Thursday, February 27, 2020
   
Text Size

Site Search powered by Ajax

Part Three: Speaking For God; Jonah and the City—Jonah 3

Having detoured many miles, Jonah finally is headed for the proper destination. The chauffeur of this unconventional method of transportation delivers him to the shoreline, and Jonah begins his journey to Nineveh.

 

Outline of Chapter 3

I. The Message of Jonah—vv. 1-4: The Call

II. The Mourning of the People—vv. 5-9: The Cry

III. The Mercy of the Lord—v. 10: The Change

 


The Message of Jonah.

v. 1—"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah..." Here we see:

The call of God to Jonah and the city. Jonah heard the will of God a second time. This reminds us that the will of God is not foiled or destroyed if we don't initially respond to His discipline. Aside from patterns of chronic disobedience, God will make something beautiful out of our failure if we cooperate with Him.

A great example is the fruit of David’s repentance (Psalm 51) over his sinful relationship with Bathsheba. A son born of their sin died, but God brought a beautiful gift—Solomon—out of their relationship as they cooperated and repented.

Hebrews 12:5-11 tells us there are three ways God keeps us on course:

 

  • Discipline, which includes positive teaching and training, often through trouble;
  • Rebuke, correction or reprimand; and
  • Punishment, which we might call the logical consequence of disobedience; i.e., God's wrath.
All three prove that we are loved by God and are His sons and daughters—Hebrews 12:6.

Think of Jonah:

The storm was the discipline, the sailors provided his rebuke, and the fish was the logical consequence, i.e., punishment.

Knowing God's will is usually not our problem. Our real problem is doing it! Ninety-five percent of His will is already written for us in the Word, and as we are obedient to that, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, ". . He directs our paths." John 10:4 tells us that God's obedient sheep know the will of the shepherd, unless they are rebelling or straying. If you're a Christian, you can expect to know the will of God.

That means if you don't hear anything new, you should assume what He's already told you in the past is enough. He wants you to stay where you are and be faithful. You may not know all the will of God, but you'll know enough for the next day. In fact, here's a good prayer: "Lord, I expect to be in Your will today; if I'm not, please stop me."

Jonah's Response. Jonah 3:1-3—"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2] ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ 3] Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days."

Was the repetition of the command necessary? I think so. Jonah had failed, and he needed reassurance that God still wanted him. On the other hand, maybe he hoped that after paying the price for his disobedience, he wouldn't have to go to Nineveh after all. Have you ever felt this way, like you've paid a big price for your course of action, so maybe God will let you continue to pursue it? He won't. He loves you too much to have you settle for something less than His will.

So Jonah heard the same call he had received in chapter 1, but instead of running, he went the right way. He obeyed!

 

What do you think our obedience says to God? John 14:23-24 makes it clear that when we are obedient, we are declaring we love God and He can be at home in us. John 15:10 indicates that obedience means we are remaining in God's love. This story does not guarantee that God will continually come after us, however, or that our disobedience will cause no long-lasting ill effects on our lives. (Read Luke 9:57-62.)

When he finally resolved to obey God, Jonah had to travel quite a distance. v. 3—"Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh." This trip must have been exhausting. It was from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean to Nineveh, spanning about 500 miles across high mountains and desert plains.

When he arrived, he must have been staggered by the size of the city. v. 3b—"Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days." The late professor C.F. Keil, archeologist of the Old Testament, says: "The conclusion of recent discoveries shows the name of Nineveh was used in two ways: 1) It stood for one particular city, or 2) It stood for a complex of four cities (including Nineveh proper) or greater Nineveh, and all four were clustered around the banks of the Tigris River." Today this city is 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, near the modern city of Mosul. A man going around these cities would cover 60 miles—according to an old reckoning of 20 miles to a day, approximately a three day's journey.

Other sources say the walls were 100 feet high; so wide that three chariots could be driven on top of them; fortified with 1,500 towers, each 200 feet high. Based on excavations, the city was approximately 350 square miles, 20 more than modern London. On the basis of Jonah 4:11, the city held 120,000 children, implying total population around 600,000. This was a large city.

Another potentially daunting factor for Jonah was the character of Nineveh. One author said: "When Jonah came into the city, he found 600,000 people going about their business. He found within the city all kinds of shrines and temples; he discovered that the Ninevites loved astrology and they loved their gods…They had water gods and land gods; they had sky gods and wind gods, but they were forever under fear, because the gods they created in their minds were like people—they were greedy and demanding; they loved sacrifice; they had husbands and wives and children. Their gods controlled their destiny, so the Ninevites were forever trying to appease them. In a true sense, they were very religious people; they were very conscious of the other world; they were very aware of powers and beings and destiny..."—Ron Ritchie, Discovery Publishing, Palo Alto, California. 1978.

How was Jonah to address these people? It was pretty clear: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." God didn't give Jonah much leeway. The content of the prophecy was very specific (v. 4)—"On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’" In essence, he said, "Guess what? In 40 days, the God of the universe, who is over all these other gods, is going to destroy this city and the people in it. How would you feel if someone said that to you today? "In 40 days, Bellingham, San Diego, Cleveland, Boston, etc..."

