The Word of God comes to us in its own power and authority as the truth. The Word makes no apology for the things about which it speaks, nor for the way it presents them; and its force and authority are not lessened because it condescends to plead with men. It needs no one to prove that it is true, for it proves its own testimony by the revelation of what is true. If it needed another to prove its truth, then we could not know the Word to be the Word of God, for we know God by the revelation that it gives. To judge the Word we should require an authority greater than God Himself, and that is impossible. It is absurd for man to presume to judge the Word, a Word which judges him, and gives him a true picture of himself; he does so at his peril.
It remains the Word of God even if it is not received by those who hear it. If one person believes the Word, receiving it as the Word of God, and another does not believe it, the authority of the Word is not altered in the least, it remains the same for both. Whether the Word is accepted or not it will judge all men by that which it reveals. It professes to be the Word and the testimony of God; the truth which makes Him known. The knowledge of God, which it brings into the conscience, reveals all that man is and judges all his thoughts and actions.
Outside the Word of God, we have only the mind of man, and the forces of evil to which man has made himself subject by the exercise of his own will. Unless the inspired Word governs the mind of man, the more intelligent he is, the more rationalistic and infidel he becomes; if he is imaginative and influenced by ancient mythology he grows more grossly superstitious, for in his mind he retains some idea of God.
Men communicate with men, and they understand each other’s thoughts; surely God can do the same, and give more certainty as to the Divine origin and truth of the thing communicated. "Thou shalt speak my words" (Ezekiel 2:7). A Word which tells me "all things that ever I did," speaks with more than mere human intelligence. The Word is the eye of God and it searches the conscience; and no word, spoken or written, has any power or authority in the soul until it reaches the conscience.
The Word is received on its own testimony by faith. The truth of it is tested by that which it professes to reveal. The presence of God is known by the Word, and the Word carries its own authority as truth to the conscience.
The truth in anything that is told us is always a whole. Even a partial revelation is the truth concerning that which is revealed in so far as the revelation is made, and it is a necessary part of the revelation of what is true. Scripture is a whole, in it there are many things revealed, but they all make God known as they have to do with Him, and as far as He may be known by the creatures to whom He reveals Himself. What man amongst the many who wrote could have known his part in the work to complete the scriptures, and the necessity of that which he wrote to form the perfect revelation of the mind of God, as the Word gives it? It is not a lifeless word, it has vitality, and it lives by the life of the Spirit of God. If the Word is not received, God is not believed, for the Word is His testimony to men and is to be received on the authority of its own declaration.
Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, they are delicately and exquisitely framed. More mysterious than the intricacies of our mortal frames, is the union of the spirit of man with his body, which gives him life here and the consciousness of relationship with the world of nature through a mind. There is even more wonder in the fact that man has a mind capable of enjoying communion with God and knowing something of His character and ways. Reaching still farther in perfection beyond these marvels of creation, the Word, which communicates the mind of God and reveals God to man, surpasses all the works of creation, because it is more directly Divine. The Word is incomparable.
The Bible is not a mere disorderly collection of historical events and mythical stories thrown together without a reason for their choice. The reason for the recording of an event can only be discerned when we understand the Divine principle which it is used to illustrate. The Spirit of God is the interpreter of the mind of God. He alone can give the understanding of the Word, which He inspired to be written, and the reason for the choice of the event He has chosen.
There are no unnecessary parts in the Word which reveals God. The Word of revelation forms a unity which is perfect for faith. In each book we discover the unfolding of the ways of God, of His government or of His counsels of grace. The prophets are occupied with His government on earth, a sure and certain government, but which is not yet seen in operation. God at present hides His government in providence.
From time to time God raised up prophets who were sent as His ambassadors to those who were appointed to govern for Him in this world. They pronounced His moral judgment of their rule, and especially of the behaviour of those responsible to bear a testimony to His name in the world. The government of the world has gone notoriously awry, because God has been excluded from the affairs of men and another authority owned which allows man to exalt himself by the exercise of his own will; but there is a restraint upon the activities of men that the full consequences of man's wilful wav may not yet be manifested. God is deeply interested in His creature man, whom He made for His own pleasure, and He allows him to go to a great length in his efforts to exalt himself, then God restrains him. When evil goes too far, God providentially changes the course of man's ways, for the time has not yet come to put down for ever all the evil forces which have power over men through their passions.
