Swallowed (Jonah 1:1–3)

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One of the best introductions to the little book of Jonah is given by a fictional preacher, “Father Maple,” of what is hailed by many as the great American Novel, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

“Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—‘And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’ Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters—four yarns—is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul does Jonah’s deep sea-line sound! what a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish’s belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters; sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and joy of Jonah.”

Though immersed in nautical terms, though that novel centers on a whale, Father Maple gets closer than many to the true message of the book. Maple was a former whaler and knows more of what Jonah is about than we landlubbers who are preoccupied with the great fish.

Father Maple said Jonah teaches a two-stranded lesson. The first lesson concerns the sin and repentance of Jonah. The second he later says is “to preach the truth in the face of falsehood.” 

Still, Father Maple misses the greatest point of this little book. Greater than Jonah’s sin and greater than Nineveh’s repentance is God’s mercy. God’s grace makes blue whales look smaller than the krill they feast on. God’s grace is so great, a multitude of blue whale-size sinners can swim and live in it.

G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Men have been looking so hard at the great fish that they have failed to see the great God.” The most astounding thing that happens in this book isn’t that God appoints a fish to swallow Jonah, but that he appoints His grace to swallow sinners. This is a whale of a tale, a big fish story—and it is true. God’s grace really is that big.

Do You Really Like Grace? (Exodus 34:1–9)

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation (Exodus 34:6–7 ESV).’”

What Moses sees on Sinai is a revelation of God’s name (Exodus 33:19, 34:5, 6), His goodness (Exodus 33:19), and God’s ways (Exodus 33:13; cf. Psalm 103:7–8). Moses gets a glimpse into the very heart of God and what he see is this, Yahweh is a God of mercy and justice. As you read through Exodus, is this not the epic glory you are overwhelmed with? In Exodus, the immeasurable mercy and fierce wrath of Yahweh sweep over one like a colossal tidal wave.

Some would think this a contradiction. How could a just God be merciful? At best this is only a paradox, though I don’t think it even rises to that level of perplexity. For there to be grace there must be justice or grace doesn’t mean grace. Grace presumes justice. Justice must be a necessary given for grace to have opportunity to exist. Only in an atmosphere of justice does any species of grace thrive.

By grace some take God to be an indifferent, impersonal fountain of rainbow bubbles. Indifference isn’t love and only a loving God can be gracious. Also, if God loves, this means he hates, for love hates that which is opposed to the object of its love.

What really bothers people about this passage is nothing they take it to mean of grace, but what they understand it to say about justice. Which is to say, they don’t like true grace, for grace presumes not only judgment, but guilt. But for those who have really seen God, what stuns them is His mercy. His wrath, though awesome as a river of blood to behold, is expected in its coming. It is grace that surprises and amazes. If you see God, your posture isn’t one of protest, but of petition. In the light of God’s glory Moses cried out for mercy and grace. It is not astounding that at the revelation of the Holy One so many bow. What is astounding, is that so often, for those He sets His love on, there is something in the beholding that leads them to believe that mercy is something they may cry out for.

As one ponders the cross of Christ, it is clear that there can be no contradiction between grace and justice, for there we see the fullest revelation of both. The glorious harmony of grace and justice that rang out from the cross ever reverberates through all creation and will forever resound to the glory of the crucified Christ.

Bloody Justice and Bloody Grace (Exodus 21:12–32)

Give God’s law a fair shake and I believe you’ll be struck with the fairness of it. A cursory glance looking for barbarisms and inconsistencies won’t suffice. That’s not fair. Study it. Generally our society agrees that law takes some of that. I don’t want to argue for this here, rather, I want you to be struck with where you see this in the Bible.

After God’s mighty redemption of His people He gives them these laws of justice. After grace, justice. After mercy, righteous judgment. Grace isn’t allergic to justice. Mercy isn’t polarized against righteousness. Remember that the salvation of God’s people came by judgment. Justice fell on Egypt that Israel might go free. But this wasn’t justice enough. The death penalty hung over Israel’s head as well. If they were to go free, redemption must be paid. A lamb must bleed. There will be blood: bloody justice and bloody grace. The only reason any get grace, is because God upheld justice.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21–26).”

