Category Archives: Scripture

Discussion or commentary on a chapter or other part of the Bible.

Romans 2

On Wednesday, January 27, we will discuss chapter two of Paul’s letter to the Romans, in the New Testament of the Bible.

After introducing the problem of universal sin, and introducing the Gospel of Jesus, the Savior of the world (see introduction to Romans 1), the apostle Paul now warns his readers of three possible misinterpretations of these introductory concepts. The warnings are particularly leveled against those with Jewish backgrounds; however, the truth of the warnings are universally applicable. (See verse 12.)

First, Paul stands firmly against those who understand God’s judgment and assume that it doesn’t apply to them, so they judge others. Paul is not here speaking of judgment in the sense of wisely distinguishing between what is right and wrong, and choosing carefully. He is speaking of the sort of judgment that belongs to God—that of righteously determining those whose wickedness will result in his “wrath and fury,” and his pouring out “tribulation and distress” upon those who do evil.

Stained glass of Moses holding the tablets of the Law; click through image to source
Stained glass of Moses holding the tablets of the Law; click through image to source

Second, the apostle warns those who believe that they are righteous law-keepers, because they misunderstand God’s law. Paul nullifies misinterpretations of the law with these points:

  • “…it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified”*; and
  • “…no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”* Those who are outwardly circumcised1 but disobey God’s law in their hearts are hypocrites for condemning others. That is why this chapter says so much about hypocrisy. (See verses 1, 3, 21-22, and 27.)

Finally, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul opposes the heretical view of the Gospel that assumes the grace of God is a license to sin. In the 4th verse, Paul indicates that “…God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”* A deliberate refusal to repent of an ungodly lifestyle would exclude us from the mercy shown to those who have turned to Jesus Christ as their savior. For this reason, the apostle speaks of the wrath, fury, tribulation, and distress that will come to those who obey unrighteousness.

Paul is not contradicting his preaching that salvation is a gracious gift from God. He is teaching us that God’s gracious salvation package includes a new lifestyle of repentance. Without this genuine salvation, we would be judged by our works, which would result in condemnation.


Footnote

  1. Circumcision was the sign of the covenant (promise and agreement) that God made with Abraham in Genesis 17. A comprehensive discussion of the covenant is beyond the scope of this brief post. However, it is worth mentioning that circumcision marked the Jews as God’s covenant children, meaning that the promise was theirs for the taking. The apostle Paul intends to show that this sign, in itself, does not ensure one’s right standing with God any more than a presumptive outward adherence to the law would.

Romans 1

Introduction to the first chapter of the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  (circa 57AD)

 

Paul begins by introducing himself.  He is a servant of Jesus Christ and an apostle.  These are qualities that give him authority to proclaim the truth of God’s message, and then also to demand respect or attention back.

He is a servant of Jesus Christ.  Not just any Jesus, but he who was Christ – that means “anointed”.  It is His message that he brings.  Paul goes on to describe Jesus Christ as having been promised in the time throughout the Old Testament days.  As one who had dual natures.  Paul explains that as to his human nature he was the son of King David, but as to his divine nature he was called the Son of God.  This dual nature of Christ is important when we talk about who can possible take away the sins of the world.

Paul then goes on to explain that he had longed to come to Rome for a long time, but was prevented from doing so.  It is a good indication that Paul did not do all the work just on his own, but that God directed his path.  We see in other places where God for example urges Paul to go to Macedonia.  So Paul was a tool in the hand of God to bring the message of salvation to the Gentiles  (Non-Jews). Paul then ends this portion of the letter with a beautiful description of this task

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,[a] just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”[b]

 

At this point Paul begins bringing his message of salvation. From verse 18 on, he begins to expound the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He begins with explaining why we need a saviour.  He begins to point out why God is angry.  Paul points out that mankind could easily know God, because he can be seen in all of creation, and in the way he continues to govern the universe.  So men are without excuse.  But instead of glorifying and thanking God, man chose to live apart from God.  They traded in the wisdom that God had given them for foolishness.  Instead of serving a living and almighty God they made images of animals and other created things to worship.  They worshipped creatures instead of the creator.  Since they did not deem God’s gifts worthy of them, God gave them over to their own desires and lusts.  They did unspeakable things with one another as a result plunged themselves into all kinds of sins, further and further away from God’s will and wisdom.  This of course applies to all of us, and is the reason why we all need salvation.

