Tag Archives: Old Testament

Leviticus: Be Holy For God Is Holy

LEVITICUS
is a book about
HOLINESS
in which God provides
ATONEMENT.

The Book of Leviticus: God’s Holiness

Leviticus is named for its relation to the Levites, and most of its commands pertain to the priesthood, especially commands about atonement for sin, which is the subject of about half the book.
In Exodus, one of the most important phrases in the Old Testament is introduced: “I am the Lord.” In Leviticus, God says his nature is essentially holy (20:7-8, 21:8, etc.). In the ESV, the word “holy” is used 91 times in Book of Leviticus.
He is also the Lord who sanctifies or makes us holy (20:8; 21:8, 23; 22:9, 16; see also Ex. 31:13; Ezek. 20:12, 37:28, etc.). This is a key concept in Leviticus, repeated five times: “Be holy, for I am holy” (11:44-45, etc.). God’s holiness informs us about what it means for us to be holy, and God’s holiness is the reason that he provides atonement for us. This is the attribute of God most clearly on display in Leviticus, and nearly every passage in Leviticus can be seen through this lens.

Plain Teaching on Sin (ch. 1-7)

These commandments about sacrifice are filled with specific truth about sin and guilt. There is no need to seek any allegorical meaning in them, when they teach plain truths about sin and sacrifice:
1) We learn the difference between sins and trespasses (Ps. 19:12-13). There are sins that are obvious to us, but there are also sins that we commit unknowingly (4:2). 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our (known) sin, he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (which would include unknown sin).
2) We learn the difference between personal sin, public sin, and priestly sin (4:13, 22, 27). If I cheat my neighbor, that is my own sin. But Nehemiah acknowledged, for example, that the people had sinned corporately, and corporate repentance was required.
The sin of priests and leaders is also treated differently. Ministers and teachers of the Gospel carry more responsibility because of their consecration, and this even affects the way their families are treated.
3) We learn from Aaron’s four sons that there are sins of commission and omission. Just as Nadab and Abihu sinned by offering fire “which the Lord had not commanded” (10:1), Eleazar and Ithamar sinned by neglecting to eat the sacrifice as commanded priesthood(10:18).

Plain Teaching on Priesthood and Sacrifice (ch. 8-10, ch. 21-22)

The tabernacle is established in the Book of the Exodus, and the  is established in this book. In Leviticus, we have plain teaching about the meaning of sacrifice—not only that God requires our best, or that he requires blood, but beyond that, we learn:
1) Sacrifice required confession (4:15, 5:5, 16:21). The purpose of placing hands on the animal was to confess guilt in its presence. Likewise, the sacrifice of Christ has no effect if we do not admit our guiltiness.
2) Sacrifice required consecration (ch. 8-10). Not everyone can make a sacrifice, but only a priest can make atonement under the Old Covenant (4:35, 5:16, etc.). But now the Lord requires consecration from all his children, and we are all priests in the new order (Heb. 7:11, 1 Pet. 2:5).
3) Sacrifice required cleanness. It is not undertaken flippantly (10:1), or in any place, or at any time (16:2). But under the New Covenant we learn that God seeks those who worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). It is not just clean hands but “a pure heart” that the Lord desires (Ps. 24:4).

Holiness and Cleanliness (ch. 11-15)

All the rituals involving food, skin diseases, etc. may be seen as involving cleanliness, and may or may not involve the guilt of sin. The commandments about food (ch. 11) are practical and interesting. (Winkie Pratney says, if you break these commands, you won’t necessarily go to Hell, but you will feel like Hell.)
Before the New Covenant was established, the Lord frequently required healed lepers to abide by Leviticus 14 in presenting themselves to the priests.
Leviticus 13 and 14 are dedicated to the separation of those with contagious skin disorders from the crowd of the camp.
The idea that these diseases were transferred through physical contact, and not by some other mystical means, has suffered a lack of acceptance, even recently, even in the educated West. At the height of his career, Joseph Lister was criticized and laughed at in his early career for his ideas about cleanliness and antiseptics in hospitals; in his old age, Queen Victoria made him a baron and a royal counselor; now, he is known as the “Father of Modern Surgery.”

