20 Observations About Jonah & the Whale

JonahYou have probably heard about the story Jonah. You may even have seen a cartoonish version of it. Jonah is called by God. Jonah runs from God. Jonah gets on a boat and God sends a storm. Realizing the storm is Jonah’s fault, the sailors eventually throw him overboard and Jonah is swallowed by a whale like Captain Ahab. In the animated stories, there’s poor old Noah inside the whale, warming himself by a campfire.

Which is crazy. Animators and Sponge Bob writers have contributed to generations Americans not understanding the limitations that being underwater can place on people. But I digress.

Of course, the whole story is crazy to many scholars or skeptical scientific types. Surviving in a fish for three days? It doesn’t seem possible and even websites like Answers in Genesis , and to a lesser extent, the Institute for Creation Research are cautious of stories about sailors who were supposedly swallowed and then rescued alive. A story of a Spanish sailor is untrue, and the most famous story of sailor James Bartley is also questionable.

The story of Jonah doesn’t end in the whale, by the way. It ends with Jonah getting spit up on the beach, and this time deciding to follow God’s orders. He marches into Nineveh, proclaims that they will be overthrown in forty days, and the entire city repents. Judgment is avoided. Finally, in another twist to the story, Jonah is upset with God for saving Nineveh. More on that in a second. Before I give away any more, here are 20 observations about the actual story that’s in the Bible that you might not know, which hopefully will help you decide what you think about it. And hey, with this list you don’t have to keep clicking, reloading the page, and suffering through popups! So enjoy!

1. Jesus talked about Jonah like it really happened. He specifically did not treat it like a fictional story. (Matthew 12:40-41)

2.Most scholars view Jonah as fictional, however, perhaps a parable.

3.Interestingly, Jonah is a narrative story, not a prophecy like other books around it.

4. The Bible never says it was a whale. That’s an assumption. It could have been any large fish that was capable of swallowing a guy, even a fish that is now extinct. The Bible also doesn’t mention campfires.

5.Most reject Jonah as true because of the problem with surviving being eaten by a fish. For one thing, there’s generally no air in a stomach to breathe. Without some sort of miracle, weird circumstance, or a specially made fish, Jonah wouldn’t have lasted long.

6.Critics also reject idea that Nineveh would take 3 days to cross (Jonah 3:3)

7. In regards to being eaten… Jonah says he came back from the “pit.” That’s an Old Testament term for the place of death. He said he prayed as his life was ebbing away (Jonah 2).

8. According to the Bible then, Jonah may have actually died. It might not be possible to survive.

9. That’s no biggie. God raises the dead. It’s kinda His thing.

10. Nineveh might indeed have taken 3 days to go through. That’s different than just walking across from point A to point B. Try going through Walt Disney World and hitting every stop. Takes awhile.

11. Nineveh’s area was larger than the walled city anyway. Probably what Jonah referred to.

12. Even if Jonah is a parable and not literally true, it still demonstrates that Richard Dawkins is wrong… That’s always fun.

13. A main point of the book of Jonah is that the God of Israel cares about other nations besides Israel. Dawkins claimed in “The God Delusion” that the God of the Old Testament cared only for Israelites. Well, that doesn’t fit Jonah. Not even close. It also doesn’t fit Daniel, or Genesis, or Revelation, or Isaiah, or Jesus, or etc…

14. Ironically, Jonah himself didn’t care about Ninevites.
He hoped they’d all die.

15. A main point of Jonah wasn’t that he was trying to hide from God. It was that he was running from God’s mission for him.

16. Interestingly, when Jonah showed up at Nineveh he would’ve looked and smelled like the Walking Dead… even IF he had survived the fish. Stomach juices are gross and corrosive. Just saying.

17. Imagine if Death himself walked through your town saying in a fairly hateful voice that you’re all going to die in forty days…  You might freak out a little. I bet someone peed their pants. You know, if they had been wearing pants back then.

