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!

The Baptism that Saves Us (1 Peter 3:20–21)

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“…because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” —1 Peter 3:20–21 (ESV)

The salvation of Noah and his family through the waters of judgment corresponds to baptism. The phrase “corresponds to this” is a single word in the original language which, though rarely used, can come straight into English—antitype. We speak of David being a type of Jesus. This means Jesus is the antitype. When you hear this kind of language think of those ancient and obsolete machines known as typewriters or the printing press. Picture the metal die with a letter etched into it, say the letter “B.” The metal die is the antitype. When it strikes the paper, you see the type, the letter “B”. When we say David is a type of Christ, we mean that Christ actually came first and that David is a copy, an impression of Christ. David being patterned after Christ anticipates Him.

Noah’s salvation through the waters of judgment is a type of paptism. Baptism is the antitype of Noah’s salvation. We could say that the flood was a sign of baptism. Baptism is itself a sign. The salvation of Noah through the waters of judgment then is a sign of a sign. When Peter goes onto say that baptism saves us, he makes it clear that he is speaking not of the sign, but of the thing signified.

Rome has a sacerdotal view of baptism. The term sacerdotal comes from the Latin word for priest. Rome believes that the priest is able to convey saving regenerating grace through the sacrament of baptism. This happens ex opere operato, which amounts to “by the working of the work.” By this Rome means that the efficacy of the sacrament isn’t dependent on the goodness of the priest but on the validity of the act. Thus when Rome baptizes you, you’re made new and infused with real righteousness. Contra the Reformers, Rome doesn’t say this righteousness is imputed to you but imparted to you. You are not counted, but made righteous.

Additionally, the Church of Christ believes that baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. Across all denominational lines, professing Christians need to hear this: the physical act of water baptism does not save you. How can I say this? Peter just wrote, “baptism…now saves you,” right? Isn’t this a clear contradiction of the text? No, I am saying precisely what Peter said. The kind of baptism that saves is “not the removal of dirt from the body.” In other words, it isn’t the sign, but the thing signified that saves. So what is signified in baptism? Union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” —Romans 3:3–5 (ESV)

Being put into Christ, baptized into Jesus, is a work of the Spirit. Here Paul speaks not of the sign, but the thing signified.

But how does this jive with Peter’s definition of the kind of baptism that saves, namely, “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” or, as I believe it can be better translated, “as an appeal to God from/of a good conscience?” When the Spirit regenerates you and makes you new, this is a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As soon as you are born again, you believe. Faith is “an appeal to God from/of a good conscience.” Faith is the cry of the new heart in response to the gospel by which we were born again (1 Peter 1:23–25). This salvation, signified in water baptism, is through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. God “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3). Because of this new birth, through Jesus, we believe. “Through [Jesus we] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1:21).

The Exegetical Systematician: The Future Determined the Past

There are other considerations, also, which may be derived from these passages, especially Hebrews 9:9-14, 22-28. They are the considerations which arise from the fact that Christ’s own sacrifice is the great exemplar after which the Levitical sacrifices were patterned. We often think of the Levitical sacrifices as providing the pattern for the sacrifice of Christ. This direction of thought is not improper—the Levitical sacrifices do furnish us with the categories in terms of which we are to interpret the sacrifice of Christ, particularly the categories of expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation. But this line of thought is not the characteristic one in Hebrews 9. The thought is specifically that the Levitical sacrifices were patterned after the heavenly exemplar—they were ‘patterns of the things in the heavens” (Heb. 9:23). Hence the necessity for the blood offerings of the Levitical economy arose from the fact that the exemplar after which they were fashioned was a blood offering, the transcendent blood offering by which the heavenly things were purified. The necessity of blood-shedding in the Levitical ordinance is simply a necessity arising from the necessity of blood-shedding in the higher realm of the heavenly. —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

If (Colossians 1:21–23)

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,

he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. —Colossians 1:21–23

This once/now contrast is only a reality if. Colossians 1:21 is true of all men. All men were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, but for many, there is no contrasting now, as evidenced by the failure of this if. This is not to say that a Christian can revert from their now of reconciliation to their once of alienation. It is to say there is evidence that they never made the transition. Who they once were, they’ve always been and still are.

This is not an if of grounds, but an if of evidence. When a doctor says, “If you have these symptoms, then you have the flu,” the symptoms are not the grounds or cause of the flu. Coughing doesn’t make you sick; being sick makes you cough. Symptoms are not he grounds of sickness; they are the evidence of sickness.

Continuing in the faith does not make you reconciled, any more than sneezing makes you sick. Continuing in the faith evidences reconciliation. If one is reconciled, they necessarily show forth this evidence. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (Hebrews 4:13).”

The saints of old spoke of “the perseverance of the saints,” whereas we hear “once saved always saved,” or “eternal security.” Perseverance does not say less but more than these other terms. “Once saved always saved,” taken alone, is a neutered version of perseverance. “Eternal security,” is a good enough term, but often disguises an emasculated doctrinal definition. Perseverance says God’s saving grace not only secures your justification and glorification, but keeps you on the road of sanctification that runs from one to the other. Listen to how the Westminster Divines teased this out.

They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

The flip side of perseverance is preservation. We persevere in the faith because God preserves our faith. What God gave, He keeps. By God’s power, we are guarded through faith for salvation (1 Peter 1:5). We will remain faithful because God is faithful (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24). Our continuing is the result of His sustaining (1 Corinthians 1:8–9).

If you do not continue, your once is your now. “But I walked an aisle, I said a prayer, I have a Bible with a date in it, I was baptized, my parents and my pastor told me I was saved.” There are two serious problems here. First, you’re grounding assurance of your salvation in something you did in the past instead of what Jesus did in the past. Second, you’re not meant to find assurance about your future by looking for grounds in the past, but evidence in the present. Is there fruit that you have the root of salvation in Jesus’ work of reconciliation? Are you continuing in the faith right now, stable and steadfast, not shifting?

If not, don’t try to continue in a faith that you’ve never had. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved with so great a salvation that you will continue in the faith.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” —Jude 24–25

The Exegetical Systematician: So Close

“The fact is that the Lord Jesus came not only into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful, but he also came into the closest relation to sin that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful.” —John Murray, The Death of Christ

The Exegetical Systematician: Why?

So in the death of Christ we encounter an absolute abnormality. In all other cases men and women deserve to die. He did not deserve to die. Yet he died. What is the reason?

But there is something, perhaps more astounding. This arises from who he was. He was the eternal and only-begotten Son of God and for that reason equal with God the Father in respect of Godhood, of divine identity. He, the Word, eternally pre-existing, eternally with God, and eternally God, became flesh. He was the eternal life with the Father and in him was life. So death was not only the contradiction of what he was as human. It was the contradiction of all that he was as God. This is the astounding feature of Christ’s death. He died. But death in his case was the contradiction of all that he was as divine and human, as God-man. This, therefore, points up the absolute uniqueness, the unprecedented unparalleled character of his death. And it points up the urgency of the question: why? —John Murray, The Death of Christ