Handout 33: Jonah, Teshuvah, Amital, Nineveh, ship, sailors, whale, kikayon tree, Micah, Shalmaneser, Beth Ha-Migdosh, Beth-Lehem, Jesus Christ September 2014
Jonah or Jonas (dove) is the name given in the Hebrew Bible to a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel (tribe of Ephraim) in about the 8th century BC., one of the twelve minor prophets included in the Tanakh. According to tradition Jonah was the boy brought back to life by Elijah the prophet, and hence shares many of his characteristics (particularly his desire for ‘strict judgment’). The book of Jonah is read every year, in its original Hebrew and in its entirety, on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Jonah is the only one of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible to be mentioned by name in the Qur’an.
Teshuva – the ability to repent and be forgiven by God – is a prominent idea in Jewish thought. This concept is developed in the book of Jonah: Jonah, the son of truth, (The name of his father “Amitai” in Hebrew means truth,) refuses to ask the people of Nineveh to repent. He seeks the truth only, and not forgiveness. He lived in the first Temple period. His first mission was given to him by the most famous of first Temple prophets, Elijah – he was to anoint Jehu as king in the year 705 BCE. His were stormy times; the Jewish people were trapped in a pattern of spiritual decline that ended with first the conquest and expulsion of the Ten Tribes by the Assyrians in 607 BCE, and finally with the destruction of Jerusalem, which was followed by 70 years of exile.
He lived under Jeroboam II, whose success in restoring the ancient boundaries of Israel he predicted (2 Kgs. 14:25). The present book of Jonah does not claim to be from the hand of the prophet; it describes an episode in his life and is due to some later writer. The key to the book is to be found in Jonah 3:10–4:11 in the reasons the prophet gives for his flight and unwillingness to preach at Nineveh. The writer is opposing a narrowmindedness that would confine the love of God to a single nation. He shows that Jehovah reigns everywhere, over sea and land; even in the gentile world the minds of men are conscious of sin and prepared to acknowledge that Jehovah is God.
The book is a beautiful poem, whether it paints the humanity of the gentile sailors; the mourning of the prophet over the decay of the grass of the field; or the divine tenderness in ministering to the prophet with his imperfect conceptions or in pitying the little children of Nineveh. The story of Jonah was referred to by our Lord on two occasions when He was asked for a sign from heaven. In each case He gave “the sign of the prophet Jonah,” the event in that prophet’s life being a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection (Matt. 12:39–41; 16:4; Luke 11:29–30).
Jonah’s Story: He could not open his heart to accept his mission call. Sent to the capital of Assyria, Nineveh, to urge its population to repent. His own people were falling uncontrollably into a chasm that seemed to have no bottom, yet he was sent to save others – the archenemies of Israel! How could he bear to witness the contrast of the Assyrians returning to God in the face of his prophecy, with the Jews stubbornly resisting any chance for spiritual self-preservation. Therefore, he attempted to escape from his destiny.
Jonah fled from Israel by ship to silence the Spirit. But a storm at sea forced him into the recognition that no one can escape from God. In the midst of calm waters, his boat was tossed in a tempest until it was on the verge of breaking. The sailors prayed to their gods. Jonah went to sleep.
He knew the truth. It was he who had already cut himself off from God; his apathetic behavior aroused the curiosity of the sailors. He told them his story. He believed in God, yet he was running away from Him. Knowing he was the cause of the storm, he implored the sailors to toss him overboard so they could save themselves. As decent people they resisted this suggestion until the critical moment when it became clear that within seconds they would all die. At that point, they listened and threw him into the turbulent depths. The storm abated immediately.
Jonah thought his story had ended. But it had just begun. He was swallowed by a whale and miraculously survived. In the dark fetid innards of the whale, he recognized what he had never truly been willing to see, in his most exalted moments of prophecy, God’s intimate knowledge and care over each life and each moment.
It was then that Jonah did teshuva – he repented, returning to God and the best in himself. Now he recognized that no matter how painful the contrast between the Assyrians and the Jews would be to him,that God’s motivation could only be one of mercy. Once he recognized this truth, he was willing to pray. He was now ready for the most significant undertaking of his life.
The whale spit him out at the shores of Nineveh. He told the residents of Nineveh what awaited them: In forty days they could either make radical changes in their lives, or the city would be destroyed by God’s wrath. The changes in Nineveh happened with speed and drama. The king himself led the people into a total reformation. Nineveh’s destruction was postponed for 40 years.