18. The people of Nineveh repented almost immediately, which would seem unrealistic until you consider the creepy factor of Mr. Corroded Skin walking through town. The people even threw sackcloth on their animals. Critics think this is silly, but the same critics probably put Christmas sweaters on their dogs.

19. It would seem that getting eaten by a fish actually enhanced Jonah’s ministry. Wouldn’t have enhanced his skin though… Well… maybe it was like a really strong chemical peel and after a few months of healing… Where was I?

20. Oh, yes. The big ironic thing is that all of the craziness might have been God’s plan from the beginning. It may very well be that in order to get the people of Nineveh to change so radically and quickly, God needed a guy who would run, get eaten by a fish, and then walk through town. God still takes our failures and turns them into victories.

But goodness, that was off the hook…

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How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?

Although I haven’t taken an official poll, it seems most professors, skeptics, media, and those who comment on the Bible would say the disciples of Jesus expected him to come back within their lifetimes. This is often used as another reason not to take the message of Jesus all that seriously, but that is a sweeping judgment that lacks perspective. In fact, when it comes to the return of Jesus according to the Bible, Christians and skeptics alike may be guilty of missing key details.

For instance, many pastors and evangelical Christians today, (of which I qualify as both) maintain that Jesus can come back at any moment. We commonly speak and write in ways that give the distinct impression Jesus could return any moment in our lifetimes. In that respect, we aren’t much different than those early Christians.

It makes one wonder what people might conclude if, in the distant future, someone were to find the writings of Christians from today. Would they pick up a worn copy of “Left Behind” and conclude we believed Jesus would return in the next few years and that Kirk Cameron was our prophet? Couldn’t they also use that as evidence that since Christ did not return, he must not be real? Of course, ask almost any of those Christians or pastors of today and their views are not so simplistic. I have often said Jesus is coming soon, but I am not so certain he is coming in my lifetime.

Perhaps, we Christians should speak and write more carefully using more perspective in the first place? Probably, but that’s not going to happen. There’s never going to be a shortage of writers or speakers making exciting claims, no matter whether they are Christians, secularists, or global warming/climate change alarmist/deniers.

Besides, it’s more fun to talk about Jesus coming in the next few minutes. Come on.

Anyway, as it turns out and despite the fact this is often ignored for the sake of arguing, the writers of the New Testament DID write with perspective. Shockingly, they never Continue reading “How Soon Was Jesus Supposed to Come Back?”

Signs in the Heavens?

meteoriteThe meteorite that hit Russia on February 15, entered the atmosphere less than 24 hours before the asteroid 2012 DA14 was to make the closest recorded pass of an asteroid to the Earth — inside the orbit of some satellites. The asteroid is described as “skimming the atmosphere” by some.  With two events such as these happening so close together, it would seem they were related, but astronomers say it’s just a crazy coincidence.

The European Space Agency tweeted its experts had determined there was no connection between the two big rocks that came flying at the earth.  Not only did they come from two different directions, but arriving 12 hours apart means they were also half a million kilometers apart.  The Daily Mail Online reported the meteorite that hit Russia “doesn’t seem to be at all relevant to tonight’s close asteroid flyby.”

They are right.  It’s a bit early to use the word “relevant”, but it’s at least “eerie”.

These are two EXTREMELY rare events happening less than a day apart, with evidently no connection to each other.  Soooooo…. hey God, how’s things uh…going?

Review of “The Harbinger” by Jonathan Cahn

harbingerRabbi and Pastor Jonathan Cahn’s book “The Harbinger” rocketed onto the New York Times Best Seller list last year, and garnered Cahn some national attention and several appearances on television and radio.  The book, which is written in the form of a conversation between a writer and publisher, AND the same writer and a mysterious prophet, suggests that an ancient prophecy in the book of Isaiah is repeating itself in the United States beginning with the attacks of 9/11.  It suggests there are nine harbingers of God’s judgment on the United States and all nine have already happened through events during and since those attacks.  In the book, Cahn warns that unless the United States returns to God and repents, that a much larger judgment is inevitable.

