“The terrible thing is that a perfectly good God is in this matter hardly less formidable than a Cosmic Sadist. The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless. But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.
Either way, we’re for it.
What do people mean when they say ‘I’m not afraid of God because I know He Is good’? Have they never even been to a dentist?” —C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (HarperOne, 2001) pp. 5, 6.
“Thus says the LORD:
‘Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer
against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai,
and I will send to Babylon winnowers,
and they shall winnow her,
and they shall empty her land,
when they come against her from every side
on the day of trouble.’ “
Dear wheat, do not miss the Landlord for the harvesters. God has grown Babylon into what she is, and now, He sees fit to cut her down. He has grown her so that He might harvest her. She is ripe for wrath. She is a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction. First, Yahweh poured out His wrath on the nations through her (Jeremiah 51:7), but now, He will pour out His wrath on Her (Jeremiah 51:8). The equally wicked Persians harvest, but it is the Holy God who has sent them to do so. He stirs up. He sends. God is sovereign. He uses the Persians’ wickedness to vindicate His holiness. Do not miss the cursing harvesters for the blessed Landlord.
Nations rise and nations fall and this happens by God word.
“Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant’ ” (Jeremiah 1:9–10).
Don’t let economies or viruses, missiles or terrorists, elections or conspiracies blind you to this supreme fact—God plants and plucks up nations. We are not privy to our Lord’s secret counsels. We don’t know all the details of His plan, but we do know the end game. The kingdoms of this world will fall and the church will endure. The wicked will be judged and the saints will be delivered. The world is a doomed weed. The kingdom is like a well-tended mustard seed (Matthew 13:31–32).
So do not fear when the reports come in (Jeremiah 51:46). Though we reside in Babylon, Babylon shouldn’t reside in us. Seek her welfare (Jeremiah 29:7), but do not find your own in her. Our hearts should be bound to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 51:5. By God’s word, Babylon will fall. By God’s word, Jerusalem will rise. God speaks and nations are being broken down. God speaks and His holy nation, the church, is being built up. God will speak, and the kingdoms of this world will be plucked. God will speak and the kingdom of heaven will be planted.
This is not a sunken word, this is a word that sinks. God’s word endures. Nations plummet. Babylon was not built as stocky as this word. As Babel rises she totters. This word reaches to the heavens, and still it cannot be toppled. Its mass is such that it crushes kingdoms. Its mass is such that it doesn’t sink in the ocean, it displaces it. This word has sunk Babylon and it will sink her yet again.
“And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: ‘When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, “O LORD, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.” When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, “Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted” ’ ” (Jeremiah 51:61–64).
“Then the word of the LORD came to me: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans.
‘But thus says the LORD: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt” (Jeremiah 24:4–5, 8).
Those God drove out, He will bring back. Those who remain, will be driven out.
The Scriptures are often paradoxical and surprising. One reason for this is that they are a revelation of God’s grace and His grace is a surprise. Problem is, most are surprised for the wrong reason. Today, fallen man isn’t so much surprised by grace as he is shocked by judgment. The Bible still catches him off guard, but he’s like the pedestrian who is stunned that there are cars driving down the highway. Twenty three chapters into Jeremiah this much should be plain, man is rebelliously ignoring the crosswalk. He’s defiantly walking into the oncoming traffic of God’s judgment. What’s surprising isn’t that man is doomed to die, but that he lives as long as he does. It is judgment that is to be expected. Every second of life in this fallen world is an incredible mercy. How much more surprising then is His saving grace?
Judgment is due. Grace is the surprise. Grace is not only the surprise, but it comes in a surprising way. God reveals what He is going to do for His people and still they jump when He does it. God is like that friend that lets you know he is going to get you, and even though you are on guard, you’re still pleasantly jolted. It is as though God loves to rub his grace in in that way. “Gotcha!”
Part of the shock, is that we, like the world, sometimes think we can predict where the rains of God’s grace will fall. “Certainly God will save that soul” we think, but there is never an indication that He does. “That person is surely doomed for hell,” and then Saul becomes Paul. We might be more conservative in our forecast than the world is. We don’t think it will rain everywhere! Still, we’re often running the wrong metrics. Our models are skewed such that we’re left standing with an umbrella in the middle of the Sahara. It should be no surprise that when we try to predict the God’s surprise of grace we’re left surprised that it didn’t play out how we thought.
