Daily Reflections

I was reading the book of Jonah today and came across Jonah’s self designation in chapter 1, verse 9: “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

There are several things that came to mind when I read this regarding my new webspace:

1)  Chapter and verses are a Christian invention and yet modern Jews use them in their Bibles.

2)  Jonah doesn’t refer to himself as a Jew or an Israelite but rather as a Hebrew.  Now my study notes say that this was an ethnic description commonly used in the Bible, but was typically intended by non-Israelites or Hebrews as a disparaging term.  They don’t give any references to back up their position and I didn’t find anything to this effect in the Holman Bible Dictionary.  (I have yet to consult another at this time.)  Holman’s idea is that Jonah may have wanted to clarify that he was a descendant from Eber rather than an Amorite that had control of Babylonia for appx 400 yrs (2000-1595 BC).  Why some ethnic group almost a thousand years removed from these sailors would be of concern baffles me, but I suppose old hatreds linger on…

The part that is fascinating is that Jonah does not refer to himself, as I said, by a nationality (Israel) or by a tribe – all we know of Jonah is that he was the son of Amittai and from Gath Hepher which was in Zebulun’s territory (2 Kgs 14:25) – but by either the ethnic or linguistic designation of Hebrew.

Holman further points out that after the death of Saul (1 Sam 29) it does not appear in the historical books and that Israel and/or Judah may be reserved for religious and political terms for the people of the covenant/God’s nation.

3)  Hebrew as a language.  The third thing that came to mind was that Hebrew was still a viable language in Jonah’s day.  If he was speaking Hebrew with the sailors, then he wouldn’t have to identify himself as such much like a Latino wouldn’t have to identify himself to another Latino as such if they were already conversing in Spanish.  If one were to state I’m Columbian and the other Venezuelian, then there would be the difference.   Thus the fact that the sailors didn’t know that Jonah was a Hebrew and that he was able to book passage on a ship to another country may indicate that Jonah may have been bilingual.  (Although we know from Scripture that at least some Assyrians knew Hebrew – 2 Chron 32:18).

However, by the time of Darius, Aramaic was making inroads into the world scene as the standard vehicle for communication among the majority.  Following the Bar Kokhba revolt, Hebrew gradually ceased to be spoken so that by the time The Messiah arrived on the scene His own people were both fascinated to hear their mother tongue spoken (Acts 21:4022:1-8) and unsure what they were hearing (Matt 27:46-47). Greek was the next major language to be accepted on the world scene and soon Hebrew became a dead language.

So much so that I once read this wonderful article by Robert Henderson called “Waking the Dead: Hebrew Rises from the Grave” where he compares the resurrection of Hebrew to that of the cloning of Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs and what was in the mind of a single man: Eliezer Yitzhak PERLMAN, more commonly known as Eliezer Ben YEHUDA.  And indeed that’s very close to the idea of what came to pass.

Hebrew had ceased to exist, to be spoken as a language.  There were no words for ice-cream or bicycle prior to PERLMAN/YEHUDA.  He had to create them and convince people to use them.  Prior to this the world’s Jews spoke the language of the country they lived in – and a lot of that was Russian, German and Yiddish (which didn’t show up until the 10th century!).

Where, faithful Jew – covenant people of God – is your continuity?  I’ll tell you.  It’s in your mythology.  It’s in your mind.  It’s certainly not rooted in history.  As the Scripture and history bear out, “because you have forsaken the LORD, He has also forsaken you“. (2 Chron 24:20)

“Salvation is of the Lord” as Jonah says and that Salvation is only provided for through the atoning work of The Promised Messiah (Prophet: Deut 18:15, 18-19; Priest/King: Zech 6:12-13; Jer 23:5-6; Jer 33:15-18).

4)  Jonah says that he is “a Hebrew” and that he “worship[s] the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”

Jonah knows both who he is and where he came from and Who he worships.  His faith is in The Lord of heaven and earth.  Not in the god of the Talmud, not in some god of mythology and kabbalah mysticism who says that Abraham

So what are modern Jews if they, unlike Jonah have no continuity of heritage: ancestry, language, homeland or faith?  I’ll tell you.  They are Jews for nothing.

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July 2008

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