  Do you think if we were convinced such a prophecy was true, we would be a little more concerned about our unsaved loved ones than we are? Wouldn't we be asking:

 

  • How can I warn my children?
  • How can I speak to my mate?
  • In what way can I talk to my neighbors?
  • How shall I witness to fellow students?
  • How may I reach my extended family and friends?
Isn't it sad that even believers don't think much about eternity and the end of time? What difference would it make in our witness if we did?

So Jonah was going around this city proclaiming God's judgment on it. Judging from his attitude in chapters 1 and 4, we can assume his approach was far from loving or hopeful!

How important is our attitude in ministry? We can have the right message, but it may lose its effect if our attitude is wrong. I Thessalonians 1-2 speaks of having the right message, the right method, and the right motive. The evidence shows that Jonah must have enjoyed rebuking the people of Nineveh. He didn't know how to empathize (to feel the needs of the people), yet the first essential in any ministry or witness is love! God's hand extended to man begins first and essentially with love—John 3:16.

If a person refuses the love of God, he chooses His judgment, and that won't be pleasant. But God doesn't want this. If we prefer to go our own way, we choose the consequences. However, telling a person about God's wrath (logical consequences) demands neither harshness nor a bad attitude.

 


Illustration:

I am pro-life, but I believe abortion protests that are loud, harsh, and/or violent are totally inappropriate. Harsh words, yelling, pressure tactics, and any violence nullifies our message. There are ways to share it without being obnoxious—e.g., loving action; informed voting; prayer; gentle instruction; and most important, compassionate solutions. I'm afraid the Jonah spirit has taken over segments of the pro-life movement.

 


judgeThe nature of the message and the sin of the Ninevites did not require Jonah to be harsh. A prophet is not a judge—just the bailiff who reads the decision. And in fact, the message of destruction from the Lord was in itself an act of love. If God hadn't loved them, He wouldn't even have told them destruction was coming.

 

The Mourning of the People: They Cried Out to God

The call to the people was as one. vv. 5-9—5] "The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6] When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7] Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8] But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9] Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.’"

sackcloth Doesn't this response seem out of character for the Ninevites? Absolutely! Remember, their reputation for responding to enemies was to yank out their tongues, or literally skin them alive and hang their skin on the town walls. But something is different this time. What are we to make of the extreme nature of their response? 6] "When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust/ashes."

It might be helpful to get a couple of definitions as we look at this scene:

Sackcloth was coarse, loose, clothing of a dark color, made of goat's hair, very itchy—Is. 53; Rev. 6:1. It was literally used for making sacks! It was the garment of mourners (Gen. 37:34) and in extreme measures, was worn next to the skin—I Kings 21:27; II Kings 6:30; Job 16:5.

Ashes were symbols of grief and mourning—John 2:8; Is. 58:5; Jer. 6:26; Matt. 11:21. To sit on ashes was an extreme form of bitter lamentation—Ez. 7:30. If a person wanted to express deep misery and degradation, he might even eat them—Ps. 102:9.

Aren't you glad we are under grace?

Signified by a total fast, theirs was a complete repentance. Everyone participated in the fast. v. 5a—"The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." Can you imagine riding through Nineveh on vacation about this time?

This turnaround was remarkable! One author said:

"The greatest revival in the history of the world took place in a very unlikely spot on the globe. It did not occur in Scotland, as a result of John Knox's influence. Nor did it take place in England, connected with Wesley, Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, or F.B. Meyer. It was not in Europe, in spite of the impact of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, or Savonarola. Neither was it in America, although we have been blessed with the ministries of Moody, Gypsy Smith, Jonathan Edwards, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham. Give up? It occurred 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, near the city of Mosul. In the vicinity of Mosul is a massive mound of earth. Beneath that mound, we are told, is the ancient tomb of the evangelist responsible for the greatest revival of all—the prophet Jonah"—Charles Swindoll, Old Testament Characters, Insight for Living, 1986, p. 74.

This scene reminds us of what true repentance looks like. Repentance (or metanoia in the Greek) includes a total and complete change of mind and action.

 


Optional Study of Repentance

Repentance, in the theological and ethical sense, means a change in the heart from sin towards God. Repentance is also bound up with and inseparable from faith. Without a measure of faith, you can't repent.

Repentance never attains its deepest character until the sinner realizes, through saving faith, how great is God's grace compared to his sin. So often people don't see their spiritual poverty, e.g., the publican and the sinner, and the first Beatitude.

The following are the essential elements of repentance (see II Cor. 7:8-13 for a description of the characteristics of complete repentance).

First, there is genuine sorrow towards God on account of sin—II Cor. 1:9-10; Matt. 5:3-4; Ps. 51. Often immature repentance ends here, but true repentance goes on.

Second, an inward distaste and hate for sin is followed by the actual forsaking of the sin, and purposing not to return to it—Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20; Heb. 6:1.

Third, there is submission to the will and service of God—Acts 9:6.

REFLECT: If this is what true repentance looks like, how would that affect your ministry?

