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Monday, November 30, 2015

No Just a Fishy Tale

And now, at last, we get to Jonah. But there's been a long gap, so we'll start with a quick recap:

(9) Jonah

Starting with History:
In Judah, King Joash was the lone survivor of a coup against the house of David. Joash's father was caught up in General Jehu's coup against Ahab's descendants who governed Israel. Joash's grandmother Athalia, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, then attempted to eliminate the whole house of David in order to gain control of Judah. Meanwhile Jehu became king of Israel. Does this remind you of world history, recent history, modern history, fiction, fantasy...? Why?
Joash, rescued and brought up by priests, was a good and holy king until his mentor died. The prophet Zechariah tried to keep him on track, but Joash ignored warnings, lost a major battle with the Syrians, and was assassinated. Unlike in Israel, assassination in Judah led to another Davidic king taking the throne - Joash's son Amaziah. Why didn’t someone other than a son of David take the throne? What does this tell us about God’s faithfulness in the face of our sinfulness?
Back in Israel, Jehu formed an alliance with the Assyrians to help him oppose Hazael of Syria (Damascus). Jehu is shown on the Assyrian Black Obelisk, bowing down to King Shalmaneser. At this point he would have cut ties with Judah. He was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz and grandson Jehoash. Jehoash is the one who prayed at Elisha's bedside when Elisha was dying, addressing him with the same words Elisha used at Elijah's death (2 Kings 2:12, 13:14) Elisha prophesied that Jehoash would only conquer the Syrians three times. Meanwhile, Assyria was rising as a threat to the whole region, and Damascus was falling.
1.       Why might Jehoash have quoted Elisha?
2.       How might Jehoash have felt, being told he’d only win three times?
3.       How do we feel when our dreams are limited?
Jehoash died and was succeeded by Jeroboam II of Israel. (Jerobaom I was the first king of Israel, way back when the nation split in two.) Jonah was a prophet in Jeroboam's court. And this is the world in which Jonah hears the call to preach to the Assyrians in their capital Nineveh.
1.       What place might we fear to go to because it's so "evil"?
2.       What enemies might we view in the same light as Jonah viewed the Assyrians?
Now for the Familiar Story:
Do you think it matters to know the history as well?
Do you think it helps to know the quotes, like Jehoash did?
Do you think we should encourage kids to know the history too?
1.       Read 2 Kings 14:23-25. Jonah comes from a place just North of Nazareth. Remember that digression into the history of Beersheba? Where you’re your mind immediately go when you hear the name Nazareth? Do you think this is why Jesus compared himself to Jonah?
2.       God is still written of as the God of Israel, even though Israel is condemned for worshiping false Gods. How might that affect our attitude to non-Christian countries or neighbors?
3.       Read Jonah 1:1-3.  What helps us identify with Jonah?
4.       Read Jonah 1:9. How would you describe your faith in one sentence?
5.       Read Jonah 1:17. Why three? Do you think Jonah felt like he’d been rescued or condemned? Do we ever have problems recognizing if we’re being helped or hindered by God?
6.       Read Jonah 2:8-9. When do we find it hard to pray “with the voice of thanksgiving”? Why does it matter?
7.       Read Jonah 3:3. Why three again?
8.       Read Jonah 3:4-5. Do we believe God can change his mind? Do we believe prayer changes things? How might we act on that belief?
9.       Read Jonah 4:10-11. How does this fit with the image some people have of God in the Old Testament? Why might it be so important today?
Meanwhile in the South, King Amaziah (Joash’s son) reconquers land taken by Edom – not without guidance from un-named Southern prophets: Read 2 Chronicles 25:6-10. Changing direction is hard. Jonah found this too. How difficult do we find it to trust God to “give you much more than this” when it seems like He’s denying us something we want?
Flush with success, Amaziah suggests Israel and Judah battle it out for sovereignty. Read 2 Chronicles 25:17. Can you think of modern examples, global or personal, where apparent success has led to foolish choices?
1.       Short term consequences: Israel plunders Jerusalem. Amaziah flees and is assassinated (just as his father was). Azariah/Uzziah takes the throne.
2.       Long term consequences: Try to answer before reading on: Do you remember which prophets spoke during the reign of Uzziah? Why are their messages important today?
Syria is falling. Assyria is rising. Meanwhile Israel is content, since Jeroboam has retaken lands lost to the Syrians, and Judah prospers again under King Uzziah. Uzziah conquers the coastal lands belonging the Philistines in the West, expands through lands of the Ammonites in the East. He digs wells and builds towers, organizes the army, and even invents catapults. Read 2 Chronicles 26:14-16. Does human success guarantee heavenly reward?

Then, rather like King Saul, Uzziah starts taking God for granted, is struck with leprosy, and ends his days as co-regent with his son. Jotham rules from Jerusalem, while Uzziah advises from an isolated hut.
a.      What happens when we take God for granted?
b.      How can we tell when leaders (religious or secular) are taking God for granted?

With the Holy Land at peace, the prophet Amos, from Tekoa near Bethlehem, will soon start preaching in the north, followed by Hosea, followed by Isaiah. The days of written prophecies have arrived.

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