“Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy. But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.” (Jonah 2:8-9)
I encountered a relatively ‘young’ believer the other day who raised verse 9 during our conversation and the confusion she felt, as it seemed to her that the verse was contradicting itself. Somewhere along the line, be it the result of incorrect or unclear teaching, or through her own interpretation, she thought the first two lines of verse 9 were intimating that, while salvation was indeed from the Lord – could only be given by Him – there were things that were first required of us. This led us into looking into the wonderful story of Jonah and the whale and all the eternal truths it contains, but also to examining the real reason why Jonah prayed as he did in verse 9 and what part it played in his being spewed forth from the whale, i.e. his salvation in that particular context. What emerged was the immutable truth that salvation is of the Lord, and that, if read correctly, this verse actually reinforces that reality.
Salvation is of the Lord, and is both an eternal salvation, a miracle salvation, and a daily, practical salvation.
It helps, I believe, if we first understand that God provides for salvation in every context. Believers are – and not incorrectly – very quick to use the phrase ‘salvation is of the Lord’ in relation to our eternal or spiritual salvation. This is, of course, the most important kind of salvation because it relates to our eternal spirit and our forever life in Christ. The entire Bible is, in many ways, an ongoing revelation of the spiritual truth that God is, first and foremost, concerned with the condition of our souls and our place in eternity. This eternal salvation is the focal point of the Bible, and everything else exists and occurs in our lives around this critical issue.
But spiritual salvation is not the only kind of salvation God provides for His people. A quick look at the Greek word for save/saved/salvation used in the New Testament highlights this fact. Sozo is used in many contexts, which include healing and deliverance, not only from demonic activity but from physical danger as well. This is an overview, of course, but it’s well worth examining every occurance of the word to get a real picture of the extent of God’s salvation. When Jonah says in today’s verse that salvation is of the Lord, he is is obviously not speaking from the point of view of New Testament salvation to which we apply it, but it does include a spiritual relationship with the God of his salvation. It is a type of the relationship New Testament believers have with Christ, our Saviour – He who saves us.
Context is always revelatory, and to fully understand verse 9, we must include verse 8. If we don’t, the ‘but’ that starts off verse 9 has no relevance or meaning. We must also look at the context of Jonah’s prayer, and the extraordinary truth that the facts may well have have dictated that there really was little hope of salvation of any kind. It’s remarkable that this man is able, while well and truly stuck in the belly of a great fish, is able to declare with absolute certainty and conviction, that salvation is of the Lord. This is where verse 8 is invaluable. It provides us with the opposite attitude, the one of the world against which Jonah measures the power and greatness of his God.
It’s also important to remember that Jonah is in a place of rebellion. He has disobeyed God and even attempted to run away in order to avoid having to obey God’s commands. Not only that, but his disobedience is based on a deeper rebellion – he does not believe that the people of Ninevah deserve mercy. In effect, he believes that God is ‘wrong’ and that the city should be left to perish in God’s judgement. Jonah undertakes a long, hard journey – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – until he is forced to confront the truth that salvation is of the Lord.
What Jonah learns on his journey is that trusting on idols is what shuts us off from the mercy of God. When we mention idols, our minds very easily conjure little wooden statues or artifacts, but the Bible clearly tells us – in many and very different ways – that an idol is anything that raises itself up against the will of God. It could be personal possessions, our standing in society, our wealth, or our goals and aspirations. It could be attitudes like bigotry or being quick to judge others. It could be our fears or our pride which prevents us from acknowledging our true identity in Christ. Trusting on these self-idols will shut out the mercy of God in our lives. This is the first truth that Jonah learned. Trusting in his own opinions, trusting in his perceived ability to evade God, he closed himself off from God’s mercy. Salvation is of the Lord, but we often, due to our idols, have to come to a place of ‘nothing left’ before we are able to receive it.
Jonah also had to face the reality of his predicament – one which he had, unequivocally, brought on himself through his rebellion. He was, to all intents and purposes, in a place where there was no realistic expectation of rescue. Deep in the belly of the big fish, the only logical outcome was that this really was the end of Jonah. Nothing he could do or say would change that. He had no realistic plan, no viable options, and no alternative but to accept that this, quite literally, the end. This was the point at which my friend found herself in confusion. While she agreed that salvation is of the Lord, it seemed that Job’s promises to God in that moment were what obtained it for Jonah.
