Forgiven and Forgiving

Rebecca Van Noord

Idioms are often unhelpful because their overuse has robbed them of meaning. But the idiom “putting up walls” has a twist in Proverbs: “A brother who is offended is worse than a city of strength, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortification” (Prov 18:19).

The writer of this proverb gives us imagery that helps us understand how people react to offenses. Regardless of whether we intend to, we can raise a great structure, like a “city of strength,” in the gulf between ourselves and others. Such barriers make it difficult to reach those we have offended, which may suit us perfectly. But we’re called to live differently.

None of us can live perfectly in this life, so conflict is inevitable. If we have the insight to see that “we all fall short of the glory of God”—and more specifically, how we have fallen—we’ll see we have no right to hold a grudge (Rom 3:23). When rifts develop in relationships, we need to own our sin and bring it to God. His forgiveness and His reconciling work make it possible for us to be vulnerable with others and seek their forgiveness—even if they have also offended us.

When we choose to humbly admit our failings, we break down “the bars of a fortification” and create space for reconciliation. We might be spurned, or we might be forgiven. The other person may take responsibility for their fault, or they may not. But either way, we rest secure in God’s forgiveness.

Have you offended someone? Have you neglected to confess your sin and seek forgiveness? Reconciliation is a picture of what God has done for us—He has returned us to Himself. Be like the peacemaker: Seek and offer forgiveness.

Have you offended someone without asking forgiveness? If so, how can you step forward to confess your offense to God and the offended person?

This article was originally published in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Wordplay in Jonah

Eli T. Evans

How do stories work?

What techniques do authors use to get their point across? And how can we recognize them?

In previous posts, we have looked at the use of: 1 irony, 2 hyperbole and 3 reversal. In this fourth installment of our four-part series, we look at 4 wordplay.

What is a “bank”? Is it the land beside a river? The act of tilting a vehicle or roadway to the side as it turns? A financial institution? Yes, depending. It’s ambiguous until you know the context. Now, if I say I wanted to make some money from my riverboat so I drove it into the bank, I have exploited the ambiguity in meaning to make a (lame) joke. In a similar (but more sophisticated) way, the author of Jonah plays with words for effect.

There is a lot of going up/going down, standing up/sitting down, picking up/casting down in the first half of Jonah. The wickedness of the Ninevites has “risen” up to God, so Jonah is told to “get up” and go there (1:2). Instead, he “goes down” to Joppa, then further down into the ship (1:3), and further still into the ship’s hold (1:5). Each time, the author uses the verb ירד (yarad) to connect the three actions into a single act. Even the word used for Jonah’s deep sleep in 1:5 (וירדם, vayeradam), though derived from a completely different word, sounds like yarad. It connects Jonah’s slumber to his overall descent into disobedience. Later, he’s cast into the depths of the sea. The point is: Things ascend toward God and descend away from Him.

Two sides of the word ירא (yare’), meaning “fear,” are considered in chapter 1: The sailors are at first terrified of the storm (1:5). When they ask Jonah which God he worships, he replies that he “fears” Yahweh, the God of Israel (1:9), whom he is running from. Hearing this, the sailors become very terrified (1:10). After tossing Jonah overboard, they “fear” Yahweh in a whole different sense: They make vows and sacrifices. It’s all the same word, with two closely related meanings: terror that accompanies the threat of destruction, and reverence that accompanies worship.

The Hebrew word רעה (ra‘ah) occurs ten times in Jonah, in several connotations: wickedness (1:2; 3:8, 10); destruction (3:10; 4:2); calamity (of the storm, 1:7, 8); and distress/discomfort (Jonah’s, 4:1, 6). In 3:10, there is a play on both senses of wickedness and destruction: “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil (ra‘ah) way, God relented of the disaster (ra‘ah) that he had said he would do to them” (ESV). They stopped their ra‘ah, so God stopped His. Finally, the ra‘ah that Jonah experiences (4:1, 6) has a double meaning. Jonah finds God’s mercy to be upsetting (literally, “it was evil to Jonah, a great evil”), which itself is wicked.

In 3:7, there is a pun: “By the decree (מטעם, mita‘am) of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste (יטעמו, yit‘amu) anything” (ESV). The word טעם (ta‘am) has two unrelated meanings: The first, more common, meaning is “to taste” (as a verb) or “flavor” (as a noun). For example, Jonathan tasted (ta‘am) a little honey with the tip of his staff (1 Sam 14:43). This is the meaning used in the phrase “Let neither man nor beast … taste anything” (ESV). The second meaning is “decree,” which is borrowed from either Assyrian (which would make sense!) or Aramaic. This rarer meaning occurs only in Jonah 3:7 and in Dan 3:10. The author of Jonah turns this into a witticism: What comes out of the king’s mouth (the decree, ta‘am) keeps the people from putting anything into theirs (tasting food, ta‘am).

Another word that is explored by the narrative is אלהים (’elohim). When the God of Israel is referred to by name (Yahweh, “the LORD”), there is no ambiguity. But the word ’elohim can refer to either Yahweh or some other divine being. With the exception of 3:10, the narrator of Jonah always refers to the God of Israel as Yahweh, “the LORD.” The sailors first pray to their individual (unnamed) gods (’elohim), but once the storm is calmed, they call out specifically to Yahweh by name. This is a central issue in the book: The pagans have gods they worship, but they don’t have a relationship with Yahweh, the one true God.

