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Thursday
July 18th, 2019

gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

I feel privileged to continue sharing a series of articles about places we visited on a trip to Israel. Before joining a tour group of twenty-three, my wife and I spent several days alone, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know some of the hospitable people in Palestinian Territory. On the afternoon our entire group was to assemble, we learned that ten of them were delayed – a plane had slid off the runway in Newark, New Jersey and flights were backed up - so they would be trickling in through that night and the next day. Until everyone arrived, our guide modified the schedule and we were able to visit one site which wasn’t on the original itinerary. 

All flights were landing in Tel Aviv, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea with 450,000 inhabitants. There we walked to the shore and spent the first night. But thousands of years before its founding in 1909, Joppa – or Jaffa (Yafo) as it’s now called – was the city. Tel Aviv is modern and predominantly Jewish, while the suburb Jaffa has an old-world feel with a population made up of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. 

 The morning we went to Jaffa, the sea waters were aqua, the sky a filmy blue. The shore was surrounded with pretty trees, shrubs, a small fountain, and flat-roofed Mediterranean architecture interspersed with mosques, minarets and a clock tower. We visited the sanctuary of St. Peter’s cathedral, with a mural of Peter at the home of Simon the tanner (Acts chapters 9 and 10). The church is on the traditional site where Peter raised Dorcas from the dead.

Centuries before the centurion Cornelius’ men found Peter in Joppa, this was also the port city where the prophet Jonah fled after receiving his call to preach in Nineveh. Who could blame Jonah for choosing Joppa over Nineveh – 550 miles over land to a vicious enemy, or this beautiful port city to sail away. Sometimes God does send people places they think they don’t want to go, and Jonah used all the tactics – reluctance, resistance, running away – to escape from his call. 

His plan was to head for Tarshish, 2500 miles away on the Spanish coast, but like Adam and Eve after their sin, Jonah found you can’t hide from God. He also learned that God is the God of second chances, when a giant sea creature swallowed him yet he didn’t die. In the process, he became the instrument in saving the ship’s crew (Jonah 1:16) when they threw him overboard and acknowledged that the Lord had power to calm the waves. 

Jonah’s three days in the belly of the creature reminds us of three days Jesus spent in the tomb, and three times Peter denied the Lord. Also the sheet Peter saw on Simon’s roof was lowered three times, full of animals he’d previously thought were unclean and couldn’t be eaten. The number indicates God’s divine perfection. Jesus mentioned Jonah in Matthew 12:40 and compared their three days. 

The Book of Jonah contains an ancient poem about the prophet’s experience in the depths (Jonah 2:2-9). After his description of that time, we recall that Jonah did travel to Nineveh after he was spit out on the seashore. When he got there, all he did was walk around the perimeter of the city, proclaiming, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). The Assyrians were cruel and violent people, so Jonah probably found some satisfaction in telling them how God was going to carry out judgment. But, surprisingly, the king and the citizens listened to the word of prophecy, prayed, tore down their idols, and there was a time of mass repentance that delayed God’s judgment for more than 150 years. 

Other events in Joppa tie in with proofs that God cares – about the people of Nineveh (Book of Jonah), Tabitha (Dorcas) who rose from the dead (Acts chapter 9), the Roman centurion Peter and Cornelius and his household (Acts chapter 10), and us. Many times we think of Jonah’s story as being about the “big fish” where Jonah was convinced to go to Nineveh. But really, it’s about our “big God” who intervened several times in Jonah’s life and thus saved the sailors, the prophet himself, and a great city of more than 100,000 people. Jonah’s poem ends with the words, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). 

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