christopher

bearing CHRIST

Prophets

Say the word “prophet” in popular Christian circles today, and you will likely discover you are in the company of those who hold one of two opposing mindsets:

  1. Anyone/everyone with something encouraging, uplifting and revenue-generating to say might be a prophet. They are well-dressed, well-respected and well-liked.
  2. There are no prophets anymore, only false prophets. We know they are false because they tell us things we disagree with. And they quote Scripture out of context.

Since I brought it up, let’s take a brief look at what God says regarding false prophets, and then we can explore what the Scriptures tell us about the real thing.

False Prophets

False prophets do not appear to bother with warning the people to turn away from their evil ways. Instead, their deceit appears to be focused on assuring their supporters that all will be well, when it most certainly will not be.

Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading. Lamentations 2:14

And the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Jeremiah 14:14

I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ Jeremiah 23:25

How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, Jeremiah 23:26

My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and who give lying divinations. Ezekiel 13:9

And her prophets have smeared whitewash for them, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD,’ when the LORD has not spoken. Ezekiel 22:28

And then there are prophets unto whom the LORD sends a lying spirit:

Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you. 1Kings 22:23, 2Chronicles 18:22

Jonah

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam son of Jehoash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and he reigned forty-one years. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD and did not turn away from any of the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit. He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher. The LORD had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them. And since the LORD had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash. As for the other events of Jeroboam’s reign, all he did, and his military achievements, including how he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel? 2Ki 14:23-28

Jonah prophesied under the reign of Jeroboam II, who “did evil in the eyes of the LORD.” Jonah was no doubt aware that, under the previous king, Jereboam I, an unnamed prophet had been given specific instructions by God, which that prophet disobeyed. God sent a lion to take his life. (see IKings 13:1-32)

Are there consequences for disobeying God? How do you think would that unnamed prophet answer?

God instructed Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh, built by Nimrod (see Genesis 10:11). In Jonah’s time, Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. God told Jonah to cry out against the city because the evils of the people had come before Him. Nineveh was located approximately 550 miles east/northeast of Jerusalem, just east of the Tigris river.

Jonah fled and headed to the coast, to the Mediterranean port city of Joppa, located approximately 30 miles northwest of Jerusalem. Jonah paid the fare to take a ship headed to Tarshish.

Where was Tarshish? We simply don’t know, for certain. Josephus thought it to be synonymous with Tarsus in Cilicia (Turkey), hometown of Paul the apostle. Tarsus is located about 350 miles north of Joppa, and about 460 miles west of Nineveh. Do you think Jonah intended to follow the coastline north for a few days journey only to end up closer to Nineveh than from where he embarked?

Most modern scholars equate Tarshish with the Phoenician colony of Tartessus in Southern Spain. Some contend it may have been a reference to the land that is modern day Great Britain. Others argue there may have been a pre-Suez Canal that allowed ships to navigate from the Mediterranean through the Red Sea and into the Arabian Sea, and Jonah could have been on his way to the Orient. We do know that Tarshish was a great distance away from Israel, the “ends of the earth”, as far as one could go in those days. Solomon had sent ships to Tarshish to trade, and it was a three (3) year trip.  Wherever Tarshish was, is it a stretch to assume that Jonah’s intention was to get as far away as possible from Nineveh?

Regardless of which direction Jonah was headed in, God interrupted his journey using a great wind to stir up a storm that endangered the ocean-going vessel. The crew struggled to keep the heavily-laden merchant ship afloat, and threw precious cargo into the sea in an attempt to make it lighter. Jonah was sound asleep below deck, while the sailors desperately called on their respective gods for salvation. The ship’s captain discovered Jonah and chided him for not doing his part to request help.

One cannot avoid the similarity between this portion of the story and the time when Jesus was awakened by His disciples, seasoned fishermen now panicked with fear. (see Mark 4:38)

The sailors cast lots to determine who was responsible for this storm. The lot fell on Jonah! They demanded he divulge the details regarding the role he was playing in bringing this calamity upon them. Jonah admitted it was his fault, as he was trying to run away from God. He told them to throw him overboard, as this would calm the sea. The sailors actually tried to row back to land in an attempt to spare Jonah’s life, but the sea just grew more violent. They submitted and cried out to God, acknowledging Him as God, and asked Him not to hold them accountable for murder. Then they threw Jonah into the sea and the sea grew calm. Those men made vows to the Living God that day.