What government on earth would send its representative into an enemy's land without apparent protection, as a sheep among wolves, or as a dove to carry a declaration of judgment to vultures? None but He who takes up the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to put to nought the strength of the mighty. He proves that those who go with the Word of God, in the strength of an unseen God, are more powerfully armed than those who appear in the might of the powers of darkness that make a great display to terrorize the fearful.
Jonah, whose name means "dove," was the last prophet sent directly to address God's testimony to the Gentiles before Christ came, and he was sent to the fiercest of Israel's enemies. Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, stood in its pride, the mistress of the world. Scripture uses Nineveh as a type of the world in natural greatness and military pride, and the enemy of God's people. Though proud and corrupt, it is not viewed as Babylon, which is the world in impious religious corruption and defiant imperialism; "I am, and none else beside me." (Isaiah 47:10)
The prophecy of Daniel relates the history of the four Gentile empires which run their course after the throne of Jehovah is removed from Jerusalem. The last six chapters show the relation of these world-powers to captive Israel. Daniel stands as the interpreter of the mind of God, the secret of the LORD was with the faithful captive. While indicating that at the time of the judgment of the imperial power Israel will be delivered, he does not go on to develop the state of deliverance. There is no direct appeal to the Gentiles in Daniel's prophecy, only the pronouncement of their judgment.
Before the judgment of God descends on a city or a nation God gives a clear warning of what is coming. He is a faithful Creator, not desiring that any should perish. Judgment falls only when every means to turn man from the evil of his ways has failed, and when the grace which opens the way to repentance is despised.
God's dealings with Nineveh afford a striking testimony to His ways in government. He is ready to pardon when there is the least sign of repentance and men turn from their wicked ways. When the word of warning reaches the conscience and man's relationship with God is recognised, for the moment at least, the will is subdued, and God waits in patience and ponders the ways of men.
In Jonah's message there is not a foretelling of Israel's national restoration, nor a detailed account of the judgment of the world. The events of the history provide the opportunity to bring out many great principles of God in His ways with men, but they are unfolded around the vessel of God's testimony, Jonah, who was responsible to render a faithful testimony to the world for God. There is only one prophetic announcement in the message of Jonah, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown." The chastening hand of God is stayed when the city repents. An important principle is made clear, God hearkens to the cry of a city or a nation when the natural conscience is reached, and men in contrition of heart humble themselves before Him.
We live in a day when the prophetic word is no longer a hidden mystery. The prophecies of the future happenings that are to overtake the world now lie unveiled before the Church, and Christendom, which includes all the governments of the western world, is aware of that which the Scriptures predict, though men may not believe. The main principles of God's government are recognized, and the light of the Word has to be refused deliberately, if men wish to escape its effect upon the conscience.
By the prophetic word we know that the time is drawing near when the living nations will be brought into judgment, and God has "appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness…" (Acts 17:31) The book of Jonah does not expand the prophecy of this judgment; but in God's dealings with Jonah himself, and in the patience He shows to Nineveh, we see the mercy of God in offering, as it were, an opportunity for men to hear His Word and to cease from the evil of their ways, that God's chastening judgments may be withheld, while men learn the mercy of God, and are spared from destruction.
Judgment was about to fall on Nineveh, the proud and haughty military power of the ancient world. To such a city, the head of the Assyrian kingdom, God sent His messenger. God may raise up and strengthen vessels of His testimony like Moses who was faithful in His house, or an Elijah who alone stood faithful in idolatrous Israel. He may choose a Paul, in the New Testament, and teach him wonderful heavenly things and send him alone to a vast heathen world. To bring His mercy and goodness into stronger relief He may use an unfaithful servant such as Jonah, whose fears and strong aversion to carry the grace of God to Gentiles (chapter 4:2), were stronger than his sense of duty to serve Jehovah and carry the knowledge of the loving-kindness of God to guilty men.
God has committed His testimony to the world into the hands of men, and they are responsible to bear a true testimony to His character. While recognizing the necessity for judgment on the wickedness of the world, the witnesses for God may fail to render a full and true testimony to His grace, through fear of representing God as the God of all grace, in whom even the vilest may find mercy. If the message be clearly given perhaps a city or a nation might take the word to heart and repent of its ways, and hold back for a little time the day of judgment. (See Jeremiah 28:8) In the meantime many souls would have the opportunity of hearing the Word of life and of entering the open door to eternal salvation.
