The Prophet, the Storm, and the Fish: Sin and God’s Sovereignty

Originally published in Disciple Magazine, January 2014. Part 2 of 5

In the last post, we began looking at the book of Jonah in the larger context of the Old and New Testaments and the grand sweep of God’s plan to purchase by Christ’s blood “men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). We examined the prophetic symbolism in Jonah’s heritage, call, and actions that Christ claimed as the “sign of Jonah” (Matt. 12; 16; Luke 11). Even in the midst of Jonah’s great disobedience, God’s hand of redemption was at work, as evidenced in Jonah’s eventual repentance and writing of his story as a testimony to God’s love, faithfulness, and sovereignty. Now, we zoom in to examine the text itself, reviewing a well-known story with an eye toward the details.

After “the word of the Lord came to Jonah” (1:1) to prophesy against “Nineveh the great city,” Jonah ran the opposite direction from God and His plan. As we are told later (4:2), this was not out of fear, but hatred of Nineveh and all it stood for, and hard-hearted refusal to be the instrument of God’s grace to them. Almost immediately, however, Jonah’s planned flight from the will of the Lord goes awry (from his perspective, at least). “The Lord hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea so that the ship was about to break up” (1:4). God blocked the way of Jonah’s escape, sending a violent, impossible-to-ignore storm that caused the ship’s crew (most of whom were not Jews) to cry out to their various false gods and frantically dump the ship’s cargo in order to weather the gale (1:5a). Continue reading

Rhyme and Reason: Christ and Jonah

Originally published in Disciple Magazine, December 2013. Part 1 of 5

Perhaps no section of Scripture is as familiar to today’s Christians and yet poorly understood and overlooked as the story of Jonah. If you grew up in American evangelicalism, you may have heard one sermon on Jonah for every 15 Sunday school lessons (who can deny that the whole bit about the great fish rivets children’s attention?). Even then, most of those lessons focused on Jonah as an example, exhorting us to learn from his mistakes by listening to God and obeying His will. This is in no way incorrect exposition, but it is incomplete. As a result, one of the clearest pictures of God’s redemptive plan for mankind (Jew and Gentile alike) in the Old Testament goes unnoticed by many. In the scope of Christian history, this hasn’t usually been the case, as many great theologians have written extensively on the book. 

The Sign of Jonah
Of course, Jesus knew Jonah and his story, and pointed out to the Jewish leaders its significance and its prophecy. While they were in the physical presence of the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, they kept demanding signs and wonders from Him to “prove” His identity. They had already seen many signs, but each time they had witnessed a miracle from Jesus, they accused Him of blasphemy or called Him a devil—e.g., when he healed the paralytic (Matt 9:1-8), when He healed the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8-21), and when He cast out a demon (Matt. 12:22-29), to name a few instances.

When they came again to ask for another demonstration, the Lord knew their hearts, and answered them with a condemning exposition of Jonah: “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as “Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster,” so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here’” (Matt. 12:38-42). Continue reading

Into the Woods: Observation Point

This trail log is a bit of throwback (not too far, only to early October). Not every hike makes it into a blog post, but leaving this one off would be a titanic omission.

Zion National Park, taken as a whole, I couldn’t describe without waxing poetic. The hike to Observation Point, however, merits a fuller description. This path hewn from the cliffsides covers every major landform of Zion Canyon. From the banks of the Virgin River, it climbs over 2,000 feet in four miles, up through one of the many slot canyons of the area to crest the plateau and offer what may be the most incredible view in Utah. Many more visitors attempt the iconic Angel’s Landing, but this trail lets you literally look down on the crowds clinging to the chains on that approach.

For us lifelong Easterners, everything out West is photogenic. Arid expanses unblocked by vegetation and “civilization” shock the senses. It’s hard enough to stop snapping when you’re driving down the Interstate, so let me apologize in advance for the preponderance of images in this post.

Rugged and remote as it is, getting to Zion is not that hard. It’s a pleasant 35 minute ride from I-15 to the park’s south entrance. Floor of the Valley Road, running up into the canyon (Zion’s most prominent feature, but only a small corner of the whole park), was once crowded with traffic, but since 2000, visitors are required to park at the visitor center and ride a free shuttle to access most of the canyon.

A journey to Observation Point starts at shuttle stop #7, at about 4,300′ above sea level. From the pullout there, the trail begins with a, shall we say, rather abrupt ascent. After a brief but steep straight pull, a series of massive switchbacks carry you up a sparsely treed near-vertical slope to 5,200′.

Though this is a desert, the shade of the canyon walls and relatively high altitude allow for quite an array of small plants (scrub oaks, canyon maples, prickly pears, asters and other wildflowers) to cling to the nearly soil-less hillside. Zigzagging up the trail, views of the valley floor slowly expand to the west, quickly rewarding your exertion. Continue reading

Into the Woods: Mount Jefferson

A good walk in the woods, like a good book, always calls you back for another look. Much as I’m always looking for a new trail and a higher mountain, a short hike on a favorite trail feels as warm and familiar as an old sweater.

Whenever I have a chance to go home to the NC High Country, a hike is in order. Since my family moved to that part of the world in 1998 (and even though I’ve been a Chattanooga resident since 2006), there’s hardly a trail in the area that I haven’t hoofed at least once.

One that I come back to again and again, though, is the short (<2 mi.) loop across the summit of Mount Jefferson in Ashe County. This modest summit (4665′) cuts an imposing prominence above the surrounding farmland, and has been preserved as a small state park. It has a much more unassuming beauty than many more famous peaks in the area like Grandfather Mountain, but it is a special place when you look a bit closer.

The metamorphic rock (amphibolite) underlaying the mountain gives it a sharper profile than many of the more rounded sandstone & quartzite peaks nearby. The rock also weathers less readily, giving the outcrops a dark, jagged look. Ravens and falcons nest in the protected crags. The sheltered north face of the mountain is home to many interesting plants, including a small stand of Bigtooth aspen, which normally occur much farther north.

Perhaps the best blessing of Mount Jefferson, though is the ease of the path. A road leads nearly to the summit, and there are bathrooms (NB – though these are closed in winter. The kids, er, learned the hard way). The gentle climb makes it a great place for young legs to get out and see the mountaintop ecosystem without complaining or wearing out. A few days after Christmas, our whole family (my parents, my two sisters, Rachel, our three kids, and I) did the full loop without breaking a sweat.

If you’re ever in the area without a lot of time to see the high Appalachian environment, stop in and check this one out. In the winter, access is dependent on weather, spring & fall are lovely, and the summer breezes are a world-class heat-beater.

If you’ve got a little longer window, be sure to visit the wonderful little towns at the base of the mountain – Jefferson & West Jefferson. They’re well-provisioned with the requisite charm of shops, restaurants, and murals, not to mention a legit cheese factory.