God compromises no justice in His grace, and His grace instills justice into His people. We who are saved by grace should seek justice. When one son harms another, a good parent punishes the guilty not only because they love the innocent, but because they love the offender. We should lovingly seek for justice to be done in society by the proper authorities, all while declaring the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel of Christ who shed his blood in payment for the eternal death penalty that stood over our heads. May God’s redemption make us people of righteousness.

The Blood on our Hands has been Sprinkled on Our Hearts (Exodus 20:13)

Murder isn’t far from any of us. We’ve got blood on our hands.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21–22 ESV).”

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:15 ESV).”

When Peter preached to the crowds on Pentecost He spoke of “Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:26 ESV).” It is highly unlikely that this is the exact crowd that cried out “Crucify Him!” but that cry expressed every rebel sinner’s heart. Later the church would pray, “truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel (Acts 4:27 ESV).” The cross isn’t about ethnic hatred for God’s Messiah, but human hatred.

The first murder was committed by the first son of Adam. As weeds and thorns now find ready root in cursed soil, so anger finds fertile ground in fallen man’s heart to bud in the fruit of murder. Cain slew his brother Abel. God told Abel “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground (Genesis 4:10 ESV).” The blood of the murdered cried out against the murderer.

The cross expresses every son of Adam’s heart towards One more innocent than Abel. But the blood of Christ instead of calling out for our condemnation, speaks for our justification. Hebrews tells us that we have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:24 ESV).” With Jesus, the blood of the murdered cries out for the murderers. We are given life by His death; pardon in His bearing our condemnation. O what horrid sin, O what unfathomable grace: the blood on our hands has been sprinkled on our hearts.

Compare, Contrast, and Transition (Exodus 18)

Why is this story here? “Well, it happened,” one retorts. Indeed, but the Biblical authors are selective. We’re never told everything, so why are we told of this event? Why is it given such attention? I believe this story primarily does three things. It compares, it contrasts, and it transitions.

It compares Moses and Israel, showing how they are similar.

It contrasts Amalek and Jethro, showing how they are different.

It transitions us to Sinai.

But to heighten and emphasize this, let me ask again, why is this story here? Often in the Scripture we find that events are arranged generally in a chronological way, but also, immediately in a theological way. As you read through the Gospels you will sometimes find a different order of events. The intent of the gospels isn’t to tell you the exact historical chronology, but to reveal the theological truth the episodes teach us about Christ. Generally, in the big scope, things are presented chronologically: Jesus’ birth, then His ministry, then His crucifixion, then His resurrection. But immediately, the arrangement is theological. This is often the case in all the Bible.

In Deuteronomy 1:8–19 there’s a very similar account to this one. Similar, I believe, because it recalls the same instance. There we have an account that complements this one, looking at it from a different perspective and tells us when exactly this takes place chronologically. When you read the context before and after, notably Deuteronomy 1:6, 19, it’s clear this happens as Israel readies to depart from Sinai. So, in Exodus, why here now? To compare Moses and Israel at this point, to contrast Amalek and Jethro, and to transition to Sinai.

Moses’ exile is a mini-exodus. Moses departs Exodus with Pharaoh wanting kill him. He was a sojourner in a foreign land, Egypt, but God brought him the place of his father’s wanderings to dwell among distant cousins. He comes to Horeb where he sins against God’s commands. Finally compliant to journey where God commands, he first returns to the mountain to be reunited with Aaron.

Now again, at Horeb, there is a reunion with family. Israel too has been delivered from the sword of Pharaoh. Having sojourned in Egypt, they’re traveling to the place promised to them, but first they come to Horeb, where they too will disobey the God who reveals Himself in fire.

Moses and Israel are compared. Amalek and Jethro are contrasted. The nations oppose Israel, but they also are grafted in. Amalek came and fought (17:8); Jethro came and inquired of Moses’ welfare (18:5–7). In 17:9 Joshua chooses men to fight, in 18:25, upon Jethro’s advice, men are chosen to judge. Previously Moses sat with the staff of God in his hand (17:12), now he sits in judgment (18:13). In both instances Moses does this all day and needs help. The parallels draw out the contrast. Amalek does not fear God (Deuteronomy 25:17). Jethro rejoices (18:9), blesses (18:10), and glorifies Yahweh (18:11). Then he offers sacrifices to God and has a covenant meal with Moses, Aaron, and the elders (18:12).

