Assumptions

In this week's talk, Burr worked around the story of Jesus healing the man born blind in John 9. From the buzz I've heard, Burr's talk was really helpful. I wish I could have been there to hear it. It's interesting that while Burr was speaking on a healing of Jesus, I was in bed sick.

In my study of the passage this week, I was intrigued by the question that appears at the start. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v1). The assumptions in this question are really interesting.

First, they assumed that the man was born blind because someone sinned - a cause and effect assumption.
Second, they assumed that there were two parties (the man or his parents) that could have contributed to this man's blindness - a closed system assumption.

In Jesus' response, he shakes both the cause and effect assumption and the closed system assumption. Let's think some more about these assumptions and, perhaps, experience God's gracious shaking of our own assumptions.

Change in plans

So...after a trip to the ER and a weekend of taking meds that make me drowsy, my leg is still not healed and I haven't posted anything. I'm going to go ahead and drop the Rahab thread, if that's okay with you. Shoot me an e-mail if you want more Rahab material (tamayosteven [at] yahoo [dot] com).

This week, I'll pick up some ideas from Burr's talk on Jesus' dirty healing. I wasn't there, but my spies have told me that the talk was great and that there's some good material to dig through. Sorry for the change in plans.

Rahab's profession

At Large Group on Sunday, some of you may have noticed that Amy gently touched on, but didn't focus on the subject of Rahab's profession. Were you a little curious as to why this was?

There's a debate floating around in the circles of people who like to debate this sort of thing as to whether Rahab was a prostitute, a hotel owner, or a HO-tel owner (ie. madam). I'm not scholar enough to settle this debate or try a hand at arguing a case, but it opens up an interesting question for us.

Why do we focus on Rahab's profession?

I have a couple of theories that will be developed in later posts.

First, we are fascinated by sex; anything that has to do with sex will get our attentions, even if it has little to do with the story. Second, sexual sin is considered (with some, but not a lot, of wisdom) to be the biggest, baddest sin. Third, we naturally shy away from difficult subjects (like racial reconciliation and God-sanctioned genocide). Fourth, this story contains both racial reconciliation and God-sanctioned genocide, more difficult and less sexy topics than prostitution. Lastly, this story seems disconnected from our story, so we focus on whatever captures our attention first (and that's prostitution).

Interested?

Under the unpredictable plant

One last thought on Jonah...

Over the last year, I've benefitted a lot from Eugene Peterson's Under the Unpredictable Plant: An exploration in vocational holiness. He had some really insightful things to say about the Jonah story and it's connection to me as a pastor. And I love the way he connects the unpredictability of the plant in chapter 4 to our unpredictable God.

Let's focus on the interaction between Jonah and God in Jonah 4 (Chap. 5 of UtUP). If you remember, after Jonah preaches to Nineveh and they repent, he wanders off to a mountaintop to wait and see if God will destroy the city. As Jonah talks to God on that mountain, God uses a plant as an object lesson for Jonah (we skipped this part in Large Group). The plant grows and dies, making Jonah first happy, then angry. God then asks Jonah if he has any right to be angry, echoing a question posed earlier in the chapter (Can you find it?).

And then God - lovingly and humorously - prods Jonah to reconsider his attitude. Though Jonah did nothing to make the plant grow or die and though the plant only lived a short time, Jonah had a great deal of compassion for it. God then points out that Nineveh has thousands of residents who don't know their right hands from their left (children?) and many cattle as well. Many cattle as well! C'mon Jonah, you can't hate the cows - they're made of meat!

In all of Jonah's journeying and adventures he was still a stranger to grace. How often do we sit on a mountaintop, lamenting the loss of something we had only by grace?

It is appropriate, I think, from time to time, for us to examine our lives, looking for our unpredictble plants, searching our hearts for areas that have been hardened by the loss of a possession we had only by grace.

It is also appropriate, and perhaps wise, from time to time, for us to ask ourselves "How do we respond to our unpredictable God?" If an experienced prophet can miss God's bigger picture and be captured in bitterness by a small imagination, then I'm in trouble. Thanks be to God: who pursues me, even when I leave my place of calling to pout on a mountaintop; who corrects me, even when I lash out to him in response; who graciously loves me, even when I'm still unsure whether or not I love his grace.

