Application – Jonah

The complete sovereignty of Yahweh is accentuated throughout this short book. Yahweh controls the winds, seas, ship, and fish of His creation in chapters one and two. He controls the plant, worm, and scorching wind in chapter four. He appoints each of these to carry out His sovereign will. Yahweh is, then, the cosmic sovereign Ruler and nothing is outside His control except for the will of man. Jonah exercises his free will and rebels. The sailors exercise their free will and reluctantly hurl Jonah into the sea then offer freewill sacrifices. The Ninevites exercise their free will and repent. All of these acts are the result of people exercising their free will. Yet even in the acts of men Yahweh is glorified. The sailors seeing the storm calmed call on Yahweh and offer sacrifices. Though he takes some persuading, eventually Jonah comes around and does the will of God. The Ninevites are convicted by the word of God and glorify Him by their repentance.

Even as Yahweh was sovereign over the events in Jonah’s day, so too He continues to exert His sovereignty over His creation. “He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and unjust,” says Jesus (Matt 5.45). He is still control of things and events. Yet this sovereignty remains balanced with the free will of man. People continue to exert their free will in either rebellion to the Lord or in obedience to Him. Some may take more persuading than others, but people can and are convicted by His word and glorify God by repentance.

Jonah speaks clearly to the power of the word of God. At the preaching of a reluctant and perhaps disinterested prophet the people turn from their wicked ways. Even at a half-hearted declaration of the word of God the people heard and repented. The word of God was the power of God unto salvation and righteous then; it remains the power of God unto salvation and righteous today. God’s word is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb 4.12). Christians today can depend upon the certainty that God’s word will not return to Him empty (Isa 55.11).

Jonah’s declaration that idols are “empty nothingness” (2.8) is an echo of Psalm 31.7: “I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in Yahweh.” The paganism of the mariners in chapter one was a vivid example of the nothingness of idolatry. They “cried out” to their respective god(s) and received nothing but empty silence in return. Many people today are trapped in the “empty nothingness” of idolatry. Idols today do not look like the idols then, yet they are just as potent. People kowtow to the idols of salary, success, and sex. Even some Christians fall prey to the allure of these gods. However, fortune, fame, and fondling disconnected from a godly perspective will only leave one empty and dissatisfied. Our trust must be in God so that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor, humility, and intimacy as designed by God.

There is also an evangelistic component to the book of Jonah. Jonah refused to hear the cries of the world, specifically the 120,000 in Nineveh. He was also furious when they repented. He cared more for a plant than for people. Worst of all, he hated that God had been merciful upon the Ninevites. In a similar way, Christians today can adopt a self-righteous mentality toward the world. Christians can become deaf to their cries for salvation. They can become consumed with a love of possessions to the marginalization of a love for people. They might develop an older brother mentality like the older son in Jesus parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.25ff), callous at the grace of the Father and refusing to celebrate His abundant mercy. The church must not adopt an isolationist policy, withdrawing from the world. Her ears must ever be open to the cries of the world. Unlike Jonah, she ought to celebrate the grace and mercy of the Father.

Displeasure: The Prophet Runs Against God (Jonah 4)

Jonah’s flawed character is on full display in the concluding chapter. He is “displeased” with Yahweh’s decision to relent from destroying Nineveh. That is, “What pleased God displeased Jonah.”[1] There is a wordplay in Hebrew which Phillip Cary attempts to capture in his translation: “It was grievous to Jonah, a great evil.”[2] So as the Ninevites repent of their evil, Yahweh relents of His evil declared for Nineveh, and all this is regarded as evil by Jonah. In addition, Jonah becomes angry with God. The twist is stunning: previously Yahweh had “fierce anger” (3.9) toward Nineveh which has now been diverted only for Jonah to become angry over Yahweh’s grace. Taken together the reader is to understand that Jonah hated Yahweh’s decision to spare Nineveh.