 

We can see many of the things that Paul talks about in our society all around us.  Not only those who do the sins, but also those who approve of them.  In this respect we can talk about abortion, gay rights, war, poverty, drugs and many other sins.  We must however remember that there is no degree of sin.  All sin is wrong, so it it not my intent to pick on gays  or abortion as only being wrong, but also many other things such as gluttony etc.  We all have sinned and so we all stand in need of salvation through Jesus Christ.

 

After this introduction you may have some questions and you may pose those on the chat at this website.  Every Wednesday from 7:30 to 8:30 we gather with anyone who wants to join to discuss yours and other questions.

Jonah 1—The Man of God Sinks into the Seaweed

Introduction

Growing up in a non-Calvinist church, I was often reminded of the many role models in the Bible, and I was well-trained at digging out every possible moral application in the life of a given Bible hero.

Twice a week, we voiced our personal “testimony” to our local house-church, wherein we promised to try harder in the coming days to follow the example of Abraham, to be more like Jesus, or to be more like Peter.

In our teen years, my brother detected the folly in this approach, and he used the story of Jonah as a counterexample. “Jonah was a servant of the LORD,” he would say, “So, in the coming days, I’d just like to try harder to be more like Jonah—when I hear the word of God, I shall disobey with all my heart, so that I, too, may go to heaven.”

* * *

Overview and Context

At first glance, the Book of Jonah is a short story about a disobedient prophet. Upon further inspection, the prudent Christian discovers that this narrative is more about God’s sovereignty over creation and humanity, and more about His profound mercy shown to the wicked Assyrians living in the powerful city of Nineveh, than it is about Jonah himself.

Indeed, the Book of Jonah is about Jonah, about Nineveh, and about God’s mercy on Nineveh. However, we do well to remember that this book is scripture – Hebrew scripture, not Assyrian “scripture.” Jonah is a prophet in Israel. As careful students of the Bible, then, we do well to remember Israel as we study this book. We may indeed conclude that this unique portion of our Bible is most significantly about Israel—those covenant people for whom the sovereign Lord will rearrange the entire universe if He so decides to move them, to provoke them, to discipline them, or to teach them.

The prophet Jonah lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, during the rule of Jeroboam the Second, as we learn in 2 Kings 14. This Jeroboam “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD1—Amos and Hosea prophesied against him, and against Israel at the time. Nevertheless, this was a time of success for the nation, as even Jonah had prophesied. Jeroboam was a strong military leader, and Israel’s borders were expanded.

Consider Israel as you read through Jonah, but also consider our Lord and Savior, as He mentioned Jonah in the New Testament, and as some parts of Jonah’s experience foreshadow Christ’s preaching, and Christ’s saving death and resurrection.2

* * *

Jonah Chapter One

In the first chapter, however, we shall not speak of Jonah foreshadowing Christ. We may grant him the title “antitype of Christ” here, but nothing greater. He’s more a picture of rebellious Israel in this chapter, than he is a picture of Christ.

God commands Jonah to go to the “great city” of Nineveh and “call out against it.” Jonah responds by attempting to flee the presence of the LORD, though he almost certainly realizes that it is impossible to escape God’s presence.

His reason for disobedience is not revealed until chapter 4, but we know this much already: Jonah is not a fan of Nineveh. The Assyrian empire is a continual threat to Israel, and the residents of Nineveh are guilty of much evil, particularly physical violence and social injustice.3 Reverend P. Lok, of the Netherlands, says, “Nineveh is on par (in Scripture) with Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon.”4

God is conscious of the sins of Nineveh, and judgment is at hand.

Could Jonah simply announce judgment to Nineveh, and were God only a God of justice, then Jonah would have no quarrels with this mission.

