Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Around the world, most people follow some sort of god. Whether it is our God, some other religion’s deity, or even some sort of household god, people have gods. Even atheists have gods; frequently they worship the flesh and sensuality (which often puts them in direct conflict with conservative Christians), many worship money and power, and most would consider themselves as their own god. Usually, a very quick way to find out what god a person follows is by how they act when trouble comes. The book of Jonah shows this in play when God raises a great storm on the sea in order that Jonah will be thrown overboard. As soon as the storm strikes, the sailors freak out. We read,
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.
But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep (Jonah 1:4-5).
Notice that as soon as trouble comes, everyone starts to fall onto their god. If you confront anyone with a difficult situation, likely they’ll reach out to their god (or the God of the Bible). This can take different forms though, some will actually start praying, others will lose all control in front of drugs, sex, alcohol, or other pleasures; in this way such things are manifested as gods.
Jonah didn’t freak out though. In fact, this confused the sailors, so we read, “The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish’” (Jonah 1:6). Now there are different ways to take Jonah’s response to the storm. Perhaps he was hiding from God and didn’t want a prayer to alert the Lord to his whereabouts. But this is unlikely since Jonah later acknowledges God’s omnipotence (which theoretically carries his omnipresence). Instead, it seems more likely that Jonah understood what the psalmist said when he wrote,
Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
He does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
Made by the hands of men (Psalms 115:2-4).
So instead of losing his cool, Jonah realized that God does whatever he wants anyway and so there is no need to worry. Therefore, as everyone else reached out to their gods, he could take a nap knowing the Lord would either fix things or not.
Our God is real. In fact, he is the only real God out there. Jonah understood this and even made note of it to the sailors as they were trying to get some help from their gods. When asked just who he was and why such trouble was coming upon them, Jonah did not deny our Lord. We read in Jonah 1:9-10,
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
Even while running away from the Lord, Jonah cannot deny God. He created everything. For it is written in Isaiah 45:18,
For this is what the Lord says-
He who created the heavens,
He is God;
He who fashioned and made the earth,
He founded it;
He did not create it to be empty,
But formed it to be inhabited-
I am the Lord,
And there is no other.”
Not only did the Lord create the universe, but he also controls everything. As soon as he tried running away, the Lord whipped up a violent storm to get Jonah’s attention. Since God created everything, everything must bow to his will, for he says, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11). Our God is special, because as the creator of everything, the owner of everything, and therefore the controller behind all that we see he is automatically set above the rest of creation. Any other god, then, falls below our Lord, as part of his creation. It is foolish to follow any other god out there (be it religious or otherwise), as it is part of the Lord’s creation. This is why Jonah says, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8). Following something that is not God is like trying to come in 2nd or 3rd place in a competition while actively avoiding 1st place.
Ultimately, it is easy for others to forsake their gods (either for other gods or the One True God). This is shown to us through the sailors aboard Jonah’s ship. As soon as the storm came, they ran to their personal gods. But when it became clear that their gods weren’t doing anything and Jonah’s probably was, they quickly switched. We read,
Then they cried to the Lord, “O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrificed to the Lord and made vows to him (Jonah 1:14-16).
It only took eleven verses and maybe a couple of lines from Jonah and the sailors totally disregarded their previous gods in favor of our Lord. They not only prayed to him, but also offered a sacrifice to him (on a wooden boat no less!). Why are other gods so easy to give up (not counting addictions)? What makes a person able to deny their god quickly but a Christian hold onto the Lord even when they don’t want to? Simply put, they are worshiping what is not God. It sounds obvious but the truth is the truth and those who are not worshiping the Lord are denying what their hearts already know. Paul tells us,
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:20-21).
People don’t want to bow down to a higher power like the Lord, something they cannot control. Most people find it very difficult to give up their understanding and submit to a power higher than themselves. Paul continues in Romans 1:22-23, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” People can sense that there is something wrong in their lives. Either an issue with their personal god or that something is amiss in their Godless lives. Whereas when a person comes to God, the Lord will not be denied, and it is in fact very hard for a Christian to leave the church after coming to Christ. This is because the Holy Spirit has already come into them and has filled that God-shaped hole inside. So even though he was avoiding God, and in fact disobeying the Lord, Jonah couldn’t deny God’s existence whereas the sailors immediately gave up their gods for God when the option came.
Now comes the question every Christian faces, “What if we are wrong?” As the Lord is a God whose qualities may be evident but his actual visible, physical presence is unseen, we can find ourselves doubting him; even more so Jesus, whose story is constantly being confronted by anti-Christs (that is, people opposed to Christ) and his New Testament teachings seemingly going against much of the Old Testament Law. On top of that, the miracles of Jesus (especially his resurrection) are beyond belief. What if we are wrong? Paul discusses this topic in 1 Corinthians 15:17-19,
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
Not very comforting, I know. But it is the truth, if as Christians we are following the wrong path, then we’ve wasted our lives and when we die we’ll have died for and in nothing.
Paul continues though,
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).
The Bible is true, and our Lord and Savior is the real deal. Those who trust in Jesus will not be disappointed after our mortal body stops working. How can we know? Pray, get to know God and see him in action. A Christian’s prayers are answered, and they are answered with enough consistency to make it nearly impossible to deny Christ after coming to him. We read about Jonah,
“In my distress I called to the Lord,
And he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
And you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:2).
Jonah didn’t want God to exist, he even argues with the Lord later in the book saying that he is angry enough to die. But that’s the difference between us and them, even in blinding anger and lack of understanding of God’s way; we cannot deny the truth that he is there. Other people can give up their religion or ways without a second thought when it comes down to it. But not us, for our God is above it all, and through Jesus we are with him.
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
That is to say Rock on God!