Search This Blog

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More on Jonah--Mission rather than Fish Story

Then said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm unto us? for the sea was wrought, and was tempestuous. And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: For I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you. Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring it to the land: but they could not: for the sea was wrought, and was tempestuous against them. Wherefore they cried unto the LORD and said, We beseech thee, O LORD, we beseech thee, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for thou, O LORD, has done as it pleased thee. So they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. The then men feared the lORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows. Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was inthe belly of the fish three days and three nights. (JOnah 1:11-17).

Jonah is here a reluctant missionary. His shipmates determine that he is the cause for their predicament, but instead of precipitously taking matters into their own hands, they ask him. And Jonah, instead of trying to hide, prevaricate, or protect himself, accepts his responsibility and the fate he faces.

This is an important matter in dealing with God. God is to be accepted and approached on His own terms, not on those that we think are proper. Indeed, the sailors, although probably originally Canaanitish in religion, and hence belonging to a nation hateful to God and under his ban, seem to be here recipients of great grace. Before, they called on their own gods. Now, they call on the true God, confessing him to be the one who rules wind and waves when they formerly saw such powers as gods in themselves. Further, after hearing the prophet Jonah, they accept and approach the true God through a sacrifice--presumably a goat or sheep upon reaching dry land. Too many of us think that if we do that which is good in our own eyes without a thought to what God himself desires, God owes us a favor. The sailors who carried Jonah, however, rebuke this attitude with their conversion.

As for Jonah, God is not finished with him. Jonah has shown that he understands that his disobedience to God has put other lives in peril, and he owns his sin before both God and the sailors. But after Jonah is cast into the sea, God sends a special provision in the form of a great fish.

Both the devout and the scoffer waste much breath and more ink in determining whether or not there is a known sea animal, whether whale or fish, that could carry a man inside it. This degenerates Jonah into a mere "fish story". The point, however, is that God may use whichever means he wishes to fulfill his purposes. Originally, God had purposed to have the prophet Jonah warn the Assyrian capital of its impending doom. To get Jonah back on track, he uses the storm and the great fish.

And note how Jonah is like Jesus Christ. His sacrifice leads to the conversion of his shipmates. Certainly Jonah, like all other sinners, was not capable of bearing the sins of others as was Jesus, the sinless one. Yet God gives us here an Old Testament picture of New Testament truth.

I write this confessing myself to be the sort who lets out a stream of angry words when things go wrong. But Jonah is a reminder that danger, frustration, loss, and terrors may be means whereby God returns us to himself. Jonah underwent peril on the sea to get him to return to his God-given mission. But more importantly, these perils won the souls of sailors who were otherwise lost in their false religion.

美国人常常喜欢打鱼。 如果他们抓不到一条鱼,他们说他们没得的鱼是何等大的怪物。这样的故事叫做"fish story". 很多人认为圣经之约拿书也是“鱼故事“。


那些水手大概试腓尼基人,就是迦南族的一部分。迦南族原来位非常凶恶的民族,他们的习惯是把头绳的孩子邵在火里。上帝吩咐以色列民八家男人灭绝,并且警告以色列民他们若跟随迦南人的道路,他们也会遇到灭绝。可是这些水手虽然从那么不好的背景,上帝施恩於他们。海平静了之后,他们向耶和华献上祭物,不再对他们从前所拜的神祈祷。 如此,约拿当作了传教士,领导那些水手认识真正的上帝。同时,在牺牲自己,约拿让他的伙伴认识上帝。如此,他像未来的耶稣基督。

Friday, May 28, 2010

Obama's Keystone Kop-outs

The recent Arizona law allowing police to look into the immigration status of a a person already arrested or under investigation has popped open the follies of the current U.S. Government. Eric Holder, the nation's top lawyer, it now appears, does not read. In accepting Mexican President Felipe Calderon's chutzpah in criticizing the Arizona law, Mr. Obama and the honorable members of the House and Senate who applauded him show an appalling lack of perspective. Undersecretary of State Michael Posner's tinny apologies in the face of China's criticism of the Arizona law show him--and perhaps Hillary Clinton, his boss--a mere ninny. Or, perhaps, the issue reveals a government that would rather accuse other Americans of bigotry and racism than face up to a host of serious international problems.

Felipe Calderon's performance before the US Congress was chutzpah ranking with that of the man who murdered his parents with an axe and then pleads for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan. The Mexican government has long regarded emigration to El Norte as its own safety valves; yet at the same time, its own ambassador to the United Nations has admitted that Mexico cannot lecture the USA on how it treats Mexican illegals in view of Mexico's own treatment of Guatemalans and Salvadoreans who enter Chiapas illegally. Further, given that illegal entry is a misdemeanor in the USA and a felony in Mexico renders President Calderon's speech all the more fatuous, and the applause given by American Senators and Representatives all the more craven.

