Amazing Grace Jonah 2
Not long ago I got a traffic ticket. I was speeding, and I was caught, and I was guilty. But while I was in my car, waiting for the policeman to process my license and registration, I entertained the hope that the officer might be gracious to me. I thought perhaps he would see that I had no previous tickets and I was an upright citizen. I even had an Ichthusemblem on the back of my car!
But the officer politely came up to my window, handed me a ticket, and advised me to slow down. I was extremely disheartened. But why? After all, I got what I deserved. I was presuming the officer’s grace to me since I considered myself a good person. But that was the problem. At that moment, I was not a good person; and I needed to pay a penalty and be taught a lesson. For the officer to be gracious to me would have been totally irrational and even irresponsible.
What does all this have to do with Jonah? Jonah disobeyed God and deserved punishment. As a result, he was cast into the sea. But as he was about to drown, he called to the Lord and repented. The Lord in His grace saved Jonah by sending a big fish to swallow him so he would not die (1:17). Safe in the fish’s belly, Jonah then responded by praising God with a psalm of declarative praise because of God’s grace to him. Jonah knew he should have drowned and was deeply touched by God’s unmerited favor to him.
What I learned from my experience as compared to Jonah’s is this: We are in danger when we begin to presume on God’s grace. First, we begin to think we deserve grace when we really deserve punishment; and second, if God in His mercy forgives us, we may not appreciate it for the unbelievably wonderful act it is on God’s part.
Jonah’s Psalm of Praise (2:1-9)
The story of Jonah in chapter 2 is that Jonah appreciated God’s grace so much that he composed a psalm to record his thankfulness. This psalm follows the pattern of other psalms of declarative praise, such as Psalms 32 and 34. And like these psalms, it also follows a certain literary structure.
Verse 1 is a summary statement of the psalm’s theme. In synonymous parallelism, Jonah recounted how he was in distress and about to die when he called on the Lord. The Lord heard his cry and rescued him.
Verses 2–7 tell the story of Jonah’s distress and the Lord’s deliverance in more detail. Jonah recounted that the Lord threw him into the sea (v. 3). As he was sinking in the water, he recognized that the Lord punished him because of his disobedience. Yet he directed his thoughts to the Lord (v. 4). While on the bottom of the sea floor (notice “the weeds” and “the bottoms of the mountains,” vv. 5–6) and about to drown (“when my soul fainted within me,” v. 7), Jonah called out to Jehovah in His holy Temple. The Lord heard Jonah’s cry and graciously delivered him by providing a great fish to swallow him.
Then Jonah prayed again from inside the fish’s belly. He ended his psalm with a vow of praise and instruction to those who would hear his testimony (vv. 8–9). Jonah recognized that his God is a God of grace and that he himself had received that grace, as opposed to those involved in idolatry, who would never know God’s mercy. Jonah then vowed to bring a public sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord in order to declare, “Salvation is of the Lord” (v. 9). At the same time, Jonah seems to have committed himself to be obedient to the Lord’s command (chap. 3) as a result of having received God’s grace. In response to Jonah’s repentance and vow, the Lord had the fish spew Jonah back onto dry land, presumably not far from where he had started in Joppa (2:10).
Chapters 1 and 2 thus form a neat cause-and-effect story. In chapter 1, Jonah received the Word of the Lord to go to Nineveh but disobeyed. As punishment, the Lord sent a storm; and Jonah was thrown overboard, presumably to drown. But as he was sinking, Jonah desperately cried out to the Lord to deliver him from death. Miracle of miracles, the Lord not only reached out in grace to rescue his stubborn prophet, He sent a big fish to do it! The irony of the story is that, when the Ninevites ultimately repented and the Lord was gracious to them, he became angry. We find that he did not want to go to Nineveh because he did not want the Ninevites to receive God’s grace, as he had. But that’s another issue.
Jonah and Jesus
When the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to prove He was the Messiah, Jesus said they would only receive the sign of Jonah: As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the fish, so Jesus would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Mt. 12:40). Jesus also said that generation’s judgment would be worse because, whereas the men of Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching, they did not repent at the preaching of One who was greater than Jonah (Mt. 12:39–41).
Typology is a difficult and debated subject; but the general definition of a type is that it is a divinely designated person, thing, or event that prophetically points to a later person, thing, or event that fulfills or completes the type (the antitype). The New Testament indicates that Adam was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14), as was Melchizedek (Heb. 5:5–10).
In the case of Jonah and Jesus, it would seem that Jonah is not a type of Christ in his person. The reason is obvious. Jonah was a disobedient prophet whom God disciplined, whereas Christ is the obedient Son. The “sign of Jonah” then seems to be an illustration or analogy that, as Jonah was three days and nights in the belly of the fish before he was expelled, so Jesus would be buried three days and nights in the earth before His resurrection. Thus, if there is any typology, it would not be between the persons of Jonah and Christ; it would be between what happened to them. Both were delivered from death to life: Jonah, by God’s grace, did not drown; Jesus, although He died physically on the cross, was raised from the dead as a vindication of His obedient sacrifice, acceptable to the Father.
Responding to Grace
As New Covenant believers in Jesus Christ, we are recipients of God’s grace. The joy and newness of this relationship is evident throughout the New Testament. Passages, especially in Acts, record how the Gentiles rejoiced when they learned that they could now come into covenant relationship with the God of Israel (Acts 13:48). The Gospel of Luke is full of stories of people who received grace from Jesus and returned to thank Him for what He had done for them (i.e., Lk. 17:11–19).
The danger for us is that we have become so accustomed to God’s goodness that we forget we do not deserve it. In Deuteronomy the Lord warned the Israelites not to forget that the Lord’s goodness to them was not based on their own righteousness but rather on God’s grace and faithfulness to His promises (Dt. 8:1—9:6). The book of Jonah teaches us about repentance, grace, and thanksgiving. We should never lose the sense of heartfelt, unbelievable joy that the God of the universe is willing to forgive sinners like us—not just when we receive Him as Savior, but for all the days of our lives.
It is always an exciting time at our church when new believers are baptized. Not only is it wonderful to see new souls added to the church, but it is uplifting to hear the testimonies of those new believers. They are still in awe of God’s grace to them. They can relate to Jonah’s distress of certain doom and helplessness. They can vividly recall their supplications; cries of repentance to the Lord; and God’s amazing, gracious response to forgive them and bring them into His family. The glow on their faces, I think, would be similar to Jonah’s when he offered his sacrifice of praise to God for His mercy and deliverance. This action certainly glorifies God.
But what happens after years of receiving God’s grace and goodness? Do we lose the sense of awe and minimize the magnitude of it? Do we begin to presume that God should be gracious to us, even when we cut corners or commit “little” sins? As Paul might say, “God forbid!”
My experience with the police officer reminded me that grace is not the norm. Grace is special. And in the believer’s case, it is extra special because God Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, died in our place so that we might have life.
When I was living in Texas, we went to a church that had communion every Sunday. Those who celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month might think that celebrating communion every Sunday makes it common. But I found the opposite to be true. The Lord’s Supper became the focal point of every worship service. And what ministered to me the most was the weekly opportunity to remember my desperate need of Christ in my life, both past and present, and His grace to me. It was also a time to recommit myself to Him, based on what He has done for me.
So, while Jonah was a disobedient prophet, like many of us when he cried to the Lord, the Lord responded with mercy and saved him from his distress. In response, Jonah praised God, for he did not presume on God’s grace to him. May we learn from Jonah and be ever thankful for God’s goodness to us. May we also speak publicly of God’s amazing grace to us and our thankfulness to Him, for this glorifies Him.