1 John 5:19 tells us that the ‘whole world is under the sway of the evil one’. Without getting into a lot of Biblical history and theology, I believe we can agree that this statement still applies today. Furthermore, John’s worldview and attitude about this was not an apathetic one. John encouraged believers to make a stand in their worship, walk and work for God. Such a stand would obviously separate the follower of Christ from those who follow other idols.
Our world and culture today is still very idolatrous. Humanity continues to not only struggle with idolatry, but is in fact bound by its power. Idols are empowered by worship, and humanity empowers many of them.
In the Ancient world, pantheism, and idol worship had become the established norm for the people of earth. Babylon (Mesopotamia) was a hotbed of such. The Tower of Babylon event (Genesis 11) indicates that fallen humanity had come together to accomplish some divine things. They sought to elevate themselves into the realm of the ‘gods’ to potentially become divine themselves, or to connect them with supernatural power. The hunger and thirst for spiritual encounters lead people to embrace a pantheon of divine beings. Into this spiritual soup God selected one man (Abraham) to start and embrace a new way of doing things for Yahweh.
I understand that I am oversimplifying much of what The Bible teaches and says, however, I use this brief explanation as a backdrop for this thought: The God of The Bible seeks to call humanity out of a fallen culture, to create a new one. This ‘new one’ is rooted in and established in a personal, covenantal relationship. This is how it was for Abraham; this is how it is for us today.
A question for the follower of God today is this: How are we communicating this personal, covenantal relationship (with Yahweh) to those who are ‘under the sway of the evil one’?
Within the story of Jonah there are some helpful insights and lessons that we can learn from. Jonah’s story is remarkable because for the first time in human history a prophet of Israel was sent to speak to people outside of Israel. God is communicating His care to those outside Israel. As Jonah continues to wrestle with God over this point and others, we begin to see some declining marks in the prophet’s lifestyle.
He first loses his God-conscious. When God brought the wickedness of Nineveh to Jonah’s attention, Jonah’s first reaction was to disobey the voice of God. God says to Jonah “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted Me.”. (1:2) Instead of ‘getting up’ and addressing the evil, Jonah ‘got up to flee’ from God’s presence. In fact, the prophet ‘went down’ to Joppa to avoid God. It seems odd that the prophet of God is the odd-one-out in this whole obedience thing. The wind, storm, fish, plant and worm all heed God’s instruction. The man of God, not so much. Instead of addressing the evil that had confronted his God, Jonah chooses to avoid and ignores God’s request to address the great city of Nineveh.
Secondly, Jonah lost his God-caring. Jonah fails to stand with others in their moments of anxiety, fear and chaos. The pagan captain calls for Jonah to ‘Get up! Call to your God’. (1:6) Jonah, who had ‘gone down’ to stretch out in the lowest part of the ship, missed an opportunity to interceded for others. For the second time, Jonah is reminded to ‘Get up!’.
Thirdly, Jonah had abandoned his God-commission. Is it just me, or does it seem like Jonah has a peculiar outlook? Like Elijah, Jonah appears to have a death wish (1:12, 4:8,9). Not only that, Jonah ceased to operate in his commission to be God’s prophetic voice in the world. Even though Jonah made a statement of faith: “I am a Hebrew. I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (1:9), he failed to function prophetically on behalf of the One who desires to establish a holy nation (Ex. 19:6). Jonah knew the story of Moses and how God is merciful, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love (Ex. 34:6). Jonah quotes this reality himself (4:2). Jonah knows about God’s desires to establish a nation unto Himself who will serve as a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, and ultimately be a light to the world. Jonah’s prophetic role was to function and aid in this divine mission. However, instead of embracing God’s mission and converting the pagan sailors, Jonah insists on being thrown overboard! Once again, Jonah desires to ‘go down’ instead of rising.
The first chapter of Jonah’s story ends with Jonah ‘going down’ once again and spending three days inside the belly of a great fish. Thankfully, we also know that these pagan sailors take it upon themselves to call out to Yahweh and make sacrifices to Him (1:14-15). I would like to think that Jonah realized his error and would have done things completely different, but I am not convinced of his hindsight being a divine 20/20. But let’s cut him slack, after all he did write about it.
However, the story of Jonah ends with us not ever really knowing if Jonah ever came to realize that he missed the boat in terms of God’s compassion and mission for a lost world. The dialogue between Jonah and God in chapter four is sobering and concerning. Jonah seems to care more about his life and comfort than the eternal destination of lost nations and those bound by idolatrous worship. In other words, Jonah seems to care more about himself than fulfilling the Mission of God.
Next week I will share more about how you can serve the Sovereign God prophetically with your story and how you can be the one to offer humanity a new covenant relationship with Yahweh: The God who saves.