Day of Atonement (ch. 16)

The Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is at the center of the Book of Leviticus, and it is central to the whole practice of making atonement. This is neither the same as the daily sacrifices, nor is it “business as usual.” We see this in 1) the rarity of the occasion, which was annual (v. 2, 29); 2) the entry of the Holy of Holies, which was not allowed at other times (v. 2); 3) the special release of the scapegoat, which is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible.
The meaning of the scapegoat is up for debate, but the custom is clear enough: In addition to the commands laid out in this passage—namely, confession over this goat—the high priest tied a scarlet thread to the goat, representing guilt, before sending him away. In later years, rather than merely releasing it, the man charged with the duty would push the goat off of a precipice, and wave a signal to people stationed nearby that the atonement ritual was complete. Regardless, it represents a distancing from sin (Ps. 103:12), God not counting our sins against us (Ps. 32:1-2, Rom. 4:7-8).

General Commands (ch. 17-20)

It is no coincidence that sex is mentioned so prominently (ch. 18) in a book about holiness and atonement; sexual immorality is the quickest path to deceive yourself and destroy your family, and must be taken seriously (Heb 13:4).
This section contains what Jesus called the second most important commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). Thomas Fuller, a Puritan author, had a fascinating insight on this verse in connection with the Sermon on the Mount: “Many things pass to be in Scripture, when no such matter is to be found therein. ‘Ye have heard it said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.”’ (Mt. 5:43) But where is it said, ‘Thou shalt hate thine enemy’? Surely nowhere in God’s Word.”[1]

Feasts, Sabbaths and the Year of Jubilee (ch. 23-25, 27)

Note especially how the Feasts of Passover and Booths have been fulfilled in Christ’s death, and Pentecost, respectively (Mt. 26:2, 1 Cor. 5:7, etc.). (It’s important to know that Pentecost is simply the Greek name for the Feast of Booths.)
The Year of Jubilee (ch. 25) ensures justice and provide balances to the economic system; most interestingly, debt is freely forgiven, while in our modern system it simply accumulates unchecked.

Covenant and Consequences (ch. 26)

In Leviticus 26, God outlines consequences if Israel should fail to keep her side of the Covenant. This chapter shows that for believers, God will progressively try any means to get their attention, so that they will return to him (v. 3, 14, 18, 21, 23, 27; see also Deut. 28). But God promises in spite of this that he will bless and help them “if they confess their iniquity” (v. 40), and he could never forget or break his end of the covenant (v. 43-44).
This important section of the Pentateuch is what is referenced by Jeremiah and Daniel when they say that the punishments of the covenant have fallen on Israel (Dan. 9:10-14, Lam. 2:17). The complaints of other prophets of the exile period also prove that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their day (Hag. 2:16-17).

Study Recommendations

Written in Blood by Robert E. Coleman is a readable, well-studied devotional on the meaning of Jesus’ blood.
Andrew Murray published two books of sermons on Jesus’ blood: The Power of the Blood of Jesus and The Blood of the Cross.


[1] Concerning Christ’s Temptations.

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Haggai: Work Is for Fellowship

HAGGAI
is a book about
WORK
in which God
DWELLS.

The Messenger and His Audience

Haggai is unique in that his audience is primarily just two people: Zerubbabel, the governor, and Joshua, the high priest. Both of them participate in this revival in a personal way (1:12, 14), receive personal words from God, and special promises. (See Ezra 5:1-2, Hag. 2:21-23, Zech. 3:1-10, 4:9-10, etc.) The only verse specifically directed at the public is 1:13: “I am with you, says the Lord.”
Haggai’s message is intimately related to the Books of Zechariah and Ezra. (See Ezra 5:1.) Zechariah and Haggai’s prophecies dovetail in confirmation of each other, and the people prosper through their prophesying (Ezra 6:14).

