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God’s Word for You

Jonah 1:2 God’s justice

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 16, 2018

2 “Get up, go to Nineveh that great city and preach against it, for their wickedness has come up before me.”

In northwestern Mesopotamia (Iraq), there is a bend in the twisting Tigris River where its generally eastward or southeastward flow turns more directly to the south. At this place, the river widens out and edges around several islands. Between two of these is an area where both sides of the river occupy strategic heights on level plains. The one to the west is the modern city of Mosul. Across the river toward the sunrise are the ruins of Nineveh.

In Jonah’s time, Nineveh was not yet the capital of Assyria,  but it was the largest city. The king of Assyria at this time was Adad-Nirari III (811-783 BC). He built a temple to the god Nabu in Nineveh in 787. Since the Assyrians named their years after various national leaders or heroes, we know that the name of the governor or under-king of Nineveh at this time was Urta-mukin-ahi. The governor (or under-king) of the nearby city of Calah was Bêl-tarsi-iluma before (and perhaps during) this time, and he was followed by Ashur-bêl-usur in about 772 BC.

God’s judgment on Nineveh was due to their wickedness. Although the Lord does not elaborate about what this wickedness was, the king’s own confession would be: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence” (Jonah 3:8). Such violence is illustrated by Adad-Nirari III’s great-grandfather (Ashur-Narsipal II), who said:

    I stormed the mountain peaks and took them. In the
    midst of the mighty mountains I slaughtered them. With
    their blood I dyed the mountain red like wool. With the
    rest of them I darkened the gullies and precipices of the
    mountains. The heads of their warriors I cut off, and I
    formed them into a pillar over against their city; their
    young men and their maidens I burned in the fire.

God is absolutely right and just to punish wickedness. But how does this coincide with the way he forgives sins and pardons sinners? Is there a difference between God’s various attributes (righteousness, holiness, compassion, etc.) and God’s holy essence? No. The Bible presents God’s essence and his attributes as identical. He is infinite; beyond space (1 Kings 8:27) and beyond time (Psalm 90:2,4). Our Augsburg Confession puts it simply: God is “without parts” (Article 1). But God who is beyond our reason and our understanding condescends to describe himself with our language. Specific divine acts are ascribed to specific divine attributes, so that Scripture ascribes the sending of God’s son to God’s love (John 3:16). It ascribes justification (being declared innocent of our sins) to God’s grace (Romans 3:24), and the condemnation of the wicked to God’s justice. This doctrine is exemplified by the passage before us in Jonah, and also by Paul: “God is just… He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:6,8).

What surprises Jonah is that God invited a prophet to go and preach against Nineveh first, before the hammer fell. When God punished Sodom and Gomorrah, he sent angels ahead simply to confirm the depth of depravity and sin in the cities (Genesis 18:20,21) and then to punish the cities (Genesis 19:13). But a prophet? A prophet would be sent to proclaim the word of God, and the word of God is both law and gospel. The law of God condemned the people of Nineveh to death and damnation. But a prophet sent to their door would mean that God was also holding out the possibility of salvation and forgiveness. God was holding out an opportunity for the people of Nineveh to be spared.

Introduction Part 2
Arguments for a late date for the book.

The earliest reference to Jonah’s book occurs in the Apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, written around 200 BC, and after that the quotations from Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-30) in about 29 AD. The reference to Jonah in the Old Testament (2 Kings 14:25) dates to the reign of King Jeroboam II. Critics of the book typically stand opposed to the prophet himself as the author, sometimes on linguistic grounds. These things are probably too technical for an in-depth analysis here, but this summary might help the reader to understand the arguments.

A, Linguistic Features the Book.

It is supposed by some that the text of Jonah has features more characteristic of later, post-exilic Hebrew, at a time when Hebrew was being influenced by Aramaic. Some of the generally cited examples are listed here with a response to each.

  • mallah “sailor” (1:5). This word is more likely to have been borrowed from Phoenician, not Aramaic, and therefore would be consistent with authorship by Jonah or a contemporary.
  • sepinah “ship” (1:5). May also have been borrowed from Phoenician.
  • yit‘asset “he will consider” (1:6). This verb only occurs here in Scripture and cannot be called late or early Hebrew based on usage.
  • ribbo “ten thousand” (4:11). Another Phoenician term.
  • sheh “which” (1:7; 4:10). Another Phoenician term.

Additionally, cited terms include qr’l “to proclaim against / to” (1:2; 3:2), twl (hifil stem) “to cast” (1:4-5; 1:12; 1:15); rab hahabal “captain” (1:6); mhlk “journey” (3:3-4); wyr’l “to displease” (4:1); and lmhrt “the next day” (4:7). None of these can be used to insist on a late date for Jonah.

One final linguistic question is over the word order of “gracious and compassionate” (4:2). In earlier passages, the reverse order is typical (from Moses, Exodus 34:5; and David, Psalms 86:15 and 103:8). However, Joel also uses Jonah’s word order (Joel 2:13), so this argument is another one that does justify a later date for the book.

To be continued

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.