About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Hearing the Bible

It would be impossible to describe adequately the impact and influence the Bible has had on the World, particularly the Western World and its culture. With the production of the Gutenberg Bible, the printing press helped put Sacred Scripture in the hand of the common man. Currently, with an estimated 5 billion Bibles sold, the Bible holds the record as the best selling book of all time. Generally, Christianity defines the Bible as the Word of God, although attitudes towards the Bible and the canon differ among the various denominations of the Church. For Jewish people, the Bible is more than Sacred Scripture, it is also the sacred history of a people and a land.

In Judaism, the Bible is to be treated very differently than any other book. For example, one cannot take a Bible into a bathroom or into a cemetery. We call the Bible the Holy Bible, at least that’s what is printed on the front cover. In Jewish tradition, the Bible is also thought of as Divine Language. Not only are the words that are in the Bible important, but the sounds that they make are also important and so too are the words that are not in the Bible. How can the words that are not in the Bible be important? Let me explain. God does not say things superfluously, He doesn’t say things for the sake of simply saying them. As Divine Language, things have reasons why they are said and how they are said. By extension then, the words that God chose not to say must also be important. There are reasons why the Bible does not use certain words to describe something when it clearly could have. 

At the time of Jesus people did not read the Bible. Simply because not enough of them existed in printed form to actually be read. People did not have personal copies of the Torah that they could access on a daily basis. The books of the Bible were owned by a community. Instead, people would gather in groups for a public reading of Scripture. During the 2nd Temple Period, you didn’t read the Bible, you heard it. Therefore the sounds the words make are important, and what you don’t hear can teach you just as much as what you do hear. 

One of the classic examples of how Hearing the Bible is important is the Akedah הָעֲקֵידָה, the Binding of Isaac as recorded in Genesis 22. The story is very familiar to all of us. In summary, Abraham has been commanded by God to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah. After leaving their servants, Abraham and Isaac walk alone towards the place the Lord had told Abraham. Genesis does not mention where the mountains of Moriah are exactly. It is Jewish tradition that the Land of Moriah is located over the original Garden of Eden, now Jerusalem. Isaac turns to his father and asks, ‘I see the knife, I see the fire, and I am carrying the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham replies that God Himself will provide a lamb. The word used for lamb is ‘Seh’ שֶּׂה which is the word you would have heard when it was read out in the synagogue. God will provide a ‘Seh’ שֶּׂה. Abraham binds Isaac, prepares to slay his son, but is stopped by an Angel of the Lord, looks up and see a ram caught in the thicket. Here the word is ‘Ayil’ אַיִל. As a hearer of the Bible, you heard Abraham clearly say that God will provide a lamb ‘Seh’ שֶּׂה, but He didn’t He provided a ram ‘Ayil’ אַיִל. You actually heard a different word, the word you might have been expecting to hear was not there. And that becomes important, especially in the context of Divine Language. 

The question for the hearer now becomes, why did God provide a ram when Abraham very clearly said He would provide a lamb? The answer ultimately becomes prophetic. Obviously then God will indeed provide a lamb, however, He will do so in the future. Because Abraham said He would. Thus since Genesis 22 the Jewish People have been waiting for the Lamb of God and it began to take on a messianic character and title. We can see this title active and alive in the psyche of the Jewish people in the 2nd Temple Period that when John the Baptist sees Jesus, he declares Him to be the Lamb of God. And the disciples don’t ask, what’s the Lamb of God? Because they understand the concept, that the word that was not there in the past, is the Word that is here in the present. Many disciples cease following John and start following Jesus. Worthy indeed is the Lamb. (Revelation 5). 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

God and Evil

The celebration of Simchat Torah this year in Jerusalem 5779 began 30th September and finished on 1st Oct. שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה Simchat Torah (Literally Rejoicing of Torah) marks the end of the annual cycle of weekly readings of Bible called the Parashat HaShavuah (Portion of the Week). On that Shabbat we ended with the last chapters of Deuteronomy with the death of Moses, but not before he unexpectedly breaks out into song on his deathbed, and began immediately again with the Creation narrative in Genesis. 

