Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jonah's Exile

Devotion: Jonah 2:4-7

Jonah's experience in the fish is cast in the same light as exile. Exile is being forcefully removed from one's home and being sent to live in a place not of one's choosing. This idea seems far from most Western readers who are used to at least some autonomy of movement and settlement. Outside of the Western world, however, displacement and exile are still quite common. Refugees and others displaced by violence, war and famine are akin to exiles and perhaps this prayer of Jonah helps to empathize with their plight.
"Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. " -Jonah 2:4-7 ESV
The journey in the fish is an exile for Jonah. The prophet stands removed from all that he knows and from all familiar environments. He is utterly cast out and cast down. He has no frame of reference for his experience. In short, Jonah is lost.
When lost, I was always taught the best thing to do is to stop moving. Jonah has stopped moving by force. He is stuck inside the fish, facing what must seem to him as certain death. Yet, Jonah still prays in hope to the Lord for deliverance. The modern and ancient exile can resonate with that idea. I had neighbors in seminary who were exiles of a sort from Iran. The family had to flee Iran or face the death of the husband because of his conversion to Christianity. What always surprised me was that in spite of that death sentence looming over him, the family still longed to return to their home. Jonah must believe, at least in part, that his life is at an end, yet he still longs for home.
The longing of Jonah is specifically to see the temple again. The temple was the heart of the religion of Israel so long as it stood. The prophet not only desires to be free of the fish, but to return to the place where God's glory dwells (1 Kings 5:10-11). Jonah knows he is in exile, but his longing is not merely for freedom, but for the Lord, the very one that caused his plight in the first place. His vivid description of his descent poetically retells his drowning experience or perhaps his journey in the fish. At any rate, that experience brings him into the realm of death. Jonah ought to be dead, and he knows it. It is only by the hand of the Lord that Jonah can pray at all from the fish.
Each of us still faces the final enemy of mankind, namely, death. While death is defeated at the cross of Jesus and triumphed over in his resurrection, we still face it in our earthly lives. For Christians, death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:54-56), but it is still thrashing about and making a nuisance of itself. Jonah recognizes that his journey in the fish is his death. Jesus will pick up on this idea in his references to the sign of Jonah (e.g. Matthew 12:39-40). Death is like exile for us all, yet it is not devoid of hope. Death removes us from our familiar life and thrusts us into an unknown place.
Jonah looks to the Lord in his plight for deliverance from death. He recognizes that his miraculous survival can only be the doing of the Lord himself. Jonah has no where else to turn, so he turns to the Lord for help--the very same Lord that had caused him to be tossed into the sea in the first place. Once more, the theme of suffering and redemption are both attributed to the Lord. It may have been the Lord that caused Jonah's exile, but it will also only be the Lord who can save him from that same exile. Jonah's remembrance of the Lord and his heartfelt prayer remind him that the Lord is the deliverer of His people and the personal savior of those who turn to Him.
For the Christian we need to see a few things in this portion of Jonah's prayer:
  1. We need to be compassionate and empathetic toward those in exile. Displaced peoples are to receive our prayers and support. We long for a day when no one will be forced from their homes for any reason and I believe we can start to see that ultimate goal in our world today in God's grace and providence.
  2. Everyone is alienated from God and death is the final exile for those who do not trust in Him. Jonah turns to the Lord in his plight, but his experience is seemingly rare these days. Too often, angry fists are shaken at heaven, if one even thinks to consider God at all. We look for practical, earthly solutions attempting to politic our way out of trouble. Yet, for Jonah it is the supernatural and the spiritual that are the way forward. The Lord supernaturally preserves his life despite his circumstance and Jonah prays for further deliverance. Our lives are providentially preserved by God and I believe this should lead us to seek the Lord in spirit and in truth for help.
  3. Jonah finds his hope in the deliverance of the Lord he had so far experienced and this gives him reason to hope in the further salvation of God. We need to give witness and testimony in our own lives to the deliverance the Lord has already wrought in our lives over sin, death and Satan and point to further salvation when Christ returns to judge the quick and the dead. We can speak of God's salvation in broad terms, but our witness and evangelism must be punctuated with personal examples as the Lord is not merely the deliverer of His people, but our personal savior as well.
While the Lord may have caused Jonah's exile, the Lord is Jonah's only hope for deliverance. We cannot fix our own exile, but we can turn in faith to the Lord who is more than able and, in Christ, is more than willing to deliver and save us.

Music from Tina Boonstra, "I Think I See You Now"

News for You:

  • The new youth director position is ready for applicants. If you know of anyone who is qualified for the position, please contact the church.
  • For the month of April, we will be doing a diaper drive for Care Net. Please bring in size three diapers if possible, thank you!
  • CPC is looking for a part-time nursery attendant while Emily Gonzalez is on maternity leave. If you, or anyone you know is interested, please contact church staff.
  • All men are welcome to join the Men’s Bible Study on Mondays at noon, they will be reading from Judges!
  • Would you like to serve on the CPC Service Team? We meet every other month to discuss ways to share Christ’s love for us in our community. Please contact Dolores for more information.

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