Because judgment is expected and grace is a free surprise, there is no way we can predict where the rain may fall. None are owed grace. None are beyond it. We can expect rain. That is promised. We should labor and love in the hope of it. But we expect it not because of who we are or who they might be, but because of who God is, and He is not only gracious, but sovereign and free.
Do you meet the truth of surprising shower of God’s sovereign grace with humble gratitude? Or are you irately agape? To be delighted by the surprise of God’s grace, one must not only taste of it; they must drink deeply. Drinking deeply means recognizing that in this sovereign surprise, God remains above us and not below us; that is to say, He remains righteous and not unjust. This is not the kind of surprise where we come off looking like the innocent victim of God’s prank. In this surprise, God remains faithful to his covenant, not unreliable. He is immutable, not erratic. God does nothing out of character, and yet, we are surprised. The surprise is not that God judges many, but that he has mercy on any. R.C. Sproul deals with this masterfully,
“The saved get mercy and the unsaved get justice. Nobody gets injustice.
Mercy is not justice. But neither is it injustice. …
There is justice and there is nonjustice. Nonjustice includes everything outside of the category of justice. In the category of nonjustice we find two subconcepts, injustice and mercy. Mercy is a good form of nonjustice while injustice is a bad form of nonjustice. In the plan of salvation God does nothing bad. He never commits an injustice. Some people get justice, which is what they deserve, while other people get mercy. Again, the fact that one gets mercy does not demand that the others get it as well. God reserves the right of executive clemency.
As a human being I might prefer that God give His mercy to everyone equally, but I may not demand it. If God is not pleased to dispense His saving mercy to all men, then I must submit to His holy and righteous decision. God is never, never, never obligated to be merciful to sinners. That is the point we must stress if we are to grasp the full measure of God’s grace.
The real question is why God is inclined to be merciful to anyone?”*
Why? There are mysteries here we cannot probe, but this much God has made clear, the showers of grace fall where they do, so that our only boast is Christ.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31).
*R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God (Tyndale, 1986) p. 27
This post was originally published on December 15, 2014 and was lightly revised on March 23rd, 2020.
Habakkuk: “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?”
Yahweh: “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.”
—Habakkuk 1:3, 5
Habakkuk begins in lament and ends in praise, yet, nothing has changed. As far as the circumstances on the ground are concerned, violence abounds. Habakkuk begins in lament and ends in praise because nothing has changed. God is still God.
Habakkuk laments because of the violence and injustice committed by the leaders of Judah. God answers by telling Habakkuk to zoom out and see the bigger picture. God sees on vastly larger scale than we do and in His revelation, He gives us a glimpse of His perspective. Imagine someone who has only seen an ugly part of Yosemite and when asked about the park replies he finds it repulsive; or the person who has only read or seen the darkest part of an epic tale saying it’s horrid. Zoom out. God is calling for Habakkuk to read on to the next chapter and beyond.
Frodo and Sam queried what kind of tale they had fallen into. They knew, that as in all good tales, they they couldn’t truly know the ending, yet, when they began to think of their tale in light of the bigger one it was wrapped up in, they took hope.
Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same—like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’
‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know. And that’s the way of a real tale. Take any one that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess, what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.’
‘No, sir, of course not. Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and a blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got—you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?’
‘No, they never end as tales,’ said Frodo. ‘But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later—or sooner.
‘And then we can have some rest and some sleep,’ said Sam. He laughed grimly. ‘And I mean just that, Mr. Frodo. I mean plain ordinary rest, and sleep, and waking up to a morning’s work in the garden. I’m afraid that’s all I’m hoping for all the time. All the big important plans are not for my sort. Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: ‘‘Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring!’’ And they’ll say: ‘‘Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was very brave, wasn’t he, dad?’’ ‘‘Yes, my boy, the famousest of the hobbits, and that’s saying a lot.’’’
‘It’s saying a lot too much,’ said Frodo, and he laughed, a long clear laugh from his heart. Such a sound had not been heard in those places since Sauron came to Middle-earth. To Sam suddenly it seemed as if all the stones were listening and the tall rocks leaning over them. But Frodo did not heed them; he laughed again. ‘Why, Sam,’ he said, ‘to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written. But you’ve left out one of the “chief characters: Samwise the stouthearted. ‘‘I want to hear more about Sam, dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, dad? That’s what I like, it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, dad?’’ ’
‘Now, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, ‘you shouldn’t make fun. I was serious.’
‘So was I,’ said Frodo, ‘and so I am. We’re going on a bit too fast. You and I, Sam, are still stuck in the worst places of the story, and it is all too likely that some will say at this point: ‘‘Shut the book now, dad; we don’t want to read any more.’’’
