When we left off yesterday, Jonah had just been tossed over the edge of the boat into the stormy sea, which subsequently immediately calmed down. “And the Lord appointed a huge fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights (Jonah 2:1).” This is arguably the most famous part of the story, and is why it’s most known as Jonah and the whale. Jonah is in the belly of the animal, alive, and he prays to God from this place. For someone who had such little faith that he ran away when called by God, he sure turns to Him quickly at this time of distress. Whatever the motivation, God takes Jonah’s pleas as sincere, and after the three day period, has the fish spit him out on dry land. In the children’s story version, this is the end, but we have two more chapters to go, so the story will continue!
Today starts the book of Jonah, one that I’ve heard read by my father every Yom Kippur for over ten years. So it’s one that I know (for a change), and I’m excited to see the chapter breakdown, not to mention having a narrative arc once again, which really hasn’t happened since the books of Kings.
“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying: Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city, and proclaim against it, for their evil has come before Me (Jonah 1:1-2).” With these opening words, Jonah has his charge and his mission, but while we know why Nineveh, we don’t know why Jonah. Abraham was also sent on a mission, and Moses, and many other prophets, but we got some background as to why, whereas we meet Jonah seemingly out of the blue. Jonah doesn’t seem particularly thrilled about the situation either, and instead of listening to the direct command of God, he decides to run away, fleeing to Tarshish, thinking that he can escape God. Spoiler: it doesn’t work like that.
Jonah gets on a boat, but God sends a huge storm to the sea that threatens to capsize the ship. The crew is freaking out and praying, but Jonah seems unconcerned and goes to sleep. The captain wakes him up to get him to help by praying to his own God for salivation. We aren’t told if he obeyed that command, but either way, the prayers don’t work, and the sailors decide to cast lots to test whose fault it is that the storm has hit them so harshly. As we all know, it’s Jonah, running away from God. The solution that everyone agrees to in order to save the ship from the storm is that Jonah will be thrown overboard, something that the sailors do not agree to lightly. But eventually they do agree, and once they throw him, the storm ceases, and the sailors know God’s power.
Jonah is an odd character thus far. He’s given a mission by God, is stupid enough to think he can avoid Him just by changing location, and yet has enough faith to sacrifice himself for the men. We still don’t know why he was chosen to go to Nineveh, but the next chapter will bring us to the most famous part of his story, so we’ll learn more tomorrow!
Hello and goodbye from the shortest book of Tanakh! That’s right, the book of Obadiah is only one chapter, meaning I’m starting and finishing today, and that the term ‘book’ is being used pretty freely in this context. This guy must be pretty important to merit an insertion for only one chapter (or, conversely, he’s beyond minor since he has so little to say). He’s definitely not a prophet that I have any prior experience with, but I want to do him justice in this short amount of space.
It looks like his vision from God concerns the Edomites. “If you go up high like an eagle, and if you place your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down, says the Lord (Obadiah 1:4).” Edom is being warned for its arrogance, and the consequences that come from reaching too highly. Later in the chapter, we also learn that the Edomites rejoiced at the destruction of Judah, and took advantage of them, so they are also being punished for that. Fulfilling a prophecy that dates back to Jacob and Esau, and is now being fulfilled by the nations that descended from them, Edom will be punished and destroyed while Judah eventually prospers and regains its dominance.
Done. With that, 510 chapters down, 419 to go! On another note, I leave tomorrow for a week-long vacation, so while my intention is to keep posting along the way, things may be a little off schedule. Looking forward to our next book!
This is the final chapter of the book of Amos. Reading this book has been the first time that I’ve delved into this prophet at all, and I’m finding myself interested in adding books on all of the minor prophets to my never-ending, every-growing reading list. I know so much research has been done on all of them, and I’m just scratching the surface. For this chapter, I want to focus on the last verse of Amos. “And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no longer be uprooted from upon their land, that I have given them, said the Lord your God (Amos 9:15).” What I love about this particular verse is that it makes me think about roots, and connections that run beneath the surface. So many of the anti-Israel conversations that are happening today stem from a questioning of the intrinsic link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. But reading these texts drives home for me just how deep the ties go, and how intentional it is that this is the piece of land that we as a people have staked our futures on. We are bound together, and reading our history through Tanakh is both eye-opening and affirming.
509 chapters down, 402 to go!
God continues to tell Amos about cursing and destroying the people. One of the things that they will suffer is the ruination of their usual festivals. “And I will turn your festivals into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation, and I bring up sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head, and I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and its end is like a bitter day (Amos 8:10).” I’m particularly intrigued about the idea of the festivals being turned into days of punishment and sadness because today is the first day of Chanukah (and Christmas for those who celebrate). In America in particularly, it’s prime festival season, and to think about this joyous and beautiful time of year being turned into a time of mourning and sadness would be to think of a tremendous loss. There are plenty of days of solemnity already built into the calendar, and even more that become sad for a plethora of reasons. That’s why it’s all the more important to keep these days and seasons of joy and happiness. Wishing everyone blessings during whatever holidays you celebrate, and for the rest of the year!
