Rebuking My Self-Righteous Nature…

We never discussed this at length in class, but there have been several lectures with Dr. Falk wherein the Book of Jonah has come into the discussion. I’ve read the book only a handful of times, but I’m familiar with the basic storyline: Jonah is called to preach to the rebellious city of Nineveh, doesn’t want to, gets swallowed by a fish, pops out three days later, and then preaches to Nineveh and sees them repent at his message. Of course there probably some details I’m leaving out, but what caught my attention today was a mixture of things: Luke 11:29-32 and Dr. Falk’s interpretation of Jonah.

It was during my freshman year, taking his Intro to the Bible class, that I first heard an alternative outlook to Jonah. Up until that point my understanding of the text had been very surface level; Jonah’s three days spent in the belly of a fish was to foreshadow Jesus’ three days spent in the tomb. Nineveh’s repentance was to likewise foreshadow the repentance of the Gentiles (at least, as far as I understood it anyway). What Dr. Falk suggested in one lecture was quite surprising to my surface-level understanding of the text. What he suggested was that Jonah’s book may have functioned more rhetorically than literally. It’s central message? It was telling the people of Israel that if God so chose to forgive such a nation as the Ninevites, then Israel had no option but to be okay with that.

Honestly, Falk’s perspective isn’t necessarily a contrary opinion of Jonah; all of these elements could be there in the text at the same time (i.e. foreshadowing of the 3-days in the grave, repentance of the Gentiles, and – what I got from Falk – rebuke of religious self-righteousness). It just came as a significant difference, though, when the only interpretation I had been exposed to was the foreshadowing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (the 3-days thing). When I was reading through Luke 11 earlier today, I tried to think of Jesus’ reference to the “sign” not in terms of the 3-days’ thing, but in terms of the rebuke of religious self-righteousness.

Last night I watched a small video clip from one of Mark Driscoll’s latest sermons about heaven and hell. Yes, he and Mars Hill are currently working through the Gospel of Luke verse by verse and it just so happened that the topic became heaven and hell. But clearly – at least indicated from the video clip – this was in response to the Rob Bell drama. In the wake of watching this video clip, I wrote out a blog post. I read a lot of Scripture (specifically dealing with heaven and hell language) and was ready to argumentatively dismantle certain comments on the video. And then I read through Luke 11 in light of Falk’s view. I deleted the 1,500-word post.

Perhaps Jesus isn’t just referring to His death, resurrection, and the repentance of the Gentiles. Perhaps He’s also saying, “Take a lesson from Jonah; his self-righteousness hindered him from having the heart of God.” Whether we’re right about hell being an eternal place of conscious punishment or not is irrelevant; what is relevant is whether or not we’re willing to subject ourselves to God’s sovereignty. If He decides that certain people are righteous even though we don’t think they are, who are we to really say anything different?

Like the ancient Jews reading through the book of Jonah, perhaps we need to be reminded that – especially with the often heated discussion of heaven and hell – it’s God who has sovereignty; not our doctrines, dogmas, and systematic theologies. Christ didn’t die so that we could be Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes all over again; He died to liberate us from that pathetically-religious mindset. He came so that we could truly have abundant life.

God bless.


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Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

8 thoughts on “Rebuking My Self-Righteous Nature…”

  1. “what is relevant is whether or not we’re willing to subject ourselves to God’s sovereignty”

    I have not translated the 12 – this discussion and your post makes be impatient to get out of the psalms and do more translating.

    Do you think there is something in the literary structure of Jonah that would reinforce what you are taking from it?

  2. I’m not sure if the structure supports what I’ve said here; I’ve only read Jonah a handful of times. But what I do find as possible support is how Jonah is still angry even after he does what God asked of him by preaching to the Ninevites and after they repented.

    What Falk suggested in his lectures was that the Jew was represented by Jonah and the main message here was allowing God to have mercy on whomever He wishes.

    In a like manner, I think we oftentimes let our own self-righteousness get in the way of truly acting like God, which is what I was getting at here.

    What do you think of Jonah’s message? Or should I wait until you get to translating it (which is really cool, by the way)?