Haggai’s Message: Realignment of Priorities

Haggai’s primary spiritual message was one of priorities, and its primary application was that is it is time to work. Five times God commands them to “consider” (1:4, 1:7, 2:15, 2:18). It is easier to live selfishly; righteousness requires that we turn off autopilot mode and examine our priorities.
When we experience spiritual revival, it leads to a realignment of priorities. The first way this seems to happen is in the area of work. Haggai’s hearers were invited to invest time. Building the Lord’s temple would require some sacrifice of the time that they spent on their own affairs.
The second result of revival is in our finances. Haggai’s hearers were challenged to contribute materially (1:8, 2:8). Our time and money go towards what we value. Whenever there is repentance, spiritual renewal translates into an active response in these two ways.

Why Build?

“‘Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,’ says the Lord.” (1:8) God commands the Israelites to build “that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified.” This twofold purpose reminds us of the Westminster Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We build because God says “I am with you” (1:13, 2:5).
When God ordered the building of the Tabernacle, the reason was “so that I may dwell among you.” But now God says he is already among them, and they needed to acknowledge and prepare for his presence.
When God asks us to commit to the work of ministry, it is never to receive justification or atone for guilt; it is always for his pleasure and because he is worthy of glory. Work is for fellowship.

The House of the Lord

The temple is not “a house for the Lord” but “the house of the Lord.” It is a holy place belonging to him that he might reveal himself to his people; it is not a place for a tribal god to live. They did not rebuild the temple so that God could dwell among them; they rebuilt the temple because God was dwelling among them. “Work . . . for I am with you” (2:4).
In the New Covenant, God’s preeminent dwelling place is his people. A church building is never called the house of God in the New Testament. As Solomon said, “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you!” (1 Kings 8:27, NKJV) But it is also written: “You [plural] are God’s temple” (1 Cor. 3:16). Building God’s house for us means prioritizing our time and money for spiritual ministry. (See also: Christ’s Body Is the Temple.)

Special Promises

“The heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit” (1:10, KJV). God hearkens back to his covenant promises in Deuteronomy 7:13 and Leviticus 26:4. Abundant crops are specifically promised for Israel if they obey the covenant; drought and lack are promised if they disobey.
The promise is not universal, and it is not the same as karma—it is a specific way that God proves himself to his covenant nation (Lev. 26:9). In Haggai, God is trying every economic expedient to get the attention of believers, because they should know better. However, he promises specifically that this will turn around from the date of the foundation of the temple (2:18-19, Lev. 26:40-42).
In the Old and New Testaments, God never commits himself to a law of always returning good for righteousness and evil for wickedness. In his great wisdom and faithfulness, he can allow suffering on the righteous (e.g. Job), or mercy for the wicked (e.g. Saul). He sends his sun and rain on the righteous and the wicked, because he is perfect (Matt. 5:45); and the wind and storms come to both, whether our foundation is built on the sand or the rock (Matt. 7:24-27).

The Latter Glory

Haggai says the latter glory will exceed the former glory (2:9). This is immediately about the temple but also relates to the Messianic kingdom to come. The “shaking of all nations” and the “desire of all nations” relate to the future period when Israel becomes the center of the Messiah’s earthly kingdom. (The “desire of nations” is often thought to mean Jesus, but from the context, it seems to refer to the wealth that will be brought to Jerusalem, as in Zechariah 14:14.)
Victory over the Gentiles is also one of the promises of this time period. (See 2:20-23)

Shares themes with: Ezra, Nehemiah, Zechariah.

On Racing Against Horses

The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament complains to God that men in his hometown are plotting to kill him. He has had a difficult ministry towards unwilling people. You would think God would say something like, “that’s okay, Jeremiah, just trust in my grace.” Instead God says, in effect, “suck it up. It’s gonna get harder.”

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?
(God’s word to Jeremiah, Jer. 12:5)

At first, it does not sound encouraging. G. Campbell Morgan points out though, that Jeremiah had raced with men. God didn’t say he failed. He had done well in a ministry that was filled with conflict. He had already preached boldly in a temple to religious people who had missed the entire point of the temple. He had brought some brutal, yet God-sent words. The nation was in danger—not because of karma, but because God couldn’t allow himself to be misrepresented ad infinitum.