Compounding Jonah’s hatred over Yahweh’s grace is his heated prayer to God (4.2). The contrast between the prayer of 4.2-3 and the prayer of 2.2-9 is striking. First, Jonah is defiant. He begins, “Please Yahweh” (NASB). Read as a tragic comedy this could be translated as, “Please! Tell me you’re not serious!”[3] Second, Jonah is self-centered. In the ESV, the personal pronouns “I,” “me,” and “my” appear eight times.[4] Though addressed to Yahweh, this prayer is about Jonah. Third, Jonah interprets his actions at the beginning. While yet in his country and during his flight to Tarshish he knew the God of Israel. He fled from his prophetic office in chapter one because he knew Yahweh’s gracious nature. Fourth, Jonah’s prayer has deep ties throughout the Hebrew Bible (cf. Ex 34.6-7; Num 14.18; Psa 145.8; Joel 2.13). Jonah’s knowledge of the identity of Yahweh comes from Yahweh’s self-revelation in Torah. Yahweh is a God of grace and mercy. Yahweh is patient, longsuffering, and full of covenantal steadfast love (Heb. hesed). Yahweh relents of impending disaster. Hannah explains Jonah “feared that all these attributes of God would be extended toward the despicable, cruel Ninevites—and it happened!”[5] The reader is left to wonder: What happened to Jonah’s declaration “Salvation belongs to Yahweh” (2.10)? Did he only mean his salvation and/or Israel’s salvation, but not the salvation of pagan nations? Finally, Jonah longed for death (3). Death is better than life for Jonah. The one who had been saved from certain death (2.2, 7) has become the one who wishes to die. Whatever ground gained by his conversion in chapter two seems to have been lost by his anger over God’s grace.

One is left to wonder why Jonah is so outraged and disgusted with Yahweh. Some have suggested that his anger stems from his misguided nationalism which could even be interpreted as racism and bigotry. Others have suggested that Jonah is grossly embarrassed over being essentially made a fool for proclaiming destruction only to have the prophecy fail. It is also suggested that Jonah knows that Assyria will be the nation which brings about violent destruction upon the Northern tribes of Israel.[6] Each of these are good options. Whatever the cause, the net result is a joyless Jonah at the salvation of God for Nineveh.

Despite his impassioned speech/prayer, he is unable to move Yahweh to repent of His repentance and destroy Nineveh. On the contrary, Yahweh asks Jonah a pointed question: “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (4.4, NASB) The intent is to confront the darkness in Jonah’s heart. Jonah’s theology is on-point, but it has not impacted his heart.

As the book nears the conclusion, there is what some call a parable[7] or illustration[8] involving a plant, a worm, and the sun. Jonah seems to have been left speechless by Yahweh’s question so he goes out “east” of the city. Perhaps the motif from the early chapters in Genesis is in view here where the east signifies rebellion against God.[9] Jonah is then pictured in rebellion to God. Or it could be an exile motif since the kingdoms of Israel and then Judah would be taken east to Assyria then Babylon, respectively. Hence, this is a self-imposed exile where he attempts once again to get away from God. Whether rebellion or exile (perhaps both), Jonah finds a place to view the city and builds a shelter to watch what God will do with Nineveh.

The same steadfast love that would not let the penitent Ninevites see destruction is the same steadfast love that will not allow Jonah to continue in his self-destructive cycle without being confronted. God’s patience (“slow to anger”) is on display as He deals with Jonah. First, Yahweh God (Heb. yahweh elohim) miraculously provides a plant to grow up rather quickly to shade Jonah from his “discomfort” (4.6; lit. evil, see ESV marginal reading). As God has sovereignly done before by providing a big fish to swallow Jonah, now God sovereignly provides a large plant to shade him. For the only time in the whole book Jonah is “exceedingly glad.” It was not the miraculous salvation from the sea nor the mass repentance of the Ninevites which brought delirious joy to Jonah. His frustration and fury is abated by a plant. The next day, God sends a worm that destroys Jonah’s plant (4.7). Interestingly, of all the things that have been threatened with destruction throughout the book (ship, sailors, Jonah, the Ninevites, et al) it is only Jonah’s plant that is destroyed and that by a worm “appointed” by God. Third, accompanying the worm is a divinely appointed “scorching east wind” (4.8). There is wordplay in the original concerning the actions of the worm and wind. As the worm had “attacked” the plant so the sun “beat down” upon Jonah’s head (both from Heb. nākâ, “to strike”). These compounding circumstances lead to Jonah once again longing for death. He begs for death saying that death is better than life.