Are there consequences for disobeying God? How do you think would Jonah answer?

The disciples did not hurl the Messiah into the sea. Instead, the Messiah spoke to the winds and the waves, commanding “Peace, be still.” Those that were with him in the boat were rebuked for their lack of faith. (see Mark 4:35-41)

A huge fish swallowed Jonah and held him for three days and nights. Jonah prayed to God, God commanded the fish, and the fish vomited Jonah out onto the land. Jonah heard from God a second time. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and deliver the message to them.

This time Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and traveled to Nineveh. The city was so massive that it took three (3) days to walk through. One day’s journey into the city, Jonah announced that the Ninevites had 40 days before the city would be overthrown.

Apparently, Jonah then went out east from the city to make for himself a shelter from which he could watch the coming destruction. I knew a guy like that, once…

The Assyrian Empire, now rising as the world superpower, would soon utterly decimate Israel. I do not imagine Jonah had any love in his heart for any Assyrian man, woman, child, or beast.

The response of the Ninevites, the inhabitants of the city and the recipients of the warning, is very precious…

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Jonah 3:5

Jonah, with the apparent enthusiasm of a reluctant teenager, warned the people that they all had a little over a month to live, as God would destroy their city, their mighty city, 40 days from now. And then he left town. No debates, no explanations, no altar calls. But the people BELIEVED GOD and they submitted to Him! When the king heard of Jonah’s warning, he covered himself in sackcloth and sat down in dust, having issued a proclamation:

By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:7-9

Have you ever heard of a king, president, premiere, etc. donning sackcloth and sitting in ash? Have you ever heard of a king, president, premiere, etc. commanding the people of the nation to fast and turn from their wicked ways in the hopes that God would not destroy them? God relented and did not bring upon Nineveh the destruction he had threatened. Those 40 days passed and God did not destroy the city.

(If you have ears to hear, one could say that the city was, indeed, overthrown. {smile})

Jonah, from his vantage point overlooking Nineveh, did not appreciate the outcome and was quite angry. He told God that this was exactly why he had fled for Tarshish in the first place, knowing that he would warn the people, the people would repent, and God in His mercy would relent. That is quite a life experience that Jonah had amassed, in that he would know that this is how things would play out. He had run away in order to prevent this whole city-wide repentance / display of God’s mercy thing. And now he was royally ticked off that God hadn’t killed everybody.

As Jonah pouted, God had grown a leafy plant over him, to aid him and provide him comfort, and Jonah was happy to have the plant. Then God sent a worm to harm the plant such that it withered. God then sent a scorching wind from the east. With the plant gone, Nineveh surviving, and him suffering heat stroke, Jonah told God it would be better to die than to live, and to just “go ahead and kill me.”

God asked Jonah if it was right for him to be so angry about the plant? Jonah doubled down, saying he was so mad he wished he was dead.

God had the final word:

You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals? Jonah 4:10-11

Jonah expressed more concern for the plant than he did for the inhabitants of Nineveh. Jesus had this to say regarding those very inhabitants:

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:41, Luke 11:32

Sadly, as with any generation, all that revelation didn’t rub off onto the next generation. A little more than a hundred years after Jonah God gave Nahum a vision regarding the destruction of Nineveh and of the entire Assyrian Empire. And the word of the LORD came to Zephaniah as well, saying:

He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert. Flocks and herds will lie down there, creatures of every kind. The desert owl and the screech owl will roost on her columns. Their hooting will echo through the windows, rubble will fill the doorways, the beams of cedar will be exposed. This is the city of revelry that lived in safety. She said to herself, “I am the one! And there is none besides me.” What a ruin she has become, a lair for wild beasts! All who pass by her scoff and shake their fists. Zephaniah 2:13-15

more, soon…