And it was going to get harder! Sometimes we expect God to set us up for success and affluence, but he sees all the chess pieces, and he knows what we can handle. He knows that he can ask us to face something that is more difficult. The logical inverse, though, is that God wouldn’t send Jeremiah to race horses when he hadn’t won against men. God knows what’s too hard for us, and the Bible says that he doesn’t ever send his children to a battle that they can’t fight with his help.

In connection with this, I have been asking, is it possible to race horses? The metaphor sounds fantastic, but there are at least two races that have pitted men against horses in long-distance running: one is a 22-mile race in Wales, and one is a 50-mile race in Arizona. In 2004, for the first time a man won the race in Wales. In Arizona, the horses have never lost, but the race is often close. In 2009, the race director said that the first man, Jamil Coury, clocked in just over seven hours for 50 miles of running, and could have beaten the first place horse if he hadn’t gotten off course.

So God’s question—how will you compete with horses? is not only relevant to long-distance runners. A man can’t compete with a horse over short distances. But it is possible for a human to beat a horse, if the human doesn’t quit. Maybe that was really God’s key to facing difficulty in ministry anyway.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:5)

Books and Bottles

“You have kept count of my tossings [or ‘wanderings’]; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8, ESV)

In the psalm quoted above, David recounts to God all that his enemies have marshaled against him. They have haunted his steps; injured his cause; plotted against him; oppressed him daily. But God is not unaware of David’s enemies. He keeps the books in heaven. His knowledge is infinite, eternal and all-encompassing, and there will be a day when God settles David’s account.

When we read of books and scribes in Scripture, we must keep in mind that literacy was a specialty, reserved for a privileged few, and still is in some parts of the world. Study was a luxury, and books were priceless. How much more priceless are they when we consider the books that God must keep.

Thou hast a book for my complaints,
A bottle for my tears.

Tears and Tossings

“You put my tears in your bottle.”

In most biblical contexts, a bottle would mean a skin, such as the wineskins Jesus refers to. In this verse, the psalmist is probably referring to a ceramic bottle used in ancient funeral rites. Ornate containers called lachrymatories were commonly added to graves all over the ancient world.

The symbolic act of putting tears in bottles is well-known to historians. Tear-bottles were added permanently to graves, perhaps both as a symbolic goodbye and an honor to the memory of the lost. Museums still hold plenty of examples of these from various centuries as well as regions. They were ceramic in New Testament times; glass was invented later on.

The fact that God puts our tears in his bottle suggests that God shares in our grief with us. The Creator alone knows the innermost self, in its sin, its suffering, and its solace.

Alabaster

“She broke an alabaster jar.”

Bottles were also used in funeral rituals to pour ointment on a body for burial in several ancient cultures. When Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus, she truly was proclaiming his death beforehand, preparing him for burial. (Mark 14:8) She understood what the disciples were blind to: Jesus had to face a shameful death. (John 12:7)

If we take Matthew’s estimation, the value of the alabaster jar was about a year’s wages. Alabaster was mined in Egypt and carved into exquisite containers; the rare spice inside, nard, grows at elevations above 12,000 feet, and is only found in the Himalayan Mountains. Why then did Mary have this priceless jar? Was it like a life insurance policy, saved for the day of death? Is it possible that she had been saving it for her deceased brother’s grave? In the light of Lazarus’ resurrection, did she surrender to Jesus the safekeeping that would follow her own death? He who holds the keys knows.

There is no blessing in being comfortable, but “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus himself wept at the grave of Lazarus. He wept not only because of Lazarus and his family, but because death is an enemy, and a result of the curse that our sin has brought to us.

God’s Books

“The books were opened.”

Daniel says in his end-times vision that court was convened, and “the books were opened.” (Dan. 7:10) We think first of the Book of Life, and those who are blotted out. God calls it in some places “my book.” (Rev.) The most important record that God keeps is those who receive his salvation.

