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What’s the Significance of Jonah Sitting in a Booth on a Mountain?

Ask Pastor Alex, Ep. 30

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex.All right, welcome back to the podcast, everyone.We’re here with another episode and another question.And the question for this episode is, what’s the significance of Jonah sitting in a booth on a mountain?And that’s a good question.This question actually comes from one of our church members, I’m pretty sure, because I recently preached a message on Jonah chapter four called, God Loves People You Don’t Like.And I said in the sermon that there was a lot of significance to Jonah sitting in a booth on a mountain, but that I didn’t really have time to get into all that.So I said, hey, if anyone’s interested, you can submit the question to the podcast.And I’m thankful that someone did.So if you’ll recall what’s actually going on in Jonah chapter four, remember that Jonah has finally and reluctantly warned the Ninevites of God’s impending judgment.But to Jonah’s great displeasure, the Ninevites actually listened and they repented of their sins and the Lord had mercy upon them.And this is what we read in Jonah chapter four, verse one, literally in the Hebrew word for word, it reads, but it was evil to Jonah, a great evil.And he burned with anger.Then in verse five, we read this, Jonah went out of the city and he sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there.He sat under it in the shade till he should see what would become of the city.Now notice immediately something significant that we have already discussed in a previousepisode.Did you notice that Jonah went out to the east of the city?Remember we said that throughout the Bible, whenever someone goes to the east, they’removing away from God and his will and they’re moving into disobedience.And that’s exactly what Jonah is doing here.He’s not acting in accordance with God’s will and God’s way.He’s literally on this hill, this small mountain outside the city of Nineveh, waiting to see if God will judge Nineveh.He’s actually wanting to have a good view to watch the city burn.That’s how messed up this is.That’s how far Jonah is from the heart of God in this moment.He wants to have a perfect front row seat, a high view so that he can see this city burn.Now as a prophet, he is not supposed to be acting this way.I mean, as a follower of God, he’s not supposed to be acting this way.But as a prophet, he is supposed to be an intercessor for people, not a judge to condemnpeople.And so what you see here is that Jonah is failing in the prophetic role.In this whole scenario of a prophet who is supposed to intercede for people, a prophet who’s on a mountain after dealing with sinful people, it actually comes as a pattern inscripture.And you see this pattern repeated throughout scripture.And in order to see where it actually began, you have to go all the way back to Exodus chapter 32.In Exodus 32, we get what is the prophetic ideal, what a prophet is supposed to do and who a prophet is supposed to be and how a prophet is supposed to act when people do not do as God wants them to do.So just thinking about Exodus 32, remember the context, right?The Lord had just delivered the Israelites from Egypt and called Moses up on Mount Sinai to receive the law.And so I need you to note those details real quick.You have a prophet on a mountain, but almost immediately after Moses goes up on the mountain,do you remember what happened?The people of Israel rebel against the Lord and they make a golden calf.Aaron, their priest, even looks at them and says, here is the Lord your God who delivered you out of Egypt.And so they end up worshiping this golden calf right after the Lord had delivered them from Egypt.And Moses begins to come down the mountain and he sees what the people are doing.He sees that they have rebelled against God and he is angry.He’s so angry that he breaks the two tablets that the Lord had given him.And so he is in this fit of anger and he’s disappointed with the people.He has every opportunity here to be like Jonah would be later and ask the Lord to condemn the people, to pour out his wrath upon the people.And God was actually preparing to do that.God was angry, but notice what happens.Exodus chapter 32 verses 11 through 14.This is what we read.But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, Oh Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with amighty hand?Why should the Egyptians say with evil intent did he bring them out to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth?Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people.Your Abraham, Isaac and Israel, your servants to whom you swore by your own self and said to them, I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring and they shall inherit it forever.And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.So I want you to pay attention here.This is setting up the ideal of what a prophet of God is supposed to be and what he is supposed to do. Prophets are supposed to intercede for people rather than condemn people.Even though the people of Israel had immediately rebelled and sinned against the Lord and even though they did deserve his wrath, Moses begged and pleaded their case before the Lord.He was begging the Lord to have mercy.That is what a prophet is supposed to do.And then something else interesting happens while Moses is on the mountain.While he is on Mount Sinai, Moses tells God that he wants to see his glory.You remember God responds and says, well, no one can see my face and live.But then the Lord comes up with a plan.He says, here is what I am going to