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Feb 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 12, 2017 – Jonah 3:4-10

Second Chances

Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown. Jonah 3:4 

Intro: In scripture and world history, critical moments have occurred

When either an individual or a nation teetered on the edge of the abyss
– at times, people have been rescued from going over the edge
• more than once, God has postponed his judgment for a generation

It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah . . ., saying, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.” (1 Ki. 21:27 and cf. 2 Ki. 22:11-20, Josiah)

• today’s story provides another example
– however, to be clear, God’s sentence against Nineveh was postponed, not taken off the books

Jonah did as he was told (sort of)

A brief account of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh
– his only appearance in this episode
one day’s walk immediately follows the city’s size as a three day’s walk
◦ so Jonah had completed one-third of his circuit
• either he simply stopped or going further was unnecessary
◦ or he went on preaching though was did not make it into the story
he cried out – here again is a key word and its repetition has a purpose
• we are supposed to notice how it is used in different contexts
◦ this not God’s gentle whisper that we strain to hear
◦ rather, it is his voice of thunder or crashing waves (cf. Ps. 29:3-9)
• the people of Nineveh were to respond with the same intensity
◦ they were to call on God earnestly, (v. 8), mightily, or cry with vehemence
◦ God’s blaring siren was to be answered by their cry for help

Jonah’s incredibly brief prophecy — a one-liner
forty – in scripture, this is the time it takes for something big
• forty days of the flood, forty years in the wilderness
◦ for days for Moses to receive law and another forty to make intercession for Israel
• before Jesus began his ministry, he was tempted for forty days
◦ after he finished his ministry, he spent forty days prepping his disciples (Acts 1:3)
– should we be concerned that Jonah did not mention God?
Yahweh had already proved his superiority over other gods
• but it is as though Jonah obeyed God, yet held back something

Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

THE PEOPLE were the first to respond

People (Heb. enosh), is humans in their mortality and vulnerability
–  it is same word used of the sailors in the first chapter
• in fact, chapter 3 repeats the drama on the high seas

◦ the sailors and citizens of Nineveh are in mortal danger
◦ the threat to their lives comes from the hand of God
◦ Jonah is the prophet who understands what is happening
◦ the captain and the king step forward to represent their people
◦ both of them call for action–call on God–that could save them
◦ both express this outcome as a possibility: perhaps (1:6) and who knows? (3:9)
◦ both end their speeches with the same phrase, so that we will not perish (1:6 & 3:9)

read more…

Feb 8 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 5, 2017 – Jonah 3:1-3

“Once More, From the Top”

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time . . . Jonah 3:1

Intro: The chapter begins with the word “Now,” which acts like a reset button

The first three verses return to three verses at the beginning of the story
– and there it starts over
• as the plot unfolds, we may get a sense of deja vu
• we revisit elements of chapter 1, but with different characters
– note in verses 1 and 3, the interaction is between Jonah and Yahweh
Yahweh is the name of the God of Israel
◦ for the rest of the chapter, the impersonal, generic title is used Elohim (God)
• this demonstrates the basic difference between Israel and the other nations
• Nineveh responded to a God whose name they did not know

V. 1, God gives Jonah a second chance

The word of the LORD is one of big concepts in Old Testament theology
– it is more than mere speech; it is something living that carries divine energy
• the word of Yahweh communicates more than a message
◦ God’s Spirit accompanies his Word

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And by the breath [ruach, spirit] of His mouth all their host (Ps. 33:6)

• by his Word, God created the universe
◦ and with his word he makes things happen

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (Is. 55:11)

– how did prophets receive God’s Word? Did they hear an audible voice?
• that is never clarified in the Scriptures,
• but when God wanted them to know it was his Word, they they received, they knew

The words are the same in this verse as in verse 1 of chapter 1
– the first deviation is that instead of reading to Jonah the son of Amitai
• we read to Jonah the second time
• but we do not really need the reminder
– what is the purpose for adding the second time?
• it leads our thoughts in a specific direction
◦ we are wondering, What Jonah will do this time?
• it builds suspense as we wait to see if he will run again

Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you. Jonah 3:2

God’s call is the same as before

Like verse 1, the words that begin this verse are identical to Jonah 1:2

read more…

Feb 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

Jonah’s Psalm of Praise – Handout

Feb 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 29, 2017 – Jonah 1:17-2:10

A Song From the Belly of the Beast

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish Jonah 1:17-2:1

Intro: The story of Jonah could have ended when the storm calmed

For example,
“Then the sailors threw Jonah into sea, and the Lord found a replacement”
– but because God had something else in mind, so the story goes on
• today’s episode is a brief narrative with a prayer inserted into it
• the narrative part begins in 1:17-2:1 and introduces Jonah’s prayer
◦ the narrative concludes in 2:10 with Yahweh’s answer
– rather than let Jonah drown, Yahweh appointed a great fish
• not to scare Jonah, but to swallow him
◦ “appointed” will be used three more times
(each time, it refers to a specific action God took with Jonah)
◦ also, like Nineveh, the wind, storm and sailors’ fear, the fish was great
• so now, Jonah was either treading water or sinking
◦ probably thinking, “This is it”– then a huge fish started circling him
◦ but after being swallowed, he still wasn’t dead — he was alive inside the fish!

Three days . . . the way the Old Testament uses figures is neither technical nor exact
– rather, numbers are frequently used in stories to create a sense of volume
• regarding the three days and three nights,

Uriel Simon observes, “This is a common idiom to denote a period that is long, but not too long”

◦ it can be a period of purification (Ex.19:10-11), restoration (Ho. 6:2), or completing a journey (Ge. 22:3-4)
• being inside the fish could not have been comfortable, or easy to breath, or smelled very good
◦ but that it was three days before Jonah prayed, demonstrates how stubborn he was
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD — what the captain asked him to do, but he had not done
• it was not the prospect of dying that got to him, but being stuck in limbo

. . . and he said,
I called out of my distress to the LORD,
And He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth [belly] of Sheol;
You heard my voice. 
Jonah 2:2

Jonah’s prayer is structures as a psalm of praise

Are we meant to assume he composed this poetic prayer inside the fish?
– possibly – it definitely contains lines from other psalms
• maybe he pieced together stanzas he had sung many times before
◦ many “spontaneous” prayers in our churches are little more than a string of cliches
• one thing that strikes me as odd, is there is no mention if his wrongdoing
◦ the closest he comes to an admission of guilt is in verse 8 — an obscure statement
◦ this not a psalm of confession
– the past tense may suggest this was written after the fact and upon reflection
• poetry recreates experience – and psalms take us inside the heart of prayers
• what we have is an embellished account of what his soul endured

To understand the poem, we have to accept its nonlinear development
– the events are out of sequence

read more…

Jan 24 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 22, 2017 – Jonah 1:7-16

A Journey Jinxed by Jonah

Each man said to his [shipmate], “Come, let us cast lots so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Jonah 1:7

Intro: Remember the theme of this story

From the time that Jonah runs from his divine assignment,
– God works him over, trying to get Jonah to see as he sees and so feel what he feels
• Jonah’s education involves authentic contact with Gentiles
◦ the focus of this episode is on the captain and crew caught in the storm
• the words, Come, let us express a resolve to take action together (cf. Is. 1:18)
mate translates the Hebrew for “neighbor”
◦ their investigation will be a group effort
– the key word in this episode may be learn, which in Hebrew is yada’
yada’ is “know” — the crew needs to know something to help them whether the storm
• like Jonah, they are also receiving an education,
◦ and their education comes in stages

Stage one: to learn on whose account the calamity occurred

The word for calamity is translated wickedness in verse 2
– it is one of two words in today’s story that has dual meanings:
• the moral evil of wrong doing
• the negative experience of circumstances such as trouble, tragedy, and hardship
– the sailors felt they needed to know the cause of the storm
• then they might be able to find a way to counteract it
• as we saw last time, these veteran mariners recognized it supernatural quality

In biblical times, if knowledge was unavailable by ordinary means,
• almost every ancient cultures had means for consulting the gods
◦ casting lots was like rolling dice
• marked stones were thrown and their colors or symbols interpreted
◦ or else they were placed in a pouch and withdrawn at random, one at a time
(like drawing straws to see who draws the shortest one)
◦ Israel observed this practice in a variety of sacred contexts
(for example, Joshua cast lots before the LORD; Jos. 18:8)
– the appeal of a random chance process was that the outcome could not be controlled

Hebrew scholar, Uriel Simon, observed, “No one challenged the validity of the method, because it was viewed as divinely guided . . .”
The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the LORD (Pr. 16:33)

• it worked! the lot fell on Jonah
• God made use of all means available; the sea, the wind, the sailors’ fear, and the lots

Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” Jonah 1:8-9

Stage two: the sailors were to know specific details

When they said to Jonah, On whose account . . ., it may not have been a question

read more…

Jan 16 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 15, 2017 – Jonah 1:4-6

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!

The LORD hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep.

So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” Jonah 1:4-6

Intro: Let’s take a quick look at the previous episode

God gave Jonah an assignment, and Jonah ran away
– he found and boarded a ship that was going across the sea
• we were told that Jonah paid the fare and went with them
• two important words: with them
– like a person who joins a group going backstage, “I’m with them
• his plan: hide in crowd, lose himself among Gentiles

Why did Jonah choose the sea?
– in Israel’s mind, their God was about land–the land
• the land promised to Abraham and his descendants
• and especially soil suitable for cultivation
◦ the wilderness, mountains and the sea were associated with chaos
◦ wild, disorganized and unpredictable spaces that threated human life
– Jonah sailed for a distant land, one for which God had no concern
• in doing so, he made a fundamental mistake
◦ he confused his small world for God’s real world
• in today’s episode, the sea becomes God’s agent for thwarting Jonah

Meanwhile, Jonah was not talking to God–he just took off
• and God was no longer talking with Jonah
• but they were communicating
◦ through his actions, Jonah was saying, “I’m not going to Nineveh”
◦ and through his actions, God was saying, “Sure you are. You’re just doing it hard way”

V. 4, God responds and the gloves are off

God did not send a breeze as a mild warning
– it was a great wind that whipped up a great storm
• and God did not just send it, but he hurled it

Phillip Cary, “. . . he hurls it as if it were a weapon, a spear or a stone to smash the little human vessel to bits.”

• the repeated usage of a key word in the story (great) reveals God’s seriousness
– the ship’s planks were stretched and strained and about to come apart–death was near

I love and deeply appreciate God’s patient pursuit of the person he’s chosen
– patient, and also relentless
• he would not let Moses off the hook – nor Paul, but chased down both of them
• God does not give up – he will have the one he wants
◦ by brute force if necessary, though he prefers our cooperation
– you and I are not interchangeable stage actors
• in a play, if one actor cannot perform a standby will fill in and the show goes on
◦ but only you can do what God has made you and prepared you to do
• you matter to him — so much that he will come after you

V. 5, The scene on deck is a riot of frenzied activity

read more…

Jan 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 8, 2017 – Jonah 1:1-3

Once Upon A Time

The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:1-3

Intro: The Book of Jonah is a story, and it is a wild one

Yet facets of the storyline sound very familiar
– a person trying to escape his or her destiny,
• a ship caught in a storm at sea,
• a large fish that shows up at exactly right moment
– these are elements found in the world’s most beloved folktales
• the story does not require much background information to understand it
◦ everything we need to know is in the text
• the only troubling questions are the big ones:
◦ What is this story? and, Why is it in the Bible?

Was Jonah meant to be read as a record of historical events?

If so, why isn’t it included in the historical books?
– for example, in the one place Jonah is mentioned (2 Ki. 14:25)
• the Elijah and Elisha stories are told in the places they appear in 1 and 2 Kings
– Jonah was not recognized as being primarily historical, but as prophetic
• note that prophecy does not mean “prediction”
◦ it was an inspired event in which one received and delivered God’s word
• even still, the Book of Jonah is not like any other prophetic writing

  1. The other books of prophecy are exactly that–mostly prophecies
    They have little or no narration
    Jonah, however, is all narration with one short prophetic sentence (3:4)
  2. Jonah’s unparalleled success–an entire populace turned to God
    Not even one of the big name prophets experienced this response
  3. Jonah did something no other prophet did; he ran away

Sometimes prophets told parables (Hebrew, mashal)
– Nathan’s rich man, poor (2 Sam. 12:1-8); Isaiah’s vineyard (Is. 5:1-7); Ezekiel’s many parables (notably Ezekiel 16:1-42)
• but it is like the whole book of Jonah is a parable
• it is the story itself that conveys God’s prophetic word

What is the message of Jonah?

It has to do with a man’s struggle with God over justice
– it’s like the Book of Job in this way; he too struggled with justice
• but Jonah’s concern had a very different twist
◦ Job: Why do bad things happen to good people?
◦ Jonah: Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?
Why don’t they get what they deserve?
• but this struggle isn’t the main point of the story, it just sets it up
◦ spoiler alert!

read more…

Jan 10 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

A Brief Introduction to Jonah

The Book of Jonah

(This overview was printed and handed out as a supplement to the Bible study)

More than anything else, the book of Jonah is a story and the narrative becomes more fascinating the deeper we go into it. A few characteristics of this story include the following:

  • The protagonist (main character) is Jonah, but he is not necessarily a “hero”.
  • The antagonist (typically the bad guy or villain) is also Jonah. In other words, Jonah is his own worst enemy. There would have been no storm, no “great fish,” no worm or scorching east wind if not for his stubborn resistance to God’s will.
  • The plot in a story usually involves some kind of conflict. In this instance, the tension that moves the story forward is between God’s will for Jonah and Jonah’s will for God. Jonah was convinced that he knew what God should do, but was afraid of what he would do.

The Book of Jonah is a carefully constructed story

  • The story ends where it began, with “Nineveh, the great city.” This creates an envelope around the whole book, that lets us know the circle is complete even though it leaves us hanging at the end (1:2 & 4:11).
  • The story divides into two narratives that run parallel to each other 
    Part One (chapters 1-2): Jonah runs from God to avoid Nineveh 
    A great wind, a great storm and a great fish
    The sailors “called on their gods” and on Yahweh (1:5, 14)
    The concern of the captain and his crew, “not perish” (1:6)
    Jonah learned his lesson (2:8)
    Part Two (chapters 3-4): Jonah goes to Nineveh and argues with God
    The people of Nineveh “call on Yahweh” (3:8)
    The concern of the king and his people, “not perish” (3:9)
    A scorching wind and a dead plant (4:8)
    The lesson Jonah was supposed to learn (4:10-11)
  • Key words and phrases. We recognize key words in the way that they are emphasized in the text. The emphasis comes through repetition, being doubled (e.g., “feared a great fear,” being new or unusual expression, or in some way by drawing attention to their usage.
    Great, greatly
    Cast, throw, hurl
    Cry out (call)

We will discover more elements of the story’s structure as we go through it.

Questions regarding the point or purpose of this story 

Is it:

  • God’s sovereign power over elements and nations? (This seems to be taken for granted rather than appear as a theme)
  • The miracles–e.g., the great fish and Jonah’s survival?
  • The revelation that no one can run from God or dodge his will?
  • The eternal reliability of God’s self-revelation to Moses? (4:2)
  • God’s justice?
  • God’s compassion for all people?

What kind of story (genre) is the best fit for Jonah?

  • Historical?
  • Wisdom writing?
  • Prophetic?
  • Comedy? (The story certainly contains comic elements)
  • Ironic tale? (We will encounter irony in some of the scenes)
  • Satire?
  • Mashal or parable?
    The word mashal appears in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and is translated by a number of different words into English. The one idea that connects to these various meanings is that a comparison is being made. When mashal is a parable, its purpose was to illuminate or illustrate a truth, be thought provoking, or provide an insight. Some Rabbis’ taught that “before parables no one understood the Torah, but when Solomon and others created parables, then people understood” (quoted in Stories with Intent, Klyne Snodgrass, p. 8).
    We cannot say the book of Jonah is a mashal, and one reason is because no other Old Testament book is entirely a parable. But neither is there any other book in the Bible quite like Jonah.

The book of Jonah is a prophetic message, delivered in narrative form. It is more concerned with the message God communicates through the story than with the details of a specific historical situation.

Jan 2 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

January 1, 2017 – John 16:5-7

Our “Advantage” In 2017

But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, “Where are You going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. John 16:5-7

Intro: A married couple in one of our Wednesday night meetings, happened to mention that I performed their wedding

Another couple said the same, then another, and another
• turns out, I had officiated the weddings of more than half those present
• more than one of those marriages are thirty-plus years old
– some of the engaged couples requested to observe Communion during their wedding
• so at that point of the service I would make it a point to say,
“[her name] and [his name] have asked that their first act as husband and wife is to observe the Lord’s Supper”
◦ what a great way to enter marriage!
◦ begin by receiving Jesus into the union of the new life they will share
• today, Reflexion’s first act in the new year will be to observe Communion together
◦ we begin 2017, receiving Jesus once again into our hearts and our community

How could it be to disciples’ advantage for Jesus to leave them?

Stories of Jesus reveal the inestimable value of his physical presence
– most of all, he brings God near to men, women and children
– when he sees suffering, he feels it
– when people confide secrets, he forgives
– he is loyal; he never betrays a trust
– his counsel is the best wisdom
• he always gives the perfect answer
– he meets the very real need for human touch
– he calms fears, heals wounds, resolves doubts, and restores hope
– besides all this, disciples could point to him and say,
“There he is! Go to him and see for yourself” (cf. Jn. 1:45-46)

So how could it be to our advantage to not have this Person always here?

read more…

Dec 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 18, 2016 – Luke 2:25-35

A Seasoned Christmas

And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–and a sword will pierce even your own soul–to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:25-35

Intro: Christmas is not only a day, it is a season

It is the most important season for America’s economy
– but we’re already well aware of that
• it starts too soon and is crammed with too much
– for Mary, Christmas season was kicked off when the angel approached her
• in both Hebrew and Greek “angel” and “messenger” are the same word
• angel messengers arrive straight from the presence of God

Normally, when encountering humans, the angel’s first word is, Do not be afraid
– how Gabriel began with Zacharias who was troubled by his presence (Lk. 1:13)
• and the same with the angel who appeared to the shepherds when they were terribly frightened (Lk. 2:10)
◦ it seems that with Mary, Gabriel forgot to deliver his opening line
• I don’t think it is a misreading to sense Gabriel’s excitement
◦ Gabriel blurted out what he knew about Mary when he saw her:
favored one – she was chosen for something great
the Lord is with you – she would not fail; could not fail
(in scripture, this second statement means everything will be okay)
– perhaps, when he saw her reaction to him, he remembered the “Don’t be afraid” part
Do not be afraid – and for second time he said her name
◦ Mary was known to the angels in heaven
• what he did not say was, “Be terrified, for your destiny is upon you”
◦ the plans she had for coming years had been scrapped
◦ all she can do now was to wake up each morning and discover where God’s plan would take her

That one Christmas changed everything for Mary

The beginning of Joseph’s Christmas season was more complicated
– he did not first learn about Mary’s destiny from angels
• I think we sometimes read Bible in fairytale mode
◦ we don’t stop to think about its real-life impact on these people
• Joseph did not instantly think, “It’s a miracle!”
◦ he assumed the worst – still, he was a good man
◦ he planned a secret divorce rather than expose her to public shame
– the Scriptures do not explore whatever inner anguish he felt
• while considering this course, angel came
◦ he too was told not to be afraid – and specifically, to take Mary as his wife
◦ an angel explained to Joseph that the Child in her was of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 1:20)
• Matthew adds that this was a fulfillment of prophecy: Emmanuel, “God with us” (Mt. 1:22-23)
◦ so, whereas Mary was told, the Lord is with you
◦ we learn from Matthew that in Jesus, the Lord is with us all

The way Jesus enters any human life works the same for us as Mary and Joseph

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