Do You Do Well to Be Angry? (Jonah 4:1–11)

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!

Antecedents, Don’t Forget Your Antecedents (2 Peter 3:1–10)

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).”

Many try to deny the first chapter of Peter’s first letter by appealing to the last chapter of his second letter, but I find the arguments for election in 1 Peter 1 to be pretty thick and the arguments against it from 2 Peter 3 to be pretty thin.

Peter addressed his first letter to “elect exiles… according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:1–2). “Knowledge” here refers to God’s covenant love as I’ve argued here. Of those God chose, Peter goes on to say, “He caused them to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus’ atonement doesn’t simply make all men potentially savable, it accomplishes the salvation of God’s elect.

Rather than try to deny this plain text by another shouldn’t we attempt to harmonize them? I find the Arminian counter with 2 Peter 3:9 to be a weak punch for two reasons:

First, let’s take the passage at its basic meaning without reading any extraneous theology into it. It simply says that God in some way desires that all men repent. No Calvinist would say otherwise. God commands all men to repent. It is the duty they owe to God.

Theologians have long spoken of there being two wills in God. Sometimes these are referred to as his secret and revealed will, or they might be called his decretive and preceptive will. God’s secret will, or His sovereign, is what is. He wills, it is done. He says let there be light and there is light. He decrees the end from the beginning, and so it will be (Isaiah 46:9–10). But we also see in the Scriptures God’s will of command. God says “You shall not murder” and yet murders abound, but only in such a way as to accomplish God’s sovereign plan. It was sin for man to crucify Christ, that is, it was a violation of God’s revealed will; and yet, that great sin did nothing more than achieve God’s secret and eternal purposes. God’s preceptive will is that all men repent. His decretive will is that the elect repent.

Second, I don’t think this interpretation, which is true in itself, is true of the text. What is the antecedent of “all?” If I announce to Meridian Church next Sunday, “All are invited to my house” none would take this to mean I am inviting the whole world. When Paul says in Romans 11:26 that “all Israel will be saved” no orthodox Christian understands him to say that all ethnic Israelites will be saved. The context makes clear that he is speaking of true Israel—meaning those he has chosen, as Romans 9–10 makes clear.

Peter here is not talking about God’s patience towards all humanity but towards His people. He is patience towards you, not wishing that any of you should perish but that all of you should reach repentance. This is further confirmed when in 3:15 he tells them to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Again, it is the church that is to count God’s patience in not returning immediately as their salvation.

There are then two ways we could take this text. Peter may be saying that God is patient towards all His people, the elect, delaying His return until the full number is gathered in. The other option is that God is patient giving those who may be following the false teachers he warns of time to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 says nothing contrary to 1 Peter 1; rather, it is addressing the very same audience, God’s elect.

The Exegetical Systematician: Beyond Even a 99.99% Accomplishment

If we concentrate on the thought of redemption, we shall be able perhaps to sense more readily the impossibility of universalizing the atonement. What does redemption mean? It does not mean redeemability, that we are placed in a redeemable position. It means that Christ purchased and procured redemption. This is the triumphant note of the New Testament whenever it plays on the redemptive chord. Christ redeemed us to God by his blood (Rev. 5:9). He obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). “He gave himself for us in order that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2 :14). It is to beggar the concept of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and by power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people. We have the same result when we properly analyze the meaning of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. Christ did not come to make sins expiable. He came to expiate sins—“when he made purification of sins. he sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Christ did not come to make God reconcilable. He reconciled us to God by his own blood. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

The Exegetical Systematician: Love Constrains the Atonement

It is necessary to underline this concept of sovereign love. Truly God is love. Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally. As God is spirit, as he is light, so he is love. Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects. It was of the free and sovereign good pleasure of his will, a good pleasure that emanated from the depths of his own goodness, that he chose a people to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. The reason resides wholly in himself and proceeds from determinations that are peculiarly his as the “I am that I am.” The atonement does not win or constrain the love of God. The love of God constrains to the atonement as the means of accomplishing love’s determinate purpose. —John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied

Redefining the Un-defined (1 Peter 1:1-2)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

—1 Peter 1:1–2 (ESV)

Election isn’t like that uncle you’d rather not own up to but must when directly asked. Election isn’t something the Biblical authors occasionally warm up to, burying in the back of their letters only after having made a multitude of qualifications. Peter leads with it.

If you want to be faithful to the Bible, you may not elect to not deal with election. You may not choose to avoid this choosing. Still, many deal with it by defining it such that it means nothing. Their definition is an un-definition. How this is done is by abusing a word that soon follows in Peter’s greeting, “foreknowledge.”

The saints are elect according to God’s foreknowledge. The un-definition of this is that God elected those He foreknew would choose Him. This is often called “conditional election.” God elects based on foreseen faith.

Such a view admits too much to being with. It admits that future events are known by God, and thus, these things cannot be changed. This means that out of all the possible worlds God could have created, He chose to create this one, in which He knew certain people would believe and others would not. God remains sovereign over salvation in a sense, but instead of a Sovereign whose grace touches us personally, His grace seems farther removed, almost deistic, as though God let the world loose only knowing where it would go but not guiding it there.

Regardless, do you see how such a un-definition destroys the clear meaning of the word “election.” If God chooses based on our choice, it is not He who ultimately chooses. This puts man behind God’s steering will. Imagine some henpecked husband is encouraged by his elders to take loving leadership in his home. He decides to start small by taking initiative in determining where they will dine their next date night. After opening the car door for her he boldly declares, “I choose to eat wherever you choose to eat.” He shouldn’t report to the elders, “I made the choice about dinner.” James Montgomery Boice says such a definition, “destroys the very meaning of the word, of course, for such election is really not election at all. It actually means that men and women elect themselves, and God is reduced to a bystander who responds to their free choice. Logically and causally, even if not chronologically, God’s choice follows man’s choice.”