The concept of a cyclical reading of Bible is an inherited practice from the Jewish People into the Church and is commonly called a Lectionary. The Lectionary readings in mainstream Churches are a 3-year cycle of reading the Bible. At the time of Yeshua in the late 2nd Temple period, the Jewish People held to a tri-annual cycle of reading the Bible. It was in Babylon that the Jewish people switched to an annual cycle of readings and today the Jewish community worldwide follows the Babylonian tradition and reads the Bible in one-year cycles. 

Thus every year at this time we read of the Creation of all things. Despite any personal views of science and the ‘Origin of the Species’ that we might have, the Genesis account reveals that we are indeed unique, planned by an Intelligent Designer and special. Not the random product of chemical soup. Genesis notes that when God makes a beginning, He creates couplings. He makes Heaven and Earth, Light and Darkness, Adam and Eve, Good and Evil. Each of these couplings is in a relationship with each other. Heaven is connected to Earth. God continually leaves Heaven to come to Adam in the Garden. Light follows Darkness and vice versa. Adam is in relationship with his helpmate Eve and vice versa, and somehow Good and Evil are in relationship too. It’s not easy to wrap your head around the words of Isaiah 45 when God says He created Good (literally Peace) and Evil. 

The problem of Evil poses one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the belief in the existence of God in our world. The sheer amount of suffering, pain and human disasters presents a major hurdle for anyone to acknowledge a loving God. Especially one that declared He created Evil in the first place. Why would a good God do such a thing? However, I don’t think that’s the “real” question. The real question is: Does the existence of Evil discount the existence of God? And what possible relationship does Good have with Evil? 

During the Creation Week God creates things and at the conclusion of a day, He declares it to be Good. When God makes something and calls it Good, He must know by definition what is not Good. Otherwise, the term Good in of itself has no meaning unless it can be compared to something that is not Good. Thus, by creating Good He also sets the stage for the existence of Not Good. In the Garden was a tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Good exists and so does Not Good, henceforth known as Evil. And somehow they are in a relationship. 

The opposite to Creation is of course Evolution. Evolution, in an atheistic worldview, is in and of itself morally neutral. That is, in the absence of absolute truth which we inherit when we acknowledge God, there can be no real such thing as Good or Evil. What is right and feels good for one person will assuredly be different to the next person. Who gets to choose what is really good and what is really evil? Morality becomes subjective and ethics become an illusion. Good and Evil then become completely subjective at the individual level. When tragedies strike, Evolution cannot inform us that something is detrimental or ‘bad’. Death itself can neither be untimely, tragic or Evil. Death is simply the end of Life. Ask this question, How can the atheist know that Evil is indeed Evil? If one is being honest then he can not. The issue is that true objective moral values really do exist and deep down we all know it. People know what Evil is when they see it. Unfortunately, we see it all the time. How do they know this? Where does that knowledge come from? Paradoxically then, the existence of Evil actually serves to argue for the existence of God and not against it. Consequently, because of God, we also know what is indeed Good. Subsequently Good informs us of what is Evil or Not Good. 

Good and Evil are then in a relationship, bonded together at Creation. Starting the annual journey through the Bible we immediately see that God infuses His Creation with Good. The prophet Isaiah notes correctly that by very definition with Good comes Evil, and that Evil also is in the hands of God. However, the prophet also declared that God makes Peace. He does not leave His Creation alone to suffer under Evil. He intervenes. He comes to share in its suffering and restore Good and hope, overcoming all the Evil in this world through the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. And that is Good News!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Hear and Obey

שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה אֶחָֽד 

Hear O’Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. This verse from Deuteronomy 6:4 serves as the centrepiece of the morning and evening prayer in the Jewish Daily Prayers. The Prayer, known as the Sh’ma, is more than a simple prayer or public declaration. It is an oath of loyalty to the One God, the One King, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Sh’ma is taught by parents to their children as the last thing to say before going to sleep, and if possible (according to the Rabbis) is to be the last words to come from the lips of a man before he dies. 

