Tag Archives: Israel

Leaning on Your Own Understanding

Last night during our family devotions, we opened up to those famous verses in Proverbs 3. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths,” (vv. 5-6, ESV). As we discussed this, I told my family that for years I completely misunderstood these verses. Taking them out of context, I saw them as verses telling me to trust God. He knows what he is doing even if I don’t. While that sentiment is true (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9), that’s not what these verses mean. I explained to them that in this context, we are talking about God’s wisdom versus our own wisdom, or our own thoughts.

We are to trust God’s wisdom–God’s revealed wisdom in his Word–and distrust our own understanding of our lives. It is God’s Word that is truth and our own hearts that lie to us. This thought took us to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it,” (ESV)? The heart lies to us more than anything else! It is deceitful above all things! If a friend were to lie to us once, we would probably give them a break. We have all lied; maybe he/she thought he/she was in a bind. But what would happen if the lies continued? Would we ever trust anything that friend said?

I know someone personally who is a habitual liar. I’m not even sure if he knows he is. It seems so engrained into his nature to lie. He lies about little things and big things. My family has simply learned not to ever plan on anything he says to come to fruition. We love him dearly, but we don’t believe his words. Yet, think for a moment what Jeremiah told us: the heart is deceitful above all things. That means my heart is even more deceitful and more of a habitual liar than that person I know. That’s saying something there! No wonder Solomon told us not to lean on our own understandings, but to trust God with all our hearts (ironic I know).

That being said. . . This morning I got up to do my morning Bible reading and meditation. As I was reading Deuteronomy 1 for the third time this week, I thought about what Israel had done. Preaching through 1 Corinthians 10 these past few weeks reminded me that Israel and their history was written to serve as an example to the church. In Deuteronomy 1, Moses recounts how Israel had neared the Promised Land forty years prior. They sent out 12 spies, only to have 10 come back and tell them they couldn’t win the land. Only Joshua and Caleb said they could. The people recoiled in fear. They believed man’s wisdom instead of God’s. They believed their own fearful hearts rather than trust God completely. What was the outcome? God would not allow them to enter into the Promised Land. They missed out on the blessings–the land which flowed with milk and honey. Only those who trusted in God, Joshua and Caleb, were allowed to enter forty years later.

How often do we miss the blessings of God because we do not trust in his wisdom, but lean on our own understandings of this life and world we live in. God reveals his truth in his Word and yet we will not believe it because our hearts tell us a different story. Those deceptive, sick, depraved hearts shout against God’s still, small voice. They foolishly rebel against God’s all-powerful, all-knowing wisdom. If it were a person, we’d be living our lives completely oblivious to the heart’s promises, foolishness, and rebel words. But it isn’t a person. It’s our own inner-thoughts, inner-testimony, our own inner-fears, and so we lean upon our own understandings.

The result is the same as Israel’s. Israel missed out on the milk and honey. They missed out on the fruits and vegetables and fattened flocks. Instead, they continued to wander the wilderness with manna and water from the rock. God continued to provide. He did not abandon them, yet the missed out on the straight paths, the blessings and wisdom that were theirs if only they had trusted.

When Solomon brought up that God would make straight our paths, he didn’t necessarily mean that everything would be easy in life. Instead, that which was difficult would be eased because we don’t live by our wisdom, but God’s. When pain came, we could handle it because we would not believe our thoughts on the matter, but God’s. When hardships came, we would focus on God’s wisdom rather than our own. When we faced a cross-roads and needed to know which way to go, God’s wisdom would see us through. How blessed is that!?

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being read to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete,” (10:4-6, ESV; italics mine). Spurgeon wrote about these verses:

[The believer’s] powers of meditation and consideration keep within the circle of truth and holiness, finding green pastures there. Even when thinking about common things, matters that have to do with affairs of this world, he seeks to serve the Lord, for he knows that “every thought,” not some thoughts, is to be humbled into the obedience of Christ. (Spurgeon Study Bible)

One must remember that Spurgeon suffered severely with depression his entire life, and it worsened after people were trampled (seven killed and 28 severely injured) by a wicked calling of “fire!” during his preaching at Surrey Gardens Music Hall. I believe Spurgeon would say that this his words about the matter are the ideal thought-life of the believer, though not the way it always is. If the believer was always living by this standard, he’d be perfect. It is when we live by our own understandings that we sin against God. But the truth is this: the believer, because he/she has Christ, can bring his/her thoughts captive to him. That however means leaning not on our own understandings, but trusting Him.

May we seek to take our thoughts captive to Christ, trust God with all our hearts and lean not on our own understandings. Those bumps and twists and turns will be made straight and smooth as we grow in his wisdom and follow his navigating of our lives.

Jonah, a Whale of a Tale of Covenant Israel

Jonah is one of the best loved stories in the entire Bible. The key word that previous sentence is “stories.” It does not say that Jonah is one of the best loved prophets, but one of the best loved stories. That is because Jonah is rarely thought of as a prophet, though he was. In fact, he was one of the twelve Minor Prophets. Yet as Douglas Stuart pointed out, “In the case of Jonah, only five Hebrew words that he preached to the people of Assyria are preserved, those that are translated as, “Forty days from now Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4).[1] When Big Idea made their first feature film, they did not go with Amos or Micah or even Malachi. Their first feature film was Jonah, having asparaguses (or are they green onions?) singing about how God is the God of second chances.[2] No video of a little girl telling the story of Hosea went viral; no, it was the story of Jonah.[3]