Nineveh for the moment repented and the day of destruction was averted. One hundred and fifty years later the prophet Nahum pronounced the inexorable judgment of Nineveh. The city had repented and enjoyed a breathing space, but it returned to its violence and corruption. The Assyrian menace threatened Jerusalem, but God had not given up His people, the Jews, who were spared the violence of the Assyrian attack, only to fall later into the hands of idolatrous Babylon when Judah turned completely away from Jehovah, the God of Israel, and despised His sabbaths of rest.
The principles unfolded in God's dealings with Jonah may be found in His ways with His servants today. Not only do we see the natural tendencies of the human heart brought into the light of the presence of God, and all its natural sentiments judged, but we discover that what is natural only hinders God's servant if it rules his will. Death sets the first man totally aside. Only by the power of God can a man, who was dead, go forth in resurrection power to be the vessel of the grace of God, and deliver His message in keeping with His character. Even then the vessel has to learn everything in the light of God's nature as the faithful Creator and Blesser of His creatures in mercy. God uses what He will in creation to bring about His end, and He does not forget even the cattle when in mercy He withholds punishment.
"The word of the LORD came unto Jonah" and it was a prophecy of judgment. Jonah was the servant of Jehovah and understood His ways. He knew the grace that was in God for an erring people. He knew that as often as a people repent God is ready to show mercy. Nineveh was wicked, but God was beyond and above all their wickedness. Jonah shrank from representing a God who, though absolutely holy, was gracious and ready to pardon and extend mercy to the guilty at their first real cry of repentance. The God of Israel, whom the prophet knew, had often dealt with Israel in this way.
There were two things hard for Jonah to confess to others. Firstly, that there was grace in God for others besides Israel; and secondly, that Israel's own history was a long story of grace, and that they could not have existed without experiencing such grace. There was a third thing which was more connected with the treachery of Jonah's own heart; he did not want his reputation as a prophet questioned. He was not sent to preach grace, whatever affect his words might produce, but to announce an approaching judgment. What would become of his reputation as a prophet if God extended mercy to Nineveh, and the judgment did not fall according to the word of the prophet? A prophet of God had Divine authority to speak, and God gave proof of the authority of His servant by acting according to his word; where was the proof that Jonah was a true prophet if God did not immediately execute His threat of judgment?
It is a part of the testimony of God to proclaim "he that hath the Son hath life" a most blessed word to perishing men. It is equally a part of His testimony to preach "he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5:12), a most solemn word of warning to the indifferent. Unless the heart of the servant of God is kept near to God, self will intrude and God be lost to the conscience.
Jonah fled from the presence of Jehovah; he did not travel westward instead of eastward through fear of the Ninevites, but because he shrank from the risk of being discredited as a prophet. He was ready to sacrifice a nation rather than lose his reputation as a prophet. He was truly a prophet of Jehovah, but to present God in His true character was not Jonah's first thought. Miserable human thoughts of self-importance drove him to his ruin. But God, in spite of the unfaithfulness of His selfish servant, would have His message delivered to people who stood in danger of their lives. God would not have been truly represented if He were only known as Jonah wished Him to be; Jonah refused God the right to be merciful. A God of judgment and not of mercy was not the true character of Jehovah God. Grace makes Him known perfectly.
The story is clearly told. God makes His way plain, and all His acts with individuals and with nations are in keeping with His character as revealed in all His ways. The principles of His ways never depart from that which is true of His nature.
The seamen call upon God, and they awaken Jonah from his sleep in which he has sought oblivion from the searchings of his conscience. He confesses that he fled from Jehovah, the God of heaven who made the sea. He who made the sea was disturbing it for His servant's sake, who seeking to hide from Him was tossed on the waves and was the centre of the storm. Reluctantly the seamen do as Jonah bids them and they cast him into the sea, "and the sea ceased from her raging." But God who made all things, "and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly" (Genesis 1:21), prepared a great fish for this time, and now it obeyed its Creator: "Now the LORD prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah" (verse 17).
The infidel mind that refuses to receive the story of Jonah as God has been pleased to record it for us, sets up to be superior to the Recorder. The Creator of the universe may do as He pleases with His creation. It requires no more faith to believe that God made use of a great fish to swallow Jonah, which as a fact is not out of the course of nature, than to believe that "the worlds were framed by the word of God" (Hebrews 11:3). We need not linger over doubts as to the possibility of a life being sustained for three days and three nights in an extraordinary manner; this is not the greatest of miracles. Bring God into the question and all difficulties disappear. God raises the dead: He is the God of the living and not of the dead, all live unto Him. If He chooses to preserve the union of spirit and body under extraordinary circumstances in His own creation, may He not do so? God is not subject to the laws of nature, but they are to Him. Man who is subject to nature's laws demands that God should be so too, and he demands it that he may be equal with God, even above Him. The infidel would have God caught in the works of His own hands.