The Sh’ma is probably the best known of all Jewish liturgical prayers and perhaps the most important. There are only three prayers commanded in the whole Bible, two occur in the Torah itself, the Sh’ma (Deut 6vs4) and the Grace after meals (Deut 8vs10), and the third is the Lord’s Prayer as instructed by Jesus in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. Some Christian liturgies, including Anglican, Lutheran and Catholic liturgies, incorporate the saying of the Sh’ma, although in its English form. The Sh’ma appears at its core to be a clear proclamation of monotheism, and yet interestingly, the Jewish Prayer Book, known as the Siddur, translates the verse to read - ‘Hear O’Israel the Eternal our God is an Eternal Unity.’ (Siddur page 13) 

The prayer itself is more than just an allegiance to a monotheistic tradition, the word Sh’ma שְׁמַע is a powerful Hebrew word that is loaded with meaning. Sh’ma is the imperative of the Verb ‘to listen’ or ‘to hear’. It is also the Biblical Hebrew word that is used for ‘to obey’. Oddly enough, despite all the many commandments from God, there is no actual word in the Bible to ‘obey’. All the Authors of the Hebrew Bible used the word Sh’ma to imply obedience. Modern Hebrew, however, has invented a word for obeying, it is לציית, pronounced ‘lets-eye-yet’. When the modern state of Israel was creating its army, they needed a word to make sure their soldiers followed commands from their officers in battle. 

‘Faith comes by hearing’ says Paul in Romans 10. The Bible is the Word of God and needs to be heard as much as it needs to be read. The implication is of course that if we heard the Voice of the Lord we would indeed put those words into practice. Jesus says the same thing in Luke 11vs28 when He declares ‘Blessed is he who hears my words and obeys them’. It’s a play on words in Hebrew. ‘Blessed is he who sh’ma my words and sh’ma them’. Psalm 95 warns us that ‘Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts’. And by extension not obey the Voice of the Lord. I must stress that Obedience is not to be confused with Works-Righteousness. Obeying the Lord because He told us to do something is not to be equated as trying to earn one’s place in the world to come. The actions might look the same outwardly but come from very different intentions inwardly. Jesus says ‘My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me’. Critical to a healthy relationship with the Messiah is not only to acknowledge His kingship and authority but also in hearing His voice and putting it into practice. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

What's in a Name? Salvation!

“There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved!” (Acts 4vs12). This declaration by Peter before the Sanhedrin has become a central truth and doctrine of the Christian Faith. It has also become part of a controversial debate as to what we should actually call the Messiah. Can we call him Jesus, or must we use His Hebrew name, Yeshua? What happens if we get His name wrong? Are we more or less saved if we use English or Hebrew? Perhaps we should start by addressing how we arrived at the English name of Jesus. 

There are many conspiracy theories in the world. Usually, they involve secret societies, foreign government plots, alien abductions and large insidious banking corporations manipulating our lives clandestinely in the shadows. Apparently, another plot existed, the one by the early Christian Church to make the new religion more palatable to the pagan world by corrupting the name of Zeus into Jesus. This is simply not true. While Zeus and Jesus might look similar to each other in English, the similarities stop there. Any honest Greek scholar knows that Zeus (Ζεύς) does not resemble Jesus (Ἰησοῦς) in New Testament Greek. 