Speaking along the same lines at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC last January, Cahn brought up many of the same points he made in his book, portraying America as a nation that had fallen away from God and was in danger of judgment.  It should be noted that President Obama was not a part of the prayer breakfast, and judging by the reaction of those in attendance, the audience was largely of the same mind as Rabbi/Pastor Cahn.  Early in the sermon he said, “A thousand apostate ministers swearing on a thousand Bibles will not change one jot or tittle of the word of God,” and the audience erupted with approval. Once again, the words that Cahn spoke received media attention again, and the video of the sermon landed on Youtube.

So what of the book and the claims that were made in it?  For many Christians who study the Bible and Bible prophecy in particular, there is nothing new or radical in the Harbinger’s conclusions.  The idea that the nation is falling away from God as it pursues agendas such as same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and forces faith-based organizations to comply with these values- is a conclusion shared by many.  The problems of materialism, carnality, and immorality are also seen by most Christians as rampant and getting worse, mirroring the prophecy of II Timothy 3:1-4.  The idea that God may be threatening the nation with judgment, is a common opinion and worry.

Therein lies my view of what reading the Harbinger is like.  It’s the claims, the information, and the conclusions that grab your attention.  They will cause discussions at church or at work, and occasionally make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  No matter how skeptical you go into it, there are several points he brings up and several instances of events that have occurred since the tragedy of 9/11 that are at least somewhat eerie.  And once you get to those parts of the book it becomes hard to put down.

Getting there might be your battle.  Michael Crichton was one of the best at using a fictional story to convey information, and many others including the Harbinger have tried the same idea.  Crichton, however, was a master storyteller who included lots of action and story to go with his information.  His books often became movie blockbusters as a result.  The Harbinger, while borrowing from the idea, doesn’t include much of an actual story with action and drama, but instead reads as a conversation between a writer and a publisher at the publisher’s office.  Even then, the writer named Nouriel is recounting in great detail other conversations he had with a mysterious figure who he calls “the prophet.”

The book, therefore, reads as one giant dialogue between two people, alternating between Nouriel and the publisher, and Nouriel and the prophet.  As a piece of literature, I often found the dialogue to be tedious, and the characters weren’t always believable.  The publisher for instance, seemed too accepting of a Christian worldview which isn’t very common in this culture anymore, especially in the media.  Likewise I thought the main character Nouriel would have had more objections to what he was being told by the prophet since he was not a believer in Jesus.  (He did become one at the end.  Don’t they always?)  Nevertheless, you don’t read this book for the story the way you might a Michael Crichton novel.  You read this book because of the message.  You read it to discover, just like Nouriel did, what exactly those 9 Harbingers are and what they mean.

Without spoiling the book for you, the Harbingers center around a passage from Isaiah 9.  It reads like this in the King James Version:  “The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars. -Isaiah 9:10″  The Bible described this as a statement made by Israel “with pride and arrogance of heart,” in verse 9.  Instead of repenting, in other words, the northern nation of Israel was making bold proclamations of rebuilding after an attack.

Cahn applies this to America, correlating the Assyrians who came against Israel with the terrorists who attacked on 9/11, and making several other correlations as well.  The bricks that had fallen down represented the destruction of the Twin Towers, the hewn stones represented the memorial stone that was laid at Ground Zero several years later, the sycomores represented the sycamore tree that was cut down next to Ground Zero by the church where George Washington and others had prayed for our nation in 1789.  The rebuilding with cedars was represented by the large pine that replaced the sycamore at that site.

