Severe but Certain Providence

Illustration: Man overboard. Reluctant prophet. A whale of a tale. Selfish saint. The labels used to describe him are endless when it comes to Jonah, the prophet God called in the 700s B.C. to call out against the people of Nineveh (near present-day Mosul, Iraq) because their evil was flagrant (Jonah 1:2). 

But Jonah fled from the presence of the Lord (Jonah 1:3). How did that work out for Jonah? Was God to be outwitted by this self-absorbed, scared prophet? Was God going to somehow lose track of Jonah and frantically resort to a Plan B? Was God to be frustrated by Jonah’s disobedience? Is that the God of the Bible? Is the God of the Bible wringing his hands over the state of the universe, hoping that rebels will choose to humble themselves and return to him?

No, the God of the Bible is the God who calls sinners to repent in order that they might be saved from the wrath to come. And the God of the Bible is the God whose plan to save particular sinners is guaranteed. How?  Through the proclamation of the gospel. 

The pagan unbelievers aboard the ship Jonah was on repented and looked for mercy and believed the message that Jonah proclaimed. Jonah told them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9). God provided the means of salvation. God is the God of providence. 

They hurled the disobedient prophet into the sea. But was this to be the end of Jonah? Would it be death by drowning as he fled from God? No. “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). And Jonah’s prayer? “Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9b). 

Three days Jonah was in the belly of the great fish. One would think he had perished. One would think the message Jonah was commissioned to preach was silenced by way of the watery grave. But it was not so. Three days later, the fish appointed by God vomited Jonah out upon the dry land (Jonah 2:20) and Jonah fulfilled his ministry. He went to Nineveh. He spoke the truth. The people believed. Countless individuals were saved through believing the message. God provided the means of Jonah’s preservation. God provided the means of salvation to Nineveh. God provided the means of salvation. God is the God of providence. 

Encouragement: In Matthew, there is a passage where Jesus references the history of Jonah. The scribes and Pharisees were pushing Jesus to show “signs” that he was really God in the flesh. Listen to Jesus’s response:

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. (Matthew 12:39-42a)

Jesus was connecting the dots for them by saying, “Jonah was three days and nights in the grave. I will be three days and nights in the tomb. But like Jonah, I will be raised.” Why? How? Because God’s message of salvation for particular sinners will not fail to accomplish God’s purposes. Because God provides the means of salvation. Because God is the gospel, as someone has put it. Because God is the God of providence. 

Jonah was reluctant and sinful; Jesus was not. Jesus was and is the only mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). God is the God of providence who conquered the grave, who rose again, who told doubting Thomas to touch his (Jesus’s) pierced hands and pierced side (John 20:27). This, dear reader, is the God of salvation, the God of providence, the God of truth, who keeps his promises. In a world drowning in deceit, charlatans, facades, masks, lies upon lies upon lies, this is the message of truth for all who will, like fellow sinners in Nineveh in Jonah’s day, believe. 

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