The angel Gabriel almost certainly told Mary (Miriam), in the Gospel of Luke, to name the boy child Yeshua ישוע. Yeshua is derived from the Hebrew verb “to save”, in the masculine singular form. This corresponds with the angel’s proclamation in Joseph’s dream in Matthew 1 that “He would save His people from their sins”. Greek does not have a ‘sh’ sound for the ש and so an ’s’ was used in translation, and there is no adequate Greek letter to substitute for a silent ע. So it was dropped from the spelling. Greek names also have a tendency to end in ’s’, such as Achilles and Odysseus, known as Nominative Case Endings. Yeshua, when translated into New Testament Greek, became Iesous. ישוע to Ἰησοῦς. Note that the Hebrew Bible had already been translated into Greek (called the Septuagint). The Bible the early believers had outside the land of Israel, the Bible that was in the hands of the Churches Paul wrote to, that Bible was Greek. 

Let’s remember that it was God who confused us at Babel and gave us a varied mix of tongues. Until the Tower, we all truly did speak one language. Now we speak multiple languages, we are not all meant to speak Hebrew. Ultimately, it has been in the Lord’s Wisdom for the New Testament to arrive to us predominately in Koine Greek, although it is also well preserved in Latin, Syriac and Old Church Slavonic. When the King James translators brought out the first English Bible, the name of Jesus was actually written as Iesous, following the Greek. The ‘J’ was added later. There are no J’s in Hebrew, Latin or Greek. Yeshua does not turn into a Gentile through translating His name into Jesus. Many of the disciples had Greek names and they remained very Jewish. 

This is not to say that the name of the Messiah in unimportant. The Name of the Messiah is actually very important in the Church and beyond. It has even become a festival in the Anglican and Catholic Churches. Known as the Feast of the Holy Name, this Feast is celebrated today on 1st January, but in the 17th Century, it’s recorded as being held on 7th August. 

The Name is, however, not magical. Invocation of the Holy Name is not a form of Christian magic. Things don’t happen just because you tack on the name of Jesus at the end of a prayer request. Recall in Acts 19 that several Jewish non-believers, the seven sons of Sceva, tried to use Yeshua’s name to drive out demons to no effect. Making the declaration “in the Name of (someone)” … is in Jewish tradition, an oath of loyalty to that someone. Thus, when we declare “in the name of Jesus/Yeshua” we are acknowledging our loyalty to Him. Nothing magical, rather an expression of our desired obedience to the one being named. In Jewish tradition, there were seven things created before God started Creation: The Torah, Repentance, The Garden of Eden, Gehenna, the Throne of Glory, the Temple and the Name of the Messiah (Talmud, Nedarim 39b). The Name of the Messiah is so important that in Jewish tradition it existed prior to Creation. Pre-existant Messiahs are a Jewish tradition, not a Christian invention. 

The Hebrew name of Jesus, Yeshua, is very important. Calling Him Yeshua reminds the Church of its Jewish Roots and gets back to the meaning of the name and His mission in the world. He saves! Yeshua is a descriptive name and reflects His character. Iesous has no meaning in Greek. The word for Salvation in Greek is Soter σωτήρ. Soteriology is the study of salvation. Likewise, calling Him Jesus does not get you into trouble either, so there is no need to get on your knees and repent for having done so. Subsequently, calling Him Yeshua doesn’t save you any more or less than before. While I was a sinner, Christ died for me … before I even knew His name, He knew mine. 

Equally important is knowing the feelings and emotions the name of Jesus brings to non-believing Jewish people. Obviously, Jesus does not sound like a Jewish name. His name is attached in Jewish history to pogroms, crusades, inquisitions, dispersion, and betrayal of the Jewish people. Understandably the name Jesus presents a foreign, Gentile god devoid of Jewishness and context. Sensitivity, honesty, and patience should be practised in any dialogue with Jewish people. I would most definitely advocate using the Hebrew name Yeshua when engaging with Jewish people. 