The book concludes how it began: with a word from God. God repeats verbatim his question from the previous day to Jonah, although God poses the question about the plant: does Jonah have a good reason to be angry about the plant? (4.9, cf.v.4) Jonah answers that he does have a right to be angry. So Yahweh provides Jonah and the reader with the divine perspective (10-11). The argument is essentially a lesser-to-greater argument. The lesser thing is the plant. Jonah was compassionate toward a plant he did not work for and that withered in less than a day. The greater thing is the people of Nineveh. There were over 120,000 people living in Nineveh along with “many animals” (NASB). In addition, the citizens of Nineveh do not know their right hand from their left, “thus picturing their spiritual and moral condition without God.”[10] Jonah is concerned about a tiny part of creation whereas God was concerned about many of His creatures. Therefore, if Jonah can have concern for a plant, why should not God have mercy on people? The book ends with this question from Yahweh and leaves Jonah and the reader to decide what to do with the divine perspective.

[1] Ibid., 271.

[2] Cary, 25.

[3] Ibid., 17, 129. Cary approaches the book of Jonah in this fashion, saying, “Jonah is a comic figure.” His commentary on 4.2 explains this interpretation.

[4] Smith and Page note that it is nine times in the original (273).

[5] Hannah, 1470.

[6] See Smith and Page, 271-271, where they rehearse the various options.

[7] Cary, 138.

[8] Hannah, 1471.

[9] Adam and Eve are driven “east of the Garden of Eden” (3.24); after slaughtering his brother, Abel, Cain settles “east of Eden” (4.16); construction on the Tower of Babel happens because of the migration of “people from the east” (11.2).

[10] Hannah, 1472. There are some who say that the 120,000 who do not know their right hand from their left are children. Such an understanding would balloon the population figure up over 600,000. However, archaeology cannot confirm such an inflated number.

Application & Conclusion – Ruth

Throughout the book God is referred to as Yahweh (1.6, 8, 9, 13, 17, 21 [2]; 2.4 [2], 2.12 [2], 20; 3.10, 13; 4.11, 12, 13, 14). Yet Yahweh never speaks nor is said to intervene directly into the affairs, except in the beginning (providing bread for Bethlehem, 1.6) and at the end (granting Ruth conception, 4.13). Just about everything happens serendipitously and providentially. Human choice and chance dance across the pages and yet the events unfold until the sovereignty of God is clearly displayed in the final analysis of this little family from Bethlehem: a King comes from their lineage and then the King of Kings comes through them. So even in chance is the intentional will of God. In this way one ends up with a theology of chance where humans roll the dice and yet the result is of God (cf. Prov 16.33). Someone has rightly said, “Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.” The things which happen to people are more than the sum total of random acts of a dispassionate, complex universe. Instead, Ruth’s narrative teaches the church today that though we may not always see Him, God is sovereignly in control of everything. We may exercise free will, choosing one thing or another, yet by the eyes of faith we acknowledge the hand of God over all our circumstances.

Yahweh is also presented by the narrator in Ruth as the God of life. He gives food (1.6) and the birth of Obed is a gift from Him (4.13). This viewpoint sharply contrasts with Naomi’s own reaction to the calamity in her life being from the Almighty. It also begs the question who sent the famine which began this whole episode? Nevertheless, Yahweh not only preserves this family, but He sustains the lineage to bring King David into the world. Yahweh was the God of life then and He is still the God of life now. His providential sustenance persists through Christ who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1.4). From Ruth Christians should learn that those who commit their ways to the Lord will bear fruit. He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11.6). God honors those who honor Him with their lives.

This book opens with the phrase, “In the days of the judges.” A reading of that book reveals how dark the days were. Judges ends with the ominous phrase, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” People were a law unto themselves defining good and evil according to their personal preferences. The Law of Moses was abandoned. Christians today are faced with an increasingly post-Christian culture and society. More and more people are doing what is right in their own eyes. The Law of Christ is abandoned for a “do-what-you-feel” morality. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11.3) Ruth shows that while every man did what was right in his own eyes there were women who were doing their best to honor Yahweh, the God of Israel, in spite of grim circumstances. Indeed, there were still those in Israel who were walking in integrity before Yahweh. So too Christians must not compromise or cave to the winds of culture. The Lord’s people must likewise walk before our Lord in holiness and righteousness. The righteous can still honor God with their lives even though the culture around them is abandoning God and His word.