There are other books in heaven though. Both Daniel and John mention that God has books. Malachi tells us that one of them includes the records of our fellowship, our faithful prayers, and the results they wrought in lives changed:

“Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name.” (Malachi 3:16, ESV)

There is a crumb of comfort here for ministers with few visible successes. We struggle to reconcile our experience with the thrilling accounts of missionary biography. We could read of the apostolic triumphs in Uganda, and how Bishop Hannington perished on the forbidden road, and yet a church rose in his wake. We could read about the Palm Beach Five in the jungles of Ecuador, facing death for Christ, but giving life to a marginalized tribe. These sacrifices and successes are what fill our books. These are the ingredients of bestsellers.

But heaven has a different best-seller list. The prophet tells us that God writes it down when two believers sit and talk of him. If Malachi’s words are to be taken seriously, God keeps each of our biographies in heaven, and a page-turner to him is when his people take heed, and fear him, and talk about how they may follow on to know him

What God Values

“The Lord paid attention.”

Books and bottles are both vessels of preservation. They tell us what is precious. Precious tears are preserved in bottles; precious thoughts are preserved in books.

God values our thought life. God noticed those that feared him, and thought upon his name. We could spend our whole lifetime in the library, scouring a thousand volumes on theology, history, religion, and ritual. But one honest moment thinking about his name, dwelling on who he really is, drinking in his character from his revealed Word, would outweigh a whole lifetime of any other study.

God values our fellowship. They “spake often one to another.” Speaking to one another about spiritual topics should not be rare or specialized. One preacher said, “We are not called upon to talk theology, but we are called upon to talk gratitude.”  We need to talk to God and of God long and often.

God values our mourning. We are not the ones who treasure up our tears; God puts them in his own bottle. Our suffering is not taken lightly by God, even when he leads his children into it. One prophet said, “In all their suffering he also suffered”; and another, “He does not willingly afflict the sons of men.” He treasures the pain that we have been through, not for its own sake, but because of the eternal weight of glory that it’s working in us. Shouldn’t we?

Never a sigh of passion or of pity,
Never a wail for weakness or for wrong,
Has not its archive in the angels’ city,
Finds not its echo in the endless song.

The Redeemer’s Footprint

There are a few cryptic statements about feet in the Old Testament, which, taken together, have something profound to say about the work of Jesus as Redeemer. The first is one of Job’s prophetic glimmers of hope that shone out of his trial:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Job 19:25, ESV

There is no mistaking that he is referring to God as his Kinsman-redeemer and Deliverer. Since Job was likely contemporary with Abraham, the Torah’s prescriptions for kinsman-redeemers in Leviticus 25 probably did not yet exist—not to mention, Job isn’t even Jewish (Job 1:1). We could say that Job meant ‘redeemer’ in the broad sense (deliverer, liberator) in which it doesn’t involve land or money (see Isaiah 52:3, for example). However, Job’s parallel statement, (that his Redeemer will stand upon the earth) connects to the Semitic tradition of land redemption, because the feet appear to represent the right of the redeemer to his land.

Identified by Footprint

In December 2013, National Geographic published the first chronicle in a series on Paul Salopek, who is on a seven-year journey from Ethiopia to Tierra del Fuego on foot. His purpose is to follow the supposed track of human migration, from Yemen to Kamchatka, then from Alaska to Chile. (This will require two boats—one across the Gulf of Aden and one across the Bering Strait—due to past tectonic shifts.) If he succeeds in his journey, he will have walked 21,000 miles.

Paul writes about the footwear they wear in Ethiopia: millions of men, women, and children wear identical rubber sandals, cheaply produced, and usually lime green in the Afar region he is traveling.

Despite the universality of the sandal, Paul’s Ethiopian assistant stoops down in the dust and examines the various tracks zig-zagging the desert. He then affirms confidently—and correctly—that their friend had passed through and would be waiting for them later. This kind of desert tracking, which can differentiate between the gaits of people who wear identical shoes, is lost to Westerners.

The Feet of Boaz

There may actually be a distant cultural link between the Cushitic Afar tribe and the Jews of Ruth’s day: If modern Afar can identify their friend’s feet in the dust, then this may explain why sandals were exchanged during a transaction of land in the Book of Ruth.

