God Demonstrates His Salvational Love for All through Israel

Frequently, it seems, we think of the New Testament as demonstrative of God’s salvific love for all and the Old Testament as demonstrative of God’s holiness. While the Old Testament does demonstrate God’s holiness, it also demonstrates his heart for all to come to know him as the one true God before it is everlastingly too late. (See my article, God Demonstrates His Salvific Love for All Through Pharaoh)

Some of the Old Testament verses that declare God’s concern about the world knowing him are Deut 4:6-8. Commenting on this passage, Jack S. Deere wrote, “One purpose of the Law was to give the Israelites a full life as they obeyed God (vv. 1-5).” In verses 5-8 another purpose of the Law is revealed: “to make Israel morally and spiritually unique among all the nations and thereby draw other nations to the Lord.”[1] Joshua says, “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Josh 4:24). The immediate purpose of the law was to help Israel follow God, but the broader purpose was so that all people of the earth might know about God and ultimately follow him.

God promised Israel victory over the Philistines saying, “This day the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you. And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel”(1 Sam 17:46). God was not just about destroying the Philistines or giving the Israelites a land but also had in mind his desire that all may know him. Regarding the last words of this verse, Robert D. Bergen comments, “Yet the Philistines would not die in vain. In fact, their destruction would serve a high theological purpose; it would be a revelatory event by which the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”[2]

Solomon calls on the people to treasure the presence of God in their lives saying, “May the Lord our God be with us, as He was with our fathers; may He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Himself, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, which He commanded our fathers. And may these words of mine, with which I have made supplication before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that He may maintain the cause of His servant and the cause of His people Israel, as each day requires, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no one else” (1 Kgs 8:58-60). These words contain three blessings from King Solomon, and of the third, Paul R. House notes, “The king desires God to uphold Israel’s cause. Why? Not for national prominence or royal pride but so all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.”[3] We repeatedly see the purpose of Israel reaches far beyond following God and receiving a blessing from him. It is so that everyone may know the one true God. This so that the deception of idolatry will be demonstrated to be the ersatz religion it is and people will turn to the one true God.

Isaiah reveals the need to praise God, and the scope of that praise saying, “And in that day you will say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name. Make known His deeds among the peoples; Make them remember that His name is exalted. Praise the Lord in song, for He has done excellent things; Let this be known throughout the earth. Cry aloud and shout for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, For great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel”(Isa 12:4-6). Notice that the message to “the peoples” is to “make them remember His name” which is to be made “known throughout the earth.” God is always about people knowing him, not so that he may judge, but that he may save. Gary V. Smith remarks, “Through praise directed to God, his name is exalted in community praise and other nations are reminded of the greatness of God. This sounds like a practical formula for worship and evangelism. The focus is always on glorifying and exalting God, the method is to use singing and retelling of the story, the content focuses on God’s great deeds and exalted name, and the results spread the good news of God to others.”[4]

Jeremiah says, “Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, And declare in the coastlands afar off, And say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him And keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock'”(Jer 31:10). Again, we see God’s concern for the nations. F.B. Huey sums up God’s concern, “Throughout the OT as well as the NT, the Lord shows his desire to be known by more than just Israel (Gen 1:28; 9:1; 12:3; Isa 12:4-6; 49:6; 52:10-15; 55:3-5; 66:18-19; Jer 1:5, 10; 3:17). His actions on Israel’s behalf would demonstrate to all his compassionate grace as well as his sovereign power and holiness.”[5]

We often hear people refer to Jonah as the great missionary book of the Old Testament. Jonah preached judgment, as did John the Baptist (Matt 3:11-12), the Lord Jesus (Matt 23-24), and later still John the Revelator. Just like his successors, the message of judgment was to warn with the hope of bringing the hearers to repentance. Jonah provides valuable insight into the missionary work of God that seems to extend well beyond the event of Jonah. That is to say that God sometimes works in extraordinary ways, with people we might not expect, with an outcome that could only come about by the grace of God. God not only procured everything necessary for every individual in Nineveh to repent and believe, but it appears from this book, as well as throughout the rest of Scripture and human history, that he will also do whatever it takes to get the message of deliverance to those he knows will believe if given the chance. Additionally, are we to think that God would send the gospel to people that he knows will reject it, as we know that he does, and yet fail to get it to those whom he knows will be receptive? My answer is no, not the God of infinite power, wisdom, and loving compassion.

God called Jonah to preach judgment against their wickedness (Jonah 1:1-2). Jonah’s disobedience followed by God’s mighty works of deliverance caused Jonah to vow to obey Jehovah. He cried out, “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Jonah then obeyed and preached in Nineveh the coming judgment of Jehovah (Jonah 3:4), and it appears that the city, including the king, repented and believed in Jehovah God (Jonah 3:5-10). Jonah proclaimed the compassion of God for the pagan and debauched heathen, as we all were at one time (Jonah 4:2).

