Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Story of Jonah: God's Sovereignty Part 2

Jonah 2:
1 Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish,
2 saying, "I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me.
4 Then I said, 'I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.'
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!"
10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.

Jonah chapter 1 ends with the rebellious prophet being swallowed by a great fish. In fact the passage says that the Lord appointed the fish to swallow him and he then spent the next three days and nights in the great fish's belly.
This next chapter, as can be seen above, contains Jonah's prayer while he is in the fish. The prayer is the entire content of the chapter .
What is rather curious is that the whole of the prayer is spoken in the past tense.
It has been commonly taught that Jonah in the belly of the fish is part of the Lord visiting discipline upon Jonah. While this may be true in one sense, the reality is that his sojourn in the fish has a much deeper significance.
The fish is Jonah's salvation. Jonah would have most certainly drowned had the Lord not sent the fish to swallow him. Verses 2 through 7 are a compelling account of his near death experience.
The fact that he had sunk to the point of where the mountains begin at the bottom of the sea shows how close he came to the end of his life. The past tense is used as Jonah is recounting his experience, and the prayer he offered up in the midst of that experience.
This post deliverance-prayer of praise, uttered while he was being carried to safety inside the fish, demonstrates the profound effect that this experience had on Jonah.

9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!"

Jonah made a vow to the Lord in the midst of his crying out to God. What was this vow?

This prayer ends with the emphatic declaration: Salvation belongs to the Lord.

Jonah 3:
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you."
3a So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.

The command is given again, go to Nineveh and deliver the message. This time, a very different Jonah responds in complete obedience. Was this the vow Jonah made; that he would do as the Lord told him to do? I think that is a good assumption. This is based on that which Jonah already knew, salvation belongs to the Lord. Jonah 4:2

Jonah 3: 3b Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days' journey in breadth.
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,
8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.

Jonah completed his task, and proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the inhabitants of the great city. The outcome was as the Lord foreknew; the people believed God. (Verse 5)

Now compare that to the account of God's covenant with Abraham.

Gen 15: 5 And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
6 And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

The people of Nineveh are Abraham's offspring and are counted as righteous. All who believe by faith are his offspring.This faith unto belief comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God being preached. What we have in this story, in a microcosm, is God's plan of salvation from Abraham to Jesus revealed in action.

The Jonah of chapter 1 shows Israel, given the oracles of God, the Mosaic covenant received at Sinai, separated from all other nations unto the Lord. This Israel will touch no unclean thing, or person. The experience of the storm, and the great fish in chapters 1 and 2 speak of Christ and His fulfillment of the covenant, through His life, death, burial, and resurrection. Christ has brought something completely new to the equation The Jonah of chapter 3 reveals God's full intent for Israel, both jew and gentile. Paul's entire letter to the Romans is the underlying orthodoxy to the Book of Jonah's ortho-praxy. See also Eph 2:11-22; Acts 15:1-19; Amos 9:11-12

The only way to salvation for anyone jew or gentile is by grace through faith, which comes from hearing the word of truth, i.e. Christ. This subsequently leads to belief which is accounted to us as righteousness. From the days of Abraham this was so.

Romans 4:
9 Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.
10 How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.
11 He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,
12 and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.

So Jonah in the beginning was like Paul, a Hebrew among Hebrews, and by the end of his story he was also like Paul in that he was struck down by the light of divine revelation;

Salvation belongs to the Lord!

Romans 9:16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

Jonah had to learn just as the jews who lived during the days of the early church had to learn, that God's plan from the beginning was to call out a holy people, Israel, both jew and gentile, for Himself. Jonah's adventure is the story of the church.

It should be noted that the name Jonah, in the Hebrew, means, "dove".

In my final installment we will look at chapter 4 and its word of correction for the church today.

For the Glory of God!

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