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GOD'S PITY FOR THE HEATHEN
--NOVEMBER 21.--JONAH 3:1-4:11.--
JONAH'S EXPERIENCE A TYPE OF OUR LORD'S DEATH AND RESURRECTION
--"GOD PREPARED A GREAT FISH"--DIVINE ABILITY
UNQUESTIONABLE--DIVINE PERMISSION OF EVIL LIMITED
--DIVINE COMPASSION ILLUSTRATED--HOW "GOD REPENTED
OF THE EVIL"--JONAH'S SELFISH SPIRIT REBUKED
--THE MESSIANIC KINGDOM THE HOPE OF THE WORLD.
"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations."--Matthew 28:19.
SKEPTICS have long been inclined to treat as
a seaman's yarn the story of Jonah's experiences
in the belly of the great fish.
Many pulpiteers even laugh at the account
of Jonah's experiences as suitable only for
the credulous, and not for wise Higher
Critics. Nevertheless, the Great Teacher
refers to Jonah and his experiences in the
belly of the great fish; and those who believe
the Scriptures will seek no better ground
for their faith in the story than this.
Nor is Jonah's account without a considerable parallel.
Some years ago one of the New York journals gave a
detailed account, profusely illustrated, showing how a
sailor was swallowed by a great sulphur whale, but escaped
after several hours, his skin made purplish from
the action of the digestive fluids of the whale's stomach.
So far as we know, Jonah's case was the only one in which
any one spent parts of three days and nights in the belly
of a fish. True, the throats of the majority of whales
seem too small to admit a man. We remember, however,
that they are quite elastic. The great sulphur variety is
of enormous size and is said to have a throat capable of
swallowing a skiff, which is much larger than a man.
Besides, the Bible description of the matter tells us
specifically that God prepared a great fish. No one who
has a proper appreciation of the powers of the Almighty
would question for an instant the ability of God to prepare
a special fish, either at the moment or, foreknowing
Jonah's course, long in advance. The exceptional character
of Jonah's experience constituted him a type of our
Lord Jesus, who in death was swallowed up of the earth
as was Jonah by the fish; and as our Lord was liberated
from His prison-house, so was Jonah.--Matthew 12:39,40.
PREACHING TO THE NINEVITES
Today's Study, however, is connected with the Prophet
Jonah's preaching to the Ninevites. Nineveh was a great
city outside the pale of Judaism and therefore, at that
time, outside the lines of Divine favor; for from the giving
of the Law Covenant at Mount Sinai until three and
a half years after the Cross, God's favors were exclusively
confined to the nation of Israel, under the terms of the
Law Covenant. At the close of Israel's period of exclusive
favor, Cornelius the Centurion was the first Gentile
to receive evidence of Divine favor.
In the cases of the Sodomites, the Ninevites and the
Amalekites, Divine Justice decreed that their iniquity had
come to the full; that for them to live longer would be
unwise; and that for them to be cut off in death would
not only hinder them from further degradation, but also
furnish to mankind a general lesson, to the effect that
there is a limit to the Divine permission of evil. The
fact that these people were thus condemned and overthrown
did not signify that they had ever enjoyed salvation
or even an offer of salvation. Like all Adam's children,
these people were under the sentence of death--
"Dying, thou shalt die." They were merely cut off from
further life under present conditions. Their opportunity
for future life by resurrection was not interfered with, for
neither they nor others had yet been redeemed.
Hence the future life, secured by the redemptive work
of Jesus, was in no sense interfered with by the sentence
of death issued against them en masse. Indeed, even the
Jews were not saved. The offer of salvation made to
them under the Law Covenant did not give them eternal
life. As St. Paul declares, "By the deeds of the Law shall
no flesh be justified in God's sight." (Rom. 3:20.) If the
Jews were justified by the Law, then Christ died in vain.
The Law made nothing perfect.