This book begins with a word of judgment from God against their wickedness, (Jonah 1:2), and ends with God’s loving compassion for those who repent, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11). Surely God’s compassion and desire for every person to repent and believe is present especially in light of the statement, “from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5), which included the king (Jonah 3:6). The proclamation by the king and language is all-inclusive (Jonah 3:7-10). It seems as though the number 120,000 bespeaks of the entire population.[6] At least we can say to interpret this missionary story as God merely calling out his selected ones not only lacks textual support but also seems quite incongruent with the entire event. In reality, it shows God-s concern for all of his creation. God will judge sin, but only after man utterly rejects compassion.

Regarding Jonah 4:11, Billy K. Smith comments, “God’s question captures the very intention of the book. The issue is that of grace–grace and mercy. Just as Jonah’s provision was the shade of the vine he did not deserve, the Ninevites’ provision was a deliverance they did not deserve based upon a repentance they did not fully understand. God’s wish for his creation is salvation, not destruction. He will work to see that the salvation is accomplished if there is willingness on the creation’s part.”[7] Commenting on the same verse, G. V. Smith said, “God will (and does) act in justice against sin, but His great love for every person in the world causes Him to wait patiently, to give graciously, to forgive mercifully, and to accept compassionately even the most unworthy people in the world.”[8]

Regarding the message God sent to Israel through his working in and through Jonah, John D. Hannah writes, “First, one apparent message to Israel is God’s concern for Gentile peoples. The Lord’s love for the souls of all people was supposed to be mediated through Israel . . . Through Israel the blessing of His compassion was to be preached to the nations (Isa. 49:3). The Book of Jonah was a reminder to Israel of her missionary purpose. Second, the book demonstrates the sovereignty of God in accomplishing His purposes. Though Israel was unfaithful in its missionary task, God was faithful in causing His love to be proclaimed.”[9]

The book of Jonah should serve as a perennial and poignant deterrent to those who limit God’s salvific love for every person because they do not see or know about such works of God. It is one thing to say a certain people group is unreached–meaning by the missionary endeavor–or even to hear of people who say they have never had an opportunity to hear of the one true God. It is another to deem such as equivalent to God not giving them an opportunity. The truth is, if the work of God through Jonah was not included in the canon of Scripture, those inclined to limit the work of God to what they know (or think they know) would probably limit this incredible work by including them in the list of those overlooked by God. But we know otherwise because of the multitude of Ninevites that were saved. I believe we may safely assume that there are many stories of the compassion of God which we know not because he is the sum of love, compassion, mercy.

Franklin S. Page provides this summary, “From the Book of Jonah we learn that the Lord’s compassion extended even beyond his people Israel.”[10] This compassion is the theme of God’s grace in both the Old and New Testaments. He worked through Israel in the Old Testament, and when they failed, God did not fail to work mightily to make his name known to the nations, and the same is true in the New Testament. Regarding God’s concern for the nations and individuals in the nations, see also 1 Chr 16:23-24, 31; Isa 45:22; Zech 8:20-23.

God raised up Cyrus to bring God-s judgment on the nations and set the Israelites free so they could return to the land of Israel (Isa 45:1-5). God proclaims and demonstrates his sovereignty in both blessing and calamity (Isa 45:6-7). He exhibits his power and sovereignty through pagan kings like Pharaoh in Egypt and now Cyrus in Persia. He does so for the benefit of Israel (Isa 45:4, 8; 46:13), but also so that every person may know he is the one true God and be saved. “Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other” (Isa 45:21-22).

The display of his sovereign power is not merely so that all may know he is sovereign, for that day is sure to come in the day of final judgment (Isa 45:23; Phil 2:10). Rather he manifests his sovereignty before the final judgment as an act of mercy and love for his creation so that they may be saved before it is too late. God knows one day all will acknowledge him as the sovereign, for it will be undeniable. Equally true is, at that acknowledgment, the day of salvation will have passed. Since God desires all to be saved as stated here, he continually acts so that men will know he is sovereign and flee the wrath to come.

Consequently, since all will know God’s sovereignty, such displays presently are not without purpose, and the purpose is explicitly stated; much of God’s judgments, calamities, and workings are in large measure evangelistic. God is working to bring about his plan of salvation. If he truly desires the salvation of every person, he must provide an opportunity to know him, which he does in a host of ways.

The testimony of Rahab, the Egyptians, Nineveh, and countless others in the Old Testament declare in unison that God is aware and working in the (humanly speaking) strangest and most God-forsaken places to make himself known to every person. I dare say that is characteristic of John 3:16 and God himself desiring the holiness and happiness of his creation.

[1] Jack S. Deere, Deuteronomy in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 1, edited by J. F. Walvoord, and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985, Logos edition), 269.
[2] Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel. The New American Commentary 7 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996, Logos edition), 196.
[3] Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings. The New American Commentary 8. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 148.
[4] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 1-39, The New American Commentary, 15A (Nashville: B & H Group, 2007), 283.
[5] F. B. Huey, Jeremiah, Lamentations, The New American Commentary 16 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993), 272.
[6] That the number 120,000 probably refers to the entire population see Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 283.
[7] Billy K. Smith and Franklin S. Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, The New American Commentary, 19B (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 282.
[8] Smith, Isaiah, 97.
[9] John D. Hannah, “Jonah” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures 1, edited by J. F. Walvoord, and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1985, Logos edition), 1462.
[10] Smith and Page, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, 204.

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Ronnie W. Rogers