“Foreknowledge” can mean knowing things ahead of time. Being omniscient, is true that God does know things before they happen. But is this all it can mean? Is this what it means here? 1 Peter is rich in using Old Testament terminology to speak of the church. This is what is being done when he refers to “elect exiles of the dispersion.” So perhaps we should go to the Old Testament to see what is meant by foreknowledge instead of assuming we know what is meant.

While “foreknow” isn’t used in the Old Testament, “know” is. For example, in Amos 3:2 God tells Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (ESV). God certainly had cognizance of everyone in one sense. What is intended here is that God had a relational and covenantal knowledge of them as his people. Is this language picked up anywhere in the New Testament? Jesus will tell many who profess to prophesy, cast out demons, and do mighty works in His name, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23 ESV). On the flip side, in John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (ESV). In all these instances “know” doesn’t mean simple mental awareness but covenant relationship.

What then does it mean for God to foreknow His people? It means that before they are capable of knowing Him in any relationship, He relates to them by setting His covenant love on them. Two things confirm this. In the New Testament usage of “foreknow,” it is never an act, such as faith, but persons who are foreknown.  Second, the text says not only are we elect exiles according to the foreknowledge of God, but that we were elect “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” This obedience is the obedience of faith (Romans 1:5; 10:16; 15:18; 16:25–26). You are not elect based on foreseen future belief; you believe because of an election in eternity past.

Michael Horton says, “We can talk about grace, sing about grace, preach about grace, just so long as we do not get too close to it. Election is too close. When we give in to election, we finally give up on ourselves in the matter of salvation.” Un-define election, and you can sing about grace, but the thing is, there isn’t as much grace to sing about. Hollow out the meaning of election, and you hollow out the meaning of grace, such that Peter’s blessing doesn’t ring out as powerfully, “May grace and peace be multiplied to you.”

The Exegetical Systematician: The Free Offer Rides the Wave Divine Soverignty

It must be said without reserve that there is no limitation or qualification to the overture of grace in the gospel proclamation. As there is no restriction to the command that all everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30), so is there none to what is correlative with it. The doctrines of particular election, differentiating love, limited atonement do not erect any fence around the offer in the gospel. No text is more eloquent of the pure sovereignty of both the Father and the Son in the revelation of gospel mystery than the words of our Lord in Matthew 11:25-30: ‘Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so. Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ Here is the sovereign will and differentiation of the Father. ‘He to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.’ This is the witness to Jesus’ own sovereignty in revealing the Father to men. But the immediate sequel is: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.’ The lesson is that it is not merely conjunction of differentiating and sovereign will with free overture, but that the free overture comes out from the differentiating sovereignty of both Father and Son. It is on the crest of the wave of divine sovereignty that the unrestricted summons comes to the labouring and heavy laden. This is Jesus’ own witness, and it provides the direction in which our thinking on the question at issue must proceed. Any inhibition or reserve in presenting the overtures of grace should no more characterize our proclamation than it characterized the Lord’s witness. —John Murray, The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel

On Parenthetical Statements and Swallowing Big Pills (Exodus 11:1–10)

Words (parenthesis) more words.

Parenthetical statements explain and clarify. Exodus 11:1–10 has an opening parenthetical statement (vv. 1–3) and a closing one (vv. 9–10). These two parenthetical statements hug the declaration of the tenth wonder as tightly as, well, parenthesis.

Following the ninth plague of darkness, Pharaoh calls for Moses and commands Israel to leave, but without their livestock. No deal. Pharaoh erupts and tells Moses to be heedful not to see him again lest he die. Moses retorts they indeed won’t see one another. What follows explains why Moses could say this with confidence. The parenthetical statement in vv. 1-3 takes us back before Moses appeared in Pharaoh’s court.

The LORD said to Moses, “Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt. Afterward he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will drive you away completely. Speak now in the hearing of the people, that they ask, every man of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, for silver and gold jewelry.” And the LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

End the first parenthesis. Resume closing salvo against  Pharaoh. Moses declares the last of the wonders before Pharaoh (Exodus 11:8–9). Moses knew the end game from the beginning (Exodus 4:21–23). He knew multiple wonders were God’s want-to, not His have-to, and that the death of the firstborn would be the finale. Now he’s learned that God wishes to round things out at ten. God’s judgment is no mindless rage, but poetic justice. The emphasis, the stress, the accent of God’s poetry weighs on this, His glory.

The closing parenthesis (11:9–10) are just that, half, or the closing of a parenthesis. The first half came in 7:3–4 just before the first sign was done.

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment.

Exodus 7:3–4 and 11:9–10 together form what Bible scholars call an inclusio. Think of them as a kind of verbal parenthesis, using similar language to mark off a large section. Note the similarity of the closing half to the opening.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh, and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

I have no fear of being as repetitive as the Bible. Medicine often is repetitive. We need radical healing in our souls. The total sovereignty of God is a big pill to swallow and we need to swallow the whole thing—daily. This is not a drug with a score down the middle so that you can cut it in half. The Bible isn’t perforated such that you can take a half-sovereign and pretend you’ve ingested the a whole. So again, and without trepidation, these multiple wonders are not a have-to because of Pharaoh’s hardness, Pharaoh is hard because multiple wonders are God’s want-to. In redemption God is totally sovereign. This sovereignty expresses both God’s justice and His grace without compromising either. By these mighty acts God makes distinction (Exodus 11:7). In the tenth wonder God will reveal how He can make this distinction. Both Israel and Egypt deserve this tenth wonder, but for His people, He provides a sacrifice. Distinction by sacrifice; this is the gospel of the sovereign Lord.