“Salvation is of the Lord!”
The Book of Jonah, though it is found in the minor prophets, is not really a prophecy at all. It is an inspired autobiographical sketch of a specific period in the life of Jonah. It is a book written by Jonah as he was directed by God the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the book is to show God’s providence and grace in the life of his servant Jonah, and to give us a vivid picture of our Savior’s death, burial, and resurrection.
This man Jonah was the insignificant son of an insignificant man in an insignificant place. He was the son of Amittai of Gath-hepher (2 Kings 14:25) in Galilee. Gath-hepher was a city that belonged to the tribe of Zebulun in a remote corner of Israel. But God chose Jonah as an object of his grace and ordained him to be a prophet in Israel of great usefulness.
The life of Jonah, as it is recorded in this book, is a marvelous and instructive picture of God’s providence and grace in the lives of his people.
As the Book of Jonah opens, Jonah is already a prophet of God, a man of faith, a servant of the Lord. But he had much to learn. Look at verses 1 and 2. – “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.” Why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, we are not specifically told until we get to chapter 4. It appears that this man of God did not want to go to Nineveh because of his racial prejudice against the Assyrians who lived there. He did not want God to have mercy upon Nineveh (4:2).
So, we read in verse 3, “Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” This is where Jonah’s troubles began. And this is where our story begins. When Jonah made up his mind to rebel against the revealed will of God, he went down to Joppa and very conveniently, (He probably convinced himself that it was an act of God’s providence to lead him in the path he had chosen!), “He found a ship going to Tarshish.” But read the next line. “So he paid the fare thereof!” If you choose the rebel’s path, be warned. When you get on that ship, like it or not, you have to pay the fare thereof. What a great price it is!
No doubt, some of you here are just like Jonah. God has spoken to you. He has revealed to you what you must do. Perhaps he has spoken to you by the gospel, calling you to follow Christ. Perhaps he has called you to a specific area of service in his kingdom. Perhaps he has called you to a specific task or responsibility for the glory of his name. But you have thus far refused to hear his voice. You are now fleeing from the Lord. And God may let you flee for a while. But you will have to pay the fare thereof.
First, we read in chapter 1 verse 4 that “the Lord sent out a great wind into the sea.” No sooner had the ship set sail for Tarshish than a storm arose, nearly destroying the ship. Everyone was panic-stricken. The captain and the sailors all got very religious in the face of death and began to call on their gods (v. 5). But there was one man on the ship who knew what was happening. Jonah knew that this great storm had arisen for his sake (v. 12).
Be sure you learn this lesson: Everything that comes to pass in this world comes to pass by the hand of God, and comes to pass for the sake of God’s elect (1 Cor. 3:21; 2 Cor. 4:15; 5:18).
Though Jonah was determined to forsake God, God determined that he would not allow him to forsake him. ― “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his.” And, though many times it is true of us as it was of Jonah, we turn from him in unbelief, yet, it is a faithful saying, “If we believe not, he abideth faithful!” (2 Tim. 2:19, 13).
Though Jonah sought to flee from his responsibilities as a believer, the Lord graciously forced him to confess his faith before an unbelieving mob (vv. 8-12). He confessed, “I am an Hebrew,” a child of God’s election. He told these men, “I fear God,” the one true and living God; but “I have rebelled against my Lord.” He also told them something about the mission of mercy the Lord had sent him upon, his absolute sovereignty, and his justice. In verse ten we are told that he told them what he had done. And in verse fourteen we see that they knew something about who God is.
Before the day was over, God was glorified before all who were in the ship (vv. 13-16). So great is our God that even the wrath of man praises him. He so sovereignly rules all things that even the shameful deeds of his disobedient children shall ultimately cause men to praise his holy name, both for his faithfulness and for his sovereignty.
“Behold, a greater than Jonah is here!” ― The Lord Jesus tells us plainly that Jonah was a type of himself. It is Christ himself who gives us the true, full meaning and significance of Jonah’s experiences. Jonah, he tells us, was a sign both to the Ninevites and to all future generations (Luke 11:29-30). And in this first chapter of Jonah, we see a very clear, instructive picture of our all-glorious Christ and his great sacrifice for us.