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel.
Ruth 4:7, ESV

In his Handbook on Bible Manners on Customs, James Freeman further explains this strange custom:

“It probably originated from the fact the right to tread the soil belonged to only to the owner of it, and hence the transfer of the sandal was a very appropriate representation of the transfer of property.”

There was no harm in trading sandals if they were generic, as they are in the Afar Triangle. The shoe of the former owner, combined with the gait of the buyer, creates a new footprint that would be recognized as the new land-owner. So giving a shoe to Boaz, the redeemer, meant that he could not be mistaken for an intruder: he had the house-master’s shoeprint.

John the Baptist, who was technically Jesus’ cousin, said that he was not worthy to loose Jesus’ sandal. In the vein of the familial redeemer, John could have meant that he would never be worthy to inherit any of Jesus’ family or land rights.

Stand upon the Dust

Job’s statement about his heavenly Redeemer, literally translated, says “at the last, he will stand upon the dust.” Jesus’ footprint will claim the earth: “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zech. 14:4, ESV). Not only that, but in the Jewish understanding of Redeemer, Jesus will stand on the dust as native, lord, and rightful owner—not a trespasser. He will have fully reclaimed his right to the earth.

May Jesus have the same reception when he enters our hearts, lives, and homes. May he set his footprint there as both Friend and Master.

Come then, and added to thy many crowns
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
Thou who alone art worthy! it was thine
By ancient covenant ere Nature’s birth,
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
And overpaid its value with thy blood.
Thy saints proclaim thee king; and in their hearts
Thy title is engraven with a pen
Dipped in the fountain of eternal love… .

Come then, and added to thy many crown
Receive yet one, as radiant as the rest,
Due to thy last and most effectual work,
Thy word fulfilled, the conquest of a world.

William Cowper

Jonah: God’s Heart for the Nations

JONAH
is a story about
MISSIONS
in which God is
MERCIFUL.

God’s Mercy: The Theme of Jonah’s Book

Missions is but one manifestation of God’s mercy. God shows his mercy in Jonah’s book by sending Jonah and saving the sailors (ch. 1), in saving Jonah from the storm (ch. 2), in using Jonah’s message and saving Nineveh (ch. 3), and in soothing Jonah (ch. 4). The entire book is a manifestation of God’s mercy.

Jonah’s book is unique among the Prophets because his story includes both the prophecy and the response. Only a small portion of his book is strictly prophetic, and that is his message to Nineveh.

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” begins a hymn by F. W. Faber. Jonah is set up as a foil (or a contrast) to God’s perfect mercy—towards the sailors, towards Nineveh, and towards the prophet himself. “The selfish unbelief and vindictiveness of man is contrasted with the gracious patience and benevolence of God.”1

The humor of the book is a large part of its appeal. The sailors and Ninevites receive God’s message eagerly, but God’s ordained prophet gives it reluctantly. He is the most self-effacing prophet of the Old Testament, and he accomplishes the bare minimum of righteousness. Yet Jonah uses humor to deal with serious needs that are universal to Christian life.

Jonah’s Flight

Comparing Jonah with John the Baptist (John 1:6), S. D. Gordon writes, “All men are sent. But they don’t all come, some go. There was a man sent from God whose name was Jonah. But he didn’t come. He went.”2

The reason for Jonah’s flight to Tarshish is explained by G. Campbell Morgan: “The book of Jonah is a prophetic story indicating the inclusiveness of the Divine government for Nineveh as well as Israel; and rebuking the exclusiveness of the Hebrew nation as manifested in the prophet himself.”3 Even today ethnocentrism is one of the largest barriers to missions. We are often glad to see someone else go, but feel in our hearts that we would never do so ourselves because we do not love other nations, and do not desire their salvation.

Jonah’s Song of Repentance

As always, the believer who flees from the Lord then seeks God “out of his distress” (2:2). “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried” (2:2). Thus Jonah compares his underwater hideaway to the grave itself. By taking him to the depths of death, God chose to make Jonah a sign of resurrection.

His song concludes: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (2:9) Then the sea-creature spits him out. By this God-wrought salvation, Jonah proclaimed death and resurrection(Matthew 12:39-40), both to Nineveh and to future generations.