Finally for the believers, to quote Shakespeare: Whats in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. In this, William Shakespeare is quite right. For believers it cannot matter what name is used to represent the Saviour, He will always Be the Saviour.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter, Passover, Ishtar and Myths

Religious Calendars are interesting things. In Jerusalem, we have just celebrated Passover and Easter together. Passover fell on Good Friday and our community gathered at 1pm to remember the Crucifixion and then headed to the Dead Sea to celebrate Passover and the Redemption from Egypt. It does beg the question, however, how does Death and Resurrection, Passover, Deliverance and Redemption go hand in hand with bunnies and eggs? Well, obviously they don’t. There is no connection between Passover and rabbits and there is also no connection between Easter and pagan ritual. Notwithstanding, Easter does have a strong connection to Passover. 

Myths about Easter abound all over the internet and I am bombarded constantly by many well-meaning believing Christians challenging me on the nature of Easter, Holy Week and its supposed pagan roots. Common claims against any celebration of Easter stem from the misconception that Easter is named after a pagan fertility goddess. The common archetypes are Ishtar of the Babylonian pantheon or of the Germanic goddess of Spring called Eostre. This is simply not true but has become ‘the truth’ essentially through repetition. We keep saying it and hearing it so it must be true without anyone challenging and verifying the source. 

Ishtar is indeed a fertility goddess of the Babylonian and Assyrian pantheon. Note that Babylon is in the East in the lands of Iraq and Iran today. The Christian community that resides in the East is the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox community has been there since the first century,  descendants of the first believers in Jesus. In the Orthodox Church, the word used for Easter is not Easter, it’s Pascha. Pascha is the Aramaic of the Hebrew word Pesach (Passover). So the Christians who live in the land where the pagan goddess Ishtar comes from don’t actually call the festival after her at all, they refer to the festival by its Jewish roots, the Pascha or the Passover. 

Meanwhile, over in the West the first recorded written account of the spring goddess Eostre hales from the 8th Century. She has nothing to do with rabbits and/or chocolate eggs, which didn’t start getting sold by Cadbury until the 19th Century. However, people in the Christian world were writing about Pascha/Easter long before then. In the 2nd Century, Melito of Sardis, a Jewish believer and Bishop of the community in Sardis, wrote a defence of Pascha in which he argued for the date of Pascha/Easter to be the 14th of Nisan. That is, he was arguing that Pascha should be celebrated at Passover and not the Sunday following Passover. Nisan, by the way, is the Jewish month in which Passover falls and it really is named after a Babylonian god. Interestingly, the majority of the current Jewish calendar is named after Babylonian gods and the Rabbis don’t seem to mind at all. Perhaps we should learn something from the Rabbis on this one. 

Let’s be absolutely clear: Easter is only called Easter in two languages, English and German. Most other languages call the season of Easter after Pascha or Passover. For example, in French, you say Påques, in Dutch its Pasen, in Indonesian its Paskah etc. Even in Latin, the traditional language of the Catholic Church, Easter is called Pascha. That’s right, the Catholic Church actually does not call Easter - Easter. It’s called Pascha and therefore obviously not named after a pagan god of any sort. Rather, like most languages, it is named after the original Hebrew and Aramaic. 

Easter comes from the old German root word for East or Spring. Austria is called in German Østerreich, the East land or Spring land. The festival season of Passover became known as Eastertide, and the word Easter enters our language. Easter is an eight-day holiday from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. Why eight days? This tradition we inherit from the Jewish People who have eight-day festivals like Succot, Hanukkah and Feast of Unleavened Bread. The tradition of celebrating the life of the Messiah and His passion for eight days was given to us by the early Jewish Believers in Jesus and it had nothing to do with a pagan god. The Orthodox Churches mark their calendars to ensure that Resurrection Sunday does not fall before Passover. 

