History Matters

The minor prophets cover a span of about 300 years, from 760-450 BC, and Jonah appears right in the middle of that. Jonah overlaps Amos and Hosea in northern Israel, and he finishes his ministry just before Isaiah’s ministry begins in southern Judah. 

Jonah is the only narrative in the minor prophets. He was a prophet during the reign of Jeroboam II when Israel was temporarily growing in strength. He is the first of Israel’s prophets to be sent to a non-Jewish population. 

Critics have raised questions about this book. Questions like: Did Jonah write this book himself or is it just a story about him? Is this book historical or allegorical? 

The five biggest objections that are raised to Jonah’s historicity are: 

  1. The hyper-nationalistic feel is more like when Ezra and Nehemiah led people back to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon, and not during the time of Jeroboam II. 
  2. Parts of Jonah appear copied from the prophet Joel. 
  3. There are no (or incorrect) details about the major city of Nineveh that Jonah visited. 
  4. There are no extra-biblical historical records of a revival in Nineveh. 
  5. Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! 

I think there are very good reasons to believe that Jonah was both autobiographical and historically accurate. 

First, there was a revival of sorts (although not religiously) in Israel during the time of Jeroboam II. This was a time that Israel felt like it could flex its muscles again, so Jonah would not be acting out of character to be so pro-Israel. 

Second, Jonah 3:9 and Joel 2:14 sound similar, but scholars cannot tell which was written first. Couldn’t God amplify a message? Consider how many parts of the Gospel of Mark are used in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. And it’s a regular practice for authors even today to directly quote other sources. 

Third, regarding the lack of details about Nineveh, the biblical writers give very few details of any places outside of Israel or Judah. The only “incorrect” detail skeptics point to is Jonah 3:3 stating that the city was so big that it would take three days to walk around it. Nineveh was a city of about 120,000 inhabitants, so it could easily take three days of walking and preaching in order to get the message to everyone. 

Fourth, the revival in Nineveh was clearly short-lived. Jonah was probably in Nineveh around 760 BC. Assyria was rising politically and militarily during that time and defeated Israel just 40 years after Jonah’s preaching. Assyria itself was then defeated in 605 BC. 

Finally, Jonah was swallowed by a fish?! The root word for fish in Hebrew means something that has grown to such an enormous size that it overshadows everything else. But notice that what caused the sailors to be in awe of God was not the whale/fish swallowing Jonah, but the immediate calming of the ocean when Jonah was thrown overboard (Jonah 1:15-16). Miracles appear throughout this book. And throughout the entire Bible! 

Why should the appearance of miracles surprise us? Some people have a bias against the supernatural, where they wrongly believe that we can know everything through naturalistic means. C.S. Lewis pointed out, “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power. … Nature as a whole is herself one huge result of the Supernatural: God created her.” 

I don’t think this story is a parable or an allegory because nowhere else in the Bible are such details given in the form of a parable. 

I believe this story is historical because Jesus talked about the historicity of Jonah in the same breath as He talked about other historical people: the Queen of the South and Solomon (Matthew 12:38-42). Jesus clearly viewed Jonah as historically reliable and accurate. To call Jonah into question is to call into question the truthfulness of Jesus Himself! 

History matters because all of History is God’s story! 

Our belief in the message of the Bible is not based upon “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s based upon real people in real places, especially the historicity of Jesus (notice all of the historical details Luke lists in the birth account of Jesus). 

Jonah was clearly one of those historical people, in an historic place, and at a precise moment in world history that tells the story of Jesus and our redemption which He purchased! 

If you want to check out all of the messages in our series on the major lessons from the minor prophets, you can find that list by clicking here.

How Big?

…your servant has nothing there at all…except a small jar of olive oil (2 Kings 4:2). 

This widow made the right move in going to Elisha for help. The situation seemed impossible, so she had nowhere else to go but to God.

Instead of giving her immediate relief, God asks this widow to extend her faith. The steps she takes next will determine how big of a blessing she will receive. God frequently does this:

  • how many ditches am I willing to dig (3:16)? 
  • how many doors am I willing to knock on to ask for empty jars (4:3)?
  • how many times am I willing to strike the ground with my arrows (13:18-19)?

The ditches were filled with water until they could hold no more.

The jars were filled with oil until they could hold no more.

Joash only struck the ground three times, so he only received three victories.

Jesus told us…

…ask, and keep on asking 

…seek, and keep on looking 

…knock, and keep on knocking 

God IS going to answer. The question is: HOW BIG do I want Him to answer? 

Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish INFINITELY MORE than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20) 

Miracle Of Miracles

…Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like You… (1 Kings 8:23).

Yahweh is unique. He isn’t #1 in the categories that men use to rank things—He embodies the categories; He is in those categories all by Himself. He has no peer, He has no rival. He is the I AM. 

This seemingly unapproachable God approaches us—miracle of miracles! He makes a covenant of love, and He keeps that covenant. He makes promises, and He fulfills all those promises. He is the Judge, and yet He provides for the atonement and total restoration of the guilty sinner. He knows every human heart (v. 39) and every human sin (v. 46), and yet He does not abandon, but saves!

Miracle of miracles! He is the one who gives to me a heart that wants to walk in obedience to Him…

  • …so that He can keep all of His promises that are reserved for those who walk in obedience to Him
  • …so that all the peoples of the earth may see and know “that the LORD is God and that there is no other” (v. 60)

Miracle of miracles! The unique I AM wants me to be in a relationship with Him. The One who is complete in Himself wants me to be in this blessed completeness with Him forever! How could I ever say no to such an invitation?! How could I ever refrain from telling others about this invitation?!

God loves me and He has done everything necessary for me to be in an eternal relationship with Him—miracle of miracles indeed!

Thursdays With Spurgeon—God’s Faithful Provision

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

God’s Faithful Provision

     My witness is, and I speak it for the honor of God, that He is a good provider. … My first income as a Christian minister was small enough in all conscience, never exceeding forty-five pounds a year, yet I was as rich then as I am now, for I have enough; and I had no more cares, nay, not half as many then as I have now; and when I breathed my prayer to God then, as I do now, for all things temporal and spiritual, I found Him ready to answer me at every pinch, and for many pinches I have had. … My faith has been often tried, but God has always been faithful and sent supplies in hours of need. If any should tell me that prayer to God is a mere piece of excitement, and that the idea of God answering human cries is absurd, I should laugh the statement to scorn, for my experience is not that of one or two singular instances, but that of hundreds of cases in which the Lord’s interposition, for the necessities of His work, has been as manifest as if He had rent the clouds and thrust fourth His own naked arm and bounteous hand to supply the needs of His servant. 

From The Autobiography Of Charles Spurgeon 

I, too, can declare with Spurgeon how many times God has faithfully provided for us just in time. Every instance of true need has been met by miraculous provision as we have prayed to Him. 

It’s a lie to think that God doesn’t care about your need, or that He is too busy with bigger matters, or that He only helps those who help themselves. 

God loves to help those who cannot help themselves, so that He receives all of the glory. 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6). 

Growth Problems

…the number of disciples was increasing… (Acts 6:1).

Growth is a nice problem to have. But it is still a problem that needs to be addressed, or else the growth can implode an organization. 

In this instance, the early Christian church was growing rapidly and attempting to address the need for getting food to widows. Apparently, some of the widows were being overlooked in that food distribution. 

To start the ball rolling on solving this growth problem, the apostles gave some simple parameters: We will focus on preaching, the rest of you should select administrators to oversee the food ministry (vv. 2-4). The job description was pretty simple too—they must have a good reputation, be full of the Holy Spirit, be wise, and (this is implied) be willing to serve.

Notice the trust the church leaders placed in that congregation: 

  • seek out from among you
  • they chose
  • they set them [the candidates] before the apostles

The congregation was pleased by both the apostles’ plan and the level of trust that was conferred on them. It appears that seven men were the unanimous selection of both the congregation and the church leaders. 

After these men were installed in their new administrative roles, look at the results:

  • more preaching
  • more salvations
  • more inroads into the Jewish religious leadership sect
  • more people fed
  • more miracles performed
  • and more persecution from those threatened by the church’s rapid growth

It’s interesting to note that Luke uses the word added to talk about the church’s growth in chapters 1-5, but after this growth problem is successfully resolved, Luke stops using added and only uses multiplication terminology. 

When handled the right way, growth problems—or any problems, for that matter—lead to more growth. 

A mark of a godly leader is one who handles growth problems correctly. 

This is part 36 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

Undeniableness

…we cannot deny it (Acts 4:16)

The healing of a 40-year-old man who has been lame from birth is truly undeniable! But the Sadducees (the truly religious elite) took issue with the fact that Peter and John were then telling people about God’s resurrection power (which they did not believe).