This compare and contrast sets up a a transition to Sinai. Jethro’s good advice helps Moses apply the law of God. But as this law is applied, don’t miss this, this mountain is surrounded by grace. We’re reminded of the grace shown to Moses, and to Israel, and we see a Gentile graciously grafted into the olive tree of Israel in the shadow of Sinai. Jethro’s wisdom helps the law be applied so that God’s people go to their place in peace (18:23). For the redeemed of God, His law is surrounded by grace.

Tons of Grace in Ounces of Bread (Exodus 16)

Think of all that God gives you when you put a piece of bread in your mouth. He’s given you wheat. He’s given you a farmer, his health, and hours and hours of a season of sowing, growing, and harvest. He’s given you rain and sun. He’s given you a tractor with a plow and seed drill. He’s given you a combine to harvest it and trailers to transport it. He’s given you diesel, oil, grease and the refineries that produce them. He’s given you rubber, tires, and sleepy truck drivers. He’s given you factories with hundreds of laborers: factories to produce the farm equipment, factories to make the bread. He’s given you thousands of years of history, for, behind all of this are centuries of sweat and labor to invent, innovate, and refine. He’s given you a grocery store and stockers. He’s given you a job, life, and health to purchase and eat the bread. And we’ve only dealt with the wheat. We haven’t considered the salt, the water, the butter, the sugar, or the yeast. When you eat one bite, just one bite of bread, you are immeasurably wealthy and incomprehensibly blessed. There are tons of grace in ounces of bread. The only proper response to such lavish generosity is gratitude. Even when we are grateful, our gratitude never matches up to His generosity. Sadly, were often presumptuous. Worse yet, we grumble. And yet, the bread is still there.

God saves. Then, Israel grumbles. Yet, God is gracious. Still, Israel grumbles. Still, God is gracious.

When Israel eats this manna, think of all that God is giving them. This manna is epic. This lengthy account doesn’t begin to match their lengthy experience. “The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan (Exodus 16:35 ESV).”

Yet, the true magnitude of the mann isn’t found in it’s duration, nor it’s delicacy, but it’s meaning. Like the Supper, the true feast can only be had by faith. Manna was spiritually enriched and nutrient loaded.

Jesus feeds the five thousand in the wilderness. Later he tells the crowds that the bread and the manna both testify of Him, the true bread from heaven (John 6). How do they respond? With grumbling. The crowds leave. Many of His disciples leave. Jesus turns to the twelve and asks if they will leave also. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God (John 6:68–69 ESV).”

This was the test of the manna.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” —Deuteronomy 8:2–3 (ESV)

Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is the Bread of Life. The manna was epic. There were tons of grace in every ounce.

Not a Dainty Grace (Exodus 4:1–17)

As Moses’ sinful questions mutate into brazen objections, God’s grace grows more firm. God’s grace isn’t fragile. It isn’t a dainty grace. When God sets His covenant love on sinners, sinners’ sins don’t change His covenant love; God’s covenant love changes sinners. We’re told Moses’ sins aroused God’s anger, and what do we see next? Preplanned grace (4:14). God’s grace is always preplanned. To put a spin on Spurgeon, if God didn’t love His people before the foundation of the world, it’s certain He’d never see cause, in them, to love them afterward.

God’s grace isn’t a dainty grace. You can’t shatter it. It’s child proof; indestructibly designed by a Father who knows us. You can’t break this grace. It breaks you. This isn’t the kind of grace that sweeps sin under the rug, but propels us out the door. This is persistent and insistent grace that covers and refuses our objections.

God’s grace throws us in the deep end and then is there to keep us from drowning. Remember Jonah? God’s firm grace got Jonah to Nineveh. The book ends with Jonah rebelliously pouting. Or does it? Who wrote the book of Jonah? I believe it was Jonah. The book ends then as Jonah’s expression of the ugliness of his sin and the beauty of God’s grace. Good parents often make their children do things they’re fearful of and the children are often thankful after the fact. I’m sure, once Jonah set his pen down, it was with a contented sigh of thankfulness that God threw him in the deep end and was there to keep him from drowning, even in his own sins. Once Moses returned to Sinai, certainly, he too was thankful that God’s grace was made of adamant.

There is grace for those who are ambassadors of grace. Not a grace that excuses our sins, but a grace that leaves us without excuses.