For most of us, correlations like this are a bit of a stretch because you can almost always manufacture a correlation, at least a vague one, with a poetically written Scripture like Isaiah 9:10.  Isaiah 9:10 was a rather obscure sentence in the midst of the entire Bible, and as some have said, there’s nothing in the Bible to indicate God was talking to anyone there besides Israel.  Cahn however, makes the case that this follows a pattern of how God calls a nation to repentance, and what God does in leading up to judgment.  He goes on to show some hair-raising “signs” that have happened since, such as the stock market crashing 7 years later, on the last day of the 7th Jewish month, and dropping 7 percent, or 777 points in one day.  That particular Jewish Day also happened to be the day of reconciling debts, and naturally it was our debt problem that crashed the stock market after the Congress initially rejected a 700 billion dollar bailout deal.  Yep, there’s that number 7 again.

That IS a little curious, but if there is a pattern this precise every time God judges a nation, one would expect a sycamore tree to be cut down somewhere every single time.  We should expect memorial stones to replace buildings made out of bricks, and cedar trees to replace the sycamores.  It’s hard to believe that God always does it this way, with this much detail, such as the idea that terrorism always comes first, or someone related to the Assyrians always starts things off.  It seems more reasonable to believe that the circumstances of God judging a nation, may change, depending on a host of different conditions and different times.  So a bit of skepticism is in order.  Having said that, there are… well…. eerie things.

Cahn brings up some instances that correlate so well, that you are left with the thought that history may be repeating itself.  Remember, that’s not a good thing.  For instance, while it is true that the Bible was talking to Israel in Isaiah 9:10 and describing what Israel said in the arrogance of their hearts, as it turns out, leaders of the United States said the exact same things after 9/11.  In fact, they didn’t just say similar things, they QUOTED Isaiah 9:10 as if it was a good thing.

On the morning after 9/11, Tom Daschle began a speech by saying “there is a passage in the Bible from Isaiah that I think speaks to all of us at times like this… “the bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the …...” You get the picture. Three years later, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards gave a speech in remembrance of 9/11 and began with the exact same Scripture.  Then he tailored his entire speech around the words of that verse. Generally, if someone wants to apply a verse to themselves or their country in a good way, they don’t use a verse of the Bible that was proclaiming judgment and condemnation.

Yet that’s exactly what happened.  This doesn’t necessarily mean of course that Cahn is right, or that the verse really applies to the United States.  It’s just spooky.  Obviously the verse applied to Israel when it was first spoken, but many other prophecies have come true in more than one time period, in more than one set of circumstances as well.  The virgin birth for instance, or the abomination that causes desolation, or the destruction of Jerusalem, etc… It is certainly possible in other words, for history to repeat itself.  It’s happened before, and the fact that leaders of the United States quoted the words of Israel when they were in direct rebellion to God, hmmmm…. poor choice of words.  Those were famous LAST words for the Israelites, we probably shouldn’t repeat them verbatim.  Just saying.

The conclusion of the Harbinger as I mentioned, leads us back to the same message that many others have spoken concerning our nation.  It’s a call to repent and turn to Christ.  The apologetics and salvation message in the closing chapter were strained, almost like Cahn’s character, the prophet, was afraid to be too blunt and turn people off.  I wish Cahn would have been as straightforward and blunt in those pages, as he was when speaking at the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast.  The gospel isn’t complicated, it’s Jesus.  He died to pay for the sins of the world, so that we might have forgiveness.  For those who turn to God, Jesus is the reason we are forgiven, and the Lord who we follow from that day forward.  Cahn would have been well-served to have quoted the apostle Paul:

 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” -Acts 17:30-31

Easy for me to say, though.  I didn’t go to all the work to write a book.

The Harbinger.  It’s an interesting read once you get going.

Some Jews WERE expecting the Messiah to be Divine

Jesus As God

One of the common misconceptions about Jesus is that He never claimed to be God, and that the Jews never believed the Messiah would be “God”.  The reality is neither of those assumptions are true.

The part about Jesus claiming to be God is easy to demonstrate from the Scripture, since Jesus took the name of God for Himself, made Himself “equal with God” in the eyes of the Jews, accepted worship as only God was allowed, and forgave sins as only God could.  In the eyes of the people around Him, Jesus clearly made Himself out to be God, and they specifically tried to kill Him for it a few times.

