John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
There are certain truths that are taught in Scripture which must be borne in mind, if one is to understand and appreciate the book of Jonah. And having followed the incidents recorded in that book, we do well to look at the entire book in the light of all that happened before the days of Jonah, happened afterward in the Old Testament times, is recorded in the New Testament Scriptures, but also is the situation of the church of today.
Let it first of all be recalled what we read in Colossians 1:18, where Paul wrote: “And He is the head of the body, the church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence.” Plainly Paul is speaking about Christ, for surely He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. And He is the Head of the body, that is, the church.
Now turn to I Corinthians 12:12-18. There we read, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ . . . . For the body is not one member, but many . . . . If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now bath God set the members, every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him.”
These passages plainly teach the truth that the church is the body of Christ and has many members. These members are not alike but differ in many ways. Bear in mind also that the members of that church who dwelt in Colosse and in Corinth were not Jews but Gentiles, even as the saints in Nineveh who were converted through Jonah’s preaching were Gentiles. All believers then, regardless of nationality and genealogy, belong together; the people of Nineveh needed Jonah, and he needed them.
Consider also the truth that God designed that body, even as He designed the bodies of Adam and Eve. They had bodies with exactly so many fingers and toes, arms and legs, eyes and ears, teeth and bones. And these differ not only in size but also in color, shape, and in the work they will perform. All was designed in God’s wisdom and realized in His power. And although Jonah questioned not the inclusion of some Ninevites into that body, he sinned against members of the same body to which he belonged when he took ship to flee to Tarshish. He sinned against the body to which he belonged, and in doing so hurt himself. A finger that pokes its own eye hurts itself.
Jonah, therefore, deserved that storm of Gods wrath at sea. And it was God’s grace that kept him from dying in his sin. He was saved through the cross of Christ, to which his own three days and three nights in the belly of the fish pointed, even though it did not take place yet for many years. It did picture what God would do in His grace for the members of that body of Christ, and how there could be such a body. Jesus Himself pointed to this in Matthew 12:40. It was the same grace that God showed to the elect in Nineveh. And even as He brought Jonah safely to land, He spared the city, wherein these Ninevites lived, for their sake.
It is also worth noting that by sending Jonah to Nineveh, God was teaching the church of that day, but also teaching us, that a number of Gentiles were going to be added to the body of Christ. Jonah did not see that or want a prophet sent to gather them; but the time was getting ripe for such an addition to the body of Christ. The shingles of a house cannot be laid before the foundation is dug and the walls are erected. A child is born without teeth, and they come in many months later. A beard does not appear on the face of a man for many years after the day of his birth. So there is a time when this and that member is added to the church and can be added to it. And the time had come for certain Ninevites to be added.
Not only does the church which God eternally planned call for more Gentile converts to be added to it than in the Old Testament dispensation; but it is an undeniable fact that the nation of Israel, out of which the overwhelmingly larger number of members to that body of Christ were joined, was becoming more and more wicked and like unto Nineveh. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided. A relatively small group from two tribes formed the Kingdom of Judah and continued to worship God in His temple, as He taught them through Moses. Ten tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel and initiated a national idolatry of worshipping God by golden calves, as Aaron had taught them at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Then their King Ahab turned them into greater idolatry by turning them completely from God to serve Baal. It did not take long before Judah’s king, Jehoram, married the daughter of Baal-worshipping Ahab and Jezebel and introduced Baa1 worship into the Kingdom of Judah. And what Jonah failed to see was that his own nation with Baal-worshipping kings was becoming so much like Nineveh. It was not too long after his days that God, Who did not overthrow Nineveh, overthrew not only Israel but also Judah, and sent the two tribes into Babylonian captivity. Jonah should not have been surprised that God would send him to Nineveh to preach.
Now we do well to bear in mind the fact that the Nineveh, to which we belong, is being spared for the sake of the members of Christ’s body who are in it, or will be born in it, and it must be spared for them to be gathered into His church, and many Jonahs must be sent to bring them to repentance and faith. A Rahab had to have spies sent to her. A Ruth had to have a family from out of Israel come into Moab to teach her, and a Lot and his daughters had to be spared the overthrow of Sodom. And Jonah should have gone to Nineveh without complaint. God also asks him, “And should I not spare Nineveh?” He does not ask, “And may I not spare Nineveh?” Jonah did not question God’s right but His wisdom.
