Jonah comes to a jarring end with pagans repenting and the prophet rebuked. A litany of three questions leaves us hanging in suspense.
“Do you do well to be angry?”
“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
“Should I not pity Nineveh…?”
Like Job, Jonah is brought into God’s court. Unfortunately, Jonah neither speaks nor keeps silent with the wisdom of Job. Unlike the book of Job, no pleasant resolution follows the court scene. Instead, we are left with Jonah to wrestle with these questions. If we don’t, I’m afraid we miss the message of this little book.
There is a sense in which you need to get angry to understand the message of Jonah. The central message of this book is found near the center, at the end of chapter two where Jonah exclaims, “Salvation is of the LORD!” How could we get mad at a message like that? Paul anticipates that we might.
“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14–24 ESV)
A good sign that you understand Romans 9, and Jonah also, is if they’ve ever made you angry. Do they give rise to an initial objection? That so many interpretations of Romans 9 don’t hit the mark is evident in that they make no one mad. Often, the best indicator that you’ve understood God’s salvation isn’t that you now rejoice in it, but that at some point it has made you furious. Have you never felt what Paul calls the “offense of the cross?”
Perhaps the reason you’re so comfortable with God’s grace is that it makes sense to you. You live in Jerusalem where God’s grace makes sense. You live among the pretty people. Of course God loves you so. Have you never stepped outside of your bubble of bliss to see the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners? Here is where the rub lies. He is sovereign. We are sinners. Yahweh is free to have mercy on whom He will.
Just how free do you believe God’s grace to be? When all is done, what separates you from your neighbor in hell? “I believed,” you reply. Yes, but why did you believe? Is the answer found in you or in God? Salvation is not of you. Not even a little. You do not make the difference. Salvation is of Yahweh. Every bit of it. Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God alone.
Jonah ends with Jonah’s silence, and yet the book screams. We are brought to exclaim, “No! Jonah does not do well to be angry. He deserves to die. And yet, Yahweh, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, allows him to live. In doing so, He is free to have mercy on whom He will.”
If you read this book closely, I believe you’ll see that Jonah came to sing after the appointed plant, worm, and wind, just as he sang after the appointed fish. Chapter two is not a record of Jonah’s prayer, but an account of his praying. The narrator is no longer unfolding the events for us as they came, rather, Jonah’s poetic recollection of his praying is inserted. I don’t believe Jonah took time to pen poetry after being spewed out by the fish before heading to Nineveh. I believe Jonah 2:1–9 were written sometime after God’s final question was put to him. In this way, Jonah does answer God’s questions. He answers with a prayer of repentance and faith and praise exclaiming again, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh!”
Jonathan Edwards too was once troubled by the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners. He wrote:
“From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty that I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”
Like Jonah, the sweetness of Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners may not be the saint’s first conviction, but it is sure to be their last.
Salvation is of YHWH!