Jonah, part I

"We are not to modify the freeness of God's offered mercy on pretence of taking care of the glory of God, and the maintenance of His law. This was substantially Jonah's sin - the sin of pretending to be more careful of God's glory, and more qualified to advance it, than God himself." - Hugh Martin

One of the most striking and original expositions of the "us vs. them" attitude that I have read, comes from an 1870 commentary on the book of Jonah written by Scottish minister Hugh Martin.

First he describes God's eagerness to pour out his blessing on Israel when they were in a "very wretched and oppressed condition." The Lord predicts an "unmerited and most gracious interposition of His power on their behalf, to restore them of the territory of which their enemies had deprived them."

Martin notes, "It is very remarkable that living as the prophet did, in a time of abounding provocations, when we might have expected his sole office in Israel would have been to denounce judgment on the apostate tribes and their ungodly rulers, the only one of his predictions on record is that of a most gracious and generous interposition on the part of Jehovah in defence of his afflicted people...He, as it were, forgot all their offensive neglect of His worship, and disobedience to His commands; and unwilling to see their name blotted out -the name of Israel, the seed of Abraham, his friend blotted out -from under heaven, He gave military strength and skill even to a wicked king, and 'saved them by the hand of Jereboam, the son of Joash.;"

Martin notes the evidence of God's "long-suffering" toward a "rebellious people." Then he notes that Jonah seems to have been at a loss concerning God's extraordinary patience, when God desired to benefit the outcast Ninehvites by it...thus Jonah first fled his calling to preach to Ninevah, then was displeased with their salvation. Jonah would rather disobey God than admit He might desire to pour out his blessing on the outcasts of Ninehvah. Jonah is tabulating by an earthly calculator. Jonah actually complains, "Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil" (Jonah iv. 1,2)

Martin describes beautifully how Jonah lost his way, in his estimating the bearing of Divine forebearance on other attributes of God. "...his mind fell into a confusion of thoughts and principles, which issued in the marvellous adventures, experiences, and displays of characters which this short but singular book of Holy Scripture narrates."

Having spent his life among the ten tribes, "The very last thought, probably, that would have ever spontaneously entered his mind, would have been the idea of having to go forth from its sacred precincts, and excercise his holy office among the heathen. For ages and for generations Jehovah had confined all his manifestations of Himself to the children of Jacob. The ceremonial law, which at Sinai He had appointed to them, served, in its burdensome ritual and innumerable observances as a middle wall of partition, excluding the Gentiles from their religious privileges. Prosylytes, indeed, were welcome. And in the law of Moses itself, directions had been laid down for their admission into the commonwealth of Israel. But this had a bearing merely on individuals. The Gentiles, as a whole, as nations, were obviously given over in the meantime to the reign of spiritual death, cast out beyond the pale of that visible Church, within which alone salvation is ordinarily revealed.

It is from this wretched and forlorn condition that Paul calls on the Ephesians to remember that they had been delivered: -'Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." (Eph. ii.11,12)

No doubt the peculiar people were separated from the Gentiles only for a time, and only for a purpose...for the very purpose of being the safe custodiers of that grace of which the Gentiles should in due time be fellow-heirs. They ought never to have forgotten that the covenant with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob embraced the Gentile world very specially in its gracious primeval provisions: 'In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed' (Gen. xxvi. 4). And they ought therefore to have known that, when the Messiah should come, He would be 'a minister of the Circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto Thy name. ..Isaiah saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles: in him shall the Gentiles trust.; (Rom. xv. 8-12)

In the times of truest spiritual life, this was not forgotten by Israel. The holy men who 'obtained a good report by faith' had large and world-wide views, and large and world-wide hopes, as to the grace of God and the reign of their Messiah. They expected Him to rule over a world co-extensive with the whole world. They expected Him to dispense blessings sufficient for every land. The more they appreciated their own sinfulness and the freeness and sovereignty of the grace of God, the more did they clearly comprehend how the Gentiles might also freely partake of the same free mercy with themselves; and the more they felt the vanity of all earthly good and the helplessness of their whole earthly estate, and appreciated the promised kingdom and sovereign reign of their Christ as unworldly, spiritual, heavenly, divine, and eternal, so much the more did they clearly see how all nations, as they needed, so they might be embraced by, this new, heavenly kingdom of the Lord and His Anointed.

Hence in the days of David, when true spiritual life flourished, and un-Pharisaic knowledge of the grace of God was comparitively widely diffused, the Gentiles were looked on with no evil eye; their salvation was felt to be clearly within the compass of the convenant of Abraham; and their subjugation to the coming Messiah was regarded as one of the glorious events which should mark and grace His advent and manifestation...

Israel's degeneracy, when faith gave place to formalism, and contrite gratitude to cold and supercilious ceremony; when self-righteous pride, singularly enough keeping pace with increasing iniquity and worthlessness, arrogantly claimed right to the privileges of the covenant in very proportion as all the spirit of the covenant was violated; when the close and narrow spirit of legalism, resting its claims on carnal distinctions, and saying, 'We have Abraham to our Father,' superseded the true spirit of Israel, 'I am not worthy of the least of all the goodness and the truth which thou hast shown unto thy servant;' the idea of pure and sovereign grace being lost sight of -that grace whereby Jew and Gentile alike may be freely saved -and the kingdom of the Messiah being conceived of as earthly and limited -set up, indeed as a badge of distinction, to magnify the seed of Abraham according to the flesh; then the Gentile nations began to be looked upon as natural and irreconcilable enemies..."

Martin compares the self-righteous state of a spiritual community with the parable of the Pharisee who look down his nose at the publican.

"For in every point of view, and on whatever scale, self-righteousness is exclusive and malignant, remorselessly consigning over others to a destruction which, on its own proud merit and pre-eminence, it counts itself entitled to escape. Perhaps, more properly indeed, it came to this, that the heathen nations, as to their moral and spiritual interests, were, among Israel, objects of simple contempt and neglect, and were dealt with as if Jehovah, the God of Israel, utterly neglected them also -as if, in short, they were beyond the pale of His government; or, in other words, as if Jehovah's government were not universal, but limited to their own nation alone.

It is evident how, with such a view of their own God, their own adoring regards for Him must have been destroyed. Jehovah is the God of the spirits of all flesh, and ruleth over all the nations. Any other or more limited idea of His government, reduces Him, if not to the level, at least to the company, of the local, territorial, geographical gods of heathendom. And thus, by taking a wrong view of the relation of heathendom to the living and true God, the God of Israel, Israel virtually imbibed the very views of heathendom itself."

Martin goes on to further describe this "painful perversion of truth" as he quotes from scriptures describing the extension of the Church of God beyond the narrow pale of Judaism.

More on Jonah later...