And let it be stated here that, though it may have looked that way to Jonah, it was not a “common grace” that spared Nineveh. It was for the sake of these believing children of God, not for the wicked, unbelieving element in that godless city. In fact it would look more like “common grace” for God to destroy the city! Now they were given added years and added earthly goods with which they sinned. Had God in forty days overthrown Sodom, these wicked inhabitants would have gone to hell. But their degree of punishment would not be as great as it now is. It is not grace to give sinners more opportunity to sin. It increases their punishment.
No, God had that body of Christ in mind when He spared Nineveh from overthrow. At the right time He gathers the right people and implants them in the church, the body of Christ. And we do well to hold on to the truth of His omnipotence and wisdom as well as His grace. He may take a loved one away from us by the cold hand of death. But He does it at the right moment and in the right way, because the body of Christ in glory needs that person at that time. It may be an infant that is only a few minutes old, or an aged person who has spent many years as a helpless invalid in a nursing home. But the particular place in that body of Christ that God eternally designed determines when that person with this or that nature—which is now sanctified—with these talents, of this color, race, brought up in this culture, having this language and psychological makeup, realized by being born from this and that man and woman, will be brought into it. All is in the wisdom of God. It is not what He finds, but what He planned and made that assures us that a perfect body of Christ will appear in the day when He returns upon the clouds of heaven. Everything, without the smallest exception, happens in our lives with a view to that day. We are being trained and prepared in this life, with a view to that life to come. With God there are no mistakes. And He is never frustrated in gathering the members of that body of Christ. Not one of the innumerable host—innumerable as far as man is concerned—will fail to reach the place eternally planned for him, and he will be there to do exactly the work in that new Jerusalem that God in His wisdom eternally planned. A perfect church is coming!
Moved and guided by the Spirit, the psalmist in Psalm 107:1-3 wrote, “O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy. And gathered them out of all lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north and from the south.” And surely there is something prophetic here. For today Jesus’ words inMatthew 28: 19 are surely being fulfilled. He said unto the disciples, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” That is being done today. And with much improved means of transportation and communication, the church is being built up, with the members of Christ’s body that were eternally decreed being contacted with the Word of God. There are people east and west of the land of Canaan, north and south of no matter where you stand, and from this race and that race, this color and that color brought not only much closer by jet aircraft transportation, but by means of radio and television are contacted from a point that may be on the other side of the world. The God Who sends His Jonahs today also led man into all these discoveries and inventions, because He is going to bring forth a perfect church, the body of Christ with no members missing; and no overthrow of any nation, no nuclear devastation that would take away the life of one of those decreed members of that body before the right time and before that one has been brought to conversion, can or will take place.
What happened to Nineveh is normal, even though Jonah considered it abnormal. Look at the church, not at the world, if you want to see the wisdom of God as well as His grace, mercy, kindness and slowness to anger. It was for the sake of the church, not for the sake of the enemies of that church who were living in Nineveh, that God spared it.
The book of Jonah ends with silence on Jonahs part. He has nothing to say that should be said, unless it is to praise and thank God. There is no room to complain or question what God does. Before we speak, we had better change our minds as to what ought to be done. God’s church comes first. The unbelievers are here to serve that church, even though it may look to us, with our limited vision, as though they are ruining the church of God, and are keeping Christ’s body from being perfect. Nothing is farther from the truth. They look to us as a hammer and saw, fire and storm; and we feel the pain of being pounded, cut and burned. But rest assured that they are completely under God’s control and do not hurt His church one bit. As God used the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, together with Pilate and the Roman soldiers, to get Christ on His cross, so it is with all the unbelievers. They serve the fulfillment of God’s counsel, not only to prepare the way for Christ to return, but also to do all that is necessary to every member of the body of Christ, so that he reaches his place.
Jonah did not see how the sparing of Nineveh would be good for the church; but it, was. As Paul encourages us with the truth that all things work together for our good, and that nothing separates us from the love of God, so it is. The church of Christ will have all of its members in a perfect condition and in the right places as members of the body of Christ. When that day comes, we will see the wisdom of God and what a wonderful plan He had eternally with Him and executed perfectly in the smallest detail.