There was a mighty, tempestuous storm raging against these mariners, threatening them with immediate death (vv. 4 and 11), typical of God’s wrath. When they cast lots, to determine who must be sacrificed, the lot fell on Jonah (v. 7; Pro. 16:33; Acts 2:23-24). The Lord Jesus Christ was delivered to death by the hands of men, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. When Jonah saw that these men were about to be slain in the storm of God’s wrath, he voluntarily offered himself as a substitute sacrifice to die in their stead, to suffer the wrath of God in their stead, just as our Savior volunteered to sacrifice himself for us (v. 12; John 10:17-18). As soon as Jonah was cast into the raging sea of God’s wrath and judgment, “the sea ceased from her raging” (v. 15). And as soon as the Lord Jesus had suffered all the wrath of God as our Substitute, the fury of God against us was removed forever (Rom. 8:1; Gal. 3:13). In verse 16 we see that all for whom Jonah gave his life were saved from death and worshipped God.
Second, we read in chapter 1 verse 17 that “the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.” God first prepared a storm. Then he prepared a fish. We do not know what kind of fish it was. Here it is called “a great fish.” In the New Testament it is called “a whale” (Matt. 12:40). The word used in both places refers not to specific species, but to a huge sea creature, or sea monster (a dragon). It may have been a great whale, a great shark, or a sea creature specifically prepared by God to swallow Jonah whole without killing him, a fish in which Jonah could live for three days and three nights, and a fish that would spit him out at the appointed time.
Jonah’s experience in this passage is a typical representation of the accomplishment of our redemption by Christ (Matt. 12:40). Our Lord Jesus, when he was made to be sin for us, was swallowed up in the sea of God’s wrath and slain as our Substitute. As a dead man, his body was cast into the heart of the earth, the tomb of death. But three days later, the Son of God, our Redeemer, arose from the tomb victorious over death, hell, and the grave. His resurrection is the proof that he has, by the sacrifice of himself as our Substitute, put away all the sins of his people, which were imputed to him. As Jonah appeared to the Ninevites as one brought back from the dead to bring them repentance and forgiveness, so the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed in the hearts of chosen sinners as One raised from the dead to give repentance and the forgiveness of sins by the merits of his sacrifice (Acts 5:30-31; Rom. 1:1-6).
Jonah’s deliverance from the belly of this great fish is a picture of every believer’s experience of grace (2:1-10). Again, “a greater than Jonah is here.” The Lord Jesus is obviously portrayed here. None but the incarnate God could suffer the eternity of God’s wrath in a single day. He is described as suffering the very things recorded here (Ps. 69:1-4). He cried unto the Lord, just as Jonah did here (Ps. 22). He promised, in the midst of his anguish, to praise God in the congregation (Ps. 22:25). None but Christ could pay what he vowed to the Lord (Ps. 22:25). He declared the very thing Jonah did, “Salvation is of the Lord” (Ps. 22:28; 37:39).
Still, these verses portray every believer’s experience of grace. There is much debate these days about when a person is saved. In my opinion the debate is nothing but useless strife. The question, “When were you saved?” was never raised by any apostle of Christ and never addressed to any of his saints. But this is certain, whenever a sinner is saved by the grace of God, he is taught of God. And when a man is taught of God, there are some things he experiences.
A person is saved when, with the awareness of God’s just wrath upon him, he calls upon God for mercy (2:1-2). (See Psalm 107.) A person is saved when, from the depths of his corruption, he looks to Christ in faith (vv. 3-7). A person is saved when he comes to know the One true and living God (v. 8; John 17:3). A person is saved when God lifts him up from the miry pit of corruption by his almighty grace (v. 6). A person is saved when from the depths of his inmost soul he acknowledges and confesses that, “Salvation is of the Lord!” (v. 9).
Once the Lord caused the great fish to spit Jonah out, the word of the Lord came to him the second time. And Jonah hit the ground running to go to Nineveh and preach the preaching that God told him to preach (2:10–3:10). He made the three day trip to Nineveh in one day. It is written, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power” (Psa. 110:3).
Jonah proclaimed God’s message. (When God intends to be gracious to sinners he sends his Word to heal them.) The whole city of Nineveh, a city with 120,000 infants (4:11) repented, reasoning like any condemned sinner should, "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" (3:9).