Everything Jonah had feared had come to pass. The contrast that he dreaded was more vivid in reality than it was as a prophecy. He had only one further request that he be spared of seeing the destruction of his own people, which he knew would come eventually and at the hands of the Assyrians. The fact that the Jews would not take example from Nineveh would be the final act of callousness that would seal their fate. God did not answer Jonah’s request with words. He answered by deed.
After Jonah left Nineveh, he went to the outskirts and made himself a shelter in the shade of a kikayon tree. It was a source of consolation to him in his anguish, and made him aware of God’s compassion. But God sent a worm to eat through the branches and kill the tree.
In response, all the pent up feelings of agony poured forth from Jonah’s lips. God replied “You took pity on a kikayon for which you did not labor … Shall I not take pity on Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120 thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and many beasts as well?”
God told Jonah the flaws of the residents of Nineveh did not make them unworthy of life. Each person is part of the world’s spiritual ecology, and brings benefit to the world at least as much as the kikayon plant brought benefit to Jonah. At that moment he fell on his face and said, “Rule your world according to the attribute of mercy” as it is written “to You, God, is mercy and forgiveness.”
The Ninivites’ repentance seems to be combination of fasting, prayer and deeds (abandoning their evil ways), just as its acceptance by God=guarantee that authentic repentance can nullify the fatal decree. But only chapter three deals with this. Jonah sins but his prayer is devoid of contrition. This book depicts the process of repentance starkly.
Another view of the story is that Jonah preferred loyalty to his people Israel over his duty to obey the Lord. For this approach, the key to the story is that it is set exclusively among gentiles, who are presented in a positive light. Against this background, the Hebrew prophet’s refusal to go to Nineveh is explained by his fear that the anticipated repentance of the gentile city will cast a heavy shadow on the stiff necked Israelite.
Micah (Who is like Yahweh) was a prophet who prophesied from approximately 737-696 b.c. in Judah and is author of Book of Micah. He came from a town called Moreshet, and was therefore called Morashti. He lived during the reign of king Jotham of Judah, and succeeding kings, about 150 years before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian hosts. In this time, as often before him and after him, the people of both Judah and of the Northern Kingdom, had abandoned the ways of God.
Jerusalem and Samaria, the capitals of the two Jewish kingdoms, were centers of idol worship and bad living. The rich oppressed the poor, and the laws of the Torah were rejected.
Fearlessly, as the prophecy of God rested on him, Micah came out to denounce the evils that had filled his beloved land. He warned that Samaria and Jerusalem would be destroyed. The prophecy about Samaria was fulfilled only a short time later, less than a quarter of a century; it was destroyed by Shalmaneser, king of Assyria. Jerusalem existed for another 133 years, and was destroyed in a.d. 70.
Thus, like Isaiah, the great prophet who lived about the same time, Micah admonished his people to return to God. He was especially bitter about the ruling classes, who used their positions of power to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.
Micah describes the sins of the people, and especially of their leaders and judges, “who make crooked all that is straight.” He has harsh words for the judges that can be bribed and the priests that can be hired, saying to themselves, “Evil cannot befall us.” If they continued in their evil way, the prophet warned, “Zion shall be ploughed up like a field, and Jerusalem shall become ruinous heaps, and the mount of the Beth-Hamikdosh forest-covered heights!”
He was a contemporary of the prophets Isaiah, Amos and Hosea and is considered one of the twelve minor prophets of the Tanakh (Old Testament). Micah was from Moresheth-Gath, in southwest Judah. He prophesied during the reigns of kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. Micah’s messages were directed chiefly toward Jerusalem. He prophesied the future destruction of Jerusalem and Samaria, the destruction and then future restoration of the Judean state, and he rebuked the people of Judah for dishonesty and idolatry. His prophecy that the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem is recalled in Matt 2:6.
Micah was not a statesman like Isaiah; consequently, he was not so much concerned about his nation’s political sins. The prophet was more like Amos in that his grievances were social in character. He was especially concerned with the attempts of the nobles to build up large estates by ejecting small property owners. Corrupt judges assisted their greedy friends in robbing the weak; widows and orphans without means of defense were deprived of their goods by force and oftentimes sold into slavery. The common people were kept in bondage through high taxation, and creditors were unmerciful on their victims.
