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March 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 11


The Lessons of Jonah’s Gourd (2)

How did God restore His angry, huffing prophet in Jonah 4:10-11?

First, Jehovah did this in a way befitting Himself and His nature. As Jonah confessed, He is “a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (2). This was the way He related to Jonah both throughout the book and here in our text.

Second, Jehovah worked with Jonah as one who is a rational, moral creature. God reasoned with Jonah as a rational creature. He spoke to Jonah about moral, ethical, spiritual things as a moral creature. Jehovah came to Jonah by means of His Word and used that Word as a means of grace. This is what our heavenly Father does with us too.

Third, God dealt with Jonah in keeping with his situation, where he was at (so to speak). God decreed and ordered all of the circumstances in this scene (and, indeed, in absolutely all of Jonah’s life and ours too). He “prepared” the gourd (6), the worm (7) and the vehement, east wind (8), and He spoke to Jonah in his situation, just as Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in her situation—about Himself as the water of life, her sins against the seventh commandment, her Samaritan ideas of holy places and the Messiah (John 4:5-26). This is how the Triune God works with us too—in our circumstances and situation, where we are at.

Specifically, how did God work with Jonah in a way befitting His nature and Jonah’s nature (a rational, moral creature) and circumstances? Jehovah came with a question, a question that explained and convicted. In His question, God made a comparison and formed a contrast between Jonah and Himself: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11).

More particularly, the comparison and contrast is between Jonah and his pity for the gourd, on the one hand, and Jehovah and His pity for Nineveh, on the other hand: “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night: And should not I spare [lit., have pity—the same Hebrew word as in v. 10] Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” (10-11).

Though not all of the elements of the two sides of the comparison are explicitly stated, we can identify four different factors in the contrast between Jonah’s pity for the gourd and God’s pity for Nineveh.

First, there is the time factor. Regarding the gourd, it “came up in a night, and perished in a night” (10). This refers to two different nights, one after the other, so that the gourd lasted about 24 hours. On the other hand, its antiquity was a part of what made Nineveh a “great city” (11). It went way back to the days of Nimrod (Gen. 10:9-11), some 1,500 years before Jonah. You see the comparison here regarding time? God’s argument is: “If you have a right to have pity on a 24-hour gourd, Jonah, cannot I have pity on something that has lasted one and a half millennia?”

Second, there is the labour factor. Jonah did not dig a hole for the gourd, plant it as a seed, fertilise it, water it, stake it or protect it. As God said to Jonah, “Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow” (Jonah 4:10). However, in God’s wise providence, He had built Nineveh’s mighty walls, many houses and numerous streets, with all their families and people. The argument is simple: Jonah pitied something in which he had invested absolutely no labour whatsoever, but God pitied a city which He had wrought in His sovereign providence.

Third, there is what we may call the “worth” factor. The gourd was merely a plant, whereas Nineveh included livestock and people. Consider a car driver who runs over a man and a dog and someone’s lawn, before speeding off. One passerby ignores the moans of the man and the whimpers of the dog, hastening to the lawn to bemoan its indentation. Another passerby hurries to the dog, turning his back on the injured man. But surely the dog is more important than the lawn and the man is of greater value than the dog (cf. Matt. 10:31)! Well, Jonah is all upset about the gourd (a plant); he does not care about the people and livestock of Nineveh; he is even angry that they are not dead!

Fourth, there is the number factor. The gourd was one plant. In Nineveh, there were 120,000 infants as yet unable to distinguish between their left hand and their right hand (Jonah 4:11). What age is that, and what ratio is there between children that age and the rest of the population in those days, when life expectancy was much lower than in the twenty-first century Western world? Most guess the ratio at about 1:5. This would make the population of Nineveh, both inside and near its walls, to total about 720,000. The “much cattle” or livestock (11) would have consisted of cows, goats, sheep, oxen, horses, donkeys, camels, etc., numbering tens of thousands, if not more.

The tragedy is that Jonah is more concerned over the loss of one plant than the loss of about three quarters of a million people and tens of thousands of livestock. For him, one plant is more important than one million men, women, children and animals. In fact, Jonah is angry, very angry, that the one plant has died and the 720,000 people and all their livestock have not died! What about our love for our neighbour (Matt. 22:39) and desire for his or her salvation (Rom. 9:1-3; 10:1)? Rev. Stewart

God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (3)

In the last two issues of the News, I have been discussing questions that were submitted that involve God’s foreknowledge and man’s (alleged) free will.

