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John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn the inhabitants that in forty days Nineveh would be destroyed because of its sin, Jonah’s problem was that he could not see how this would fit in with God’s covenant promise to His church as given to Abraham, and with the coming kingdom of the promised Messiah. His sin was that he exalted himself above God, and tried to flee from His presence, so that Nineveh would be destroyed, because he was not there to give them the warning, and so call them to repentance. Jonah was not an unbeliever who was brought to conversion by a storm at sea wherein his life was in danger. Had he not told the sailors on that ship that he feared God “which made the sea and the dry land”? And that word fear in the Old Testament Scriptures is used to express the activity of believing. It means to stand in awe of someone or something, to have reverence for, or profound respect for a person. Indeed, Jonah was a believer at the time when God called him to go to Nineveh.

This believer sinned—as all believers do throughout their earthly pilgrimage, because they still have the old man of sin with them until they die—but he was also taught a very important and necessary lesson. As we saw last time, he learned in a frightful, terrifying way that he could not flee from God’s presence, and that it was such a great sin to try to frustrate Him in His intent to give Nineveh a warning. Huge waves and billows of storm beat upon the ship in which he had been soundly asleep. And God made it even more pointed to Jonah, when He guided the lots that were cast, so that Jonah was singled out from among all these sinners on board the ship. God pointed His finger, as it were, directly at Jonah as the sinner who deserved the billows and waves of His holy wrath. He then moved Jonah to tell the mariners that God was visiting his iniquity, and that they would have to throw him overboard to obtain a calm sea. He told them that he must die, if they are to live.

Now we ought to see that here Jonah is a type of Christ, and to what degree he is such a type of Christ. Throwing Jonah overboard to save the life of the Gentile mariners was a type of Christ being thrown into the billows of God’s wrath—which caused Him to cry out, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”—of hellish agony for our sins. Jonah being thrown overboard for the lives of many sailors is also a picture of the one Christ dying for the sins of many. However, there are some striking and important differences to be noted. It is true that Jesus Himself tells the faultfinding Jews that as Jonah was three days and three nights in the fish’s belly, so He would be three days and three nights in His grave. (See Matthew 12:20.) It is also true that because of the sin of one man, Adam, the waves and billows of God’s wrath fell upon the whole human race and upon our present earth, even as all on board this ship were in a desperate strait because of one man’s, namely, Jonah’s, sin. But a striking difference here is that Jesus had no sin of His own; and it was not because of anything that He did that God’s wrath fell upon the whole human race. Nor did Christ ever fall into deep sleep while He tabernacled amongst us and worked for our salvation. He slept very little; and at times spent the whole night in prayer for us. Jonah fled because he wanted to see Nineveh destroyed. Jesus came to deliver us from destruction; and our salvation was on His mind every conscious moment. He did not try to flee from that work, but steadily walked forward to finish it. Yea, instead of being the one Who brought those billows and waves of God’s holy wrath against us, of Him it was stated by God Himself more than once that He is the one in Whom He was well pleased. Another difference, as pointed out last time, is that He offered up Himself for us, in fact allowed those who came to capture Him to do so, after showing them that He could walk away from them, if that were God’s will. Jonah, on the other hand, only suggested that they cast him overboard to save their own lives. And this he did only after they asked him what they should do, and after God had pointed His finger directly at Jonah in those lots that were cast.

One thing must be said about Jonah, namely, that he was willing to die for the safety of these sailors—and perhaps for other passengers on the ship. He not only suggested that they throw him overboard, but he put up absolutely no resistance when a bit later they did do so. And God gave him the grace to be willing to die so that these men might continue to live. He did not yet see that even as he had pity on these Gentiles, he must have pity on the Ninevites, and help them if he can. This he must yet learn; and step by step he will learn because our, God is a God of great kindness to all His elect children, among whom Jonah, in spite of all his sins, and because of sovereign grace, was numbered. But note that he told them to throw him overboard only after they asked him what to do.

With Jonah we too are ready to confess that we sinned against God, when all the evidence points so clearly at us, even while we tenaciously hold on to other sins. Adam confessed that he ate of the forbidden fruit, even while he is accusing God of giving him a bad wife who led him into this sin. Eve admits that she sinned, even while accusing God of creating a serpent that tempted her. And a God of great kindness still continued to bring to them the first gospel promise of salvation. Were it not for the fact that we have a God of mercy and grace and of great kindness, there would be no salvation for us.

