God's Ways in Training His Own for His Service and Testimony: 11

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Jonah now had to learn by the withering of his own heart in its disappointment what the tender pity and mercy of God's heart is. Be had not known how to enter upon that tender divine mercy, and therefore had to learn his own need of it through personal suffering. This he learned under the miraculous tree.
“But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement [or, silent] east wind, and the Fan burnt upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.” His heart withered within, like the tree before him, and rose in bitterness against God, Who again said to Jonah, “Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?” The prophet's language now assumes the character of defiance: he replies, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.”
What a contrast to this was his language when at the bottom of the sea in the fish's belly! There his conscience had to say to him, and he cried to God in his distress. But at the withering of the gourd it was different. His conscience was silent in that case, but not his natural heart, which rose in rebellion against God. Had not the gourd been a gift of God, unasked for by Jonah? And no sooner did he begin to enjoy its shade, cooling the prophet's heated face, then God took it away; for Jonah no doubt perceived that the withering away of the miraculous tree as well as its sudden growth was the work of God. Did it not seem cruel? Did it not appear like mockery at the prophet's disappointment? Was this the reward for his fearless and faithful testimony in that great and wicked city? So the tempter would whisper to Jonah, and the natural and rebellious heart was but too inclined to listen to the evil suggestions of the old serpent.
But ought not the very rustling of the leaves of that tree, which had covered and cooled the prophet's head and body with their beneficial shadow, have spoken as God's “still small voice” to the irate prophet, “Jonah, what doest thou here on this sad place of observation? Art thou waiting for God's judgment, Who is ‘waiting to be gracious?’ Art thou angry, because He is good?” But the prophet did not understand as yet that voice of grace. He persevered in his graceless attitude. The tree had therefore to be stripped of its soothing ornament, so that none but the bare branches and stem might remain, and the prophet, deprived of its beneficial shadow, might learn by his own suffering his need of that sympathy which he lacked so much and had little known how to appreciate.
Even to the most excellent of God's saints this exercise of conscience and heart cannot be spared. Abraham's heart, as another has observed, certainly was grieved at the loss of Ishmael, but his conscience in that case had to say to him. It was very different when Isaac had to be sacrificed. There Abraham's conscience did not speak, but his heart all the more. God was trying his heart, whether it rested more in the gift than in the Giver. Abraham stood the test. Jacob had to endure years of trials during his service with Laban; but his conscience could but remind him that his sufferings were deserved, and that he was only reaping what he had sown. His grief at the loss of Joseph was quite another thing, for in that case his heart had far more to say than his conscience.
The same difference we find in David, when amidst the ruins of Ziklag, and when leaving Jerusalem in his flight before Absalom. Never had David sunk so low as at that moment, when be offered his and his men's co-operation to the king of the Philistines, the inveterate enemies of God and His people, to fight against the people of God, David's own people. Terrible as was his sin against Uriah at a later period (for which God visited him through the rebellion of his son Absalom), yet David's moral degradation, even in that terrible case, was not so deep as it was at Aphek before the battle of Gilboa. What a difference between the shepherd boy David in his single-handed combat of faith with the mighty giant Goliath, and the chieftain David, offering his assistance to the same enemy against the people of God! It was the moment of his deepest moral degradation during his whole life. God in mercy frustrated David's wicked offer, urgently repeated notwithstanding the refusal on the part of the lords of the Philistines. But it was followed immediately by the just punishment of God. On their return David and his men found their homesteads burnt down and their wives and children had been carried away by the Amalekites. The smoking ruins of that city, which David had suffered himself to be presented with for a residence among the enemies of God and His people, in his unbelief and unfaithfulness, which is the child of unbelief, spoke loudly to David's conscience in his desperate position, when his own companions were ready to stone him. “But David encouraged himself in Jehovah his God.” Doubtless he must have been on his face in the dust before the Lord previously, or he could not have “encouraged himself in the Lord.” God gave back to him and to his companions all they had lost. David had encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God. His deep exercise of heart and conscience was in that case but the forerunner of a bolder, more thorough, and devoted service than before.
Very different to his distress at Ziklag were the exercises of David's soul when fleeing from Jerusalem, his royal residence, and home of all that was dear to David's heart. Then, when fleeing from his rebellious son, he had to leave behind everything that was dear and precious to him. Jerusalem was a place very different to Ziklag. It was God's greatest gift to him; Jehovah's reward for all the persecutions, hardships, and contests which he had had to encounter. Jerusalem had been the goal of David's desires—godly desires.1 And now he had to give up all this on account of the deadly hostility and rebellion of his son Absalom. The tenderest and closest ties having been rent, there remained to the deeply abased king nothing but the favor and mercy of his God, whilst David's conscience even then did not fail to assert itself. Nathan the prophet had indeed announced the divine pardon to the king after his penitent confession, but he had added that the sword should not depart from his house, “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” The grace of God, pardoning the penitent sinner, that he die not (Jam. v. 19, 20; 1 John 5:16, 1716If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. 17All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death. (1 John 5:16‑17)), and which restores him to communion with God, must not be confounded with the righteous government of God, which often makes a fallen but restored child of God during the whole of his after life feel and realize the solemn consequences of sin, not merely in the sense of God's justice, but of His wisdom and grace, in order thus to keep present to the memory of our hearts and consciences the solemn character of sin, often so pregnant with continuous sorrow in its consequences—not in our communion with Himself, but for our practical humiliation and as a constant warning. For He knows how apt we are practically to forget the seriousness of sin, when its serious consequences have passed away.
