There is a story of an older farmer back in the 1930’s who was out one day in his fields. He had turned his hogs loose in the field so that they could root around, turn over the field, fertilizing as they went, basically preparing the field for Spring planting. Now as this farmer was there, watching his hogs do the work, the same way he had done it his whole life, the new county extension agent, fresh out of college where he had read about and learned “all there was to know” about farming, drove up, parked his truck and walked over to where the farmer is standing.
“Howdy.” says the extension agent.
“Howdy.” says the farmer.
“So what you got those pigs doing?”
“Turning over the field, getting ready to plant.”
The young man was stunned that anybody would use such an antiquated method when there was modern machinery, tractors and plows that could do the same job in a fraction of the time.
“Don’t you know you could do this same thing with a tractor and save a ton of time?”
And the farmer’s drawling response, “Well yeah, but what’s time to a hog?”
Now I’m not sure which one, but it is clear that one of the guys in that story was missing the point. Either the farmer was missing the point, (that the extension agent was not trying to save the hogs time, but the farmers!) Or perhaps the extension agent was missing the farmer’s point, (which was something along the lines of “You can take your college degree and your book learning, crawl on back up in your modern technology and head back down the road!”)
Either way, it is clear that at least one of them was missing it.
And I believe we see something similar when approaching the Old Testament book of Jonah as well. Actually, we could likely say that Jonah is a misunderstood book located in a highly misunderstood portion of the Bible, the Old Testament.
Often when you talk to people, you get the idea that God in the New Testament is painted as a loving and gracious God pursuing Gentiles and outsiders, instructing us to care for orphans and the poor, healing the sick, showing up at parties with awesome wine. But the God in the Old Testament is presented as angry, hurling lightening bolts, and turning rivers to blood, instructing his people to wipe out whole populations of people.
So what do we do? We avoid the Old Testament and camp out in the New Testament. We preach through books like Acts while we lift high the mission of the church. We soak in the beauty of Jesus in the Gospels. We educate one another with the Pastoral Epistles. We chew on the deep theology of books like Romans. Occasionally we even give a passing nod to a couple of passages in Revelation that we actually understand. But for the most part, the Old Testament is ignored.
It’s as if the the God of the New Testament is seen as a God of grace while the God in the Old Testament is seen as a God of wrath. So we emphasize grace and avoid wrath. Yet in reality, the Old Testament picture of God is just as merciful and gracious, just as kind and long-suffering, just as interested in outsiders coming into the kingdom as the New Testament is.
Besides, if this book is what we claim, God’s very revelation of himself to His people, and if 2/3 of the Bible is in the Old Testament, then when we avoid the Old Testament, we are missing 2/3 of God’s introduction of himself to us, 2/3 of what God deemed necessary and appropriate for his people to have a full and adequate understanding of who he is. Can you imagine receiving a letter of introduction for a new employee at work and skipping 2/3 of the information? We have an inadequate understanding of all of Scripture, therefore we have an inadequate understanding of all of God. We have missed the point.
Not only do we miss the point of God being revealed to us in all of Scripture, but many of us miss the point of Jonah in particular. We all learned in Sunday school that Jonah is a story about a big fish! Right? Jonah has 4 relatively short chapters, just under 50 verses total. This “great fish” that we consider central to the story shows up in only 3 verses. When we tell the story of Jonah as the story of a great big fish, we have missed the point. The book of Jonah, as is all of Scripture, is recorded for us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, not so that we might see a fish, but so that we might know God.
Jonah is not a story about a great big fish. Jonah is a story about a great big God. And knowing who God is, coming to a deeper understanding of what He has done, helps us to better understand who we are in relation to Him, therefore allowing us better understand exactly what it is that this good and gracious God wants us to be and do as a worshipping community. This is why we come together and experience the Word of God preached in its entirety, both Old and New Testaments. This is why we are currently preaching through the Book of Jonah in our worship time together.
If you do not have a church home, we would love for you to join us on Sunday evenings at 5:00pm where we sing and pray together of this great God. We hear the gospel preached from all of Scripture, God’s revelation of himself to us, both Old and New Testament. We hear of God’s grace, we sing of God’s grace, we witness and experience God’s grace (in the Sacraments) and we remind one another of God’s grace. This is our hope for our worship time together. We welcome you to join in.