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I took the above picture this past Sunday night. My wife, Jess, says it reminded her of the journey we’re all on with the Lord. There’s a clear path ahead, but as the grains in the wood capture well the path we have to walk is filled with difficult challenges.

The handrail is a good illustration also of the difficulty that Jonah’s life was marked by. He was a professional prophet who served in the kings court and had what seems to have been a normal prophetic career (2 Kings 14.23-29) before God entered the scene with some very difficult instructions. Go preach and repentance to Nineveh which was an affluent quad-county metro area in the Assyrian home country. Assyria was the on verge of entering the Land of promise and exiling Israel.

The task was so difficult that Jonah opted for self-exile and a self inflicted undoing of the Exodus experience of Israel, choosing rather to go down to depths where Pharoh’s chariots rested.  He choose these things over being the prophet who was known to Israel as the savior of their enemies. Its a powerful story, and Jonah’s own bitterness and self-interest is analogous to Israel’s attitude toward the nations. Here are the four lessons I pulled from the story

  1. God’s heart for the city: The importance of urban missions in redemptive history and the nature of doing urban missions today with a round instead of a flat perception of the city.
  2. God’s heart for the nations: The mysterious inclusion of the nations into the people of God with special attention to Jonah’s relationship to Jesus as missionaries to the nations.
  3. God’s sovereignty over creation and redemption: Divine concurrence in the redemption of morally and spiritually lost people, as well as religious people. 
  4. The prophetic nature of missional living: Prophet embodiment in the prophets, and in Jonah’s life as a way of helping us appreciate the incarnational witness we all have in the public square.

I opened the night reading backwards from Jonah to Genesis and forwards from Jonah to Revelation. Situating the book in the biblical story. We had great conversations about what it means to do missions strategically today. The danger each of us face in growing bitter to the things of God as we follow him into some difficult, apparently outrageous journeys. It was a great night and I left it being able to say I’ll never look at the story of Jonah the same again. Far beyond the debates over the historicity of the book is the matter of much greater significance: how to read Jonah in light of the biblical-story with a missional hermeneutic (see Christopher Wright).

Some inside issues I found intriguing as I prepared for the discussion were the presence of intertextuality in Jonah’s song between it and Exodus and the Psalms (Magonet on Form and Meaning); of course the hot button issue of the genre of the work (T.D. Alexander had a good article on that); and the nature of God’s mysterious sovereignty as he “prepared” all things according to his plan. 

(Photographic art by SetsNService, “Traveling into the sunset“)