But Jonah is not here displeased with the justice of God; it’s the mercy of God that bothers him. Whether Tarshish is in Spain or in Northern Africa, it’s pretty much in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jonah is trying to get far away from Nineveh precisely because he knows something about God—an announcement of judgment might serve as a warning that leads to repentance, and God is… merciful. Jonah seems to have Psalm 145:8 memorized, where we read: “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

When Jonah boards the ship to Tarshish, God, who is Lord over all creation, hurls “a great wind upon the sea,” so that there is a mighty tempest, and the ship threatens to break up. As Jonah sleeps in the inner part of the ship, the polytheistic sailors demonstrate that they are aware of a connection between sin and punishment. They suppose that some “god” is angry with one of them. They cannot save themselves. Throwing the cargo overboard does not help. Praying to various gods does not help.

When the captain wakes Jonah, the lot is cast. Such was a common form of divination in the ancient world—“a device used to discover the will of the gods.”5 The Lord God of Israel is, of course, sovereign over lots, and he accommodates the sailors by causing the lot to fall on Jonah.

Now Jonah says, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.

Jonah has been pigheaded up to this point. He had a nap when he ought to have been trembling with a sore conscience. He remained silent while the pagan sailors drew lots. He stood by while the unbelievers, in fear of the LORD, sought to spare his life. He did not admit his guilt while the non-covenant sailors prayed that God would not hold them guilty of blood.

Pick me up and hurl me into the sea,” says Jonah now, “then the sea will quiet down for you…

Should we praise Jonah for cooperating by revealing the solution to the storm now that he is completely cornered? Let’s only do that if we would also praise a criminal for holding out his hands to the cuffs after he is captured. Jonah hasn’t even admitted his guilt! Notice also that he would apparently rather die in the sea than obey God and go to Nineveh. (Presumably the storm would have subsided if Jonah had simply cooperated with God.)

What relief, what salvation, to have the prophet of God judged and tossed out of the ship! The heathen sailors now resemble students of the Third Part of the Catechism – watch them pray, offer a sacrifice, and make vows while the man of God sinks into the seaweed.

Though the prophet of God is judged, chapter 1 does not end without introducing his own salvation from the present distress, and so we may leave this chapter with some comfort, so far as we have identified with Jonah. Relief comes in the form of a great fish appointed by the LORD.

Whether this great fish is a whale or a large shark, here we see that God speaks, and the natural world obeys. The tomb of death cannot hold the Son of Man; nor can the depths of the sea hold Jonah. According to the will of the Lord, a fish shall be God’s instrument of rescue.

* * *

Conclusion

For three days and three nights in the belly of a fish, may the prophet Jonah meditate on the sovereignty of God; may his heart turn in repentance; and may this entire experience help him understand the grand scope of the grace of his God. Lest we scold only Jonah, let us also pray that the entire nation of Israel will learn that they do not “have a monopoly on the redemptive love of God.”6

In chapter 1, we see that God is merciful to Gentile sailors, and is prepared to be merciful to an evil Gentile city. Though this chafes Israel’s prophet, we can see that this act constitutes indirect mercy toward Israel, intended to provoke them (and their prophet) to jealousy and repentance. This reminds us of the preaching of apostle Paul in Romans 11.

There, Paul argues that “through [the trespass of Israel,] salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Though we now view the Hebrew scripture in hindsight, and with clarity from the gospel of Jesus Christ, let us not be wise in our own sight, but instead let us worship and honor the God “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.7

References

Lok, Rev. P. (1989). The Minor Prophets. London, ON: Inter-League Publication Board.

Sproul, R.C., & Mathison, Keith (Eds.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible. Orlando, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

Footnotes

1 2 Kings 14:24; all scripture quotations from ESV

2 Matthew 12:38-41; 16:4; Luke 11:29-32

3 Jonah 3:8; Nahum 3:1

4 The Minor Prophets, page 136

5 The Reformation Study Bible, page 1287

6 The Reformation Study Bible, page 1285

7 Ephesians 1:11b