do.I am going to hide you in a cleft of a rock, which is essentially, I mean that might sound strange to us, but it is essentially a cave.You think about it like a cave.He is in this cave, this cleft of a rock, and God says he is going to pass by so that Moses can see the backside of his glory as he passes by.And interestingly, right after the Lord does pass by and Moses does see the glory of God,Moses’ face begins to shine and he has to cover it up.Now we need to keep all those details in mind as we continue to go throughout the Bible and see how this pattern is continued.So Moses is the ideal of the prophetic office.But now another scenario takes place in scripture where another prophet has the opportunity to fulfill that ideal, but he fails.And that happens in 1 Kings chapter 19.For context, remember that in this chapter, the prophet Elijah is like Moses on a mountain.And actually, there is a really good chance that Elijah is on Mount Sinai, the exact same mountain as Moses.And then not only that, this is really cool, okay?The Bible says that Elijah was in the cave.Now your English translations there in 1 Kings 19 will say a cave, that Elijah was in a cave,but that is wrong.In Hebrew, it literally says Elijah was in the cave.And you might be saying, well, Pastor, what is the big deal about that?You’re getting hung up on As and Th’s.Well, here’s the big deal.In Hebrew, Hebrew uses the definite article the very sparingly.In Greek, you see it all the time, but in Hebrew, it’s used very sparingly.So if Elijah is in fact on Mount Sinai, what would be the cave, this one very specific cave that it’s referring to?Well, most likely it’s none other than the very cleft of the rock that Moses was in when he saw the glory of God.And remember why Elijah is on the mountain in the first place.He is on the run from Jezebel.And he’s on this mountain and he’s angry because he feels as though he alone is faithful to the Lord.And the Lord asked him what he’s doing on the mountain.And this is what Elijah responds in 1 Kings 19 verse 10.He says, I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts.For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars and killed your prophets with a sword, and I, even I only am left, and they seek my life to take it away.Now notice the difference here, okay?When Moses was on the mountain, he begged and pleaded with the Lord to have mercy on the people.He didn’t say anything about, hey God, I’m the best person you have, I’m the only person you have.Moses didn’t talk about himself at all.He was basing his plea for mercy on the Lord’s covenant faithfulness.But that’s not what Elijah does.He falls short of the prophetic ideal.He doesn’t intercede for the people at all.He condemns them.He’s essentially saying, Lord, they’re all just a bunch of no good sinners.You should be done with them because I’m all you have.But the Lord responds in 1 Kings 19 verses 11 through 12.This is what happened.And he said, go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.And behold, the Lord passed by.Now notice, I’m going to keep reading the verses, but think about how that sounds exactly like what happened in Exodus.You have Elijah, who’s in this cave, most likely the same cave that Moses was in.And here you have the Lord passing by.So behold, the Lord passed by and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broken pieces the rocks before the Lord.But the Lord was not in the wind.And after the wind, an earthquake.But the Lord was not in the earthquake.And after that earthquake, a fire.But the Lord was not in the fire.And after the fire, the sound of a low whisper, or the one you’re most familiar with, a still small voice.And all of these things indicate the presence of the Lord is there with Elijah.And what’s very interesting is immediately after this encounter with the Lord passing by Elijah and the still small voice and Elijah actually hearing the voice of God from heaven,the Bible says that Elijah covers his face.Why would he do that?Because like Moses, he had seen the glory of God.And just as Moses had to cover his face because it was shining, so too Elijah covers his face.It’s almost the exact same scenario as Moses’ situation on Sinai, but the difference is that Elijah falls short of the prophetic ideal.And that actually takes us to Jonah.Jonah is yet another failure of the prophetic ideal.Because again, recall the scene in Jonah and notice how similar it is to the previous two stories. We have a prophet who’s on a mountain, which he went to after dealing with sinners.And like Elijah, he falls short of what he is supposed to be and do.Like Elijah, he is complaining about the people and wanting the Lord to condemn the people rather than interceding for them as he is supposed to as a prophet.But not just that, remember that Jonah is also in a booth on a mountain.A temporary dwelling place much like a cave.It’s not exactly a cave.He’s not in some stone structure here, but he is in a temporary dwelling much like acave.And not only that, but notice too that there’s heat and there’s wind just like in Elijah’ssituation.So much so that they’re beating down on Jonah’s head and face, meaning that if you were to look at Jonah, there is a physical, visible reaction to what Jonah is experiencing much like the shining faces of Moses and Elijah.And just like Moses and Elijah, Jonah hears the voice of God from heaven.So Moses is the ideal, while Elijah and Jonah fall short of the prophetic office.Now, when you begin to look at those three stories and you see the similarities, yousee the themes that are being brought out, you see how Moses sets up the ideal, you see how Elijah and Jonah fall