Saturday, December 14, 2019

Jonah: Sign of Grace to the World

"But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight(Jonah 4:10).

After Nineveh repented and converted to Yahweh, Jonah was angry at God. He went outside the city and made a booth to shade himself from the burning sun. The booth was not enough, so God caused a large plant to spring up giving him shade as well. Jonah was happy. Then the plant withered, and the sun blazed down on him, and Jonah became angry again.

God explained the object-lesson to Jonah this way. The plant represented Nineveh. The plant shaded and protected Jonah from the sun. Just so, the converted Ninevites would shade and protect Israel from tribulation. Just as the plant sprang up overnight, so Nineveh had converted overnight. If the plant died, Jonah would be scorched. Just so, if Nineveh fell away from the faith, Israel would suffer. The message was this: It is a blessing for Israel when the Gentiles receive the Gospel.

It is true that by converting Assyria, God was raising them up to be a mighty power. It is also true that God would use that mighty power to punish Israel in the future, and that Israel would go into Assyrian captivity. But when the Israelites were deported to Nineveh, they would find groups of true believers there, who were still clinging to Jonah’s message preached a century before. These people would shelter the Israelites in their captivity.

God’s loving provision for all men, and His intention to bring the Good News to the Gentiles is also seen in Jonah 1. When Jonah fled from God, he boarded a ship bound for what is now Spain. God sent great storms, and the ship was almost destroyed. The sailors cried to their gods, but to no avail. 

Then Jonah told them it was his fault, and the true God was causing the storm. The result of this message from Jonah was that “the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to Him” (Jonah 1:16). The Bible could hardly make it any clearer: These men were converted. Notice that the sailors tried to save Jonah (Jonah 1:12–15). Here again, Gentiles are acting as protectors to an Israelite. Jonah should have gotten the message.

Orthodox Christianity affirms that the events in the book of Jonah happened exactly as they are recorded. It is possible to become so caught up with defending the historicity of these events that we fail to see their meaning. In line with today’s lesson, consider the object-lesson in the fact that God saved Jonah by putting him into a fish after he had been thrown into the sea. God preserves His people even when He chastens them.