Friday, May 26, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday May 28, 2017

Over 131,000 readers worldwide
(GOD is in control, even when we are frustrated with HIM)
(Jonah 4)

   In Jonah 4, we see the prophet throwing a major, adult-sized temper tantrum, storming out of the city of Nineveh, and sitting himself in the shade of a large leafy plant that GOD had provided for his protection from the blazing hot sun. There he literally sulked and pouted for the remainder of the day, and throughout the whole night.
    Jonah was angered and very disturbed earlier by the fact, that, because of his preaching GOD’s message to the Ninevites, they had put an end to their evils ways and practices. God, as a result of their conversion, had granted them mercy and did not carry out HIS previous plan of judgment upon them. Jonah was angered, although he knew that this (leading people to salvation) was the GODly thing to do.
    And so after his salvation mission was complete, Jonah complained bitterly to the LORD about HIS decision to grant the Assyrians, who were Israel’s enemies, HIS favor. In verses 2-3 Jonah laments; “Didn’t I say before I left home that YOU would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that YOU were a gracious and compassionate GOD, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily YOU could cancel YOUR plans for destroying these people. Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive because nothing I predicted is going to happen” (NLT).
    However the LORD replied to Jonah’s anger and disappointment with this question, “Is it right for you to be angry about this? GOD continues to deal with HIS disgruntled prophet, and attempts to console his discomfort somewhat, by providing the large leafy plant, that, unbeknownst to Jonah, would later serve it purpose further, in “an object lesson” that is being prepared here in this passage (Vs.5-8) by the LORD.
    After the LORD gave shade and comfort from the scorching sun to Jonah with the large leaves of this unidentified plant, Jonah was very grateful. However, here the LORD is just setting Jonah up for the lesson in “compassion” that he so sorely needed, because later HE would send a worm to eat at the stem of huge plant, causing it to die and wither away by morning.
    As the sun rose the following day, and became hotter and hotter, the LORD then sends a scorching hot wind from the east to blow on Jonah causing him to grow very faint. Jonah became so uncomfortable that he felt that he was about to die, and in fact, he declared to the LORD that it was better that he did die (v.8b).
    Just as GOD had asked Jonah earlier, “Is it right for you to be angry because the Ninevite’s lives were spared? Here HE poses a similar question to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died? And Jonah’s replies “Yes, even angry enough to die!”
    GOD then calls out Jonah’s failure to employ “GODly wisdom” to this situation, a wisdom which had been squelched by his emotion of “anger”. Here GOD ends this book of Jonah on a “cliffhanger” by saying to HIS angry prophet, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great (populous) city?” (NLT)
    Here GOD exposes Jonah as a man who is ruled by his “emotions”, rather than being ruled by his “compassion”, a condition that “men of GOD” can’t afford to put themselves into. He has developed and nurtured an attitude that now leads him to believe that there are some people in this world, and animals, that deserve less mercy from GOD and man, than a single plant that may be here today, and gone tomorrow. He clearly, because of his lack of self control over his emotions, has pushed his priorities way out of the realm of GOD’s intended order for us to live by.
    The lesson that GOD is trying to teach Jonah here is that, when we cause HIM to withdraw HIS favor from us, through our own ungratefulness, disobedience, and lack of compassion, we don’t have a right to be angry when we see GOD bestowing HIS grace and compassion upon someone else, who is more obedient than we are, even if HE bestows it upon someone we don’t necessarily like.
    We cannot be sure whether or not this lesson was wasted on Jonah, because the book of Jonah ends without him ever responding to GOD’s final comments to him. However, as I said in the last commentary, Jonah was clearly at fault with his attitude of not wanting GOD’s Will and compassion to be demonstrated in the lives of others, even if he felt, through his lack of faith, that they might somehow harm him in the future. If we pray for GOD’s Will to be done, even in the lives of those we think might harm us, as Believers, we have to know that GOD, can and will, act on their heart for the better, and thus, remove us from the peril of their wicked intentions.
    The book of Jonah has often been referred to as “the Gospel of Second Chances” because it clearly shows that when we know GOD, HE will not let us run away from obedience for too long. And sometimes, HE may have to place “great storms” in our lives, or “great fish” in our path, to get our attention. However, we can be thankful, because ultimately, our good and compassionate GOD always has our best interest at heart.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander



Friday, May 19, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday May 21, 2017

Over 130,000 readers worldwide
(GOD shows compassion to repentant sinners)
(Jonah 3)