China's lecturing the USA on the Arizona law is an inexcusable insult, and Undersecretary Posner's tinny apologies and mea culpas are worse. Even within China gives no welcome to desperate North Koreans who cross the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. This population, like American illegals, lives in the shadows, only with no access to public education for its children. Far from allowing debate on how to treat such people, the Chinese government offers bounties to Chinese who turn them in, and gives its law enforcement discretionary authority to shoot them. Whereas Arizona could not deny illegals the protections of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments even if it wanted to, Communist China regards such protections as extreme cases of irrational bourgeois sentimentality. China's leaders, observing Posner's performance, probably now see America as all the more contemptible.

Illegal immigration is indeed a complex problem. It reveals serious problems inherent in the society and government of America's neighbor to the south. It does indeed raise a host of humanitarian issues. The Arizona law does have the potential to unleash discriminatory actions. When police chiefs from several western states express concerns over the Arizona law, the nation should listen. But the law should spark a common sense dialogue about national interest and the character of America's international partners and rivals--not polarization that is geared only to short-term political gain. The Obama government has now shown the world America the Inept.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

More on Jonah--Crisis and Faith

But the LORD sent out a great wind into the sea, and there was a mighty tempest in the sea, so that the ship was like to be broken. Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship; and he lay, and was fast asleep. So his shipmaster came to him, and said unto him, What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call uon thy God, if so that God will think upon us, that we perish not. (Jonah 1:4-6)

Jonah has gone way off course. God wanted him to go east, but the prophet has chosen to go west. In doing this, he causes great loss to himself and to those with whom he travels. But in this, the Holy Spirit teaches us that trouble is often God's way of waking us from our carelessness and slumbers. In Jonah's case, "slumbers" can be taken in both the idiomatic and literal sense!

We are taught that God is sovereign. Here, this is shown by his control of the winds and waves. "Who is this, whom even winds and waves obey?" asked the apostles of Christ when they saw Jesus still the storm on the sea of Galilee. But here, we see God raising rather than stilling the storm when his prophet disobeys.

But not only Jonah needs to be awakened from his pre-dogmatic slumbers!

The sailors appear to be either heathens, who have long been accustomed to worship false gods, or Israelites seduced away from the divine covenant. Their reaction to danger is to call on their various gods to save them, even as they cast their cargo overboard to lighten the ship.

This is instructive. Probably, the sailors were Phoenicians, those intrepid traders and explorers of the ancient Mediterraneans; and the Old Testament gives little indication of the Israelites having seafaring proclivities. Indeed, it seesm that Solomon's ships of Ophir were manned by crews provided by his ally Hiram of Tyre, a Phoenician ruler. The Phoenicians were a folk eager for gain, and no port from the Levant to the southwestern corner of Britain--where tin was to be had--was ignorant of them. One Phoenician mariner, Hanno, was even the first to circumnavigate Africa. Yet these famed traders are willing to sacrifice their material wealth in the form of their trade goods in danger, even while they cling to their gods.

Nothing else so clearly reveals man as a a worshiping creature. This is evident even today, in those who claim to be "free" of religious taint. None have been so fanatically purposive in the pursuit of pleasing their gods as those who call themselves "athesits"--meaning that they disbelieve in the Christian God. Communists have made great sacrifices in the service of what Arnold Toynbee once called the goddess Historical Necessity. Others, in the name of the goddes Liberty, have made themselves into the worst of tyrants. Nietsche drove himself insane (perhaps aided by syphilis) in his search for a Godless intellectual integrity.
This has been the case with man since Jonah's Phoenician shipmates cast their costly goods into the sea down to the present day. It is no wonder then that many a Christian theologian has concluded that the worshiping impulse is one great evidence of man being created after the image of God.

Yet, oddly enough, while his shipmates worship their gods and sacrifice their livelihoods, Jonah is asleep. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep," says Psalm 127:2. Perhaps Jonah is an odd perversion of this great truth, for he sleeps as he flees God's mission and his companions are in danger. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the sinful complacency and silence of the church in too many ages! People perish without hope of salvation, yet we remain asleep. It takes the heathen captain's intervention to rouse God's prophet from his slumber.

The military chaplains say that there are no atheists in foxholes. The behavior of Jonah's shipmates is instructive. In crisis, man seeks God. But will those who have the truth be there to help them?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Thoughts on Jonah--Pitfalls of Patriotism

Now the word of the LORD came unto JOnah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the far thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish, from the presence of the LORD.
(Jonah 1:1-3)

The book of Jonah is a short portion of Scripture, but extremely rich. The village atheists of the naive, innocent early 20th century era loved to attack it for its great "fish story", only to be answered by a barrage of "answers" from our side about how known fish or whales of various species were indeed capable of holding a man inside them. But the book is far deeper and more wonderful as a tale of divine grace meeting the recalcitrance and folly of man--especially in its reminder that the purposes of God are far larger than human sin; and not changed or derailed because we refuse to cooperate.

Apart from the book that bears his name, Jonah is mentioned only in a few citations in the New Testament and II Kings 14:26. In II Kings, he is said to have prophesied that the borders of Israel would be restored, which happens under Jeroboam ben Joash (not to be confused with Jeroboam ben Nebat).

