Heroes of faith – July 2020

The Bible is more than a book, it is a library of 66 books on all manner of subjects, introducing the reader to men and women of great courage who faced up to challenging, often in very risky, circumstances.  There are all kinds of writings – romance, adventure, strategic battles, poetry, spying, letters, conspiracies and much more.  All carrying important lessons for the reader.  So, we have a couple of examples for you. This is a longer session than most so you might want to spread it over two visits.

The first person we have chosen lived over 800 years before Christ.  He was born an Israelite and became a prophet and was told by God, “Go to Nineveh that great city and cry against it for their wickedness has come to me”.

Artist’s impression of ‘The Monuments of Nineveh’ by Sir Austen Henry Layard, 1853

At the time, Wikipedia tells us, it was the largest city in the world, capital of the Assyrian empire and a threat to Israel.  Can you imagine being told to go into the largest city today, say Tokyo or Delhi, and shout in the streets that they were wicked and evil and, as God further instructed ,they had 40 days in which to change or the city would be overthrown.

The prophet’s name was Jonah, and what happened to him is described in a short book of four chapters in the Old Testament.  It would be good if you were to read it now before we go on. It will only take about 10 minutes and it’s quite an exciting read. See the amazing things that happened to Jonah and then we will offer a few comments about the important messages to us hidden away in that book.

As you read the book, look out for the differences in what God told Jonah to do or say and what he actually did.  See if you can pick out some of the lessons that God wished us to understand in the events that took place all those years ago.

If you haven’t got a Bible to hand, click here for the text.
PLEASE READ AT LEAST THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE BOOK OF JONAH 

So, Jonah was a disobedient Prophet, but depending on how often, and how much of the Bible you have read before reading his book, there are  number of different ways you will have reacted to it .  And if you have not recently read Jonah and want to understand what I’m talking about, there is still opportunity to read it now.  But whether you have just read it or not, we will do our best to take you with us on this little journey with Job.  As usual in this series of articles, this one is only able to scratch the surface in an effort to whet your appetite for more Bible reading and study. Whole books have been written about the book and the man.

So let’s get on with it. You may not have been surprised that Jonah run away from the task God gave him?.   Turning to Wikipedia again we read that the city was seven miles long and housed over 100,000, and maybe as many as 150,000, person’s. You may think that being swallowed by a large fish and spat out on the beach to save him drowning is rather fanciful. But those who read and study the Bible carefully will know that it is wholly a book of Truth.

Our God in heaven assures it is.

4  For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.                    Psalm 33

Jesus, his son believed it is.

40  For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Matthew 12

Thus, God always makes sure His purpose is achieved

24  The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: Isaiah 14

So God is in control, no man can stop what He wants from happening.  Jonah was brought back by an amazing series of miracles – a storm to threaten the ship in which he tried to flee and all those in it Bringing Jonah to his senses.  He could not allow the destruction of the ship and the death of all aboard for his folly,

9  And he said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Jonah 1

He told them he was fleeing from his God and persuaded them to throw him into the sea.  The storm stopped, the men believed in God, and a great fish swallowed him.  Jonah had a choice.  Either this was his end – his punishment for disobeying his God, or God was giving him the second chance.  As he said later,

2   I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.          Jonah 2

See how Jonah never lost his Faith in his God and God recognised that and gave him a further opportunity to do the task appointed him which he did. A lesson for all who are willing to receive it. It’s never too late to respond to the call of God

19  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing <or renewal> shall come from the presence of the Lord;                  Acts 3

So God instructed Jonah again to go and warn Nineveh thank God was going to punish their wickedness.  He obeyed and the effect on this Idol worshipping city was amazing.

5  So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth … … 10  And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.                                                                      Jonah 2

There are so many more lessons and interesting points to be found in this short book match we only have space for one more. To deal with Jonah’s Reaction. He was angry not understanding what God had done and why.  But we cannot stay to see how God demonstrated his view for Jonah my a “living parable”.  I said one more lesson but there’s two really. At this time the nation of Israel was in a very poor spiritual state.