When sinners hear God’s Word and turn to him in repentance, they obtain mercy. ― "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not." (3:10). It was not that God saw their outward works of putting on sackcloth and ashes and fasting, but their inward works, their faith in him, and repentance towards him. These inward works of repentance and faith are the fruit of his grace. They were wrought in them by God and were attended with fruits and works meet for repentance in that they forsook their former idolatry and their idolatrous course of life and refrained from it. The repentance of these men is spoken of with commendation by Christ, and as that which would rise up in judgment and condemn the men of his own earthly generation (Matt. 12:41).
Then, in chapter four we read that Jonah got mad at God for his mercy upon Nineveh and went out to pout (4:1-5).
"But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Therefore now, O LORD, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry? So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city."
Here is the third thing God did for Jonah. ―"The Lord God prepared a gourd and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.” Here is a pouting, peevish prophet. But he is the servant of a merciful and gracious God. This gourd (palmcrist) was prepared by God for the comfort of his servant, Jonah. As we see the hand of God in grace, let us to see the hand of God in all the daily comforts of life. Every good thing we enjoy in this world, no matter how great or small it may be, comes from the hand of our God.
There is much to be learned from this comfort, this gourd that God prepared for Jonah. God sent this comfort to his servant when he was totally undeserving of comfort. The comfort God gave, though it was only a gourd, was exactly what his child needed. The Lord sent the gourd to Jonah at the right time. God’s purpose in sending the gourd was to comfort and protect his beloved servant. And God’s purpose was perfectly fulfilled, “Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.” But all earthly comforts are only temporary. We must not get too attached to them! Read verse 7!
Here is the fourth thing God did for Jonah. ― “God prepared a worm, and it smote the gourd that it withered” (4:7). As we see the hand of God in our comforts, let us also see the hand of God in our sorrows, bereavements, and losses.
“’Tis God that lifts our comforts high,
Or sinks them to the grave;
He gives, and blessed be His name!
He takes but what He gave.”
Here is the fifth thing. ― “It came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind: and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah” (4:8). If we are wise, we will see the hand of God in our heaviest trials. Our greatest trials sometimes come in connection with the most insignificant things: ― A gourd! ― A worm. Trials often come one on the heels of another. A worm appears. The gourd withers. The sun burns. The hot east wind beats upon Jonah’s head. Our troubles sometimes appear to be downright brutal. The trials that are hardest to bear are those in which, like this trial of Jonah, there appears to be no benefit. Our heaviest trials usually come when we, as Jonah did sitting under his gourd, think we are most secure. Our trials reveal what is in us. Jonah’s trial revealed his anger against God (v. 9).
God did all of these things for his servant Jonah, so that he might prepare Jonah to be an instrument of usefulness in his kingdom. What God did for Nineveh, he was also to do for Israel, an even more undeserving people. And the prophet who would carry the message was Jonah (2 Kings 14:23-27).
"Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?" (4:10-11)
The Lord God taught Jonah his mercy and taught him to be merciful. And this man, knowing God’s mercy and being merciful, was used of God as an instrument of mercy for the deliverance of many. If ever we learn to be merciful, maybe God will use us!
If you choose to run from God, you are running a race you cannot win. His grace is irresistible. His will is irresistible. His teaching is irresistible. The Book of Jonah prefigures the fact that it is God’s purpose to bring the blessings of his grace and mercy to chosen sinners throughout the world by his Righteous Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ. And this little book stands as a declaration of our unceasing responsibility to proclaim the gospel of his grace to all people.
The Book of Jonah ends with a question (4:10-11). We are not told how Jonah answered the Lord, or if he answered him. Perhaps the Book of Jonah ends with this question so that we might be forced to answer it for ourselves. ― Is it right for me to ever question what God does? ― Is it ever right for me to be angry with my God? ― Is it ever right for me to prefer my own comfort, ease, and pleasure to the souls of perishing men? ― Is it right for me to weep over my withered, worthless gourds, while immortal souls perish without Christ? I leave it to you to answer for yourself. For my part, my heart is smitten. I pray that the Lord God will give me grace that I may be conformed to his Son, who wept not for himself but for eternity bound sinners (Luke 19:41-42; Matt. 23:37).