Without verse 8 – without proper context – it could be a logical deduction. But the real truth is that Jonah first sees that trusting on idols will never bring salvation. Trusting on other things and on self will never bring salvation. Verse 9 is, in effect, saying that salvation is of the Lord, therefore he will worship God and live in obedience to Him. Worship and obedience are not the conditions of Jonah’s salvation but the consequence of it. He is able to affirm his relationship with God alone because he realises that salvation is of the Lord alone.
The real significance of this commitment lies in the fact that it was entirely spiritual. Remember, he had no real basis – in the physical – to imagine that he might somehow escape. What Jonah saw was the broad and sweeping scale of salvation. What he saw was that, whether he was saved physically or perished in the whale, salvation is of the Lord. He saw that this truth alone was the only real hope he had, and the only truth that mattered. He had come to the place where he realised not only that salvation is of the Lord, but that the Lord Himself determines the nature of that salvation. We have no say in what or how it is effected. It may include healing. It may include deliverance and rescue. The God of our salvation has complete sovereignty over our salvation. There is nothing we – or our human idols – can do to earn, define, or effect it.
This change of attitude and spiritual revelation did not earn Jonah’s salvation, but it did put him in a place where he was able to receive it. Having turned from his own desires and rebellions, having acknowledged that his personal idols were shutting him off from the mercy of God, he had come to a place of humility. He acknowledged that God alone had both the power and the authority over his life. Again, Jonah’s humility did not earn or deserve salvation. His surrender simply got self out of the way so God could act according to His sovereign will. When we say that salvation is of the Lord, we need to acknowledge and accept that it may not always be what we expect or desire. It will manifest in our lives according to His perfect will.
That manifestation may not always leave us in a comfortable place. Jonah may have escaped the fish, but he couldn’t escape his calling. His salvation still required that he retrace his steps and go to Ninevah. He still had to preach repentance to a people he didn’t believe deserved God’s mercy. He had to be obedient, even though God’s command contradicted everything he thought or felt. That is real sacrifice – obedience even when we don’t want to – and real sacrifice is the living out of the salvation that God has given us. We imagine that ‘salvation’ is some kind of free pass to all things wonderful, which it is, but it is also a call to fulfill our commitment to Him through obedience, no matter what. This is the extent of God’s grace – He knows our weakness. When we say salvation is of the Lord, we can do so with the assurance that we not only have the one-and-for-all eternal salvation of Jesus, but also the ongoing, daily salvation from ourselves and our sins, weaknesses, and wrong attitudes.
Salvation is of the Lord and, like Jonah, we cannot earn it. But we can respond to it in worship, with thanksgiving, and in obedience. No, it’s not always easy or comfortable, and we will struggle with self, the world, and the devil throughout our time on earth. Idols will raise themselves us to challenge us, tempt us, deceive us, and distract us. We will find ourselves in situation where – if we are honest with ourselves – we sit back and wonder what on earth God is doing. This doesn’t make sense. This is contractory. This is hopeless. This is just plain totally crazy. Those are the moment to step back and consider Jonah in the belly of the fish. In our moment of darkness, that is the time to remind ourselves that idols, in any shape or form, only separate us from the salvation of God.
It’s a reminder to fix our eyes on the God of our salvation – He who has all the power and sovereign authority in any situation. It’s a reminder that, no matter what the situation, all things work to the good of those who love Him. It’s a reminder that salvation is of the Lord alone, and the nature of it is His to determine. But we can be sure that it will come. We many not particularly like or understand it’s nature when it comes, but we have the assurance that it is, like His will, perfect and complete. While we cannot earn it, we can surrender in joyful obedience and worship in praise and thanksgiving, knowing that His ways are so much higher than ours or anything the world has to offer.
As we remember today that salvation is of the Lord, help us to understand that this means also that You alone have the shaping of it. Help us to accept Your will in this, even when we may not understand. Forgive us for the moments where we have tried to effect our own salvation, and help us to fix our eyes on the cross, and on the perfect eternal salvation that we are living out in our lives in Christ.