Amos, a contemporary of Jonah, was sent to Israel God’s chosen people whom He has showered so many blessings, had abandoned the worship of the true God and turned to the idols of the nations around them.  He was told to say,

4  For thus saith the LORD unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live: … … 6  Seek the LORD, and ye shall live; lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and devour it, and there be none to quench it in Bethel.          Amos 5

But Israel rejected Amos and the call of God to repent and obey His laws and avoid destruction by their enemies.  So God used Nineveh, an Idol worshipping nation, to show Israel what fools they were to persist in there idol worship and bringing terrible destruction upon their people as later happened.  Whereas, when Jonah warned Nineveh, an Idol worshipping city, to change their wicked ways or be overthrown by their enemies, they could see the sense of obeying the call of the God of Israel, changed their evil and wicked ways, and avoided the threatened punishment.

Added to that, God told Jonah, this people are part of His work of creation,

11  … should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?

And once again there is a lesson for us as the apostle Peter tells us,

9  The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.                   2 Peter 3

This is demonstrated by the our second person we want to draw to your attention to.  She is a young woman in one of Israel’s troublesome neighbouring country.

We read in the opening verse of a certain book of the Old Testament,

1  Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

When God brought Israel into the land of Canaan lead by Joshua the people had many important laws to guide them about the nations already  in the land.  Moab was one of these and Wikipedia describes them as associated with hostility to Israel, sexual perversity, and idolatry.  But there were times when there was an uneasy peace.  However, they were not supposed to socialize for a very good reason.

3  Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. 4  For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly. Deuteronomy 7

However, the famine in Israel was obviously very hard, and a man called Elimelech decided to take his family into Moab until the famine was over as conditions there were much better there.  But sadly, soon after they arrived Elimelech fell sick and died leaving his wife and two sons alone in a foreign country isolated in a very unsuitable environment for a God-fearing Israelite family. Quite soon the two sons married Moabite girls, but disaster struck again.  The two boys die, leaving Elimelech’s wife with two daughters in law brought up in a decadent, idol worshipping country.  Did she decide to go back to her home in Bethlehem?

Well, her story is an amazing one and, once more, I would like you to read it for yourself.  If you do not already know the story you may find it difficult to put down.  It’s a little longer than Jonah but still only four chapters.  I will tell you that the wife of Elimelech is not the ‘hero’ ‘!

The book is Ruth which contains a beautiful account of faith rewarded that we are sure you will enjoy.  We will offer a few comments to show the important messages for us.  As you read the book of Ruth, see if you can pick out some of the lessons that God wishes us to understand in the events that took place all those years ago.

If you haven’t got a Bible to hand, click here for the text.

PLEASE READ THE BOOK MENTIONED ABOVE, THEN READ ON

Surely, whether that’s the first time, or you’ve read that book many times, you will always find the lives of those involved amazing. Naomi, who remained faithful to her God despite the calamity’s that overcome her.  How she had taught her daughters in law to know and respect the God of Israel, in a land so full of idolatry and pursuits that appeal to the flesh – that is, the nature of man – that normally it is almost impossible to draw people away from it for a religion that forbids so much of what they enjoy.

Naomi knew that life in Israel would not be easy, as they would return virtually penniless, and the land was only just recovering from years of famine  In those circumstances she did all she could to persuade Her two companions to stay in their own land and returned to their family where they would be cared for.  However, during the life she had shared with them, she had shown such confidence In her God and painted such an attractive picture of the benefits of worshipping the one true God, that that Ruth the Moabite pleaded with her mother in law,
16 Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.                     Ruth 1   

Ruth had learnt of a world at rest from danger, suffering, and woe, free from war, crime and ugliness.  Filled with caring and kind people blessed with eternal life, free from pain and suffering, full of love, goodness and kindness.  The prophets encourage the faithful telling of good times to come.

5  Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.               Jeremiah 23

3  And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.                        Micah 4

6  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 7  And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8  And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.                Isaiah 11                                                                         

4  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.    Revelation 21

But Ruth and Naomi’s lives demonstrate that those who live a faithful life now, caring for one another to the best of their ability, as did Ruth for Naomi, and in turn, as did Boaz for Ruth all because God overseas their lives for good.  Also, the women’s lives demonstrated how our lives now are a mixture of troubles and good times for those who trust in and obey God.

David -shepherd, outlaw, and King – found this was so in his life,

6  This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. 7  The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. 8  O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.                                                          Psalm 34

So, we will leave you here, despite there being so much more that can be said that links the lives of the faithful in past ages with our own day. God’s promises have not changed, His care and concern for those who trust in Him remains the same, and the Kingdom of God spoken of by the prophets, Jesus Christ, and the apostles is unchanged.