It was undeniable that…

  • … the lame man was healed
  • … Peter spoke boldly with the help of the Holy Spirit
  • … Peter and John’s eloquence in spiritual matters was not bookish learning but divine illumination
  • … Peter and John had been with Jesus
  • … Peter and John could not be silenced by threats
  • … the admiration of the crowd following the healing and Peter’s sermon
  • … God was glorified

So what did the church do? They prayed for more “undeniableness” to be demonstrated by God through their lives!

They knew none of these threats took God by surprise, but they all happened as God had “determined before to be done” (v. 28). So they said, “We are Your servants in this—do more undeniable things through us. Enable us to speak Your Word boldly, and empower us to do signs and wonders in the name of Jesus” (vv. 29, 30).

And God answered that prayer!

What about us? Are we willing to pray that prayer today? Will we allow God to do undeniable things through us? Persecution may follow, but so will God’s glory, and saved souls, and healed people!

What Do The Good Works Of Jesus Mean?

“Jesus was well-known for His many good works, which were primarily works of restoration. The good works of Jesus restored a measure of the good order God intended when He created the world and all things, and point forward to a day of complete renewal, of heaven and earth and all things. People, who are the image-bearers of God, were not meant to be deaf or blind, bent or beset by demons, riven with diseases, or at one another’s throats. Indeed, they were not even meant to die.

“Good works were an essential component of Jesus’ plan for restoring the goodness of creation, and He promised His followers that they would do many more good works than He had done, as they seek His Kingdom and live in the power of His Spirit (John 14:12). …

“And Jesus told His followers to tune up a similar harmony of words and works in their own lives, to follow Him as His witnesses, living and speaking the truth in love. For it is in such harmony, consistently sung into the world by every follower of Christ, that the Kingdom of God and His goodness advances on earth as it is in heaven.” —T.M. Moore

10 Quotes From “Praying The Promises”

There is something special about turning God’s Word into a prayer to our Heavenly Father, and Max Lucado shows us how in his book Praying The Promises. You can check out my full book review by clicking here. 

“We do not need more opinions or hunches; we need the definitive declarations of our mighty and loving God. He governs the world according to these great and precious promises. Let’s be who we were made to be: People of the Promise. Let’s keep these promises handy. Praise Him out loud. Fill our lungs with air and hearts with hope and declare our belief in God’s goodness.” 

“Everything in creation gives evidence of God’s existence. The intricacy of snowflakes, the roar of a thunderstorm, the precision of a honeybee, the bubbling of a cool mountain stream. These miracles and a million more give testimony to the existence of a brilliant, wise, and tireless God (Psalm 19:1-4). Everything shows evidence of a purposeful design. The facts lead to a wonderful conclusion. God is…and God is knowable. … We can know more than simple facts about our Creator; we can know His heart, His joy, His passion, His plan, and His sorrows. … The mark of a saint is that he or she is growing in the knowledge of God.” 

“As we fellowship with God, read His Word, obey His commands, and seek to understand and reflect His character, something wonderful emerges. Or, better stated, Someone wonderful emerges. God comes out of us. We say things God would say. We do things God would do.” 

“When we pray, we engage the power of God against the devil. When we worship, we do what satan himself did not do: we place God on the throne. When we pick up the sword of Scripture, we do what Jesus did in the wilderness. He responded to satan by proclaiming truth (Matthew 4:1-11).… satan will not linger long where God is praised and prayers are offered.” 

“We don’t need a large army. We don’t need abundant resources. God’s presence tilts the scales in our favor.” 

“If you have taken on the name of Christ, you have clout with the most powerful Being in the universe. When you speak, God listens. … Your prayers matter to God because you matter to God.” 

“When nothing quenches your deepest thirsts, when droughts turn your fields into deserts and retirements into pocket change, what can you do? Evaluate your priorities: Is God’s big thing my big thing? 

“Guilt simmers like a toxin in far too many souls, but you don’t need to let it have a place in yours. Internalize this promise: ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). Not ‘limited condemnation,’ ‘appropriate condemnation,’ or ‘calculated condemnation.’ That is what people give people. God gives His children no condemnation.” 

“The greatest news in the world is not that God made the world but that God loves the world. He loves you. You did not earn this love. And His love for you will not fade if you lose your way. His love for you will not diminish if your discipline does. You have never lived one unloved day. God loves you, and because He does, you can be assured joy will come.” 

“I will fix my eyes on things above. Because I know that this world is not my home, I will keep eternity in sight.” 

