In the midst of his turmoil, in spite of his feelings of rejection by God, Jonah declared, ‘Yet I will look again toward your holy temple’ (Jonah 2:4). What did he mean? He was really saying, ‘I remember your covenant promise.’ Into his unrelieved darkness came a ray of light. God had sealed a promise with his covenant people.
A Covenant Promise
Solomon’s temple was built in obedience to the command of God. When it was completed, Solomon gathered all Israel together and prayed, ‘O Lord my God … May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night … because your people have sinned against you, and when they pray toward this place and confess your name and turn from their sin because you have afflicted them, then hear from heaven and forgive the sin of your servants, your people Israel’ (2 Chron. 6:19, 20, 26, 27). God heard his prayer. He filled the temple with his glory and made a covenant with Solomon to listen and respond when anyone repented and prayed toward the temple.
Jonah looked back into the dim past and recalled Solomon’s prayer and God’s answer. ‘I’ve been expelled,’ he thought to himself, ‘but there was a promise, wasn’t there? Surely if I look again to the holy temple, you’ll hear me. You’ll answer me. You said you would.’
Some Christians say, ‘I used to be a servant to God, but I’ve cut myself off from him.’ But don’t you remember that somewhere in the distant past there was a covenant? Search your memory. Weren’t there promises? Didn’t God say, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’ (Jer. 31:3)? Didn’t he say, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5)? Didn’t he promise that if we confessed our sins, Jesus would forgive us?
No one needs to remain under a cloud of condemnation. Jonah looked to the temple; you can look to Jesus. You aren’t worthy, but he is. Cry out to him, ‘Lord, you promised. You promised you’d always love me and never leave me. You promised that if I confessed my sin you would be faithful and just to forgive my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Lord, I claim your promise. I repent and I return to you now with all my heart.’
Fulfil your Vow
Jonah also added, ‘What I have vowed I will make good’ (Jonah 2:9). Now that he was returning to God, Jonah knew that he must also return to his vow and to the word that God had originally given. Unless you are willing to return and be totally obedient to the word God originally gave you, and to fulfil your commitment to him as Lord, you aren’t truly repenting.
Have you made a vow to God? Did you once promise him something? Maybe earlier in your Christian life you responded to God’s call and said, ‘You can count on me!’ But time has passed and you have lost the zeal you once had. You’ve become preoccupied with your career, your family, your hobbies. Your vow is almost forgotten.
Maybe you made a different sort of commitment to God. ‘I will sort out my financial affairs, Lord. I’ll pay the tax I haven’t declared and start tithing.’ ‘I won’t indulge in that bad habit any more.’ ‘I won’t get involved in a relationship with that person. I know it’s not right.’ But you haven’t done what you said you would. For one reason or another you haven’t fulfilled the vow.
Sometimes people make vows when they’re caught in a crisis. ‘Oh, God!’ they cry out, ‘Help me! Get me out of this and I promise you I’ll …’ And God graciously steps in and rescues them. They‘re delighted. ‘Thank you, Lord!’ they say. ‘I’m so grateful.’ Then time passes and the vow slowly fades from memory until it’s viewed as little more than a rash comment made on the spur of a difficult moment.
‘I can’t fulfil that promise now,’ some people say to God. ‘I just can’t face it. Besides, I really don’t think I’ve got the resources any more. I had them when I made the promise, but now things have changed. It’s different. You understand, Lord, don’t you?’
Yes, he understands. But he hasn’t said, ‘All right, forget the vow.’ We can try by various means to relinquish our responsibility, but God hasn’t released us from it. ‘The vow is still outstanding,’ He says. ‘I’m waiting for you to fulfil it and I’ll be there to help you. Don’t back away any more. Do what you promised you would and I will restore you – completely.’
The Bible tells us, ‘When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfil your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfil it’ (Ecc. 5:4, 5).
God wants you to come back to the root of your problem. He longs to hear from you the words of the psalmist, ‘I will … fulfil my vows to you – vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble’ (Ps. 66:13, 14). You may want God to work on your terms, but he wants to lift your standards to his. ‘Come back into my will,’ he says. ‘Come back and fulfil the original vision. It’s the only way forward.’
Jonah – far removed from God’s will, alone, tired and miserable – prayed, ‘What I have vowed I will make good.’ In that moment, as if a severed electric cable had been rejoined to its source, there was light, power, revelation and a shout of assurance, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord’ (Jonah 2:9). His declaration triggered an immediate response in heaven, ‘And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land’ (Jonah 2:10).
‘Some people object to taking vows, but in the Bible you will find many great men of God directed by covenants, promises, vows and pledges. A carnal man refuses the discipline of such commitments. He says, “I want to be free. It is legalism.” There are many religious tramps in the world who will not be bound by anything. Now there are five vows I have in mind which we do well to make and keep:
1. Deal thoroughly with sin.
2. Never own anything – get rid of the sense of possessing.
3. Never defend yourself.
4. Never pass anything on about anybody else that will hurt him.
5. Never accept any glory.
Remember that these five vows are not something you write in the back of your Bible and forget. They have got to be written in your own blood.’
A W Tozer