Without Passover, Easter makes absolutely no sense. Without the death of the Messiah you cannot have a resurrection, and without a resurrection, you cannot have the Gospel. The Gospel can be stated in one sentence - Messiah rose from the dead. And that is indeed very Good News. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

In the Beginning ... God so Loved the World

There are a few verses in the Bible that we all know by heart. When someone says, ‘In the Beginning …’ most of us know to immediately finish the sentence, ‘… God made the Heavens and the Earth.’ There is so much, and more, in that first verse of Genesis 1 that has occupied philosophers, theologians and scientists for thousands of years. 

God makes the world and He calls it good. He is pleased with what He made, and He loves His Creation. Jesus reminds us that we are more blessed to give than to receive and the best way to love is to give. God gives the most and no one can outgive God. To lay down your life for your friends is the greatest act of love and giving. The Gospel of John says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only son … for God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.’ Note here that it’s not just that He loved the people on the world. God does indeed love the people and whoever believes in Him is not condemned. Jesus is most definitely all about saving people. Note though, that God also actually loved ‘the world’ and He still does. And why not, He created it, He called it good so it must be good.  He loves His Creation and it is worth redeeming. God loves both the World and Man. Rabbinical commentaries on Genesis note that God made the World and wanted to give the world to Man. Man was to be the final inheritor of the World. God wanted to bless Man with the World and to dwell with him and walk with him in the cool of the evening. Jesus says in Matthew 5 that the meek inherit the Earth. Note that we don’t inherit Heaven, we inherit the Earth. Too often in Christianity, we restrict our focus on getting into Heaven. Yet Jesus tells us that our final destination is actually Earth. Eventually, we see in the Revelation to John, the heavenly Jerusalem takes its place on the Earth and Man will dwell with God in the world as was originally intended. 

When Adam ate the forbidden fruit, the world was cursed. Adam was cursed, as was Eve and the snake and so was the world. As it is written, ‘Cursed is the ground’. Yet it was not the world’s fault that Adam ate the fruit and yet it received a curse because of the actions of Man. In Jewish tradition the earth is alive. Let’s be clear, the earth is not a god, but like the animals are alive, the World itself is also alive. Paul reminds us that the earth itself is groaning for its redemption. This verse in the New Testament makes no sense if Creation is purely inanimate. Accordingly then, the world is also looking forward to the Messiah as much as Man is. It is as if the voice of the earth says to Man, ‘You like the colours of my flowers now? Well, you wait till you see colour when the Messiah is here! You like the taste of my fruit now? Well, you wait till you taste fruit when the Messiah is here!’ The world isn’t destroyed with the return of the Messiah, it is renewed and prepared for the Messiah to rule and reign. There is a difference between destruction and renewal. 

According to Jewish tradition, the earth is quite conscious of sin and reacts to the sin on top of it. We read in Leviticus 18vs24-28 that God warns His people (and us) that if they continue to sin/defile the land, the very ground itself will vomit them out. Note that the text says that God won’t do the vomiting, the earth will. The ground, or the World, is reacting to the behaviour of Man on top of it. We can see that happen throughout human history. War, devastation and lack of love affect the environment. There is a change in the very ecosystem. When we fight and tear each other apart, like in Syria, or behave with the madness and cruelness of the dictator of Zimbabwe when love ceases to be shown among men and grows cold. Then often we see the result, that the earth stops producing food, the rain decreases and the animals leave. No one harvests the ground, digs wells or tends the earth. The ground becomes barren with the ecosystem in ruins. In essence, the earth attempts to get the human defilers away from it. Indeed humans do flee and become a torrent of refugees leaving the devastation behind them. We have no one to blame but ourselves for this. Conversely, when we fulfil the command of the Messiah to love as He has loved, when we dominate the earth with our joy and peace instead of pain and hatred, when we apply ourselves to working the earth and healing the land, we find the earth fruitful and are blessed by its abundance. Part of the call of our discipleship is faithful stewardship over Creation. The world that God loves reacts to our behaviour. God made the World and He so loved the World. As followers of Jesus, we should love the World as He does, for this is our inheritance. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Yom Kippur 5778

It is Yom Kippur in Jerusalem 5778, the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. There are no vehicles on the road and like many other Israeli children, my family has already partaken of the time honoured tradition of riding your scooter down the main street after prayers. This day is observed even by secular Jews, who throughout the rest of the year wouldn’t venture near a synagogue, will find themselves in prayer today. Even the United Nations officially recognised the importance of Yom Kippur in 2015 and decided never to hold any official meetings on this day.