One point remains to be answered. A questioner appealed to Numbers 21:8-9 to argue that man is able of his own free will to choose to believe a gospel in which a Christ is preached who is a Saviour who loves all men, died for them and wants everyone to be saved. The questioner claimed that because Israel had the choice of looking at the brazen serpent to be healed or refusing to look at the brazen serpent and die, and because Jesus finds in this brazen serpent a picture of Himself raised up on the cross (John 3:14-15), so all men have the choice of accepting Christ as their Saviour or refusing to accept Him and perishing as a result.

The question that immediately pops into one’s head is this: How does the questioner know that the Israelites who looked at the brazen serpent did so of their own free will? The text does not say that. If this act of the Israelites was of their own free will, then everything that happened to them was also of their own free will: their choice to leave Egypt when the nation went; their choice to camp at Sinai; their choice to murmur because of lack of water; their choice not to believe the report of the ten spies or their choice to believe this report; etc. All their salvation depends upon their own choice.

If man has a choice to accept Christ or to reject Him, he has a choice also to accept part of Christ and reject other parts. He has a choice whether to continue to believe in Christ or to change his mind; he has the choice to go to heaven or to go to hell.

In other words, the whole of his salvation depends on him. Christ is left with nothing else to do but worry whether there will finally be anybody at all who believes in Him. Christ can do nothing about it. Christ is helpless. The choice is man’s to make. Who, I ask, wants such a weak Christ? Or is the case that man makes the decisive choice and then Christ takes over? Where in the Bible does one read that?

Let us see the matter as Scripture presents it. Mankind is fallen. All people have sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12ff.). Their fall has so spiritually devastated them that they are incapable of doing any good (3:12). Their depravity does not only make any moral goodness impossible but also makes man a hater of God, a rebel against Him, an enemy out to destroy Him. This was and is man’s choice, man’s sin, man’s responsibility.

God reveals the riches of His grace and mercy in bringing salvation to this world through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This salvation is proclaimed in the gospel. The purpose of God in bringing salvation is twofold. On the one hand, the gospel puts all men before God’s command to forsake his sin, repent of his evil and believe in Christ. God does this to maintain His righteous demands. On the other hand, the gospel is also the power of God unto salvation to all who believe (1:16).

The Canons of Dordt put it precisely: “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree” (1:6). God’s eternal decree includes both election and reprobation (1:6; Rom. 9:10-23).

However, God does not deal with a man as a robot. As the pastor of my youth would say in his sermons, “Man does not go to heaven in a Pullman sleeper.” The wicked can do nothing else but reject the gospel. That rejection is due to a depravity which they brought on themselves. The elect believe because God gives them the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8). The wicked go to hell because of their terrible sin of unbelief; the righteous go to heaven because of the mercy, grace, love and longsuffering God shows to them.

Behind all rejection of the gospel stands the eternal decree of God’s reprobation; behind all belief in the gospel stands God’s decree of election. Christ died only for His elect people and the cross is the means by which we are saved. But God saves us in such a way that we become conscious of our salvation. He brings us to repentance and faith. He calls us to fight the old man, struggle with temptation, confess sin and always flee to Christ to receive strength in the battle. We are commanded to work out our own salvation and we are called to do this because it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

Scripture teaches the absolute sovereignty of God in all His works and so maintains God’s glory. The opposite doctrines make God small (really, an idolatrous caricature of God) and the cross powerless.

I have often asked myself the question why almost the whole church world pants after and lusts for a theology that promotes the honour, the goodness and the basic moral soundness of man. The answer can only be pride. Pride burns so hot in the heart of man that man’s goodness in free will must be maintained at all costs.

This theology revolves around man, not God. It is humanistic. God loves all men for He would never hate anyone, it claims. But what does that do to God’s holiness, a holiness so bright in its light that it burns against sin (Isa. 6:3f.)?

Christ died for everyone, they say. But what does that do to the cross as the power of God unto salvation (I Cor. 1:24)? It renders the cross powerless and makes of God in Christ One who is unable to save. What does it do to the truth? It drags God down to the level of man and tries, desperately, to raise man up to God’s throne.

Calvin’s enemies charged him with being drunk with God. It is the greatest of compliments. To be drunk with God! That exceeds in blessedness any pleasure to be found anywhere. The modern church world is drunk with man.

Would that today’s “evangelical” church would repent of its emphasis on man, man, man. And would that it would turn to the truth and confess that God is all!

Those who looked at the brazen serpent in the wilderness, and saw their desperate need of a Saviour, had the living faith that saves. That faith was a gift of God. Nicodemus needed to hear these words of Jesus in John 3, for he was thinking of a Messiah who would establish an earthly kingdom. He had to learn that the kingdom of heaven would not be established by human might but by the Messiah’s crucifixion.

And those who by faith look on that cross are those who are saved: saved, not because they chose to do this of their own (alleged) free will, but because God gave them faith to believe in the crucified and risen Christ alone. Prof. Hanko

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