Lessons from Jonah, the Whale, and Nineveh: Salvation is of the Lord

God alone is mighty to save. “For there is no restraint to YHWH to save, by many or by few,” or by the strong or the weak.

The most successful prophet in the Old Testament appears to be Jonah. God told him to go to Nineveh, and tell the people there that God would destroy their city in forty days because of their sin. Hating the Ninevites and fearing that they might repent and God would spare their city, Jonah ran away. After a storm arose that threatened to drown the ship in which he was fleeing from God, and after being thrown into the sea and swallowed by a whale, Jonah finally repented. He went to Nineveh and preached the message God had given him. The people were eager to respond, and sent riders across the city spreading Jonah’s message ahead of him. Everyone repented in sackcloth and ashes and prayed to God for mercy. This made Jonah so angry that he went outside the city to watch and to mope. For my purposes here, that’s all of the story that needs to be told.

Compare that to, say, Isaiah. Isaiah saw YHWH and was stricken by a sense of his own guilt. He cried out, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, YHWH, Lord of Hosts.” When the seraph had cleansed his lips with a coal from the altar, he heard the voice of God saying, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” to which Isaiah responded, “Here am I. Send me!” God told him that he was sending him to a people of hardened hearts, shut eyes, and closed ears.

Ezekiel also saw a terrifying vision of God, and then was told that he was being sent to a stubborn and rebellious people who would not listen to him, but whom he was nonetheless called to warn. Normally, God’s prophets were rejected, despised, beaten, and killed.

In the light of this, it seems very strange to me that people seem to think that if you really desire God, if you are willing to go anywhere for Him and do anything for Him, then you will necessarily see a great harvest. Maybe God will use you in this way. Then again, maybe He won’t. You might, conceivably, tell thousands about Jesus and never see any of them believe in Him, and end up being imprisoned and murdered. Maybe, you will have the joy of laboring for a century to tell millions the Gospel, and never see anyone repent. Maybe, you will hardly have the opportunity to tell everyone you know the Gospel before you die, and none of them will ever believe. Or, maybe, the fruit of your work might be the conversion of millions, but no one will see it until after you die. Or, maybe, you will have the joy of seeing thousands and thousands believe, right around you. Regardless, to hear Jesus say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master,” will be incomparably worth it all. I do not ask for more. As someone wrote, “Just one glimpse of Him in glory will all the toils of life repay.” It’s almost exactly like this, “But our light and momentary affliction is achieving for us an eternal weight of glory which cannot be measured.”

God also might pick someone who fights Him every step of the way, and use them to bring about a revival in some nation or group for which almost all of His people had given up all hope. He might use someone who runs away from Him to bring about the conversion of someone for whose salvation no one even thought of praying.

Oh, I love this glorious amazing God, who does what He wishes and no one can ever put limits to it! He is the God of surprises, the God of our great salvation. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. He has promised that His word will not return void, but who are we to say how He accomplishes that? No one can put bounds to what He does, or say, ‘This, this always, and this only, is how God works.’ No, He is the Living God, who acts according to His own secret purpose, to put down the proud and lift up the humble and exalt His Name above the heavens, His glory over all the earth.

It is enough that we should be His witnesses. It is a privilege far greater than we could imagine, far greater than we will ever know, to be witnesses to Jesus Christ. The conversion of hearts is in the hands of God, and we have the absolutely breath-taking privilege and opportunity to witness to Jesus Christ in the circumstances of our lives, whatever they may be.

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