Thus we recognize again God's hand in David's flight from Jerusalem, and in the events afterward. All these spoke, of course, with a loud voice to David's conscience. But, as has been observed already, David's heart was even more than his conscience moved and exercised by these events, from the reasons mentioned above. And when the king passed over the brook Kidron, and “all the country wept with a loud voice,” and “the king went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and went barefoot, and all the people that were with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went;” and Jerusalem, the beloved city, with everything dear to the heart of the fleeing king, disappeared behind the temporary cloud, his spiritual horizon was thronging with thoughts of God and His mercy, which endureth forever.
But let us return to our prophet under the miraculous tree. It was God's intention that the heart as well as the conscience of His prophet (as of all His servants) should be exercised. There are believers whose consciences have been truly exercised, but from want of exercise of heart, they know but little of the sympathy of Christ. Jonah understood as yet very little of God's tender mercy. He had therefore through suffering to learn his own need of it.
“Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, 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 six score thousand persons which cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?” In other words, You, Jonah, pity this gourd, which came up in one night and perished in one night, and which then hast neither planted nor hast made it grow. You mourn over its shortened existence, because it gave you shade and coolness. You regret its sudden decay, because it deprived you of the relief and refreshment which that tree had provided for you. And should not God have pity on a city like Nineveh, where there are one hundred and twenty thousand babes [God knew their number] that cannot discern their left hand from their right, besides those millions of penitent inhabitants, creatures of Mine, and your fellow-sinners, Jonah, and so much cattle? “God, Who hears the voice of the raven, and without Whom not a sparrow falls from the roof, had heard even the moaning and lowing of the cattle—His creatures—ascending to heaven together with the cries of lamentation of numberless penitent sinners. The prophet had witnessed that grand deeply-affecting scene of general penitence, which had not failed to reach the ear and heart of the gracious God and Creator, Who with His numberless hosts of mighty angels rejoices “over one sinner that repenteth.” But those sounds of mourning had only fallen on Jonah's ears. They had not reached his heart. He was only thinking of the divine pardon which would be called forth by their penitence, and impair his reputation and character as a prophet.
But now God had reached Jonah's heart. Once He had spoken to His servant Job in a whirlwind, when Job's self-righteousness was to receive the final blow, after God had spoken by a mediator's voice and silenced him, who had silenced his friends. God had spoken to His servant Elijah first by the mighty “wind” and the “earthquake” and the “fire,” and then with the “still small voice.” And now He has reached also the heart of His servant Jonah. In the storm He had spoken to his conscience; but now the “still small voice” of His grace has appealed to the heart of His prophet, and not in vain.
I do not remember any passage in the whole range of the Old Testament, where the perfect patience and goodness of God, and His marvelous longsuffering and grace appear so prominent and express themselves in such a touching way, as in our chapter, recording Jehovah's way of proceeding with His grumbling and discontented prophet! What language the servant had dared to employ against his Master, the poor worm against his Maker? And what is Jehovah's answer? The Master condescends to give account, so to speak, to His servant about His gracious dealing with penitent Nineveh, in words which man's pride would have deemed unbecoming for a great and mighty Lord and Master. But you and I, Christian reader, know that nothing could possibly be worthier of such a God than the way and manner in which He dealt with His feeble servant and the words He spoke to him. The Lord had made him feel His mighty hand. In the storm and in the belly of the fish He had spoken to His conscience and broken his will. But now Jonah's heart was to be broken and to be melted under the sense of God's grace, love, goodness, mercy and longsuffering. And what words could be more adapted for that purpose than those addressed by Jehovah to His prophet? On the dark Sinaitic background of the Old Testament they stand out all the more distinctly and wonderfully in shining letters. The voice which once amidst the thunder and lightening of Sinai, from the dark cloud and with the voice of the trumpet, had forbidden the trembling people under pain of death even to touch the mountain, at the summit of which the majesty of God appeared, speaks here to the servant, murmuring at God's grace, “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city?” The same, Who from the mount of terror, where even Moses, His faithful servant, stood trembling and shaking, had spoken, “And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart,” we hear saying here to the grumbling prophet, “And so much cattle?” Well might Jonah have exclaimed,
“What patience, O my God, is thine,
With all the grievous sins of mine!
It is beyond expression.
Where is there a God, so ready to spare,
And where a Master, so kind to forbear,
In spite of such transgression!”
But God's gracious intention with Jonah had now produced its desired effect. The book closes with. God's question to His prophet left unanswered. Jonah's heart has been reached and melted under the overwhelming sense of divine mercy and grace. Like Job, he lays his hand upon his mouth, and his silent confession seems to say with Job, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.”
The simple fact, that the prophet himself wrote this book, thus recording his own sin and shame, proves how thoroughly not only his will but also, his heart had been broken, softened and humbled under the sense of the grace of such a God. For true as it is, that the account written by him was indited by the Holy Ghost, this in no way impairs the beautiful significance of that fact; for we may rest assured that the Spirit of God, Who might have chosen any other servant of God for penning that account, would not have employed the prophet. Jonah for writing this portion of Holy Writ, so full of instruction within so small a compass, had not the prophet been in that condition of soul, which God in His own school had intended to produce in His servant.
May we too receive the instruction which God intends for as also, for the things that happened to Jonah, the prophet, “are written for our admonition.”
J. A. v. P.
(From the German of “Worte der Wahrheit in Liebe.")
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