Jonah, unlike the rest of the Minor Prophets (or even the Major Prophets, with the exception of Daniel) has a way of capturing the attention of the reader. “[O]f the prophetic books, none other is so dominantly biographical and so minimally reflective of a prophet’s preached words.”[4] In other words, Jonah is a story about the prophet himself. Unlike the other prophets, Jonah does not sound “preachy” or “prophetic,” instead it is a narrative of history; it is a story. Feinberg comments,

Some question has arisen concerning the book because it does contain history and narrative to the practical exclusion of prophecy or prediction. There is an absence of the usual prophetic discourse. But there are those who realize that the book is among the prophets, not because of the historical events it records, but because the transactions in it are prophecies themselves.[5]

Whereas Isaiah would give a direct prophecy about the coming Messiah (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, 53) or Micah would tell of his birthplace (Mic 5:2), Jonah displays it with his own life. Thus one can read that in the midst of the sea, salvation was found when Jonah was swallowed by a fish. “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights,” (Jon 1:17, ESV). Salvation in the belly of the fish is likened to the salvation that would be found in the belly of the earth. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” (Matthew 12:40, ESV). Though Jonah never explicitly stated this fact would occur, in God’s providence one could say it was indeed a prophecy.

Ezekiel gives vivid descriptions of the cherubim as God’s chariot (Ezek 1:1), he is simply describing it so that one can imagine it. He describes its look, how it moves, and its purpose. One can envision such a thing in the minds eye, and some have even put it onto canvas. Jonah however is still different than this. His story is being told as a way of capturing the imagination, not only for information’s sake, but for life-change and understanding. “Jonah is not a sentimental story, nor is it a humorous one. It is told without embellishment but with an emphasis on engaging the imagination. When a hearer or reader can visualize a scene at each point, the impact of a story is always strong.”[6] Hosea comes the closest of the Minor Prophets (or even the Latter Prophets, which does not include Daniel) to do this kind of impact for the modern-day reader, yet only in the first few chapters of his book and even then it was riddled with a direct prophetic message. Surely the prophecies of Jeremiah had a strong impact on the hearers in his day. Nahum’s prophecies against Nineveh a century later would evoke great emotion among the Jews of his day. Yet Jonah’s story and prophecy goes the distance unlike any other book because it doesn’t feel like one is being preached to, even though he is. Though similar to the art of telling a parable, Jonah is not a parable.

Parables are brief (not four chapters long), normally containing a single scene or two, make comparison to people or things outside the story who are the real focus, and end with a punch line that draws the hearer up short as it teaches a lesson, the reader hopefully seeing a personally relevant truth in the story. And parables have anonymous figures as their characters. The book of Jonah manifests some of these characteristics but manifests none of them exactly.[7]

On top of Jonah’s narrative, what makes Jonah so interesting and compelling is that whether the reader realizes it or not, Jonah retells the story of Israel with some twists. Like Moses, Jonah is sent to far away land to speak with the leader of the land and his subjects. Like Moses, Jonah is resistant to go. This was not just the leader of any land, but a leader of a land and people who terrorized, subjugated, and harmed the people of God. Yet unlike Moses, Jonah was not going to tell the King of Nineveh (Assyria) to let the Hebrews go. Instead, he went to tell him of their own impending doom, what Moses eventually spoke in his own right to Pharaoh. The story deviates when the King of Nineveh calls for fasting, repentance, and the wearing of sackcloth (Jon 3:7-9). Pharaoh did nothing of the sort, leading one to understand God’s truth to Moses and Paul’s explanation to the Romans. “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. . .So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills,” (Romans 9:15, 18, ESV). Pharaoh’s heart was hardened whereas the King of Nineveh’s heart was broken.

There was a forty-day period of trial, repentance, or one could say cleansing. Like the Israelites who spent forty years in the wilderness, wandering until the last of the disobedient generation died, thus going through trials, repentance, and a cleansing, so the people of Nineveh were given the same opportunity. “Forty is the number employed in Scripture in relation to testing,”[8] as Feinberg rightly pointed out. Thus Nineveh came out having passed the test, cleansing themselves (as humanly possible) of their sin. They believed God and God spared their lives, infuriating Jonah in the process. “I knew that you were a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster,” (Jon 4:2c, ESV). How would he know that except that it was revealed to Moses in Exodus 34 and so repeated throughout Israel’s history?

What Jonah had missed was that his story, intertwined with Nineveh’s story, was Israel’s story. God called Jonah and Israel. Jonah was to represent God to the pagan nation just as Israel to those surrounding her. Jonah flees from God going “down” further and further and refusing to heed his calling (down to Joppa, down into the boat, down into the sea). Israel had done the same centuries before. Yet in Jonah’s rebellion, he was saved from an unlikely source, just as Israel had been time and time again. The very grace and mercy of God that caused him to be slow of anger and relenting from disaster against Nineveh had been the same grace and mercy shown to Israel for centuries. Could Jonah and the Israelites see beyond Nineveh to their own hearts? Could they see that God would be willing to forgive and relent disaster if they would only turn? They could not see it. They could not see that God was a God of the covenant made on Mt. Sinai. They could not see that they were headed straight into judgment. They could not see their need to repent and return to the covenant that God had graciously made with them. It is almost poetic that the story of Jonah ends the way it does. One is left wondering about Jonah’s future, even as one wondered what would happen to Israel.

[1] Douglas Stuart, “Jonah, the Book of” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 456.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeOnADmkD74 (as of 4/3/19)

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4VrujheblY (as of 4/3/19)

[4] Stuart, “Jonah” DOT, 457.

[5] Charles Lee Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), 133-134.

[6] Stuart, “Jonah,” DOT, 459.

[7] Ibid., 458.

[8] Feinberg, The Minor Prophets, 145.