I was recently listening to a local public radio station and overheard the tail-end of story about total solar eclipses. The segment caught my attention when I heard the bible mentioned several times. They described how scientists had discovered several historical coincidences between biblical events and total solar eclipses.
By happenstance, as I researched what biblical events coincided with total solar eclipses, I learned that scientists have been able to verify with high probability that a total solar eclipse occurred around 763 BC over Nineveh, the capital city of the ancient Assyrians . The date correlates well with the time in which Jonah was called to Nineveh. Ancient civilizations viewed solar eclipse as bad omens. Is it possible that the solar eclipse may have preempted and primed the people of Nineveh to listen with an open mind to Jonah’s message of repentance? As we know from the bible, the people of Nineveh did repent (Jonah 3:1-10).
Prior to the time of the biblical story of Jonah, the ancient Assyrians had grown into a powerful people group. The key to their rise to power was primarily by way of an efficient, resourceful, and brutal military. They celebrated bloodshed and the humiliation of their enemies by horrific torture, i.e. – skinning their enemies alive, ethnic cleansing, and other sadistic means. The height of their power occurred after the military was converted from a voluntary to a professionally trained army funded by the empire.
Yet, a new neighbor to the west, Israel, was expanding it’s territory, growing, and prospering economically under the reign of King Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:27-28).
The two empires were natural enemies. The Assyrians worshipped multiple pagan God’s, and religion centered around the worship of nature. The Israelites were monotheistic, God’s chosen people.
What the story of Jonah, the solar eclipse, Charlottesville and rising nationalism can teach us
Learning the history above is what inspired me to dig deeper beyond the typical Sunday school rehashing of Jonah’s story: “Why to never run from God’s will”. In particular, the latter portion of Jonah’s story has always intrigued me, especially the portion about the gourd (shrub) and the naturistic torture he had to endure as a hard lesson. What’s the takeaway from Jonah’s misery (to the point of pleading for death, in anger). What was the precedent for his anger over God sparing the city of Nineveh?
What seems to call for celebration, by Jonah, results in his misery. He sulks before God, stating that he knew God desired to spare the Ninevites from destruction. My prior conclusion drawn was that he was annoyed by having to make the long and tortuous journey, knowing that God desired and providentially planned to spare them anyway. However, taking the above history into account, I learned that there may have been more malevolent feelings at play in his heart. The recent wealth and prosperity of the nation of Israel had led to a heightened nationalistic outlook and an aim for self-preservation . As he sulked before God he may have asked the question….
Are the Assyrians, worthy of God’s love and redemption?
Jonah, struggled with the idea that God loved the enemy of his people; even more so, people of foreign ethnicity, culture, and religion. The very thought that God had even used them to display his wrath against Israel (when they were disobedient to his will ) made it even more difficult to bear . Perhaps he even struggled with the perceived threat that the Ninevites posed to his nation’s economic prosperity and burgeoning economy.
May it serve as a great warning to the growing appeal of “nationalism”, domestic and abroad, racial and socio-economic. It’s noxious on multiple fronts. When we become narrowly focused on what God has for us and/or what’s best for us, it’s easy to forget how broad and wide His love is toward all (John 3:16). He not only sent his Son to die for “us” but for “them” as well. Even those whom the spirit of nationalism would tell us are our enemies.
1 John 2:2 (ESV)
2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 Timothy 2 (ESV)
3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,[a] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
In modern times, our economic, racial, and cultural interests often pose the same moral threats that Jonah faced in his heart toward the Ninevites.
Ultimately, we fight and argue with one another, because we’re each at war within ourselves. Our flesh always seeks to elevate self above others – self-fulfillment, self-pride, self-justification, self-preservation, self-interest. Do the above terms not define the very essence of hyper-nationalism? As Jesus half-brother James said….
James 4 (ESV)
Warning Against Worldliness
4 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions[a] are at war within you?[b] 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people![c]Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The recent tragedy in Charlottesville, VA is a sobering reminder of that.
“Our” solar eclipse (August 21, 2017)
On August 21st a total solar Eclipse will run it’s course, crossing America. It will start near Portland, Oregon and finishing near Charleston, SC. Rare in occurrence (specifically total solar Eclipses), the last time one was viewable across a significant part of the U.S. was 1932.
As the light of the sun will be temporarily blocked by moon, I find hope in the fact that it’s only temporary. In much the same way, I find hope in knowing that the light of Christ always overcomes darkness.