One particular point of modern application which would inform our approach to God’s commands centers on their application of the Levirate Law. Technicalities and loopholes abound. The actual practice is only a faint shadow of what is prescribed in the Law. Yet everyone walks away with the understanding that God’s will has been done. Though they do not follow the letter of the Law, they maintain the spirit of the Law. Today many Christians get caught up in the letter of the Law while they miss the spirit of the Law. This is why church splits occur over what hymnal to use in worship, whether to have pews or chairs, how many cups should be used during communion, and any number of other nugacities. This writer is aware of a church which is seriously considering a split because a faction of the members has learned that the grape juice used in communion has water added to it. A letter-of-the-Law reading for communion demands it must be simply juice with no additives whereas a spirit-of-the-Law reading makes allowance for observance.

Finally, one would be remiss without application reflecting on Christ. The Christological significance of Ruth is two-fold. First, there is God’s providence in sustaining the seed of David which is the lineage of Christ. Through the progeny of Boaz and Ruth comes, generations later, Jesus of Nazareth. The whole family of Boaz, Ruth, and Obed are all mentioned in the genealogy of Christ in Matthew’s gospel (1.5). Second, there is the typology of Christ as our kinsman-redeemer. Through the offspring of Boaz the kinsman-redeemer comes the kinsman-redeemer of all people. Christ, like Boaz, is near us (God in the flesh), demonstrates steadfast love, and redeems us from sin with His blood on the cross. In this quaint story of redeeming love is a shadow of the gospel of redeeming love in Christ.

Rejoicing in Purity Before God

After the glorious heights of vs. 5-11 which captures in hymnody the exalted nature of Christ, Paul seeks to encourage his brethren toward continued obedience to the Lord in Philippians 2:12–18.

Working Out, Working In (2.12-13)

As Christians are working out their salvation God is working in them.

12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

Therefore: Lit. “So then” and ties directly back to 2.1-4. Paul is continuing his admonition of how they are look to the interests of others.

My beloved: This not a mere military call-to-arms; Paul includes his personal love for these brethren in his appeal. Paul’s commands are not burdensome, nor are God’s (1 John 5.3).

As you have…in my absence: The Philippians have been a marvelous testament to the missionary efforts of Paul. The greatest tribute a newly formed church can offer the missionary who leaves to continue his work elsewhere is to continue to obey God after the departure of the missionary. Paul encourages these brethren to further faithfulness though he is not there and may not be able to come ever again.

Work out your [own] salvation with fear and trembling: the word “own” is supplied in several English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV). However, in keeping with his continued appeal from 2.1-4, it seems Paul is calling Christians to collectively work out our salvation (which includes not only the act of rescuing but also the state of safety). We are not only working out our own salvation; we are in this struggle for holiness together. Further, that this is a salvation which encompasses the church as a whole is seen in terms of Christ as Savior of His body, the church (see Eph 5.23) and Paul’s mention of “your salvation” (Phil 1.28). As Martin puts it: “After the great passage of 2:5-11 it would be singularly inappropriate to stress personal salvation” (116). The whole congregation, in fearful trembling before the Lord God Jesus Christ, seeks to help one another on the path to ultimate salvation when Christ returns. Not slavish terror but a reverential desire to do right.

13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

For it is God who works in you: God is ho energon, the Energizer, in you (pl.) or among you, enabling the church’s work at salvation. God began the work; the church seeks to carry on to end what God began. Christ work of atonement is finished; we work from the cross to carry out sanctification by the Holy Spirit. “The grace of God is alleged as a motive for earnest Christian work” (Caffin 62). Not only does God give us the gift, but the means and will to put that gift into practice.

Both to will and to work: God’s inward energy impacts both the decision of the will (volition) and the practical deeds (Gk to energein). “God gives power to will, man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power…The power to will and do comes from God; the use of that power belongs to man” (Clarke). “So divine sovereignty and human responsibility time and again meet each other in the life of the redeemed” (Muller 92). “Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both” (Robertson). God does all, and we do all.

