Part 1

by Jacques Isaac Gabizon

As Jewish believers in Yeshua, we often find ourselves in the middle of a family feud, caught between two brothers who have not found that middle ground of reconciliation. I am talking about my Jewish brothers in the flesh and my Gentile brothers in the faith. This feud is not new.

As early as the first century, Paul scolded the one brother by saying in Romans 2:17-21,

indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God… and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind… you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?

And with the same intensity Paul then scolded my other brother, and said in Romans 11:18,21,

do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you… for if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.

The problem of 2000 years ago still surfaces today with increasing intensity, especially regarding the place of Israel within the Body of the Messiah.

As a Messianic Jew, I believe we should stand up to unwarranted criticism of Israel (my one brother) that emerges from the evangelical world (my other brother), particularly when these biased notions begin to infiltrate into the interpretation of Scripture. Some of these “unchecked” and preconceived biases even come from among many “pro-Israel” scholars.

Three passages will be highlighted, denoting the bias contained within. One passage will be highlighted here as well as one in each of our next two newsletters. The first passage will be taken from the book of Jonah. This prophet has often been described as a “racist,” and has been used to represent the people of Israel as those who have a “distaste for the Gentiles’ participation in salvation.” We will attempt to demonstrate other more plausible reasons for Jonah’s actions, thereby omitting the unnecessary need to drag Israel into this story.

Why did Jonah run westward to Tarshish and not heed the command of God to go east to Nineveh? Many proposals have surfaced concerning his decision. Did his own prejudice prevail, not wanting to share the Word of salvation with Gentiles?

Was this event inspired into the Scriptures in order to highlight Israel’s own policy of exclusive ethnicity (i.e. Israel did not want to share her exclusive rights to God with any other nation)? Could it be that Jonah, out of love for his own people, did not want them to appear unrighteous when compared with the righteousness of these to-be converted Ninevites? Or
could it be that Jonah deliberately avoided Nineveh in order to delay the Assyrian invasion of Israel? Some Jewish Messianic commentators, as well as most rabbinical interpreters view
Jonah’s disobedience as an action taken on behalf of Israel and not as one driven by an anti-Gentile sentiment. Sam Nadler (Word of Messiah Ministries) understands Jonah’s detour as an attempt to show that “Israel would look comparatively fiendish” once Nineveh repented.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum (Ariel Ministries) makes it a point to mention that Jonah’s departure was not because he was an “anti-Gentile bigot.” Rather, Jonah did not want “to be the instrument that God would use to bring Nineveh to repentance.” This would make Jonah look like a traitor to his own people. The rabbis held a similar position. According to M. Avrum Ehrlich, many rabbis concluded that “their actions (Nineveh’s repentance) would show the Hebrews to be stiffnecked and stubborn. Another Midrash explains that "Jonah… chose to disobey God so as to save his own people.”1


The majority of Gentile Christian commentators however, interpret the book of Jonah as an
illustration of the prophet’s anti-Gentile bias as well as a picture of Israel’s own disobedience and exclusive ethnocentricity. The association made between Jonah’s actions and Israel’s character is difficult to accept in light of the fact that the text does not make such a link. In fact, Israel’s name is not even mentioned at all in this book.

One of today’s most popular commentators had this to say concerning Jonah: "This was for the salvation of that city and for the shame and jealousy of Israel, as well as a rebuke to the reluctance of the Jews to bring Gentiles to the true God." Such a conclusion may serve to enhance an anti-Semitic response. Another well respected commentator wrote this: “Jonah’s petty concern for the vine that shielded him from the sun was a picture of Israel’s own self pity and lack of concern for the nations.” Other commentators even saw in Jonah’s actions an Augustinian justification for Israel’s suffering: “Jonah was but the reflection of Israel’s backsliding from God, and so must bear the righteous punishment.”

