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God’s Word for You

Jonah 2:8 worthless vapors

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, October 20, 2018

8 Those who seize worthless vapors
  forsake mercy.

A “worthless vapor” in Hebrew is hevley-shau, “vapors of emptiness.” Eve named her second son Hevel (Abel, vapor, Genesis 4:2), perhaps because she realized how temporary life was going to be now that sin and death had entered into the world. Jonah might have been thinking about the false idols of the sailors and of the people of Nineveh. What he should have realized was that his own attitude toward the people of Nineveh was an empty thing, too, since God valued them and was calling them to repentance.

A lot of things are considered worthless (shau) when we are trapped in unbelief or become careless about our faith. People spread false (worthless) reports or news (Exodus 23:1). They tell lies (worthless things) to one another (Psalm 12:3). The arguments of people who rely on logic, reason, or science alone are empty and worthless (Isaiah 59:4). Offerings to God made from an insincere heart are worthless, meaningless (Isaiah 1:13). A spiritual leader without any faith might be tested by God who permits false visions (Lamentations 2:14). The entire religion of an idolater is worthless (Zecheriah 10:2), nothing but “cords of deceit” (Isaiah 5:18). Finally, the world is filled with people who say, “It is futile (shau) to serve God” (Malachi 3:14). In every case, these are people who are forsaking mercy.

Mercy is God’s attribute of compassion. Professor Hoenecke said: “The first foundation of the salvation of the sinner is the merciful love of God, through which God is moved not only to want the deliverance of fallen humanity but also to resolve to bring about this deliverance and to offer the means through which the lost can partake of the deliverance.” (Ev. Lutheran Dogmatics, Vol. III, p. 5). All of this is proved simply and clearly in key passages such as John 3:16 and Romans 8:32 (“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all”).

When theologians try to pull back the reins of God’s mercy and hand the driving force of our salvation over to man, they are seizing at worthless vapors. Anyone who preaches the cooperation of man with God in his salvation denies the sole divine loving will of God. Also, the followers of John Calvin, who imagined two absolute decrees of God (one for the salvation of some, the other for the damnation of the rest) transform the will, mercy and grace of God into something worthless and ineffectual. Why? Because if there are some chosen and therefore even created for nothing but damnation, then God’s will for the salvation of all (John 1:29) is only an illusion.

Forsake worthless vapors. Ask your pastor exactly what he means by important words like grace, mercy, salvation, and the resurrection. Be certain that mercy is mercy, being saved is being saved, and being raised from the dead means being raised from the dead. And when God offers his mercy through the sacraments and the preaching of the gospel, seize it, grab hold of it, cherish it, and never let it go.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.



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