over me.”

Jonah 2:3

 

https://www.bible.com/113/jon.2.3.nivuk

 

Words like ‘the deep’, ‘the heart of the seas’, ‘the river’ … these words all have associations with the netherworld in Hebrew thought.

It helps to know that from a Semitic point of view the world is surrounded by water … a cosmic sea kept at bay by a solid dome that YHWH has placed around the earth in order to make it habitable.

This cosmic sea is split (in their world view) into two bodies of water, the waters above and the waters below … mentioned in Genesis 1:6, for example.

The waters below were a boundary separating the realm of life from the realm of death … which is why sinking in the sea served as a common image for near-death experiences.

Youngblood  comments: “YHWH’s purpose in sending Jonah into the heart of the sea, to the threshold of Sheol, as to revive his appreciation for mercy and to convince him that the Divine calling is preferable to divine judgement (i.e., death).”

And God achieved this by giving Jonah a taste of strict justice!

It was such a hard experience, Jonah DESPAIRED that he would not see God’s Temple again … and that TROUBLED him.

In fact, the severity of Jonah’s separation from God is what all the images in this section of the poem are of enclosure and shutting up:

·         Waters enclosed

·         Deep enveloped

·         Reeds wrapped around my head.

Jonah had wanted death rather than his calling.

So YHWH gave him a near-death experience.

But on descending - as Jonah was sure - to the very brink of the place of the dead, Jonah QUICKLY changed his mind and sought God’s mercy.

Jonah went right down in the sea, he says, to the base of the mountains …

This statement refers to the ancient Semitic idea that there are two subterranean mountains that support the earth … Scripture refers to them as ‘the pillars of the earth’ in 1 Samuel 2:8, Psalm 75:4 etc.

Most relevant to Job’s prayer is that they thought these flanked the doorway to the grave.

It is the place as far as possible away from YHWH’s presence up on Zion’s hill in the Temple, way down there, as they thought you can get.

Jonah had completed his ‘anti-pilgrimage’ … he set out on it when he fled from God to go to Joppa and find that ship headed for Tarshish and it’s as if God said to him ‘you want that? Here you go, you HAVE some of that!’

We need to be careful, because things like that can really happen, and sometimes that’s how the Lord brings His wayward people back.

Why are we being shown the depths to which Jonah went to?

Because it is being exposed to the depths of the level of Jonah’s descent, that highlights for us the extent of God’s rescue … as v. 6b shows us.

              The extent of God’s rescue, v. 6b

“I went down to the very bottoms of the mountains;

the gates of the netherworld barred me in forever;

but you brought me up from the Pit,

O Lord, my God.”

Jonah 2:6

 

https://www.bible.com/107/jon.2.6.net

 

That last bit there - “but you brought me up from the Pit,

O Lord, my God” - is an absolutely abrupt change of direction.

We haven’t yet been told what happens in v. 10 … so this shocking news come straight out of the blue … what, wait, God RESCUED Him after THAT, out of THERE?!

Like generation after generation of wayward people, Jonah first felt God’s saving grip on his hopeless life in ‘the pit’.

In Hebrew the word ‘Pit’ derives from a verb meaning ‘to ruin’, ‘to destroy’, ‘to annihilate’.

It is one of God’s signature mercies to redeem a sinner’s life from ‘the Pit’ “but you brought me up from the Pit,

O Lord, my God.”

so Psalm 103 has:

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”

Psalms 103:1

https://www.bible.com/113/psa.103.1.nivuk

 

WHY?

 

It goes on:

 

“who forgives all your sins

and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit

and crowns you with love and compassion,”

Psalms 103:3-4

https://www.bible.com/113/psa.103.3-4.nivuk

 

Who is Jonah’s rescuer?

He says ‘YHWH my God’ … and he does that in terms that evoke God’s covenant formula:

Leviticus 26:12

 

“I will walk among you and be your God,

and you will be my people.”

 

https://www.bible.com/113/lev.26.12.nivuk

 

In the wake of his deliverance, Jonah ENTHUSIASTICALLY reaffirms YHWH as his God.

But we are running ahead here …

              The crucial turning point, v. 7

Here comes the crucial turning point in v. 7

 

‘When my life was ebbing away,

I remembered you, Lord, and

my prayer rose to you,

to your holy temple.”

Jonah 2:7

 

https://www.bible.com/113/jon.2.7.nivuk

 

It sounds great, doesn’t it … but then we dwell on the music and the beauty of the poetry and we reflect and ‘chew the cud’ there in that glorious verse about the turning point in Jonah’s experience and …

And we begin to realise that not everything is quite as it ought to be.

Jonah’s emphasis is misplaced.

It is NOT that Jonah remembered God, but that God remembered him.

In the context of the prayer of the faithful, it is that YHWH remembered the faithful … not the other way around.

When you just stop and chew it over, that is a GLARING issue!

              Jonah’s presumptive relief, vv. 8-9

I hope to come back to these verses for Drive-In next week, but given all we’ve noticed until now … just look at where Jonah goes next:

“‘Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. 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.” ’”

Jonah 2:8-9

 

https://www.bible.com/113/jon.2.8-9.nivuk

 

At one level that sounds very good … but then you realise loud waters run shallow.

              Conclusion

The fish is better so far at God’s commands than Jonah … God commands that fish and it vomits Jonah back onto dry land, squirting him back in the direction of Nineveh.

Here’s the thing … and this conclusion is really very simple because we’ve been getting the point as we’ve been going along through the text.

To the casual observer what’s been happening with Jonah looks all very positive.

He has a GREAT appearance of a pious person turning back faithfully to God.

All the language and the verbal patterns and and stylistic elements are spot on.

But there’s not even regret or remorse … far less repentance … for his sin.

This guy has got all the outward trappings of quite sophisticated religion.

He says he’s keen on the Temple and the liturgy.

But his heart is not broken-hearted before God for his sin.

And you know what?

It’s no WONDER this guy is so graceless towards the Ninevites, because his heart is really untouched by God’s grace.

We are going to see just how thoroughly unchanged he is, but for the moment please let’s get hold of this.

This man, not just this man but this PROPHET, had all the trappings of a person of faith.

He knew the NAME of a God Who is gracious … more gracious than Jonah will tolerate!

But at heart he’s a stranger to God.

Sorrow for sin, regret for God’s suffering at Jonah’s sin and REPENTANCE are utterly alien to Jonah’s life.

It is a VERY dangerous position to be in.


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