Christ used what happened to Jonah as a type of His own burial in the heart of the earth. Surely the Son of God who created all things and for whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16), knew the truth concerning Jonah! Twice the Lord Jesus Christ used Jonah as a sign, for in the history of Jonah we have a part of the ways of God, and a necessary part of the truth which unfolds the knowledge of God. Every incident in Jonah's history is in perfect harmony with all the ways of God in the revelation of Himself. Nothing in the record, in which we may trace the principles of Divine working, is out of place, and the whole light of scripture may be brought to bear on it, no flaw will be discovered.
Jonah is a proof that man in whom the natural sentiments rule, is utterly incapable of bearing the message of God and representing Him aright. Self was the centre of every thought and the motive of every action of Jonah. He was a prophet of God and had the Word of God to deliver, but while he followed the dictates of his own heart he was unable to submit to God and deliver His message. His conscience condemned him (1:10, 12), and made him a coward. Man in that state was set aside in death.
The natural mind cannot enter into the ways of God, its thoughts of God are narrowed to its own point of view, and it is powerless to act for Him even when it knows that He is speaking. Who but God can raise a dead man and send him forth with a message of life in the power of resurrection? God has completely rejected man in his first estate as the child of Adam. Death and resurrection is now the way of blessing for men. The conscience of man is compelled to acknowledge that this testimony is true. The one who has obtained mercy and been brought again from the grave, is the one who is able to carry the message of God. If Jonah's heart had not entered into these deep principles of God, he himself was the object of mercy and a testimony of God's way of blessing, and became a living testimony to the Ninevites. Jonah had found mercy in the place of judgment, perhaps there would be mercy for Nineveh if it were sought in repentance. Jonah shrank from proclaiming the loving ways of God in warning and sparing a sinful people. Judgment on Egypt saved the children of Israel from their slavery; later in their history, judgment on Assyria saved Jerusalem. Judgment fell when men abused the long-suffering kindness of God, who waited in great patience until there was no remedy; but Jonah could not enter into the grace which bore long with evil.
Jonah cried from the depths. We see in Jonah the moral principle that it is only when the soul is brought into the shadow of death, when all earthly hope has vanished, and all creature strength has gone, and death is known as judgment by the sentence of God, that the soul learns salvation is of God alone.
The prophet fled from the presence of Jehovah in his own strength, even using the providence of God to escape His presence. In the place of death he found that salvation was in God only, and the strength to represent Him aright was in God Himself.
Jonah was a prophet of God and he knew it, but he had a will which needed to be broken. When raised up again and sent as a risen man, he could speak to others for God in the power of his salvation.
"And the LORD spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land." The graves will give up the dead when God speaks the word. Jonah is here a clear type of the Jews who lie buried in the dust of the earth amongst the nations. Israel will again be brought to life and be returned to their land (Ezekiel 37).
The second time Jonah is sent he delivers Jehovah's message. God in mercy brought Jonah up from the grave. Jonah, through his failure, compels, as it were, God to act in mercy toward His servant, and to make him a witness of like mercy to the Ninevites. The king of Nineveh proclaimed a fast and called his people to repentance. God saw that there was real national contrition and He withheld the judgment. He would not destroy a people whose hearts were in the least reached by His Word.
Jonah wanted to see righteousness fulfilled without mercy. If God acted only in righteousness how could love be known? If He passed over sin without raising the question of its judgment, where would be His righteousness? God's word to sinful men, as to Nineveh, is a warning of judgment in righteousness, that they might fear before Him and seek mercy in the love of the One who sends the warning. In righteousness He has pronounced the sentence of death against those who have sinned, and in love He has provided the perfect sacrifice to meet His just sentence, and God is more than satisfied, and whoever comes by the blood of that sacrifice is freely received of God to know the blessings of the redeemed with God.
Jonah had feared this merciful dealing of God; had not Israel often experienced like mercy? Although he had himself been delivered, Jonah was angry and complains, "for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, and slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil" (verse 2). Delivered from the hand of death, yet what was he without his reputation? As a prophet he had risked everything and been made to go on his errand against his will. The king of Nineveh was not thinking of Jonah and does not mention him; Jonah was thinking of no one but himself, and wished he were dead.