The offer of life given to the Jew was merely to prove
to him, and ultimately to all, the impossibility of any one's
obtaining life under the Divine Law without Divine assistance
--without the Savior and His work at Calvary
and, additionally, His work for the world as the Mediator
of the New Covenant, during His Messianic Reign of a
thousand years. In harmony with this the Apostle declares,
"Christ brought life and immortality to light
through the Gospel." And again, "There is none other
name under Heaven given amongst men whereby we must
be saved." And again, "This great salvation began to be
preached by our Lord and was confirmed by those who
heard Him."--2 Timothy 1:10; Acts 4:12; Hebrews 2:3.
THE NINEVITES REPENTED
Jonah's preaching was that within forty days God
would destroy Nineveh. But the people, impressed by his
message, repented of their sinful course and sought
Divine forgiveness. The king's proclamation was that
"neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything;
let them not feed, nor drink water; but let man and beast
be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God;
yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from
the violence that is in their hands." The Lord hearkened
to the Ninevites, accepted their repentance, and permitted
their national life to continue for a time.
We are, of course, to understand that God knew the
end from the beginning--that He knew that the Ninevites
would repent, and that He would not blot them out within
forty days, in accordance with the Prophet Jonah's preaching.
Nineveh did pass away utterly, great city as it was,
but not within forty literal days. Possibly the time meant
by the Almighty was what is sometimes termed prophetic
or symbolical time--a day for a year; 40 days, 40 years.
The lesson shows us how much greater is the compassion
of the Almighty than that of His imperfect servants
of human kind. God was pleased to have the
Ninevites turn from their sins to hearty repentance. He
was pleased to grant them an extension of earthly life.
But Jonah was displeased. His argument was, "There!
God has made a fool of me. He told me that this great
city would be destroyed within forty days; and I preached
it. God has brought discredit upon me, and I am now to
be regarded as a false prophet."
Jonah was more interested in himself and his own
reputation than in the Ninevites and their interests. The
servants of the Lord must not be so. Self should be lost
sight of. As the great Apostle Paul advises, "Love
seeketh not her own"; and again, "Even Christ pleased
not Himself."--1 Corinthians 13:5; Romans 15:3.
"GOD REPENTED OF THE EVIL"
In some minds the query arises, How can God repent
and change His mind if He knows the end from the beginning?
The answer is that the word repent has a
wider meaning than is generally appreciated. Humanity
uses it only in respect to a change of purpose. But, as
modern dictionaries show, the word may mean either a
[R5797 : page 333] change of action or a change of purpose, or both. God's
purposes do not change. He never repents of them. But
He does change His conduct.
Thus Israel, for centuries His favored people, were
cut off; and God's dealing toward them changed. But
His purposes never changed. He had foreknown and
had foretold their rejection of Jesus and His rejection of
them, and also had foreseen that later on they would be
regathered to their own land and would be forgiven and
blessed by Messiah, when He assumed His Messianic
Office as King of kings and Lord of lords--"The Prince
of the kings of this earth."--Revelation 1:5.
The Lord taught the Prophet Jonah a lesson respecting
his sympathy for a gourd, an inanimate thing, and his
lack of sympathy for the Ninevites. So it is with many
preachers and others. They have sympathy for the
flowers, for the birds, for the lower animals, for children
and, to some extent, for all mankind under the distresses
of the present time. Nevertheless, such people sometimes
become angry at the bare suggestion that God does not
purpose to roast the Ninevites, the Sodomites, the Amalekites,
or anybody else to all eternity; and that His
gracious purposes for the world in general will be manifested
in giving all an opportunity to attain unto human
perfection, a world-wide Eden and everlasting life, if
they will hear and obey the great Messiah, whose Head
is Jesus and whose members, the elect Church, have been
in process of preparation throughout this Gospel Age.
Our Lord declared that the Gospel was to be preached
no longer to the Jews only, but to all nations. (Luke 24:45-48;
Acts 1:8.) The preaching was not intended to
convert all nations, and has not done so. It was intended
to gather a saintly few from all nations; and this it will
soon have accomplished.--Acts 15:14-18.