However, I’ve always believed (because I heard a rabbi say this once) that the Jews never looked for the Messiah to be Divine.

Turns out that isn’t exactly accurate either. The Essenes were expecting it.  And here is a link I found describing it.  (Take note the reference to Melchizedek, corresponds to the teaching about Jesus in the New Testament book of Hebrews).

Here’s the link.  It’s a short read.  

Here’s a more detailed look with more evidence.

The Rapture: Taking it Literally?

The Christian belief in “The Rapture,” made famous by the Left Behind series and various doomsday predictions, comes from two Scriptures in the Bible which speak about the resurrection of the dead.  In neither place is it specifically called “the Rapture” although you can find the Latin word for “rapture” in there if you use the Latin Vulgate Bible.  In fact, the Latin is where we get the term, and the term simply applies to the event described in I Corinthians 15:51-52 and I Thessalonians 4:15-17.   And since saying “The Rapture” is easier than saying “The-Event-Described-In-1st-Corinthians-15-51-52-and-I-Thessalonians-4-15-17”  or T.E.D.I.1.C.1.15.52.A.I.T.4.15.17 for short…

Most of us just say “the Rapture.”

Anyway, the Rapture is basically a simple concept.  In both places, the Bible (Paul was the writer) is talking about what happens to believers in Jesus who are still alive when the resurrection happens.  Obviously, God’s not going to strike them all dead so He could raise them up at that moment.  Instead of that morbid method, the Bible says we will be “caught up” to Jesus in the air (I Thessalonians 4) and changed “in the blink of an eye” into immortality (I Corinthians 15).  Part of the reason Paul wrote about it in I Thessalonians was to give people hope.  It is a rather exciting thought to consider. And assuming you believe in God and Jesus in the first place, it makes sense.  I mean, if Jesus returned and raised the dead into eternity, it’s only natural to ask what would happen to those who are still alive at the time. The Rapture is the answer for that question.

But we still manage to have huge arguments over it.  Those debates are generally over whether to take it seriously in the first place, or if you believe in a resurrection, the argument is over when exactly the Rapture part of it happens.

THE “WHEN” ARGUMENTS

The “Left Behind” books and movies took a very common position on the WHEN part, Continue reading “The Rapture: Taking it Literally?”

We’re All Going To Die and I’m Having Tea

Issues, issues everywhere and not a drop to drink!  Ok, not exactly true, I’m guzzling sugar free iced tea right now… But where to start?  Hell or the imminent second coming of Christ?  Let’s start with hell!

These days the idea of hell seems a non-starter with most.  In fact, as a society we are in the midst of concluding that the idea of a God who sends people to hell is simply dangerous. Unfortunately, the “Church” has not always helped.  Instead of actually following the teachings or example of Christ (Christians right?), the “Church” has sometimes burned people at the stake.  It’s a past that contributes to a dangerous image, one that is often exploited today by those who oppose Christianity.  That’s to be expected of course.  It’s just a fact of life that when some of those who claim to follow Jesus do such horrible and anti-Jesus things, Christianity itself gets associated with evil.

It has come to the point in our culture, that make no mistake, basic Christian beliefs are being looked upon with suspicion.  No longer are heinous acts of the Dark Ages being blamed on a corrupt church or power-hungry leaders, now it’s the Bible itself, the traditional religion itself.  Maybe it’s imbedded in our belief system?  Seems silly to most Christians who regularly give to help the poor, or work in the soup kitchens and slums of the world.  But nevertheless, despite our actions we are being painted as something more sinister, even by those who call themselves believers.  As Rob Bell said in his book “Love Wins” :

“Inquisitions, persecutions, trials, book burnings, blacklisting – when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent.” (For you Kindle users, that’s at 88% through the book, chapter 7)
 
Don’t miss the logical conclusion of such reasoning.  Continue reading “We’re All Going To Die and I’m Having Tea”