John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
A second attempt means that one failed in one’s first attempt. There is no need, no reason, or even possibility of making a second attempt to do that wherein one has already succeeded. It is true, having broken a world’s record in running, jumping or the like, one can try to repeat what one did before; but this is a first attempt at duplicating what had already been accomplished. It is not a second attempt to do a particular thing, but a first attempt to repeat what had been accomplished.
However, when God called Jonah a second time to go to Nineveh, it was not because He failed in a first “attempt.” God never fails to get His way. He is the Almighty One. A superficial reading of Jonah 3:1 might lead one to conclude that God had to try again, but in light of the rest of Scripture this certainly is not true.
In Isaiah 55:8-11 we read, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I send it.” Because His thoughts are higher than ours, we so often misjudge what He is doing. And we can be sure, if we take hold of the passage quoted above, that He did not fail when He called Jonah the first time, and did not have to try a second time, in order to get His way. His word accomplished the purpose whereto He sent it when He called Jonah the first time. Instead of failing, He succeeded in every respect. For God neverattempts anything. He goes out and does it!
This is also taught us in Isaiah 46:9, 10, where we read, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there in none else; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.” There just is no other way to look at Jonah’s flight, after God’s first call to him, than that it pleased God to have Jonah do that. That does not excuse Jonah. Nor does it mean that God finds pleasure in sin. He hates sin with all His infinite being. But He does—and eternally did—decree sin for the glory of His own name, and for the salvation of His church. Do we not read in Luke 22:22, “And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe to that man by whom He was betrayed!” God determined that betrayal in thoughts far higher than ours, and for the salvation of His church. But His woe to Judas reveals His awful hatred of that deed. He finds pleasure, not in the sinful act as such, but in the purpose which it serves, and in the fulfillment of His eternal counsel. For thereby His name is glorified. In the very first sermon preached to fallen man, God Himself declared what would take place: the seed of the serpent would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman. The cross was a terrible sin. But it pleased God to have it take place for our salvation. Yea, in thoughts higher than our thoughts, He decreed that cross in order that sin might be completely banished from this earth, and a people might dwell on it that praise and glorify Him in every thought, word, and deed.
So it is with Jonah and his sin. God called him the first time, and He did so because eternally He had determined to have Jonah bring the truth to those sailors on the ship caught in that violent storm. He had to be a witness to them before he would witness in Nineveh. He also did so to bring Jonah to that amazing confession in the belly of the fish, namely, “Salvation is of the Lord.” He did so in order’ that this whole event might take place, be recorded and preserved for us today, so that we might know and appreciate His sovereign, unchangeable love, according to which He chose His people out of every nation, tongue, and tribe. No, He did not fail in a first “attempt.” All transpired, in the smallest detail, exactly as He wanted it to take place. His word to Jonah did not return void. It accomplished the purpose to which He sent it.
And now He comes again to call Jonah to go to Nineveh—not to try once again. God never tries. And He never fails. To try means that there are forces outside of you with which you have to compete. And with God it is a matter of using all the creatures that He made and over which He, as the Almighty One, has such complete control that their very existence depends upon Him. We easily forget that, but He gives us every heart beat. For Him it is a simple matter to prevent us from doing anything contrary to His will. He need not fight us. All He need do is to cease giving us heart beats. He need not pit His strength against ours. All He needs to do is to cease giving us strength. He is the Almighty One. All might, all strength, all power in heaven and on earth—but also in hell—comes from Him. He cannot fail, because there is no power that can stand in His way. There is no power that does not come from Him.
But there is something else we ought to appreciate here. What patience and what love of God it was to deal this way with this rebellious prophet! Jonah deserved hell fire, not another opportunity to serve God in His church. This stubborn, rebellious prophet, who not only fled from his calling by means of a ship, wherein he would be in the company of idol worshippers, but who, having been saved in a most wonderful way in tender mercy and powerful grace, and deposited safely on dry land, does not immediately go to Nineveh, but has to be called a second time and told to do as he had been bidden by the God Who saved him.
What love God displays here! What patience is set before us in these verses! He killed Uzzah instantly when he touched the ark David was trying to bring to Jerusalem. He had the earth swallow up Korah, Dathan, and Abriam, who refused to receive Moses and Aaron as God’s representatives. But Jonah’s life is spared, and a second call comes to him. After Jonah was deposited safely on dry land, and did not at once set out to go and do what he had been called to do, would you have dealt kindly with him? Would you have merely told him to go now and do what he had stubbornly refused to do? Would you not have thundered from heaven and sent extremely brilliant flashes of lightning all around him, and said to him, “Get going?!”
