The Native: The Villages Of Jonah, Jesus, and Zeus

2 Kings 14:25-26

25 He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain, according to the word of the LORD God of Israel, which he spake by the hand of his
servant Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet, which [was] of Gath-hepher.

26 For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, [that it was] very bitter: for [there was] not any shut
up, nor any left, nor any helper for Israel.

The Legend Of Aetos Dios

Periphas was a legendary king of Attica who was a just king, and a dutiful priest of Apollo. Zeus however became indignant because Periphas was revered and honoured as if he were Zeus himself, so Zeus wanted to destroy Periphas and his entire household. But Apollo interceded, and instead Zeus transformed Periphas into an eagle, making him king of all birds and guard of his sacred septre.

To borrow from a famous title, this is really a tale of three cities. Gath-hepher, Nazareth, and Sepphoris.  I’m sure that most of you are familiar with one of those three, but a lesser amount will have heard of the first one I mentioned.  My guess is that most of you haven’t heard of the third one, and until recently I hadn’t either.  While each holds wonder, their connection to each other, make it even more so.

Gath-hepher wasn’t a prominent place. One writer describes it as inconsiderable, meaning small or of little significance. It’s name meant either wine press of the well, the pit, or the digging. It was near Sepphoris, a town that would one day be renamed Diocaesarea in honor of Hadrian Caesar and Zeus. At the time of Christ, the village of Gath-hepher’s most famous citizen was an ancient memory.

That citizen was Jonah.  In his day, he was sent by God to Nineveh.  According to Scholars, the founder of Nineveh was the Nimrod of Genesis chapter 10.  A city whose Assyrian name ironically connected to the fictional son of Zeus, Hercules.  A true Prophet of Jehovah was sent to a city built upon a false idol.

They were spared because of repentance. Unfortunately, years later, they would backslide into idolatry. This would bring their destruction. Any city, or person, whose foundation remains tied to idols will buckle under the weight of lifting up anything other than The Creator.

Our God supports us, and not the other way around. The problem with idols is that they’re not real. You may build them statues and temples, but in the end, you only have things that you must support. God’s Tabernacle and Temple saw a Heavenly cloud fill it, and not a stone statue.

Your familiar with what happened next, when Jonah arrived, judgement gave way to mercy.  We all know the story, you saw the whale in your mind’s eye as soon as you read the name.  The one thing that I never connected with the book of Jonah, was the importance of the place of his origin, and the history of the city he was sent to reach.

In fact, Gath-Hepher isn’t mentioned in the book of Jonah.  Had it not been for the prophecy referred to in 2 Kings, we wouldn’t have known it.  God purposely referred to the fulfillment of a prophecy that we didn’t even get to witness in Scripture.  He wanted us to know that Jonah was from Gath-hepher.

Jonah repented in the whale’s belly, but he didn’t linger there. He hit Nineveh, following God’s command, also with a message of Repentance. Was he perfect? No, but he was actively seeking God. Was Nineveh perfect?  No, but they actively sought God.  Repentance doesn’t only mean remorse, it means change.

I should mention that Jonah’s home isn’t only within miles of Sepphoris, but it’s also within two miles of another city, the city of Nazareth. Note the contrast. Gath-hepher is a village between a city that, like Ninevah, was given to idolatry, and The City Of The Christ!

Christ wasn’t born in Nazareth, He moved there.  The Perfect One wanted to be near a people that were covered in sins, drenched in disappointment, and in severe need of redemption.  It’s no wonder then that among The Old Testament Prophets that Jesus connects Himself with, He refers to Jonah.

Intentionally, not ironically, He who is perfect identified with a servant famous for failure and redemption. This was the type of man He came to reach. Jonah was not a perfect man, but a man capable of Repentance. Much like the sparrow that Christ made a place for, He redeemed Jonah.

Ironically, they say that Jonah was buried in a mountain near Sepphoris, which in the Greek, means bird.  It’s this town that they would rename for a very mortal emperor, and a very flawed idol.  A bird in the hand of Christ is cared for, loved, and redeemed.  Hadrian built a temple to Jupiter/Zeus on the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the legend, Zeus transformed a man into a bird out of jealousy.

Psalms 84:3

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, [even] thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

Luke 12:6-8

6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?

7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

8 Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God:

The kings and idols of this world come seeking servants, while Christ comes serving.  Each will transform, but only one will wash away our iniquities, wrap us in His love, and free our souls.  God sent His Prophet with a Message of hope, of peace, and of transformation.  He will take us the way we are, and make us better than we could ever imagine.

Sin will transform also, but it will only serve to plunge us deeper into slavery.  Much like a bird it may allow you to fly from a perch, but only for as long as the length of the string tied to it’s foot. Any success, any soaring accomplished in this life, will be limited and corrupted.

The Greek word Sepphoris finds it’s parallel in the Hebrew word Zipporah.  You may remember her as the wife of Moses.  After the Exodus, Reuel, whose name means friend of God, brings her to Moses in the wilderness.  Earlier in Scripture, she initially had a problem with circumcision, but she is reunited with her husband.

Colossians 2:11-13

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

According to Colossians 2:11-14, Circumcision in the Old Testament is tied to  Baptism in the New Testament. Like Zipporah, we were estranged from God’s Love. Thanks to sin, we were lifeless, hopeless, and in fear of the judgement.  However, God sent His Prophet, His friend, to reunite us with The Lord. Each transforms, but only the transformation of Christ frees us. Now, instead of being a stranger, we are part of the family of God.

Because of Him, we are no longer on the outside looking in, He causes us to rest in Heavenly places in Christ Jesus. The transformation of Christ is life giving, whereas sin brings death.  Our redemption is the sole purpose He came in flesh.  He valued us more than life itself.  More than the pain of carrying our sins on a rugged Cross as His blood covered both it and them.

In the end, we return to the three cities.  Gath-hepher, the winepress of the pit, Nazareth, the home of The Builder, and Sepphoris, the bird.  Between the pit and the insignificant sparrow stood two.  One abused us, used us up, and left us for dead.  Sin, parading as the best this world has to offer, promised much, but instead, it took all we had to give.  Then, the gentle hand of The Nazarene picked us up. He gave His life for ours, and three days later, Christ walked out of the pit.  His blood produced life in you and I.  Now, we soar, not at the whim of our captors, but in honor of our Christ.