  3. I just picked up my Tanach and started laughing at verse 3! One doesn’t get it in the KJV at all because the words are too smooth – פנים is the word used for Ninevah’s great evil coming up before יְהוָה ‘s face. And in Verse 3 the story-teller closes several of the brackets opened in verses 1 and 2 with וַיָּקָם יֹונָה לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה – but Jonah rose and ran to Tarshish from the face of יְהוָה – he is instructed to rise and walk because of the affront to the face of יְהוָה but he rises and runs away from the face of יְהוָה . Somehow these repeating words have to get through in the words or the rhythm of translation. I will give it a shot sometime – it would be a fun exercise, I can tell.

  4. It would be instructive to see if the first century folks heard Jonah as a tale. Then we might begin to hear some of Jesus’ humour. By the way, (reading your about paragraph) I love him too. I don’t know how to describe him and I question every confession but there’s no doubt at all about his love and that it is for us and towards us and in us just as he prayed in the words that John wrote about him in chapter 17. And that love is everywhere that I have studied in the Senior Testament – but it’s not obvious from what people write about these books.

  5. I apologize, but I’m unfamiliar with Hebrew; what do each of those words mean/indicate? I’ve got a couple books on Hebrew coming in the mail, but won’t be able to really dive into them until this summer. I’ve always been interested in both Hebrew and Greek; they deepen one’s Biblical-studies experience.

  6. That’s the sad truth of our day; we’re bent on doctrines, dogmas, and “the right” systematic theologies that we’ve neglected grace, mercy, forgiveness, and the love of God – sometimes altogether. Coming out of our self-righteousness natures often feels like a drug addict going through rehab, but the rewards are worth the effort by far.

  7. Whoops – sorry – there are several online resources that can help with Hebrew – but let me spell this out – it will be my penance.

    First יְהוָה – a four letter word called the tetragrammeton – read from right to left YHVH yod-he-vav-he considered related to the verb HYH meaning to be. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s no verb to be in Hebrew. There is though it’s often left out in a sentence.

    Next – when I read I look for recurring words and there are several in Jonah1:1-3 one of them is פנים peh-nun-yod-mem, the mem looks a little different because it is the last letter of the word. panim is how it sounds and it ‘means’ face, or presence, or is sometimes glossed as ‘before’ – be warned, meaning and gloss are tricky words. Literally is it plural. yod-mem is a common ending for plural. It comes from a verb meaning to face (or turn) spelled peh-nun-he פָּנָה paneh

    Hebrew is very difficult for North Americans – but persevere – it is totally worth it. It is a really fun language and if you start at your age – 15 minutes a day to begin with, then as much as your Beloved will let you – you will not be disappointed. I started learning it at age 60. Don’t wait that long – it’s too hard to catch up on your homework.

    So now the rest of verse 3:
    וַיָּקָם – vav-yod-qof-mem (final) vayaqum vav is a connector, in this case it would read as ‘and’ or ‘but’. In this case it is third person singular imperfect (or preterite) – it’s the story-telling tense. So though it is ‘future’ in modern Hebrew, it’s ‘imperfect’ in ancient Hebrew – but it could be glossed in a number of ways: let him rise, (jussive) he rose (preterite), he will rise (future), depending on the rest of the words around it.
    יֹונָה – Jonah Yod-vav-nun-he
    לִבְרֹחַ – lamed-bet-resh-het – the last letter is a strong guttural l-v-ro-ach roughly speaking – it’s in the infinitive form – but could be glossed as ‘and ran’ or ‘to run’ or flee or run away etc
    תַּרְשִׁישָׁה – Tarshish – taf-resh-shin-yod-shin-he reads as Tarshishah meaning going towards Tarshish
    מִלִּפְנֵי – miliphenei, from the face of or even more literally from the faces of, mem=preposition from – note it is the same letter but a slightly different shape from the final mem, lamed = preposition of, to, the two together maybe out-of.
    יְהוָה YHVH usually rendered the Lord – but it’s a name and what you say when reading should not be determined in the translation so I never translate this one. Notice how the peh is ‘P’ if it is the first letter of a word, but Ph or F if in the middle of a word – and a ‘word’ is different in Hebrew from English because the prepositions and the conjugation of verbs etc are attached to the word as affixes – prefixes and suffixes that are called enclitics. The word panim became melephanei because there is a noun following that the panim belonged to. This puts the word into what is called ‘construct’ form. Here it loses the mem and joins itself to the noun following – a bit like possessive in English but also like concatenating nouns in German. More powerful than simple possession. Since the noun was YHVH and is definite then the presence or faces also become definite, hence ‘the’ is appropriate in translation.

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