‘Maybe,’ said Sam, ‘but I wouldn’t be one to say that. Things done and over and made into part of the great tales are different.’ *
Habakkuk finds himself in a dark part of the tale and God’s answer is that the next chapter is even darker. God’s answer to violence is greater violence, but, it is used violence. This is not the last chapter, nor is it even the darkest. We’re not at the end of the story yet, but we’ve seen the climax and if you look at the tale that has been told thus far, you may be confident that the Author isn’t going to botch the ending. He wrote Himself into the very darkest chapter and burst through the other side with life and light and eternal bliss for His people. The greatest injustice ever was that of the cross and it was an injustice ordained by God for His glory and His people’s good (Acts 2:22–24). God has answered in bold red the question, “Why do the wicked prosper?” For His glory and His people’s good, and nothing more.
*Tolkien, J. R. R. (2004). The Return of the King. London: The Folio Society LTD.
“…because they have abandoned me and made this a foreign place. They have burned incense in it to other gods that they, their fathers, and the kings of Judah have never known…” (Jeremiah 19:4 CSB, emphasis mine).
“And in this place I will make void the plans of Judah and Jerusalem…” (Jeremiah 19:7).
God commands his prophet to play with matches in the munitions room. We’re not talking about stocks of centerfire cartridges. Fused grenades and kegs of powder are everywhere.
Jeremiah has just declared the clay/pot prophecy. It didn’t go over well. They don’t want to hear from God. When Jeremiah keeps on talking, they plot against him (Jeremiah 18:18). Now, God commands Jeremiah to go buy a hardened clay vessel. Hmm? Then, he is to take some leaders, the selfsame leaders who want to silence him mind you, to the Potsherd Gate. Hmm? Further, this Potsherd Gate, somewhere on the south side of the city, leads out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that place of horrid idolatry where they sacrificed their children (Jeremiah 7:30–34). Hmm? Can you feel the tension?
Jeremiah takes his adversaries on a field trip for an object lesson. Normally this gets the kids excited. But the leaders are not complete dunces. Though they cannot accept the truth, they catch the insult, but without humility, such that there is no repentance and only rebellion.
All this bodes ill for God’s prophet? Has the Principal no concern for his teachers? He does send them out as sheep among wolves, but, He is the potter, and Israel is the clay. Immediately, playing with matches by the powered keg is dangerous, but disobeying God, as Israel does, is the far more dangerous thing. The hottest man has done is nuclear fission and even that is small scale to God’s cosmic nuclear fusion.
Israel has estranged the land by her harlotry (v. 4). For this reason, Yahweh will make void her plans (v. 7). This is much more serious than a ruined vacation. Israel is to be treated as the pagan nations. She has foreignized. She will be foreignized. “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10, emphasis mine).
What it means to be foreignized is spelled out in the second psalm.
“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.’
He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
‘As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.’
I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’ ” (Psalm 2:1–9).
The students may scorn the teacher, but the Principal holds a rod of iron.
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: ‘Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:1–4).
Michael Horton has written, “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.” A tributary, or rather the source of this river is this: We can talk about God’s sovereignty, sing about His sovereignty, and preach about His sovereignty, just as long as we don’t get too close. God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation or damnation is too close.
Here we have what is perhaps Scripture’s most potent metaphor for conveying God’s absolute sovereignty over man, that of the potter and the clay. I think the reason it unnerves us so is because while it assumes power, it emphasizes authority. When we talk of God’s sovereignty I believe we’re more comfortable with the opposite. We will glory in our God being all powerful; it’s what He has the authority to do with that power that terrifies us. God has sovereign power. That is assumed. The clay is in His hands. God has sovereign authority. This is emphasized. He may do with the clay as He wishes.
Another reason why this metaphor may cause us to squirm is because it’s one of the least metaphorical metaphors we encounter in the Scriptures. It’s like that piece of fiction that’s too true for enjoyment. We’re like the Pharisees listening to Jesus’ parables. In Genesis 2:7 we are told, “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” The word we have for “potter” in our text is a derivative of the word “formed” in Genesis 2:7. Yes, Genesis 2:7 is anthropomorphic, but this doesn’t make it untrue. We are God fashioned dirt. As Horton put, we are the marvel of “ensouled dust.” After Adam fell, God told him, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). We are dust. We are God’s dust. He may form us. He may destroy us. He has not only the power to do so. He has the authority. He is sovereign.