For His good pleasure: Even as the self-emptying of Christ was for the “glory of God the Father” (v.11), so the Christian community cooperating with God, who is working within or among us, and with fellow Christians, who are working at carrying out to full completion salvation with one another, is for God’s good pleasure. This pleasing to God.

Blemishes Out, Blameless In (2.14-18)

Holding fast the word of life promotes a life free from impurity and ready to be a (living) sacrifice to God.

14Do all things without grumbling or disputing,

Do all things without grumbling or disputing: Present imperative. In other words, this is a command. Everything we do must be without complaining (NIV, NKJV) or arguing. We should not murmur (like Israel in the OT) or argue (like apostles in the NT—Mk 9.49).

15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

That we may be blameless and innocent: Herein lies the purpose why we do everything without grumbling and arguing—the preservation of holiness.  Blameless means living a life which does not have an accusatory or critical finger pointed at it—to be faultless. Pure carries the idea of unmixed, like a metal which contains no alloys which could weaken it—no evil should be mixed in the Christian’s life. Together, these words provide somewhat of a commentary on living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1.27).

Children of God…twisted generation: They are to be holy children of the Father in the world but not of it (cf. John 17.15-16). Cf. Deut 32.4-5—Paul adopts and adapts a description of apostate Israel to stimulate these brethren on to faithful living. While the generation around them may be dishonest and engages in serious wrongdoing, these Christians are to be morally upright, even following after the Father who is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity.”

Among whom…in the world: like when God created the stars to give light on the earth and shine in darkness (cf. Genesis 1.15, 18). In similar fashion, Christians are “the light of world” (Mt 5.14) which shine forth our own light (our own goodness, ideas, etc.); ours is borrowed light from “the Light of the world” – Jesus (Jn 8.12). We are “light-bearers” in a dark world; we are the vessel or vehicle through which the true Light shines forth.

16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Holding fast to the word of life: Present tense means they are to continue to hold fast what they have. Here is how we “shine as lights” in the “crooked and twisted” world. We are the lamps and God’s word is the flame. Christians are lights because they hold fast and hold forth the word of Life. The world does not have life’s Word and the church fulfills her glorious God-given mission when possessing and presenting God’s word. While the world must hear the word, they must also see the light present in our lives. “Their saintly lives testify to the power of the word of life” (Muller 95).

So that in the day of Christ: Paul’s has skin in the game because they are his fruit prepared for the coming harvest. The phrase “day of Christ” is unique to this epistle. It is more commonly the “day of the Lord” but both phrases appear synonymous.

I may be proud…labor in vain: Paul, looking forward to the final coming of Christ, anticipates glorying in his “joy and crown” (4.1) and in their salvation. He does not want to be disappointed in his brethren because they have not been living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Two images capture the kind of heart-wrenching disappointment: 1) completing a race only to learn of disqualification & 2) planting crops that never produce. Both imply strenuous exertion.

17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

[But] Even if …your faith: “I am poured out as a drink offering” is a single word (Gk spendomai) and appears in only one other place in the NT (2 Tim 4.6) though he captures the same idea elsewhere (2 Cor 12.15). Paul is using highly figurative language to capture the possibility of his martyrdom. Paul would joyfully face a violent, bloody martyr’s death for the Philippians’ faith. If that is what it would take for their faithfulness in “sacrifice and service,” so be it. His life would then be a drink offering poured “upon” their sacrifice and service. Some see here an allusion to the fact that his audience is predominately pagan versus Jewish. Jews would pour a drink offering next to or around the altar and sacrifice; pagan rituals required pouring the drink offering over or upon the sacrifice. Paul will do whatever it takes to stimulate these brethren to faithfulness.

I am glad and rejoice with you: This scene of martyrdom is faced with glad acceptance by Paul for he pleased to have God’s will accomplished in his life. Further, as Paul has already made known, “to die is gain” (1.21). Christ is honored in and through life or death.

18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Likewise…rejoice with me: These are actually imperatives. Paul charges his readers to joyfully face future suffering and persecution even as he faces potential martyrdom.

Textual Note

“Glad and rejoice with” are related terms (Gk chairo kai sunchairo) which should both be translated “rejoice.” Joy is here connected with a proper perspective concerning Christian service.