Jonah: A Whale of an Evangelist
Let us ask, in all fairness, two questions. Why was this prophet of God so poorly esteemed, and why were his actions then taken to represent the character and attitude of Israel? In fact, Jonah had accomplished a great work in his own generation and was given a position of respect in the New Testament. This prophet was instrumental in triggering one of greatest conversions in Bible history, with thousands coming to repentance. Yeshua, Himself, used Jonah as an illustration of His own resurrection (Matthew 12:40-41). Jonah was not singled out or excluded from the “prophets” (who were men of faith) as mentioned in Hebrews 11:32.


Some commentators appear to go the extra mile in tainting Jonah’s character even further. For instance, when he was on the boat, and the storm hit, we are told in Jonah 1:5 that he had lain down, and was fast asleep. Another popular commentator writes: “This act of Jonah’s is
regarded by most commentators as a sign of an evil conscience.”2 But was it really that? The Hebrew word used here for sleep (radam) is the same word used to describe Daniel’s response when he stood before a theophany (Daniel 8:18, 10:9) as well as describing the reaction of the Egyptian army as the waters of the Red Sea closed on them (Psalm 76:6).

Certainly neither Daniel’s response, nor that of the Egyptian army, reflects a state of careless indifference or a seared conscience. The use of this word (radam) describes Jonah as being in a state of turmoil, perhaps even in prayer, understanding the predicament he had brought upon the people in the boat.


Consider another verse, where Jonah is, once again, the target of character defamation. Jonah 4:1,3 reads: But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.... Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live! Many interpret Jonah as being displeased and even angry at the conversion of so many souls, so much so that he wanted to die. A well reputed Bible commentary had this to say:

He [Jonah] was embarrassed that his threat was not carried out. Because God relented of His wrath and did not destroy the city, Jonah was so emotionally disappointed that he lost all reason for living. God was concerned about the city (4:11) but Jonah was not.

Did Jonah really want to die because so many Gentiles came to believe in the God of Israel? Jonah 4:1,3 may be understood as a statement made by a compassionate prophet of God who realized the extent of the judgment coming against his people Israel, this judgment being the Assyrian invasion and the expulsion of the people of the 10 northern tribes. Job’s words echo Paul’s own heart when in Romans 9:1-3 speaking of the salvation of his people, Paul writes,

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.

Even Moses uttered this same desire, that somehow his death may be the propitiation for his people when he said in Exodus 32:32: If You will forgive their sin - but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book.

Could it be that Jonah shared with Paul and Moses the same sacrificial love for their people? Considering the work he accomplished and how he is so positively considered in the New Testament, it would be hard to explain his actions as a refusal to share the Good News with unsaved people.


Jonah’s disobedience was perhaps an attempt to delay the upcoming judgment on Israel by the Assyrians. Jonah must surely have known the prophecies of Amos (3:11) and Isaiah (7:17) concerning the upcoming Assyrian invasion. He also knew that these Ninevites would repent as a result of this missionary trip (Jonah 4:2). Jonah must also have been keenly aware that the generation which would invade Israel would be a generation who would have returned to its wickedness (Isaiah 14:25).

This would mean that the same generation which heard Jonah’s message would not be the generation which would invade Israel, because Israel was not invaded by a righteous nation, but rather by an evil nation. This means that the Assyrian invasion would happen, at its earliest with the succeeding generation.

This would therefore buy Jonah some time and would give his own people, Israel, perhaps another 40 - 100 years (the time of a generation) to repent before God. Again, this writer does recognize Jonah’s mistake in not following God’s directive, but balance is a grace that we must sometimes employ, especially as we desire to highlight the acts of grace our Lord displayed so often in the course of Israel’s history.


2. Commentary on the O.T. C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Volume 10, Hendrickson Publishers, 1989. P.393.

Parts 2 and 3 will appear in future Shofars as soon as they are available.


Jacques Isaac Gabizon is the director of Ariel Ministries Canada and congregational leader of Beth Ariel Messianic Congregation, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Caught in a Family Feud: Part 1 may be read in its original form in
Ariel Ministries Canada's Spring Newsletter of March 2010

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