Jonah 1:6 and 3:9–10 are the only places in the book where ’elohim is used with a definite article (“the”), ha-’elohim. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, this means the God, par excellence. The words ha-’elohim occur twice in the phrase “perhaps this god (the God of Jonah) will relent,” spoken by both the captain of the sailors and the Ninevite king. At this critical moment, each leader switches from saying “your god,” or just “god,” to saying “the God.” The change in language is subtle (less so in Hebrew), but it suggests a change of attitude: “Unlike our other gods, perhaps this god (of Jonah’s) is decent enough to spare us if we repent.” In 3:10, the narrator echoes the king: “When ‘this god’ (ha-’elohim) saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, ‘this god’ (ha-’elohim) relented.” By breaking from his regular habit and echoing the words of the king, the narrator tacitly approves of the king’s conclusion.

The story of Jonah is, on the one hand, a very simple one. The plot is not difficult to follow, the characters are engaging, and the issues are clear. The author did not indulge himself by using complex grammar or showy turns of phrase. But, a close look at the text reveals the hand of a subtle artist who knew how to use words for maximum effect.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 2 No. 3.

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In the November–December issue, subscribers can look forward to:

An interview with Texas pastor JR Vassar

Vassar talks with us about his recent book, Glory Hunger, which addresses our culture’s obsession with fame and personal platform. The hunger for glory, he says, “is an innate desire in all of us. We’re made in the image of God, who created Adam and Eve and spoke a resounding verdict over their lives—‘very good.’ Those words, spoken by the ultimate person in the universe, grant unbelievable dignity, honor, and value.”

Of course, that’s not how the story ends. Genesis 3 tells how the influence of sin altered Adam and Eve’s relationship with their Creator. “Instead of commendation, they were now under God’s condemnation,” Vassar says. “What Adam lost for us in the garden, we’ve been trying to get back on our own. For them and for us today, we want a positive verdict spoken over our lives. But that ache is only going to be satisfied in the gospel. Only that can free us from obsession over everyone else’s ‘yes.’ ”

An interview with Colombian scholar Daniel Salinas on the history of theology in Latin America

“Evangelicals in Latin America have often been told that they have no tradition—that evangelicalism is a faith for missionaries and outsiders. … As far as I know, the history of Latin American theology is taught only by one seminary in Chile—not anywhere else in Latin America,” Salinas says. “Until our pastors are trained in this area, the evangelical church in Latin America will continue to function like a church without roots.”

A special section tackling common stumbling blocks to interpretation

In “Literary Genre: Missing Clues in the Text,” Wheaton professor emerita Karen H. Jobes writes on the importance of understanding the literary genre of a biblical book:

“Imagine you’re sitting down to read, perhaps with a child next to you. The book in your hands begins, “Once upon a time.” You immediately recognize the phrase and what it signifies. You’re about to read a story—maybe a fairy tale with talking animals and strange creatures. Now imagine you’re a student taking a physics course. If your textbook began, “Once upon a time,” you’d no doubt be confused by the phrase and wonder how you should understand it in a scientific context.”

And in “The World of the Bible: Neglecting the Cultural Divide,” theologian Michael F. Bird writes on the danger of discounting the cultural context of the Bible:

“British novelist L. P. Hartley famously wrote, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” This certainly is true with respect to the Bible. The world of the first century, whether Jerusalem, Corinth, or Rome, is vastly different from the world we inhabit. If we want to understand the Bible correctly, then we must “mind the gap,” as the trains in London say—the cultural gap between ourselves and the ancient world of the biblical authors and their audiences.”

Don’t miss these and other articles in the November–December ‘16 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Subscribe today!

Love and Peace

Rebecca Van Noord

“You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in you.” Augustine’s prayer, spoken so many years ago, is still poignant for us today. It appeals to our created purpose: bringing glory to God. When we’re living outside of that purpose, we try to fill that void through other means.

In his first letter, John shows how the love of God and communion with Him ultimately brings a sense of peace and confidence: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love and the one who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him. By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as that one is, so also are we in the world” (1 John 4:16–17).

God Himself has addressed the great rift we created between ourselves and Him. Through the sacrifice of His Son, He has made it possible for us to abide with Him and find peace in Him (1 John 4:15). Those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God experience this love that brings peace and confidence.

But this love isn’t merely an emotion or a feeling of fulfillment; it’s a growing desire to be like Christ. Because God dwells in us, we will become more like Him in love. We can be confident of His work in us when we display self-sacrificial love for our neighbor.

How are you resting in God’s love? How are you loving others?

This article was originally published in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: The Acts of the Apostles

By Abram Kielsmeier-Jones

The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History and Theology
IVP Academic, 2016

Osvaldo Padilla calls his Acts of the Apostles “an ‘advanced’ introduction” (13). Acts is a “Hellenistic historical monograph in the Jewish tradition” (62), but Luke took an existing form and “appropriated it to communicate an essentially theological message of salvation through Jesus Christ” (65). The author of Acts, then, is a historian, but a decidedly “theological historian” (107).

In his final chapter, Padilla moves into conversation with postliberal theology. Interesting as the section is, even the theologically trained reader might be content with the good work of the first five chapters.

This book is not a comprehensive introduction; there is no outline of Acts nor concern for dating its composition. But for what Padilla aims to cover (theological and philosophical interpretation, specifically around genre and history), the book proves to be well-researched and engaging.

This review also appears in the September–October '16 issue of Bible Study Magazine.