Contrary perhaps to some, this is not the saddest day in the Jewish year. That honour goes to the day called Tish B’Av and the destruction of the Jewish Temples. The Scroll of Lamentations is read on Tish B’Av and records much sadness and loss. According to many Orthodox Jews, today is a happy day. While the central themes are atonement, repentance, fasting and prayers, the day is also about forgiveness and life in the World to Come. Forgiveness and Life are indeed something to be happy about. During the synagogue service, the Scroll of Jonah is taken from the Ark and is read and discussed throughout the afternoon. 

Why read Jonah on the holiest day of Yom Kippur? There are a few things to learn from Jonah. Jonah endeavoured to escape God’s providence. He ran in the opposite direction but ultimately was unsuccessful in getting away from the Divine Will. Repentance also reminds us we cannot escape the consequences of our actions and the Divine Judgement ahead of all of us. God spared Nineveh and this also reminds us of the fruit of true heartfelt repentance, Forgiveness from Heaven! Note that the people of Nineveh were saved and forgiven without animal sacrifices and without a Temple and priests. Mercy is shown to the Gentiles. 

Jonah also presents the hope of resurrection. Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish (the whale) while trying to escape God’s call. Remember we don’t get to make the Call we just have to answer the Call. Jonah answered it inappropriately. In Chapter 2 of Jonah, we find him praying in heartfelt anguish and penance. It’s where we find him doing the praying that’s interesting. 

ויאמר קראתי מצרה לי אל־יהוה ויענני מבטן שאול שועתי שמעת קולי׃ (Jonah 2:2)

Jonah 2vs2 says that God heard Jonah from the ‘Belly of Sheol’. In verse 1 we are told that Jonah is in the belly of the fish. But then God hears him from Sheol. Sheol is the place of the dead. Translated often in English as the grave, or the pit. Sheol is where everyone goes after they die. Except for Korah and his family when the earth opened up under them and they went alive down to Sheol in Numbers 16. This would infer then to a Jewish hearer … and remember the Bible is an Oral book. You heard the Word of the Lord more than you read it. During the 2nd Temple Period and at the time of Jesus, the printing press hadn’t been invented yet. This would infer to a Jewish hearer that Jonah was dead. He had died after being eaten by the fish. Yet there he is praying! And repenting! Even after he is dead. How can this be, and what can we learn from this?

Jesus also gives us teaching about the afterlife in the Gospel of Luke in which two men die; a rich man and a poor man, whom he calls Lazarus (after His friend in Bethany). Interestingly, in the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible), the name of the rich man is Nineveh. In the parable we find both men communicating, seemingly cognizant of what is around them and even of each other, they even appear to be able to move. Yet they are indeed, according to the parable, very dead. Death is never the end. You can even think, move, talk, pray, and in Jonah’s case, even repent. 

Jesus also declares to a wicked and adulterous generation that they should look for the sign of the prophet Jonah in Matthew 12. What is the sign? Ressurection! Jonah was dead, eaten by the fish. While in Sheol he prayed, sort after the Lord, and repented. God wasn’t finished with Jonah (and Jesus wasn’t finished with Lazarus either), and in a powerful display of love and mercy, He resurrected Jonah to answer the Call and save Nineveh. 

Yom Kippur is a joyful day then, of hope of the resurrection and a place in the World to Come. We believe in this hope, and trust that the Messiah is preparing a place in the World to Come, rooms in His Father’s house, with our names inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This makes it a most joyful day indeed. Now, time to go outside and scooter some more :)