Monday, August 24, 2009

Treasure in Nineveh

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." ~Jonah 3:1-2

This is what I taught last night.

I gave out slips of paper and had everyone write down something they treasure. Then I began:

Probably like many of you, this week my husband and I have been talking about all the unrest in the world, in our country, in our community, and even in our church--not that anything is wrong in the church, other than we are going through changes. Somewhere in the midst of our conversation, he said something that just really caught my heart and all those things just seem to suddenly implode down to just one thing.

He simply said "[The Princess] is our treasure."

It really stuck with me. Not the idea itself, but the way it brought everything into focus down to one thing. It changed my entire perspective in an instant.

I had this in my mind all week when I thought I might volunteer to teach a study tonight, so I had a destination, but no compass. Then, I asked our "little treasure" what I should teach about tonight and she said Jonah.

Okay, now I am thinking that this is like a potato chip sandwich. Two slices of soft bread with potato chips crunched into the middle and the only thing holding it together is me, but--hey! I like a challenge!

So our topic is Treasure in Nineveh.

Now, you all know I homeschool, so I am going to teach on this topic in what is called a Unit Study, which is teaching on a particular topic using a variety of subjects mashed together. I thought you might like to know a bit about how homeschooling works and get a glimpse of what I do. I usually teach with a more classical approach, but I like to do unit studies for something a bit different now and then.

So tonight we are going to cover a bit of grammar, vocabulary, etymology, history, theology, geography, cultural studies, and science.

Whew! If anyone of you want to run out the door, this is your chance.

Oh, I am going to spare you on math, although I could have made up some equations based on Jonah's travels from Joppa to Nineveh by way of Tarshish and the distance a fish could swim in three days with a man in its belly. It just seemed a bit much.

Let's define what a treasure is to you.
What do you treasure?
What is your treasure?
Where is your treasure?
Do you share your treasure?
How do you keep your treasure safe?

I would like everyone to read what you wrote down as your treasure.

This is what the dictionary says about the word treasure:
1 a (1) : wealth (as money, jewels, or precious metals) stored up or hoarded (2) : wealth of any kind or in any form : riches b : a store of money in reserve
2 : something of great worth or value; also : a person esteemed as rare or precious
3 : a collection of precious things

Now for the etymology. Treasure comes from a Middle English term tresor, which is Anglo-French, and that word comes from a Latin word that is still in use today: thesaurus.

You probably have heard of a thesaurus. I have one right here. It is a book of synonyms, words that have similar meanings, but the first definition for thesaurus is a treasury or storehouse, so where you place your treasure can be a thesaurus.

Did people of ancient times have a thesaurus for their treasure? Where did people of ancient times hide their treasure?

Yes, they hid them often by burying it. This was done throughout history in every culture until we had vaults and banks, but this could only done with some of the treasures you wrote on your paper. Some of you wrote treasures that cannot be buried. Even so, there is one thing in common with all your treasures. They are all nouns.

A noun is the name of a person, place, thing, or idea.

Some of you named things, but some of you named ideas. Ideas are not tangible. They cannot be buried. We probably all treasure certain ideas, like faith, love, joy, peace, even life.

I think Jonah must have treasured the last three I named more than He treasured another idea: obedience to God. Now probably most of us have heard and known the story of Jonah since we were children. We know that Nineveh was a bad place, not a place to store one's treasure, but that is not how God saw it.

Read: Jonah 3:5-10
5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.
7 He issued a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.
8 "But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.
9 Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish."
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Wow! Now that is a change!

I never really understood why these people and even the king would listen to Jonah. He was a newcomer, a nobody, spouting off about another God, the Hebrew God, no less--and they had so many gods already--and how this God would to destroy the city in forty days if they did not repent.

Why did they listen to Jonah?

Yes, God had prepared them but how had He prepared them?

To understand why Jonah had such an impact on these people, we might want to consider had been happening in Nineveh.

