“While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord,
And my prayer came to You,
Into Your holy temple.
Those who regard vain idols
Forsake their faithfulness,
But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving.
That which I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation is from the Lord.” (Jonah 2:7-9; NASB)
The story of Jonah is a familiar one to even the youngest Bible student. It is familiar and simple:
Poor Jonah. He never got it. When God said to go to Nineveh and preach judgment, Jonah balked — probably not because he was afraid of Nineveh, but because he was afraid of God’s grace that would withhold judgment when Nineveh repented.
So God captured the attention of Jonah by placing him in the belly of a fish for three days. Sure enough, Jonah talked to Him again, with a beautiful prayer of repentance. So, the fish spit up Jonah (there’s really no delicate way to say that), and Jonah walked to Nineveh, preached the message, the people repented and Jonah rejoiced. Right. Well, almost. Jonah did everything except rejoice. Instead of rejoicing, he “squawked” with bitter complaints — “this is why I didn’t want to come, Lord. I knew you’d be gracious….” Instead of delighting in the salvation of sinners, he sat mournfully regretting that God had not demonstrated the power of His wrath against Nineveh.
Jonah’s weakness was not that he didn’t believe in or pursue God’s grace. He loved God’s grace. He just wanted it all for himself. It is safe to say that he probably thought he deserved God’s grace and that the Ninevites didn’t. But he didn’t deserve grace anymore than the Ninevites or us.
The tragedy is that while he had the “correct” words of grace (see his prayer in chapter 2), he didn’t have a heart of grace. He had the actions of obedience and joy, but he did not have the heart of obedient joy. Jonah is not alone in that camp.
It is not unusual to fall into the habits and thought patterns of wanting God and His grace all to ourselves. We reason that because God has been gracious to us, we are somehow “above” those who have not (yet) received God’s grace. Jonah wasn’t better than the Ninevites. And we aren’t either.
The lesson for Jonah (and us) is that God’s grace is available for all men. No one is “worthy” to receive grace (see Romans 1 and Romans 3). Grace is grace because it is given when we aren’t worthy! So today when you see a sinner redeemed, and a stumbling man restored, REJOICE (2 Cor. 7:9-10; Phil. 1:4ff; Col. 1:9ff; 1 Thess. 1:2ff; 2 Jn. 4; 3 Jn. 4)! God’s been gracious!
Our joy is not only for what God has done for us, but for what He, by His grace, is doing for others.