Micah held the nobility to be responsible for the terrible moral and social corruption among his people. He likened the nobles to cannibals, who eat the flesh of the people and chop their bones in pieces for the pot. There was no end to their greed and rapacity, and decisions were given to those who paid the largest bribes.”
Micah 2:12–13. The Future Gathering of Israel Promised. After he castigated the false prophets for telling the people all was well, Micah prophesied salvation. This prophecy concerns a people who had been scourged because of iniquity, and only a remnant remained of the once mighty house of Israel. Micah foretold a miraculous growth as the people were gathered. He used the illustration of the sheep-rich area of Bozrah to illustrate how the people will become mighty. He compared their scattered condition to a form of imprisonment and foretold a Savior and Redeemer who would break the prison walls and lead the people to the promised land.
Micah, a true prophet of God, did not speak pleasant words to Israel when evil was to be denounced. He accused the heads of the country as judging “for reward,” the priests, or religious leaders, of teaching “for hire,” and the prophets of divining, or prophesying, for money (Micah 3:11). Using these false religionists allowed the leaders to rationalize, to think that they were relying on the Lord, and to say, “Is not the Lord among us? None evil can come upon us” (Micah 3:11).
What, then, Micah asked, would be the result? When these false prophets prophesied their lies, true prophecy would cease throughout the land and gross apostasy would set in. What better way is there to describe this deplorable condition than to compare it to a night without vision or a day without light? (See v. 6.) When men cry unto God, “he will not hear them” (v. 4). As a result, “there is no answer from God” (v. 7).
Micah 4:1–2. What Special Meaning Do These Verses Have for Latter-day Saints? President Harold B. Lee gave the following commentary on these verses: “With the coming of the pioneers to establish the Church in the tops of the mountains, our early leaders declared this to be the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy that out of Zion should go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
First Presidency Prayer: “‘We thank thee that thou hast revealed to us that those who gave us our constitutional form of government were wise in thy sight and that thou didst raise them up for the very purpose of putting forth that sacred document [as revealed in Doctrine and Covenants 101]. . . . We pray that kings and rulers and the peoples of all nations under heaven may be persuaded of the blessings enjoyed by the people of this land by reason of their freedom under thy guidance and be constrained to adopt similar governmental systems, thus to fulfill the ancient prophecy of Isaiah and Micah that “. . . out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”‘ (Improvement Era, Oct. 1945, p. 504.)
“The history of nations records the efforts of statesmen to adopt these basic principles as the basis of sound fundamental structures. I have often speculated as to the meaning of the Lord’s injunction to our early leaders, not only to keep his commandments, but also to assist in bringing forth his work according to his commandments, with the promise that they would then be blessed. Also, they were to seek to bring forth and to establish Zion. All of this emphasized what the Church was told by the Lord in another revelation. He said, ‘For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.’ (D&C 78:7.)
“You will note that it was not merely enough to be good; all must also be willing to bring forth his work and to bring forth and establish Zion. This meant to work and labor with all one’s might, mind, and strength if he would obtain a place in the celestial world.
Micah 4:8–13. If Jerusalem Is Overthrown and Her People Scattered, How Will She Then Become Great? Micah used the figure of travail or childbirth to illustrate that Judah would bring upon herself the pain out of which would eventually come a new life in the Lord. Shortly she would be driven from her city and find herself a captive of Babylon. This prophecy is amazing because Assyria was mistress of the world in Micah’s day, Babylon being only a province of Assyria.
This part of Micah’s vision projected nearly 130 years into the future, but time is nothing to a prophet. Then, looking several millennia into the future, Micah saw Israel return in the strength of God. Using the symbol of horns like iron and hooves like brass, he predicted that Israel would trample her enemies as easily as an ox threshes grain.
This passage has great significance for Latter-day Saints because Jesus referred to it when He visited the Nephites. After speaking of the gathering of Israel in the latter days, Jesus used Micah’s prophecy to depict the kind of destruction that awaited the Gentiles of that period if they did not repent (see 3 Nephi 20:17–21).
Micah 5:1–4. “But Thou, Beth-lehem, . . . out of Thee Shall He Come . . . That Is to Be Ruler in Israel” . This is one of the best-known messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. It is, in fact, the one quoted by Matthew in the New Testament as having been fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Ephratah is simply an additional name to distinguish the Bethlehem in Judah from another Bethlehem in the land assigned to the tribe of Zebulun (see Joshua 19:15). The prophecy was fulfilled, of course, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king (see Matthew 2:1;Luke 2:1–20).
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