   The prophet Jonah ministered during the reign of Jeroboam II. Years earlier, during the reign of Jeroboam’s great grandfather, Jehu, the nation of Assyria had established dominance in the east. They had secured tributes from Jehu, and, in effect, had made him their “vassal”, or, “puppet king”. Sometime later however, the Assyrians suffered a temporary setback due to dissension within their own camp, and this allowed Jeroboam to expand Israel’s territories to its greatest size since the “United Kingdom” days of David and Solomon.
    Unfortunately, because of Jeroboam’s continued disobedience to GOD, and his leading of Israel farther into idolatry, GOD, in an effort to give him a chance to repent and make things right, sent both Amos and Hosea into northern Israel to warn him of HIS impending judgment on their sins and social injustices. In fact, the prophet Hosea specifically told Israel that GOD would use the Assyrians to topple them because of their refusal to return to HIM (Hosea 11:5).
    It seems likely that, because Assyria, at that time, had been lingering in a weakened and declining state for some years, Israel was not inclined to believe the words of GOD’s prophets, and thus remained stubborn, steadfastly refusing to heed the prophets warnings from GOD.
    And perhaps, these prophecies from Amos and Hosea also served to explain why Jonah, who did believe them when they said that Assyria would destroy Israel, was reluctant to obey GOD and go to preach repentance to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria. He understandably had a real problem with going to save his enemy so that they could come later and destroy Israel.
    Here in chapter 3, we see, a now obedient Jonah, traveling to Nineveh to deliver GOD’s message to the Assyrian populace, still hoping in his heart, that they would not heed his warning of imminent judgment. However, much to Jonah’s surprise, after the king  himself heard his message, he came down from his throne, took off his royal robes, wrapped himself in sackcloth, and sent out a royal decree commanding that all the people of the kingdom repent and pray earnest prayers to the GOD of Israel.
    Everyone, all the way down to the least in the kingdom, was required to dress themselves in sackcloth, and fast and pray. Even the animals in the kingdom were not given any food and water during this period of fasting and praying. And when GOD saw the Assyrians demonstration of earnest repent and obedience to HIM, HE had mercy on them and did not carry out HIS alternate plan of judgment and destruction. Jonah’s mission had been an overwhelming success, even though Jonah himself was not happy at all with the results.
    Genuine repent always tends to melt the heart of GOD, even though, in this case, it did nothing but harden the heart of Jonah. Whenever GOD sees genuine repent and GODly sorrow in the human side of HIS creation, HIS compassion is rained down on those individuals who exhibit it. He is always pleased to grant us HIS mercy, grace, and forgiveness, whenever we decide to turn from our own way of doing things, and embrace HIS way, which has already been laid out for us to follow, through the human life example of CHRIST JESUS, that HE exhibited to us, while living here on earth.
    Nineveh’s repentance delayed GOD’s wrath on them for another 150 years. However, as mankind seems to always do, the people of Nineveh in the next generation fell back into the doldrums of sin, and ultimately, their city still had to be destroyed because of it. World history now tells us that Nineveh was invaded and destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nabopolasser, with help from his ally Cyaxeres the Mede, in 612 B.C. (also see Nahum’s prophecy in the Book of Nahum). And, by the way, because of Jonah’s negative attitude towards that generation of Ninevite’s salvation, GOD had to continue to deal with him concerning those issues, after his mission in Nineveh was complete. Stay tuned.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander


Friday, May 12, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday May 14, 2017

Over 130,000 readers worldwide

(Pray when your situation seems hopeless)
(Jonah 2)

   After GOD had miraculously altered Jonah’s self-conceived itinerary, and caused him to be swallowed up by a very large fish, during “a divinely provoked storm” at sea, the prophet now sits in the belly of this great creature, praying, not so much for rescue, as he is praying for forgiveness for refusing to honor GOD’s charge to him to go to Nineveh, and deliver HIS message to his pagans enemies who lived there.
    After much repent and prayer by Jonah, GOD, in HIS OWN unique way, releases him back on dry land, giving him a second shot at obedience. Here in Jonah 2, the prophet abandon’s his previous selfish attitude of “national pride” and now incorporates the travel plans that GOD had originally given him back in Samaria.
    Despite the simplicity of the story of Jonah, it is perhaps one of the better books in the Old Testament, as far as its teachings on spiritual lessons are concerned. In this terse but wonderful book, GOD is rightfully presented as being deeply concerned about the welfare of all people, not just the Israelites. In this book we also see how gracious HE can be with the people whom HE calls, despite their great effort to ignore HIS calling.
    In essence, Jonah’s mission to Nineveh would also serve as an object lesson to Israel, who at that time, as far as their behavior was concerned, was living just as far away from GOD as Nineveh was. Perhaps the timing of this mission, which came during the reign of Jeroboam II, a time of great prosperity in Israel, served to confront those social injustices and various other evils that seemed to grow right alongside the Israelite’s fledgling and immensely healthy economic conditions.
    We can consider ourselves very fortunate that GOD has compassion on all mankind, believers and unbelievers, and HE allows it to rain on both the “just”, and, the “unjust” at the same time, and perhaps, this is the reason why; There are many people in this world who don’t believe in GOD, and yet, are still very capable of doing “a right thing” from time to time. Also, there are many Christians in this world, who often know “the right thing to do”, but yet, they yield to their own “sin nature” and choose to do “the wrong thing” anyway.
    We have to always keep in mind that it is GOD’s desire that all men be saved, and that is HIS eternal attitude toward mankind in general. However, GOD also knows that most people are going to choose to go to Hell, and that, only a remnant will ultimately choose salvation over their own selfish desires. Jonah erred in his attitude and behavior toward the Assyrians, because he did not desire that “GOD’s Will” be done in the lives of other human beings, who, like himself, are also made in the spiritual image of GOD.
    GOD embodies us all with the same “communicable attributes” (HIS Nature) from birth. HE endows only the “human side” of HIS creation with the attributes of Life, Personality, Truth, Justice, Love, Wisdom, and Holiness. These attributes automatically renders all human beings, no matter whom they are, or, where they come from, capable of worshiping GOD, and having a personal, experiential relationship with HIM. And so, an “obedient witness”, regardless of their race, creed, or national origin, can, through their speech and behavior, be effective in fulfilling the desires of GOD, for all mankind, here on earth. And that includes all of us.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander



Friday, May 5, 2017

An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday May 7, 2017

Over 129,000 readers worldwide

(GOD can bring us to HIMSELF in unexpected way)
(Jonah 1)

   The prophet Jonah, the son of Amittai, was born in Israel (2 Kings 14:25) in the 7th century B.C. He lived in Samaria, the capital city of northern Israel at that time. In the book of Jonah, in chapter 1, Jonah is called by GOD to travel to Nineveh, which is located about 550 miles northeast of Samaria, to prophesy to, and to warn the Ninevites, Israel’s greatest enemy at that time, to repent and turn to GOD.
    Nineveh was a unique, double walled pagan city of around 120,000 inhabitants, and it was located in the middle of the Assyrian Empire. It was so large, that it would take a person 3 days just to see the whole city. The inner wall of Nineveh was 100 feet high and 50 feet thick, and it directly surrounded the central city of Nineveh. The outer wall, which was similar in height and strength, surrounded the smaller towns, villages and fields (the suburbs) that were situated outside of the city.
    Jonah’s charge from GOD was to go there and deliver HIS message of judgment on the people, that, if they did not repent within 40 days, they would be destroyed. However, Jonah, because of his “national pride” and his hatred for his enemies on all sides, chose to ignore the LORD’s calling, and instead, he ran as far in the opposite direction as possible, all the way to Tarshish.
    Now a quick look at ancient maps tells us that Jonah’s fleeing to Tarshish was as far as one could go away from Israel in a westward direction at that time. Tarshish was a Phoenician colony that was located about 2500 miles west of Joppa, the place where the Apostle Peter would later spend time working with “Simon the tanner”, after JESUS’ ascension back into Heaven (Acts chapter 10).
    Here in this chapter (v.3) we see Jonah jumping up and hurrying down the seashore to Joppa to purchase a ticket on a boat headed to faraway Tarshish. He foolishly hoped somehow, that by going there, he would be able to escape the watchful eye of the LORD. However, the LORD caused a great storm to come over the sea that threatened to sink the ship and drown its entire crew.
    Fearing for their lives, the desperate men on board called out to their idol gods for help, while they, at one and the same time, began throwing their cargo overboard in an attempt to lighten their load.  Jonah meanwhile was sound asleep down below in the ship’s hold. When the captain of the ship realized it, he went down into the hold to wake him up. He urged Jonah to pray to his GOD, as they were praying to their gods for mercy, and maybe HE would spare them their lives.
    When Jonah came up to the deck, the sailors decided to draw straws to see which one of them had offended their respective gods, and thereby, caused the terrible storm that they were now confronted with. When they drew the straws, the LORD caused the short straw to go to Jonah.
    When the sailors confronted Jonah he admitted that it was he who had brought this disaster upon them. Knowing that GOD was using the storm to show resentment toward him for defying HIS instructions to go to Nineveh, Jonah then urged them to throw him overboard, and his GOD would cause the storm to cease.
    We are about to see here in this passage, that, even while Jonah was out of fellowship with GOD, GOD would still use Jonah to have an evangelistic impact on the men aboard the ship. His admission that he was the culprit that caused the storm, and then, his request to be sacrificed from the ship into the sea, along with the sudden stilling of the waters by GOD, all served to convert the sailors over to the real GOD, WHO dwells in Heaven, Jonah’s GOD.
    And so we see here, that, this event was not a testament to Jonah’s holiness, who at the time, was clearly navigating out of the Will of GOD, but rather, it was a testament to how a holy GOD can use imperfect agents to, not only do HIS Will, but also, in the process, glorify HIMSELF through our misbehavior.
     Even while out of fellowship with GOD, HE used Jonah to evangelize a boatload of unbelievers, into a ship full of men who were now willing to wholeheartedly dedicate themselves to the GOD in Heaven, WHO saved their lives, and their future livelihood as ship workers.
    We can all voluntarily present ourselves to GOD with clear channels through which HE can let HIS grace flow freely to ourselves, and, more importantly, to others. And we can truly, through our obedience to GOD, even in times of catastrophes such as the one presented here in this passage of Jonah, be a blessing to more people than we can ever imagine, because GOD is always trying to set us up, for a comeback.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website