Job, though he recognized this truth, appears to complain of it in his pain saying, “Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust?” (Job 10:8–9). Even those who own the truth of the metaphor can express it with misgiving in their misery.
One mental game pots play trying to avoid this blunt force trauma is to believe God is only reacting to the clay. But this flips the roles. In this case, man is spinning God instead of God spinning man. This is completely contrary to the question God puts to Israel and the way this metaphor is used throughout Scripture.
“You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’? (Isaiah 29:16)”
God not only spins the clay; He forms the clay He spins.
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor? (Isaiah 45:9–10)’ ”
Finally, the death knell of any such wishful thinking comes in Romans 9.
“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 9:18–24).
The point of this potter clay imagery isn’t simply that God is sovereign over what happens to the clay. He is sovereign over what the clay is. What the clay is, what it becomes, and what becomes of it—all this is His sovereign doing.
Notice the interrogatory nature of each of these passages. This is not an invitation to debate. These are a rhetorical questions that expose your heart. Should you answer, you tell us nothing about the Potter; rather, your arrogant protest or humble submission are the result of His Word spinning out what kind of clay you are.
“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’ ” —Psalm 29:3–9
My only ambition here is to provide a flyover of this Psalm to prepare you to trek through it yourself. The psalm begins in the heavens (vv. 1–2) and ends on earth (vv. 10–11). In between, seemingly joining the two, is a storm. The storm begins over the waters (v. 3), moves over the mountain forest of Lebanon (vv. 5–6), and ends in the wilderness of Kadesh (v. 7). In this psalm we mover from heaven to earth by means of a storm that traverses sea, forest, and wilderness.
This psalm is full of majesty, glory and splendor. Spurgeon advised,
“Just as the eighth Psalm is to be read by moonlight, when the stars are bright, as the nineteenth needs the rays of the rising sun to bring out its beauty, so this can be best rehearsed beneath the black wing of tempest, by the glare of the lightning, or amid that dubious dusk which heralds the war of elements. The verses march to the tune of thunderbolts.”
This psalm thunders, not as one of those far off peals that rumbles in the distance, but like the deafening clap that reverberates in your chest such that you cannot but involuntarily jolt. Read it, and ascribe to Yahweh the glory and strength due His name. Worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.
“But God, as He is the supremely good Creator of good natures, so is He of evil wills the most just Ruler; so that, while they make an ill use of good natures, He makes a good use even of evil wills.” —Augustine, The City of God
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!
“And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” —Jonah 1:17 (ESV)
If the big fish story of Jonah causes you to flop nervously like a fish out of water consider this, the big deal isn’t if you believe the latter part of 1:17, but the beginning. If God is sovereign, He may do as He pleases. The laws of nature do not stand over Him but under Him. They are because He is. C.S. Lewis observed,
“If the laws of Nature are necessary truths, no miracle can break them: but then no miracle needs to break them. It is with them as with the laws of arithmetic. If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that other things being equal—I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken. The new situation created by the thief will illustrate the laws of arithmetic just as well as the original situation. But if God comes to work miracles, He comes ‘like a thief in the night.’ ”
He goes on to say,
“This perhaps helps to make a little clearer what the laws of Nature really are. We are in the habit of talking as if they caused events to happen; but they have never caused any event at all. The laws of motion do not set billiard balls moving: they analyze the motion after something else (say, a man with a cue, or a lurch of the liner, or, perhaps, supernatural power) has provided it.”
The laws of nature are simply us observing how God normally plays the game. We’re dealing with the one who didn’t merely make the billiard balls, nor simply with one who then masterfully sets them moving, but also with the Sovereign who holds them together by the word of His power and directs them where He will. Our eyes are so clouded that we fail to see that even the natural is supernatural. God is constantly turning water into wine. It is amazing that He normally does so with a plant, but we’ve grown sleepy like Jonah in the boat. We fail to be properly impressed by the creation which tells of His glory. What astonishes us about that vintage He served up at the wedding feast in Cana is that by doing so it was clear that God was among us. Men normally eat fish, and in this God is doing a million amazing things, but when a fish eats a man, we are awakened out of our slumber to realize we are dealing with God.
The subject of Jonah 1:17 isn’t the great fish, but the great God. Science may tell you that it is impossible for a fish to swallow a man and for that man to then live for three days inside that fish. This may be true. But we are not dealing simply with man or a fish here, and this is good news, because it is also impossible for man to save himself. But it is not impossible for God to save man, for “Salvation is of Yahweh!”