Salvation Belongs to the Lord

If you were to look for one sentence that summarises the teaching of the Bible, it would be hard to find a more succinct description than that found in the prophet Jonah’s prayer: ‘Salvation belongs to the Lord!’ (Jonah 2:9).

The Book of Jonah is a remarkable book for many reasons. One example is that it contains, in the Hebrew text, only five words of prophecy (3:4), whereas both the Major and the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament contain hundreds and thousands of words of prophecy addressed to Israel or the nations.

The book of Jonah is more intent on describing the prophet himself rather than his prophecy. The book details Jonah’s inadequate response to God’s command to go to Nineveh, his experience of God’s chastisement, his rescue from the belly of the fish, his obedience to God’s reissuing of his command, the repentant response of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching—and surprisingly Jonah’s anger towards God’s goodness and mercy in the final chapter.

The book is deftly composed with delayed explanations of events described. We see examples of this in chapters 1:9-10 and 4:3-8, and also in the classic revelation of Jonah’s reason for disobeying God (1:3) in 4:2. Yet, despite Jonah’s rebellion and reluctance to preach to the city of Nineveh, God’s sovereign purposes overrule Jonah’s disobedience to bring salvation to unsuspecting pagan sailors, as well as wicked Ninevites.

Our God is full of mercy and forgiveness. He also uses us to bring others to himself, despite our frailty and disobedience, as well as our faithful obedience. God is not prevented from fulfilling his purposes, for his word never returns to him void (Isaiah 55:11). As Jonah declared: “Salvation is from the Lord!”

The highlight of the book is, in many ways, Jonah’s prayer in chapter two. While it is best seen as a prayer offered after he was delivered onto dry land, it recalls his prayer from the belly of the fish (2:1-2) after the fish spewed him out of his mouth (“for the Lord had commanded the fish and it had vomited out Jonah on dry land”).

Here, Jonah recognised his folly in refusing to follow God’s commands, and he recognised God’s judgment on him in the storm at sea, inviting the sailors to throw him overboard—humanly speaking, to certain death. Yet God’s mercy prevailed and God rescued Jonah for his sovereign purposes. For three days and three nights he languished in the belly of the fish, but in his isolation he was chastened and repentant, and God delivered him.

Our Lord Jesus uses the sign of Jonah to describe his own ministry for the salvation of the world. Unlike Jonah, Jesus was obedient to his Father’s will, suffered the extremity of death, not just metaphorically―but truly―over three days and three nights. Yet from the grave he rose victorious.

This gives us a greater message than that delivered by Jonah. Yet like Jonah, we are sent into the world to proclaim Christ’s victory over death and his offer of salvation to all who believe. We should also pray for the nations of the world, that many people might seek the Saviour and put their faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. For it is only by God’s mercy and not our own efforts that we can inherit eternal life. Salvation is from the Lord!

Bishop Glenn Davies

Diocese of the Southern Cross

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