Jonah thus received the blessing to know that God was prepared to preserve and aid his people even in a dark, sinful, and thoroughly unworthy time. Jeroboam ben Joash, it is said, "departed not from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin"--specifically, an idolatry repeating the infamous episode of the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-20; I Kings 12:28-30), as if the people and their leaders learned no lessons from the past. Yet in those days, God was nonetheless willing to rescue and restore part of Israel's patrimony by an unworthy instrument. And, in those days, a prophet who recognized the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob arose to foretell such an event--Jonah the son of Amittai.

In the book of Jonah, Jonah receives a second call from God:

Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it, for their wickedness is come up before me. (Jonah 1:2).

Yet Jonah, instead of heading northeast towards Nineveh, flees to the coast and takes a ship to Tarshish--lands at the Western end of the Mediterranean--in exactly the opposite direction from that which God ordered.

It is easy to be hard on Jonah at this point. How many of us think in our hearts that, had we been in Jonah's sandals, we would have gladly heeded the divine call! We glibly envision ourselves striding boldly out the gates of some Israelite city, Scripture under one arm and staff in hand, ready to speak mightily against a sinful heathen city in northern Mesopotamia!

But let us pause. The Assyrians, the people whose capital Nineveh was, were a fierce and dangerous people. One author has described them as the storm troopers of antiquity. Archaeology has uncovered their monuments and literature, in which they boast of impaling men alive and smashing in the heads of children after conquering an enemy city. After conquering most of Mesopotamia and Aram (today's Syria), could they be expected to heed the rantings of a wandering Israelite? Could Jonah, accustomed to being the patriotic prophet of restoration, welcome the mission to speak to a people whom his own people hated and feared?

In 1940, the Japanese Christian Toyohiko Kagawa went to prison for openly expressing remorse and apologies for his country's invasion and occupation of much of the Republic of China--at a time when China was still fighting. On his release, he went to the United States in an ultimately futile attempt to short-circuit the path towards war on which both Japan and the USA were already travelling. Certain American pastors went to Japan for the same purpose, and similarly failed. But Kagawa and his American counterparts in 1940 are exceptional cases, and remembered as giants for their determined pursuit of peace. They are remarkable for how few of their kind arose in those perilous times.

Similarly, we remember the Dietrich Bonhoffers, the Wang Mingdao's, the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyns who bravely stood up in Christ's name against the horrors of 20th century totalitarianism. But again, if faced with a similar situation, would not most of us prefer to acquiesce, to go along and get along?

The refrain of these first verses of the book are that Jonah went away "from the presence of the LORD". This warns us that we must guard against self-righteousness and complacence. As we walk before God, we must adopt a posture of humility; as we deal with our fellow humans, we must cultivate both humility and charity--difficult gifts when we deal with many whom we are predisposed to see as enemies. If one who enjoyed the prophetic gift could flee from the presence of the LORD, how much more can the rest of us?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Elena Kagan Must Go

In nominating Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, the Obama administration paves the way for the not-so-slow death of the First Amendment. While Kagan has not made a paper trail with judicial decisions, she has left one as a scholar. Her writings suggest a fundamental disrespect for both the First Amendment as written and a jurisprudence of the First Amendment crafted by justices on the liberal side of the political spectrum.

In her 1993 article "Regulation of Hate Speech and Pornography After R.A.V," for the University of Chicago Law Review, she wrote:

"I take it as a given that we live in a society marred by racial and gender inequality, that certain forms of speech perpetuate and promote this inequality, and that the uncoerced disappearance of such speech would be cause for great elation."

In a 1996 paper, "Private Speech, Public Purpose: The Role of Governmental Motive in First Amendment Doctrine," Kagan argued for the suppression of speech because it may be offensive.

That paper asserted First Amendment doctrine is comprised of "motives and … actions infested with them" and she further states that "First Amendment law is best understood and most readily explained as a kind of motive-hunting."

In fact, the First Amendment represents the distilled wisdom of two centuries of struggling with the British Crown's attempts to suppress inconvenient opinions. The struggle for free speech in the Anglosphere goes back at least to late 16th century Puritan preachers who had their ears cropped for questioning the propriety of vestments. Today, the same persecuting spirit comes in a boyish bob, winsome smile, and the desire to see to it that nobody questions the wisdom of encouraging schoolchildren to engage in anal sex.

Time was when American liberals were not afraid to let Brandenburg spew his white supremacism in Ohio or American Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois. Time was when Justice Douglas could speak of Communist propaganda as "unsold goods". Time was when every New Leftist in America honored Lenny Bruce's "How to Talk Dirty and Influence People". Time was when offensive speech was allowed into the open so it could be refuted in rational give-and-take. But now, political speech, which a generation of Supreme Court justices has seen as an unquestioned right in the First Amendment, is too dangerous.

It is just too bad that there are not enough conservative Senators to be sure that Professor Kagan gets a well-deserved Borking.