Jonah's fault was not so much in thinking of himself as Jehovah's prophet whose every word must be established, though that gave him his true standing, but his selfish heart could not bear sharing with others the grace of which he was so richly a subject. Surely to be the prophet of a merciful God and to represent Him as such, was a greater honour than being a herald of judgment. Until the heart truly enters for itself into the depths of grace with God Himself, the delights of grace cannot be shared with others. Jonah had still much to learn.
The prophet, nursing his wrath, sat down outside the city gate to see what would become of Nineveh; wondering if, we shall not say, hoping that God would change His mind and execute His threat of judgment. The shelter of the plant [gourd KJV] gave him welcome relief from the heat of the sun, and almost made him forget his anger. The destruction of the shady plant by the worm roused his anger. He was angry with that which had needlessly destroyed the comfort he had enjoyed.
Jehovah used the occasion to show Jonah, that if he were justly angry because the destruction of the pleasant plant caused him to suffer, had not a merciful God, slow to anger, the right to turn away the judgment and not immediately destroy a city in which there were 120,000 helpless souls, and also much cattle, all dependent on His mercy, if there were found in it the smallest recognition of God?
While the plant was of use to Jonah he cared about its existence. God cared more for the creatures He made for His pleasure. It gives God no pleasure to chasten men and to take away their national existence. Judgment is His strange work, and it only falls on a people when His Word has no more effect in the conscience, and in rebellion of heart through pride, a deaf ear is turned to His warning. God is known in pardoning, and the sin from which the conscience is cleansed is learned to be what it is, in His pardon.
Jonah had been saved from the place of death by the mighty hand of the LORD to whom he had been unfaithful. In chapter 4 verse 8 he is tasting death for himself, not as judgment for sin, but as something to be desired. His reputation was not now at stake, he was weary with life; this life was a burden to him. He thought not now of death as a release from shame, but as a way of deliverance from the wilderness. It was then that God spoke to him of His mercy to the helpless, Jonah would now understand it. Jonah desired to close the days of a difficult service, and his alternative was to depart and rest with God, but his will was in the desire. He really believed Jehovah [Yewah] at the bottom of his heart, but he was not free from a self that sought its own exaltation. Death was the way of real deliverance when faith rested in God. All the truth was not revealed in the Old Testament, Christ was not yet dead and risen to become the believer's life in resurrection, and so set him free through death with Christ.
The one pleasing feature in Jonah's personal history lies in the way that the voice of Jehovah quietens and softens him. He could not rise to the goodness of Jehovah, and could not yield to His kindness; but God helped him. God has wonderful ways of helping His servants. He helps them against themselves by bringing death upon all that is mortal, enabling them to realize that into which He brings them by His Spirit, where nature has no place and the natural mind no understanding.
The natural heart is not the repository of the things of God, the world is in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and everything here tends to turn the heart away from God. When Christ came to His own people they refused Him and chose Caesar, the ruler of the world which had already been judged in its head, the first absolute monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. If they had walked in faith and believed the prophets they might have understood something of this.
As Jonah was rejected and buried, so Christ, coming in grace to take the same place, as the true Messenger of God upon whom the Spirit of God abode as a dove (Matthew 3:16), was rejected and buried. The death of Christ stands for a sign to all men. Death is the sentence pronounced on all men; no matter how great they may become they cannot escape it. In God alone is salvation, and the power to deliver from death; the way is open to life eternal through a risen Christ. In Him is life, He is that life, and those who have Christ for their life shall never perish.
Where Jonah brought himself through failure, there Christ went in grace when He bowed His blessed head in death for our sake. His Spirit was in Jonah the prophet, entering perfectly into the sorrows of His servant, and looking prophetically on to the day when the remnant of Jews, having returned to the land, will be overwhelmed by their oppressors. The Spirit of Christ in the prophets has voiced for the remnant the right feelings of a people suffering under the chastening hand of God. Christ, when here, entered into their sorrows in sympathy, and He could do so for He was without sin, the principle of sin was not in Him.
The Ninevites repented and were spared the threatened judgment. The Jews who rejected Christ in His days on earth were not spared, and Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews were scattered. There is a fast-approaching judgment which will descend on the living nations. The one way of escape is to heed the warning of Jonah, and believing the Word of God, repent. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without the knowledge of God, and He is ready to be merciful to all who turn to Him. May the governors of the nations take warning ere it is too late.