Tomorrow marks two years straight of Project 929. I’ve said this before, and it continues to be true: I’ve never stuck with anything for this long, and I’ve found it to be a very rewarding, enlightening process. It’s often challenging, but beautiful to find a piece of every chapter to reflect on and delve into. I’m enjoying learning about the parts of Tanakh that I hadn’t been familiar with before, and even more, reading closely the parts that I did previously know. At this point, I’ve finished the whole Torah, and the major prophets. Now I’m into the minor prophets, and after that will come the writings, which will take me through to the end of the project. I don’t know that I’ve yet found the kind of verse that truly touches my soul, and provides the guidepost to my life and belief that I’m on some level searching for, but I’m confident that it’s there. I’ve been thinking about what’ll happen after this project (even though I still have quite a ways to go). I’ve thought about taking on Daf Yomi, the daily study of Talmud, even though seven years of obscure topics sounds kind of terrifying. I’ve thought about reading the weekly parsha, because even though I’ll now have read all of them in pieces, it’ll be a different spin to see the stories without arbitrary breaks. I’m not sure what’ll come next, but I do know that this project has triggered within me a thirst for more, deeper learning, and I’m excited to continue and expand.
Thank you for being with me on this journey! Here’s to the start of a wonderful THIRD year!
“Thus He showed me, and behold the Lord was standing on a wall made by a plumbline, with a plumbline in His hand. And the Lord said to me; What do you see, Amos? And I said, ‘A plumbline.’ And the Lord said, Behold I place a plumbline in the midst of My people Israel; I will no longer pardon them (Amos 7:7-8).'” I chose this verse because it’s not often that I don’t recognize a word in the English translation, and it seems like ‘plumbline’ is pretty crucial here. According to Google, it’s defined as: a line with a plumb attached to it, used for finding the depth of water or determining the vertical on an upright surface. So what does this have to do with a direct encounter with God? I believe this verse is talking about testing the depths of the people, testing their inners and the extent of their loyalty, efforts, and convictions. In this case, of course, the people come up short. I imagine that many of us would do so as well, if our very cores were examine by God. I’m not even able to be that introspective of myself, so I can only imagine what would happen if a divine being looked into my soul. What would be found? What am I in my deepest self?
It took me a little effort to find something in this chapter that I understood, let alone that spoke to me. The verses seemed a bit disjointed, with imagery and references that didn’t jump out to me for reflection. The one verse that I chose to explore read as follows: “Those who rejoice over a thing of nought, who say, ‘With our strength we have taken horns for ourselves (Amos 6:13).'” This verse seems to be referencing people who focus on inconsequential issues as matters of great priority. Their perspectives are off, as they don’t see the larger picture of events and cause/effect that said events are part of. While it’s often easier to focus on tiny, nitty-gritty details, true growth and appreciation can only come from an embrace of the larger whole.
We are given a charge as human beings. “Seek good and not evil in order that you live, and so the Lord God of Hosts shall be with you, as you said (Amos 5:14).” There have been themes throughout Tanakh about the importance of seeking good, and justice, and peace. All worthwhile causes for us to strive for. But what’s interesting hear is the reason. We need to search for goodness so that we can live. A life or a society comprised of evil cannot be sustained, and will not provide a fulfilling life. Without the pursuit of goodness, people wouldn’t care for the weak in society, raise each other up, and work to better the world. It’s that work that I believe leads us to the second clause, about God being with us. I truly believe that God is present when we act in ways that emulate Him, and it’s through the quest for goodness that we achieve that connection.
Amos continues to speak in extended metaphors. They’re bizarre and seemingly unconnected, and then he concludes with a statement about God’s nature. “For behold, He forms mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what his speech is; He makes dawn into darkness, and treads on the high places of the earth; the Lord God of Hosts is His Name (Amos 4:13).” All of these things are the miracles that we take for granted every day. They’re not the one time massive displays of power like the 10 plagues or the parting of the Red Sea. Instead, they’re the wonders that all of us experience so regularly that we often forget to acknowledge them and thank God for them. There are, of course, blessings that we’re supposed to say upon seeing natural phenomenon, but I’m happy to personally admit that I’m usually way too busy and caught up in my own head to do so. Mountains, wind, the cycle of the days, and the wonders of the human body and capabilities are all incredible if you think closely about them. What are the others daily miracles in our lives that we may not remember to acknowledge God’s presence in?