After the word of the Lord came to Jonah saying, “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach the preaching that I bid thee”, we read this: “So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” It was God’s good pleasure that this time he go; and so he went. What grace on the part of God that He made Jonah obey this time. That word of God has power; and although Jonah still had no interest in preaching in Nineveh, he went. He had been delivered from death himself. He had tasted wonderfully the salvation that God has for His people. He himself was delivered from the punishment that he deserved; but he had no interest in serving the interests of these Gentiles in Nineveh. As far as he is concerned, they can perish in the punishment for which their sins call.
That he arose can be taken literally. He may have been sitting down and taking it easy, or even lying on his couch enjoying the life on dry land that had been given to him. But it certainly is true figuratively. He lifted himself—by the grace of God—from his stubborn position, at least to the degree that he would go and preach. Subsequent history reveals that he still wanted the whole city to perish. He lifted himself above his rebellion and went to the field where he must work.
It was the elect Ninevites that God had in mind. Jonah was the tool, the instrument that God intended to use to bring the gospel to these elect Ninevites. In fact, in that very first sermon preached in the hearing of fallen Adam and Eve, God revealed that He had chosen a people, for the whole world would be divided into seed of the woman and seed of the serpent. Those who want nothing to do with sovereign, eternal, unconditional election may callGenesis 3:15 the Mother Promise—and it is, for out of its womb come all the promises that follow in Scripture. But their denial of unconditional election from before the foundation of the world demands a terrible perversion of this Mother Promise. Instead of reading it as it is, so that God promises to put enmity between seed and seed, it is man who must create his own hatred against Satan and sin. Then it is not as God says, “I will put enmity . . . .” It would have to read, “And there will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.” God must be ruled out. If man fulfills the condition, then there will be warfare between the church and the world. That is not what God says. In fact when God said this, there was yet no enmity between Adam and Eve and Satan. Did God not say that He would put it? And Adam and Eve had not yet confessed their sin. Adam blamed God for giving him this kind of wife that led him into eating. No, no, it was not his fault. It was God’s And though Eve does say that she was beguiled, she does it in a way that puts the blame on the serpent. She was deceived. She committed no sin, but was used by the serpent as an unwilling tool. Well, there you have the kind of conditions that fallen man can fulfill. And if our fulfilling of the condition of hating sin and the devil, is the prerequisite, there is not going to be any enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. For God gives this promise after Adam and Eve had died spiritually. As God had said, so was it. They died the day they ate of the forbidden fruit.
God had His elect children in Nineveh, and in unchangeable love He is going to make some of the Ninevites have enmity against Satan and all his works, and then save the whole city from overthrow. Jonah. cannot see this. But that does not change the truth concerning the unchangeable God. Conditional theology teaches that we change God’s mind l$ fulfilling the. condition which He stipulates. Nothing is sure yet, except that God wants to save all who hear the preaching. We are going to decide how many and who are going to be saved. And instead of man being thankful before God for his salvation, God has to say “Thanks” to man for making it possible that the word from God’s mouth does not become void, but with man’s help accomplished the purpose for which He sent it.
No, Jonah’s rising up and going to Nineveh is not a stubborn prophet fulfilling a condition, and so performing an act of helping God. God needs no help, and we can in no way help Him, since we depend upon Him for every breath of life and every heart beat, both physically and spiritually. It is an eternal, unchangeable love of God that saves us and makes us obedient before Him. Because God loved Jonah, and because He loved the elect in Nineveh, God sent His powerful word and Spirit to cause Jonah to rise up and go to Nineveh, that great and wicked city.
God’s call was not a request—which a condition always is—but a divine command. Did you ever find anywhere in Scripture that God asked anyone to do something? Was it not always a command? And here is a command that flows forth from an unchangeable love. All the evil Jonah performed, and all the evil in that great city cannot change God’s love. Conditional theology teaches that you can change God’s love by not fulfilling the condition He places before you. He will then begin to hate you. No, the “I Am that I Am” never becomes I Was. A conditional promise can fail. God’s promises never fail because His love is unchangeable.