short, all of that is pretty cool to just look at in Scripture and say, hey, look at all these similarities.Clearly there’s a pattern going on here.But listen, there’s more than just a pattern going on here.There’s actually a fulfillment of this theme and this pattern in Scripture.There’s a fulfillment of the true prophet.And that takes us to the New Testament.Because in the New Testament, we have another mountain story with a prophet going on a mountain and hearing the voice of God and having a shining face, just like in Moses’s story and Elijah’s story and in Jonah’s story.It takes us to Matthew 17, where we get the famous story of Jesus’s transfiguration.Now remember that leading up to this event, Jesus had been warning his disciples about the religious leaders of Israel.Jesus was disappointed by their sinfulness and how they were continually leading his people astray.And so we have the initial setup being the same as the other incidents.People are in rebellion against the Lord, and now we see what the true prophet willdo.He goes up on the mountain and he takes with him Peter and James and John.And what happens on the mountain?Do you remember?The Bible says that Jesus was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun.So just as Moses’s and Elijah’s face were shining from the glory of God, and just as Jonah was visibly affected by the presence of the Lord, Jesus’s face begins to shine and his clothes become white as light.And interestingly enough, who shows up at this meeting?This story is going to make so much more sense now that you’ve seen this pattern.Do you remember who shows up at this meeting when Jesus is on the mountain?It’s none other than Moses and Elijah.What a coincidence, right?Now many say that Moses and Elijah show up here as representations of the law and theprophets.And sure, there’s some truth in that.I’m sure that that’s one of the main reasons they were there.But that explanation alone misses this huge pattern and this huge theme of what the true prophet is supposed to be.Because the people that we have here meeting with Jesus on this mountain are the ideal prophet and the first major prophet who failed to fulfill the ideal.And it’s at that point that Peter chimes up.Peter’s always one to speak up and put his foot in his mouth.And he says, Lord, it’s good that we’re here.If you wish, I will make three tenths or notice this, that’s the exact same word for booths.Some of your translations might actually say booths.So he says, I’ll make three tenths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.Now if you’ve ever read this story before and you’ve been confused by it, you might be wondering, well, why would he say that?Why would he want to make a booth?Why would he want to make booths for everybody who’s there?Well, who else had a booth?Jonah.So Peter is thinking, maybe like Jonah, we’re meant to stay up here.Peter’s thinking maybe we’re going to stay up here and God is going to pour out his wrath on all those sinners down below.Maybe he’s going to send his wrath upon them and we’re going to get to stay up here and watch and we’re going to be safe and kept safe from the wrath of God to come.So even Peter is thinking along the lines of Elijah and Jonah rather than Moses.And so then everybody on the mountain hear, like Moses and Elijah and Jonah, they hear the voice of God from heaven.And the Lord says, this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.Listen to him.Now, neither Moses nor Elijah nor Jonah had God say that about them.God did not say about any of them, this is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.He only says that about Jesus because Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophetic office.And we see that fulfillment in another way, because after Moses came down from the mountain,Moses sinned against God and was unable to enter the promised land or help the people do anything about their sin problem.After Elijah came down from the mountain, he gave up the prophetic office entirely andhe went and anointed a new prophet.And so he was unable to intercede any further or help the people out with their sin problem.And we don’t actually know what happened to Jonah when he came down off the mountain,but based on his attitude, it’s pretty safe to assume that he didn’t and couldn’t help the people out with their sin problem.But what does Jesus do when he comes down off the mountain?The Bible tells us in Luke chapter 9 that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, where he will suffer and die to intercede for his people in the greatest way possible and free his people from sin once and for all.So truly he is the fulfillment of the true prophet of God.So we have to pay attention to the greater biblical story at all times.We have to pay attention to biblical themes and patterns that run throughout scripture.The story of Jonah on the mountain, it may seem strange at first, but when you realize that it’s continuing a greater biblical theme and pattern, you begin to understand it better.You begin to understand that Jonah is yet another failed prophet falling short of the office and the ideal.And all of these failures by the prophets make us long for a greater prophet who will perfectly intercede for God’s people and finally free God’s people from the burden of sin.And we finally get that fulfillment in Jesus’ transfiguration where we see that he is the true prophet of God who even supersedes the ideals set up by Moses and he perfectly intercedes for his people and deals with the problem of sin.So that’s what that’s about.That’s the significance.I really appreciate the question and I look forward to answering more in the future.