We know so much more than Jonah did at that moment when the ship was ready to break in pieces. And our judgment of him is often harsher than it should be. We may not minimize and defend or excuse his sin. But consider once that he did not know what we now know, namely, that God was going to prepare a fish to save his life. Jonah could look forward only to certain death at God’s hands, with His billows and waves exacting his life! Jonah could not entertain in his thoughts any idea about now going back to Nineveh and doing what he had been ordered to do. He could not even think of the Ninevites. He could only think of facing Jehovah, the God against Whom he had rebelled. He has more to learn, but he is in no position to be taught all this yet. He has learned to see his sin, and that he should die, and so save these Gentile mariners. He sees clearly that he must be separated .from them, so that God’s punishment for his sin does not fall on them.

Here, indeed, is that mercy and grace and great kindness of God of which Jonah spoke later on in Jonah 4:2, and to which we referred in a previous article in the treatment of this book of Jonah. He said, “. . . I knew that Thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil.” It takes grace for the sinner to confess his sins. And how slow to anger God was in all His dealings with this rebellious prophet! That terrible storm expressed the terrible wrath of God against sin. What kindness, and what slowness to anger then for God to hold that ship together in such a storm! The high waves pounded against its sides. The waves lifted it up, and then caused it to come crashing down with an awful jarring effect! But it did not break the ship to pieces while Jonah slept in his sinful stupor. Instead Gods mercy and grace brought him to confession of his sin, and that willingness to be cast overboard for the lives of the rest on board that ship.

What grace and mercy, what slowness to anger and great kindness also that this prophet who refused to preach to Gentiles in Nineveh is given an unsought, unexpected audience and opportunity to preach to other Gentiles, and present to them the one true God. He who fled from a preaching engagement has a preaching engagement created for him among men, who, because of the situation, were eager to listen to him. The storm must have been the most violent that these mariners had ever experienced. So fearful were they that they were ready to question this sleeper and listen to what he had to say. And we can only wonder whether it dawned on Jonah that now he was preaching to Gentiles who were outside the promised land. What did he think when these Gentiles began to pray to the God Whom he had presented, and told them he feared?

As far as the mariners were concerned they were afraid of committing murder by casting Jonah overboard. However, failing to bring the ship to land—which could possibly have been in sight on the horizon—they pray that they might not perish in that storm, after Jonah was thrown overboard, because they were shedding innocent blood. They were afraid that they might be wrong in committing a prophet of Jehovah to the waves and billows, and that they were believing his words only because they were concerned about their own lives, and not his.

Their prayer was heard. And no sooner had they cast Jonah into the sea, than an amazing calm descended upon the waters. Thereby God assured them that they had not cast an innocent man into the sea. And now they “feared the Lord greatly,” that is, their respect for Him, their awe before Him as the God of heaven, grew tremendously. This resulted in offering a sacrifice to Him right there on board the ship, and in making a vow to trust in Him as their God.

Were they sincere? Had the great kindness of our God converted them from heathendom to faith in the only true God? We are not told anything along this line. With the little knowledge that they received from Jonahs brief sermon to them, they did not have enough knowledge to believe in God as the one Who saves them from their sins. After all even Judas Iscariot, after betraying Christ, and before he hanged himself and added to his sins, confessed that he had betrayed innocent blood. Yet these men feared God greatly, sacrificed to Him and made a vow unto Him after they learned of salvation through the “death” of Jonah. Their vow could have been to go as soon as they could to Jerusalem to learn more about Him.

At any rate, God, Who moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform, got glory for Himself and praise from the lips of those who only hours before had worshiped their idol with prayers. And here we have a picture of what the God of great kindness realizes in us, and will perfect in the new Jerusalem, when our voyage on the sea of life with all its waves and billows is ended, and we are on the calm sea of the new creation. Then we shall, because of that great kindness which sent His Son into the billows and waves of hellish torment, which our sins called for, render sacrifices of praise, and confess Him not only to be our God, but our Savior in His only begotten Son.