Jonah’s Sermon of Repentance

Alexander Whyte summarizes thus: “The prophet Jonah was both the elder son and the unmerciful servant of the Old Testament.”4 The key is that he did not rejoice at the mercy received by others; as Christians, we should rejoice when God pours mercy on any other nation. We should never have any nation written off in our mind, as if God could not or would not grant mercy to those people, or they would not receive it.

Jesus gave credit to the Ninevites, saying that Jonah’s generation of Nineveh would rise in judgment against Jesus’ generation of Jews that had rejected him (Matthew 12:41). In this way, Jesus asserted that Jews could live stubbornly unrepentant while Gentiles could be righteous with God by faith.

Jonah’s Depression

Finally, after all the lessons that God has taught him, Jonah still shows resentment, in spite of his correct view of God! (4:2) However, Whyte writes that Jonah must have repented and written the book “in sackcloth and ashes”5 as he learned that God’s mercy was not to be hoarded. Through the repeated dealings of God, he must have learned God’s intended lesson, for no one else could have shared the story. May God teach us this same great truth.

The book ends with God’s glorious expression of mercy. “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (4:11)

Study Recommendations

Many books and Bible studies show that God’s plan has always included all nations. A few that come to mind are Eternity in Their Hearts by Don Richardson, Missions in the Age of the Spirit by John York and Mission in the Old Testament by Walter Kaiser.

1 Herbert Lockyer. All the Books and Chapters of the Bible, pp. 203-4. Zondervan, 1966.

2 S. D. Gordon. Quiet Talks on John’s Gospel, Locations 585-586. Kindle Edition.

3 G. Campbell Morgan. Voices of Twelve Hebrew Prophets, p. 12.

4 Alexander Whyte. Concise Bible Characters, p. 301. AMG Publishers.

5 Ibid.

“I Am the Lord” in Ezekiel’s Prophecy

When Will We Know That He is Lord?

– God tells us over and over that he is the LORD (YHWH), and he tells us when we will know that he is the LORD. This revelation of God’s character is a constant theme in Ezekiel, whether this revelation comes through judgment or mercy.

– The quote “I am the LORD” is God’s self-identification that began with Moses in the book of Exodus. In Exodus, as here, God identifies himself primarily by his activity. The verbal revelation clarifies an action which could otherwise be misinterpreted (e.g. Ex. 20:2, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt”). This revelation does not change or develop who he is, but it does develop our understanding of him, and that is a goal worth mentioning around 80-90 times in Ezekiel’s book (listed below).

– Exodus 6:7 introduces two promises: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
The first part, “you will be my people, and I will be your God”, is repeated six times by Ezekiel (11:20, 14:11, 34:30, 36:28b, 37:23, 37:26-28). It is also found in Jer. 24:7, 30:22, 31:1, 31:33, 32:38, and Rev. 21:3.
The second part, “you will know that I am the Lord”, is repeated by Ezekiel about 70 times.
While “knowing that he is the Lord” involves revelation, owning up to him as “your God” and us as his people involves commitment—or, in biblical language, covenant. In both cases, the wealth of repetition gives a sense of the idea’s importance.

– Here, in particular, I am looking at the second part of the promise. When does Ezekiel say that we will “know that he is the Lord”?

– Note that Ezekiel’s final passage of this kind, 39:28, is somewhat summative. Both the negative results—Babylonian captivity—and positive results—promised restoration—for Israel were part and parcel of God’s self-revelatory activity.

– These are not the only verses in Ezekiel that display God revealing himself, and many others could be named; but this list shows how important and well-developed this single motif is in Ezekiel’s book.

List of Occurrences in Ezekiel

– This list includes every time that God says “I am the LORD” in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Verses in italics are simply God stating, “I am the LORD.” Verses in normal font include reasons leading up to knowing that he is “the LORD.”

Unqualified statements: “I am the LORD”: 19 times*
Judgment/scattering of Israel/Judah: 25 times
Judgment on Gentiles: 21 times
Regathering/New Covenant of Israel: 15 times
Mixed/other (explanation in parentheses): 12 times
Total: 92 times

*See end note.

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