The principles underlying God's ways are always consistent with the revelation of His character. We must try our knowledge by the Word as a whole. The Word itself supplies the proof of any interpretation. "No prophecy is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20). The truth of a part is consistent with the whole revelation of God. The truth is never in conflict with itself, and God, who cannot lie, teaches us the truth in part, He helps us by His Spirit to know Himself, and to know what He is in grace to men, that they may be saved.
Jonah affords a type of the Jews; the ways of God with Jonah fit in perfectly with their history as a people entrusted with the testimony of Jehovah, which they should have carried to all the world. The house of the LORD in Jerusalem was to have been a house of prayer for all nations. But the Jews have been set aside. They have busied themselves among the Gentiles, as Jonah, no doubt, thought to do when he arrived at Tarshish. As Jonah brought down a storm upon the ship that almost swamped the vessel in which he slept, so wayward Jewry will bring the world into great trial and turmoil while they lie in their sleep of unbelief.
The Jewish question will prove too great for the nations, and they will be glad to throw it off and leave the Jews to Jehovah their God. The seamen of the ship called on God in their extremity, but when the sea ceased from its raging after Jonah was cast out and left to the mercy of God, then they worshipped Jehovah. (Compare with Daniel 4:34-37 and 6:22-27.) The Jews should have been a centre of blessing for others, but they failed, and by their behaviour they will bring the punishment of God upon themselves, and upon all who have to do with them. Christendom is in danger of doing the same thing. The false and apostate ecclesiastical system will lead the civil powers into its own judgment that will end its history as the great deceiver of the nations. (See Revelation 17, 18 & 19)
In the prayer of Jonah (chapter 2) we can distinctly hear the voice of the remnant crying out of the depths, but salvation will come to them in their extremities. The Spirit of Christ in the Psalmist uses the same language in Psalm 42:7. They will discover at great cost that those who follow after vain idols forsake the grace God would have them know. The repentant remnant will be brought through bitter experiences to learn their want of strength and to find where their deliverance lies.
The Jews never could endure the thought that grace should go out to the Gentiles (John 7:35; Acts 10, 22:21, 22). They always had in mind that Jehovah was the God of Israel, which was true; but they went so far as to attach His name to their evil practices when they departed in heart from Him (Micah 3:11). They forgot in their selfishness that God was the God of the Gentiles also (see Romans 3:29).
The goodness of God will not be hindered by the selfishness of unfaithful witnesses; He may have to discipline the vessel of His testimony. But God will not destroy even a hasty and violent people without a warning, He spares them as long as possible, He finds no pleasure in sentencing the vilest to death. Israel's unfaithfulness as God's witness to the nations, has served to bring into fuller light the faithfulness and goodness of God to men everywhere (see Romans 11:11, 12).
The heart of man having once shut God out, ever seeks to please itself apart from Him, yet it knows that God is greater than it, and that He desires the good of men; it has to admit this against its own will. Not willing to be lowered from the place where the man speaking for God is exalted, the man so honoured, if he listens to his treacherous heart, desires to retain the place of authority even if to do so he has to command fire to come down from heaven (Luke 9:54). God had the right to pronounce judgment and take vengeance against all ungodliness. His messenger spoke with the authority of Divine appointment, and could not bear the thought of being discredited that God might be magnified. Grace had little power in a heart which had not reached the end of itself, and which clothed itself, for its own exaltation, with the honour and authority God had given His messenger upon whose word He would act. But God always reserves to Himself the right to act in fulness of grace. He warns the sinner with the fear of judgment to come, and offers him a way of escape through grace by faith in His testimony. He who receiveth the testimony sets to his seal that God is true (John 3:33).
As Nineveh received mercy when repentant, so Israel will be the object of mercy when with repentant hearts they turn from their evil associations and seek the LORD only. While unbelief blinds their eyes they cannot see that God's glory is now manifested in resurrection. The memory of the past remains with them, but they have no sense of Divine favour. Their chastened hearts will be humbled before a God of judgment, and they will learn to know Him in His forgiveness. When God brings a sinner to Himself, He exposes the enormity of sin in the light, so that both heart and conscience will be reconciled perfectly in truth, for He pardons in love but not at the expense of truth. He saves the sinner and brings him to Himself without his sin, and the way He has taken to do it reveals His righteousness in perfect love. God sent His Son into the world to die for the sinner, and to prove His infinite love for man.