Jonah's motivation (Part 2.1)

So, what might Jonah's motivations have been? Below are ten possibilities. If you want to have a wild observational/interpretational time in Jonah, take some sweeps through the book and weigh the different options for his motivation. In my reading, I thought that all 10 were possible motivations, but that reasons 8 and 9 best account for the intra-textual and historical-cultural data. Another way of saying that is that I thought reasons 8 and 9 hit closest to the motivation the author communicated in the story. Happy reading!

1) Fear of failure/embarassment -
What if I prophecy and it doesn't come true?
2) Fear of the Lord's wrath -
What if the Lord destroys Nineveh and I'm caught in the crossfire?
3) Desire for glory -
What if I preached the same message in a more exotic locale, like Tarshish?
4) Misunderstanding of his call -
Did God say Nineveh or Tarshish?
5) Disbelieving his message -
Would a tolerant, loving God really destroy a city?
6) Lack of self-confidence -
Who am I to speak to people for the Lord?
7) Patriotism/fear of the Israelites -
What will happen to my people if I do this?
8) Abstraction*
9) Cynical skepticism/compassionlessness*
10) Fear of the Ninevites+

*covered in Large Group
+covered in a previous blog

Jonah's motivation (Pt. 2)

So, you may wonder why I spent so much time (both at Large Group and in the last entry) looking at and discarding potential motivations for Jonah to not go to Nineveh.

It's a good thing to wonder. Why didn't I just jump right to what I thought the author was trying to tell us?

My reason for meandering: I want you to learn how to evaluate different means of interpreting Scripture. One method is to look at the historical-cultural context as a basis for conclusions. This method draws from archaeology, history, anthropology, literature, and forensic science to piece together a picture of the Bible. It's wonderful, like something on the Discovery Channel or CSI: Ice Cold Case. You want to be able to carry historical-cultural analysis (or criticism as it's also called) in your Bible-study toolbelt. But like all tools, it's good for some purposes and not for others.

In the story of Jonah, historical-cultural criticism can tell us a great deal about Nineveh, Assyria, the political scene of the day, and the scientific probability that a man could be swallowed by a whale and live to tell the tale. But in the story of Jonah, all this data can direct our attention away from the author's main points. If we focus on Jonah's natural fear, then we'll miss out on the lesson that's to be learned from his unnatural lack of compassion.

As students and lovers of Scripture, we need commentaries and historical-cultural criticism to make sense of narratives that were written long before we were born. Our need for contextual assistance, however, shouldn't supplant our careful listening to the texts and prayerful asking of the Holy Spirit for guidance in reading them.

Jonah's motivation

So, why did Jonah refuse to go to Nineveh?

There are lots of possible reasons. Let's work through a few of them.

The first, and most famous, reason for Jonah to refuse to go to Nineveh is the reason of fear of the Ninevites. This would make perfect sense. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian Empire, the major power in the region. Assyrian armies were known for bloodthirsty and ruthless tactics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyria). And on top of that, there is historically little love between the Assyrians and the Israelites (see Nahum).

Jonah's message to Nineveh was neither flattering nor comforting. Given the size, power, and character of the occupants of the city (as well as the violent ethnic tension he could encounter), it would make sense that Jonah refused to go to Nineveh because he was afraid.

This leads us to an interesting place in our study of the story. Although the idea - Jonah's fear may have led to his refusal to go - makes a great deal of logical sense (and may have kept us from going if we had been in Jonah's Birkenstocks), we must ask if this is the conclusion the author intended us to draw. Does this conclusion fit the story?

In my talk, I shared that I didn't think the conclusion that Jonah fled because he was afraid of the Ninevites fit the thrust of the story. My opinion was based both on the evidence against this theory and on the evidence for other theories.

For evidence against this theory, look at the scene of Jonah on the ship in the storm in Chapter 1. Jonah showed no fear of either the storm or the foreign (ie. non-Hebrew) sailors. He also showed no fear either of dying in the sea or dying at the hands of foreign men. In fact, he chooses to sail with foreigners (rather than stay home) and to be cast into the sea (rather than have the sailors try to row it out). The author does not present us with a picture of a coward here. Instead, we see something else...

What that is will have to wait for a later post.

Shift in purpose

For those of you familiar with YoSteve, we're shifting the purpose of the blog (at least for now). On a trial basis, I'm going to be posting a bit about the Large Group talks we're currently working through.

Below, you'll be able to find some entries that stem from my study of Jonah and the talk from Large Group last Sunday.

I hope you find this helpful. :)