These are quotes from the section of Praying The Promises called “unshakable hope.” Stay tuned because I will be sharing soon some of the model prayers Max gave us in this helpful book. 

7 Prayers From “Praying For Muslims”

Throughout 2017, I joined with other prayer warriors around the globe in praying for Muslims every Friday at noon. Our prayer guide was found in Sobhi Malek’s book Praying For Muslims. Here are a few prayer thoughts that may help you in your prayer time.

“As Abraham pleaded for the lost in Sodom and Gomorrah, we ask You to give Muslims a chance to accept Christ. You love them. Jesus died for them. Rescue them from the doom of sin.”

“Lord God, You have been patient with the peoples of Europe and America. They are rich in material goods but poor in spiritual matters. They are advanced in technology but backward in things pertaining to God. Save them from the slippery path they have chosen by turning their back on Christ. Have mercy on them. Help them to repent. By faith I claim many Muslims in the West for Christ. May they become tools in God’s hand to bring many nominal Christians in post-Christian Europe and America to the Cross of Calvary. O God, Supreme and Mighty Potentate, Master of heaven and earth, You can do such feats! In the name of Jesus, I pray for a great revival for your Church in the West. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

“Compassionate and merciful God, our Father in heaven, glory and majesty belong to You. You have shined Your light into my heart through Jesus Christ my Lord. You have forgiven my sin. Thank You. I am very grateful. That is why I bring Muslims before You.  For although they call You merciful and compassionate, they have never understood the depth of Your great compassion and mercy manifested at the Cross of Christ. Grant them the desire to know Jesus and experience His redemptive power. Fill them with your Holy Spirit. Encourage them to be active in bringing others to your Kingdom. Keep me true to my responsibility to pray for them without ceasing and trust You for miraculous acts among Muslims.”

“Help the church in Europe and America to see the influx of Muslims as a God-given opportunity to bring multitudes of Muslims to Christ the Savior.”

“I pray for the missionaries who have left families, security, and comforts of life to go serve among Muslims. Lord God, You are their reward. Fill their lives with Your presence, and show them Your glory. Empower them with the Holy Spirit. May they speak with boldness and wisdom to proclaim the relevant, eternal message of the Gospel. Grant them a productive and fruitful ministry. May they lead many Muslims to Christ and plant the Church triumphant in countless communities. Make them valiant as they proclaim the truth. O God, stop satan from inflicting disease, discord, and disunity among Your servants. In prayer, I come against satanic attacks on missionaries to Muslims in interpersonal relationships, morals, finances, family, health, and children. May they not become weary in the work they are doing for You (Galatians 6:9).” 

“Father, by Your divine power, tear down the walls that satan has erected to keep people from hearing the Gospel. We look to the Cross where Jesus died to redeem all, including Muslims. We draw our victory from Calvary. And we rest at Your feet in faith with expectation.”

“O God Almighty, be with those who are enduring a nightmare of mistreatment, beatings and abuse. I bring their plight to Your attention, merciful Father. Visit them. Soothe their pain. Comfort their souls. Encourage their hearts. May Your face shine upon them. In prayer I ask You to wake up the Church around the world to pray for persecuted believers and come to their assistance. Christians who occupy influential positions could act to alleviate the pain of our suffering brothers and sisters. Father, help them to not be silent. Move them to respond to the tragedy of the persecuted Church.”

Here are some other resources for you:

The Christmas Candle (book review)

Max Lucado is a storyteller par excellent! His craft is on full display in the engaging short story The Christmas Candle.

Lucado takes us back to Victorian-era England, to the small village of Cotswolds. Nothing much seems to happen in this little village, except for a visit from an angel every 25 years to one specific family. The Haddington family have been candle-makers for as far back as anyone can remember. Every quarter-century, just before Christmas, an angel appears in the Haddington’s shop and points out one special candle. When this unique candle is given away by the Haddingtons to an individual, they can pray for a miracle and expect that God will answer that prayer.

Lucado’s story centers on a time when the angel should be appearing soon. But Mr. and Mrs. Haddington are older now, and worried that they don’t have an heir to which the candle-making trade can be passed on, the townspeople are in more desperate need than ever before, and the village’s new pastor is highly skeptical about the so-called “miracle qualities” of an ordinary looking candle. And all the while, the time of the angel’s appearing is getting closer and closer.

The message Lucado is able to drive home through this story is truly a God-given gift that will encourage your faith. Whether you read this book at Christmas time or not, you will be uplifted in your faith in God’s power to do the miraculous!

%d bloggers like this: