Always Faithful, Part I
American military history fascinates me. The invasion of Iowa Jima in 1945 was a turning point in the war in the Pacific. Besides the air assault and pre-invasion naval bombardment, on Feb 19 of that year, Marines from the 4th and 5th division landed on the beaches of the remote island. The Americans knew their mission very well: Put to practice the amphibious landing for which they had trained, storm the area and secure the air strip; all under fire from Japanese armies hidden in underground caves.
The Marines knew that during their mission many would fall, but they had vowed to be always faithful, or Semper Fidelis, their motto until this day. Were it not for the faithfulness of these men, we would live in a very different society today, I am convinced. What a great example to us believers; we are to be Always Faithful.
Here’s the story of a man who was not always faithful.
The book of Jonah is an autobiography, written in third person (not uncommon in the Old Testament). The author is not a mythological figure, like some critics of the Bible like to affirm. Jonah was a prophet during the time of Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:25), a fact confirmed by Jesus himself (Matt. 12:39).
Jonah’s purpose for writing his autobiography is to address a nation in spiritual decay and under a leadership crisis during the monarchy. Spiritual instability was the natural outcome of the bad influence of wicked kings. The invasion of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by Assyria is future during the composition of the book, but later captives (the original readers of Jonah) would be encouraged to learn that God is sovereign even in times of calamity.
Even though Jonah is far from being the hero of the story, we must recognize his humility in recording his shortcomings. Everybody else in the book obeys God (the storm, the fish, the plant in chapter four, the sailors, and even the Ninevites). The very one called for a lifetime of obedience struggles with submission to God.
The book of Jonah is not about the big fish, but about the big God, who controls nature and is compassionate even towards wicked people. He is not willing that any should perish.
The author starts by saying that the Word of the Lord came to Jonah. Could this be an example of Christophany? Coming and saying are attributes of a person. Whether or not this was an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ, the message was clear enough; so much so that the prophet reacted negatively.
God gives Jonah a mission: The commissioning of the prophet includes three imperatives. His mission is clear: arise, go and preach. Like a soldier receiving his briefing, Jonah receives his marching orders.
Can you feel the tension rising? Jonah is thinking: “Lord, this is not the proper way of Gentile outreach. Remember, you told us to stay in the land and obey” (Isaiah 42:6). No one else in the Old Testament is specifically told to go to a foreign land. Daniel and Esther are examples of “forced” missions in a distant country. Jonah does not want to go. He could argue he could serve the Lord in the comfort of his own country. Ministry was needed there, too.
God gives Jonah a message: The prophet was to utter a message of condemnation in Nineveh. The Ninevites were Assyrians, known for their brutality. POWs were normally tortured and their heads impaled in spears and given to the children of the conquered army to parade around the city. Jonah knew that they would not do any differently with him. Isn’t that how we feel about the mission field sometimes, even in our own backyard? We know we need to share the Gospel, but for some reason we think that we’ll be eaten alive by the sinner.
Jonah is already thinking of ways to get out of his duty. God tells Jonah that it is time for the Ninevites to settle accounts with their Creator, and guess what Jonah: YOU are going to deliver the news.
The prophet was on ambassador duty. Ambassadors are not to change the message or “water it down” so as to not offend the hearers. This was no time for a conversation, but for declaration. It was a short message (see Jonah 3:4).
As a believer, what messages are we to carry?