The problem we have is that historians cannot pinpoint the exact year Jonah went to Nineveh, which is quite common with ancient history. Records simply were not kept or were lost over time, so dates are often in dispute and changed with new findings. It is the most difficult part for me in learning history because I like to know exactly when one thing happened and how it affected other known events, but much of the time we don't have those absolutes with ancient history.

I am going to draw a time line so that it is easier for us to follow. First of all, Nineveh of that time period when Jonah lived was part of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. That era started roughly in 934 BC and ended in 609 BC, so that is the basis for our time line. You might find, as I do, that BC dates are a bit confusing because they go backwards. Just remember that time is linear and it is going from left to right.

Between the years 823 BC and 745 BC, historians believe that Nineveh's leadership was weaker than it had been, so I am going draw that on our time line also.

Now, we cannot know what year Jonah went to Nineveh, but there is reference to Jeroboam II reigning in Israel during that time. Again this brings up some speculation on the exact years and, to add to the confusion, part of Jeroboam's reign was shared with another, but generally his reign was from 793 BC to 753 BC.

We have narrowed Jonah's journey down to a 40 year span, so let's look at what is happening in Nineveh within those 40 years. In 765 BC, Nineveh suffers a plague.

Let's consider this for a moment. The people of that time did not have science like we do today. They did not understand why one person would be struck down ill and another would not. Germs were unknown to them, so illnesses were often thought to be caused by supernatural means like demons or the wrath of gods.

In 763 BC, Nineveh has a solar eclipse noted in the Assyrian Chronological Cannon. Again, in our day and age, we know that the sun and the moon circle the earth and once in awhile the moon gets between the sun and the earth causing an eclipse. However, to the people of Nineveh this would probably be a very frightening sign. One of their many gods was a sun god named Shamash. The city even had a gate on the east side named after him.

In 759 BC, Nineveh suffers another plague.

In 755 BC, there is an earthquake of some significance in Nineveh. Again, this has to be done by a god because they have no knowledge of shifting in tectonic plates.

So, roughly in a ten year time frame and during the time when the leadership was weak, Nineveh had some very hard times, many deaths and frightening phenomena. Since the people did not have science to explain these phenomena, they assumed such these were done by one of the gods. They were all probably wondering which god is displeased.

When does Jonah go to Nineveh? I found one reference stating the Book of Jonah was written around 785 BC and another that began first began prophesying around 760 BC (fifteen years later) and another that Jonah supported Jeroboam's expansion of Israel in 776 BC. As I said before, ancient history gets sketchy on some dates.

However, it is more likely for me to believe that Nineveh would listen to an unknown newcomer if they were already thinking that one of the gods were trying to get their attention. I believe that Jonah went to Nineveh sometime during or after that ten year period of these life threatening and frightening events. I think Nineveh was a spiritual thesaurus prepared by God Himself just waiting to be filled.

Then along comes Jonah, a prophet of God. He finally has gone to Nineveh, where he may have feared for his life to go previously but--hey! after fearing for his own life in the belly of a fish for three days anything might look like a better alternative. He is now boldly going with a treasure beyond measure to give to Nineveh at just the right time. Too bad he still has a chip on his shoulder, but he does do what God commanded for him to do: He delivers the message, the treasure.

The treasure was an idea, a warning and invitation from the one true God. Of course, the one who gave the treasure was the one who was blind to its worth, but that is how treasures work. There has to be a desire for it before it is a treasure and Jonah lacked desire for the people of Nineveh to be saved from God's wrath.

We are a thesaurus full with a treasure, the Holy Spirit. It is not to be hidden away buried and protected. We cannot allow ourselves to be like Jonah thinking that we might offend people or that they do not deserve God's blessings, but we are to go boldly out believing that the Lord has prepared the storehouses before we deliver His treasure.

~ My Lord, thank you for this opportunity to teach. Teach us all to treasure pleasing You more than anything else. ~

1 comment:

Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.