It is strange how unbearable the repentance of a guilty soul is to a self-righteous heart. The joy of the Father, when the prodigal son returned, was gall to the elder brother. Why should the Jew object to the Gentile receiving mercy? Israel will lose nothing in the day to come because others are brought into blessing. If Israel for the moment has refused the blessing as God has chosen to bestow it, the grace of God cannot be held back, more undeserving people may find it. Israel's momentary rejection has proved a blessing for others, and the Word says that their repentance and recovery will mean vastly greater blessing for the world than was ever known in the past (Romans 11). Righteousness will then reign openly in grace and glory with power.
The selfishness of the heart of man has a peculiar way of reserving to itself all it learns of the blessings of God. Every privilege men know they appropriate to themselves for their own glory, if by these privileges their hearts are not brought into the presence of God, where the eye of God discerns every motive. To-day the Word of God is searched, and Christendom enjoys the light of the truth, which has lifted the minds of men out of the darkness and bondage of heathendom. If the truth is not held with God, that is, if the conscience is not in the light of His presence by the Word, and the heart filled with His love, so that it is the joy of the heart to glorify His name, then the knowledge of the truth only makes the spirit hard and legal. It was so in the case of Israel, and it is what takes place with the most enlightened of Christians when self-interest, and even the enjoyment of God's things, comes between the soul and God. The blessings of God may, through the weakness of Christians, shut God out of their thoughts. But Christian believers have the Spirit of God dwelling in them, given to them of God, and He takes up their cause, and arouses the conscience, making them aware that God cannot have communion with that which has not passed through death. The Spirit of God is not a mere influence in the believer's heart; He has made the body of him, who has faith in Christ and in His work, a living temple; He is there in reality and gives personality in the power of His presence. In the power of an ungrieved Spirit the Christian may "walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour" (Ephesians 5:2).
God teaches us our moral lessons by a language of pictures; for what words could convey His thoughts? By learning the truth which He illustrates, we are made to understand the use of the words in which He clothes His thoughts that He reveals to us. The stories of these lives of old have been kept for us that we may learn, in a way our limited minds may understand, the perfect wisdom of God's ways, and the principles of His dealings with His creatures whom He loves.
No more potent sign could be given to this generation than the sign of the prophet Jonah. In a day when men are learning to use more of the latent power in creation [the atomic bomb], and seem to become supernatural in attainment, the sign of death and resurrection was never more appropriate. God will only receive men in His own way. To approach Him apart from death would be an attempt by man to stand in the guilt of unjudged nature, in the presence of absolute holiness, and ignore the testimony God has given in the power of the Holy Spirit of a dead and risen Christ. God has spoken and the conscience recognizes that He has. The mind of man may try to discredit that which it cannot deny, but the Word will judge all men by the testimony it presents, and the revelation it has made.
Jonah cried to God from the depths, as even the infidel would if he were cast into the sea and despaired of life. Man's intuition is stronger than his reason; he has to grow up and become a philosopher before he thinks of denying the existence of God. When in dire distress he can only think of God as a Saviour and cry to Him for mercy. Like the heathen with his many gods, the modern rationalist with his laws of nature, when ready to perish and at his wit's ends, does not cry, O atomic energy! O scientific discoveries! Nor even, O gods! But his cry is, O GOD! Be merciful (for I am a sinner); save me!
"God, therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent, because he has set a day in which He is going to judge the habitable earth in righteousness by the man whom He hath appointed, giving the proof of it to all in having raised him from among the dead" (Acts 28:30 JND Tr.). God's testimony concerns a risen Man, and it comes to us from the other side of death. Could God do more for man than give him hope in resurrection by the demonstration of His power in Christ; a hope to comfort the hearts of all those who obtain mercy through belief in His Word? In grace He has added great and blessed things in Christ, but these are known only in resurrection.
Jonah remains a sign to all who hear the Word of God. Those who heard his warning and were spared, will rise up in judgment and condemn the rejectors of a greater warning. "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8). But God still pleads with men, beseeching them to hearken to His words of love, and where grace finds a place in the heart His mercy will be sought. "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation . . ." (Isaiah 52:7). "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17). "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24). Every truly touched heart will give thanks to God for the sign of the prophet Jonah, and bless Him for the inspired record preserved for us in the Scripture of Truth.