In its lowest and most imperfect form, repentance may arise from the fear of consequence, or penalty for sin. If repentance goes no further than this, it will eventually end in despair, or will not last. Repentance deepens in character when a person develops an awe of God and a hatred of sin. (For help, see the outline by Bob Stone—The Fear of the Lord, a two-part series which is part of the School of Discipleship, coming soon.)

 


Missing from the Ninevites’ initial response were steps two and three: genuine sorrow; an inward distaste and hate for the sin, followed by a forsaking of the sin; and submission to the will and service of God.

It was significant, however, that the Ninevites knew that though there was no offer of compassion and mercy, with God there was a possibility of compassion.

An interesting question: Can we believe that literally everyone in this vast metropolis immediately and genuinely repented through the preaching of Jonah? I believe we can for the following reasons. (It takes a little reading between the lines, but…)

It's reasonable to think that Jonah said more than just the statements recorded for us in v. 4b—"Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." He didn't just repeat these few words without variation, or addition, or further explanation. I think he also responded to the many questions people undoubtedly asked, like:

 

  • Who gave you this message?
  • What is your authority?
  • Who are you?
  • Are you insane?
  • How did you get here?
He might even have told them of his disobedient flight and the second Word of the Lord.

Matthew 12:38-40 indicates that Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, to the people of Christ's day, and even to us today. 38] "Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, ‘Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.’ 39] He answered, ‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40] For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’"

How could Jonah have been a sign to the Ninevites if they didn't hear about his experience? And if Jonah hadn't said anything, where would they get the message about three days and three nights? There are a number of possibilities:

How about the sailors? (Remember in 1:10 he told the sailors he was running from the presence of the Lord?) That would have been quite a tale. You can imagine how the story would have grown had it got there before Jonah.

How did Jonah look? His skin may have been bleached white by the gastric juices from the whale's stomach. This was the case of the man who was swallowed by a whale in the late 1800s (See Jonah Part 1.)

One author described what the scene may have been like: "You can imagine this albino man, who is Jewish, coming to the great city of Nineveh where the sun beats down constantly. You can imagine people saying, ‘Who are you? How come you're so white? You look strange to us.’ And Jonah says, ‘Funny you should mention it...in 40 days God is going to wipe this city out unless you repent. To prove that there is a God, and to prove that he is alive, and to prove that he's going to do it, let me tell you my story. I was on a ship, running from God, and a great storm came up and I knew it was from God. When the crew found out that the storm was because of me, they cast me into the sea. I remember: just before I went under, the whole sea became calm. So I know there is a God. Then this great fish came and swallowed me. While I was in the belly of the fish, I repented of my sin of running from God, and I am here today to tell you that God is going to destroy you unless you repent of your wicked ways!" (Ron Ritchie, Discovery Publishing, Palo Alto, CA, 1978.)

I don't know about you, but if I was a Ninevite, I would say, "Hey, I believe"! And that's exactly what the Ninevites did. Verse 10 records the Lord's response to their change. It shows us:

The Mercy of the Lord: The Change

v. 10—"When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." They didn't receive punishment because they gave up their evil ways. But did God really change His mind, or was His judgment already decided before their repentance?

Of course God knew all along what would happen in Nineveh, and God knew what Jonah would do. God knew He would be a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love—4:2. He had already prepared the hearts of the Ninevites for the message of Jonah; this repentance did not take Him by surprise, for He has knowledge of actualities and possibilities, i.e., of what things are taking place and what things might take place.

Verse 10 is really a human explanation—it appears from a human viewpoint that God changed His mind. In reality, however, God did not change His mind. He simply carried forward His purpose without forcing the Ninevites to make the decision. His foreknowledge of the events did not determine the outcome; man must still choose to follow the Lord by his own free will. He does not force us to comply or repent.

In any case, the city was spared, and not until more than 100 years later did God carry out His judgment on Nineveh and destroy it.

Conclusion

The people of Nineveh, and Jonah, are important to biblical history for three reasons:

The men of Nineveh are examples of repentance. Matt. 12:39-41 (read vv. 39-40 and note v. 41—"They repented at the preaching of Jonah…"). They turned completely from their sin, and so should we. It's a wonder that God used a wicked people, guilty of the worst atrocities, as an example of what He desires us all to do when it comes to repentance.

Jonah provides a contrast to Jesus, as well as being a type of Jesus.

Here's the comparison: "As Jonah was 3 days and 3 nights in the belly of the fish, so shall the son of man..."

Here's the contrast: Jonah hated his task and the Ninevites, so he went another way…and it took a storm, sailors, and a whale to bring him back. Jesus, on the other hand, came with a compassionate message of forgiveness and love. He willingly shared His message of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Here are the results of these two approaches:

Nineveh will stand up at the Judgment and condemn those who have heard a message of grace and yet did not respond. We have the ultimate message of Jesus Christ; we have received the most loving presentation one could possibly receive. We have received the bad news (Rom. 6:23), but also the Good News. Nineveh, on the other hand, repented having heard only a message of destruction. Do you see why they will have something to say to those who have heard about Christ and not responded? What more could we receive than what Christ has done?

We don't know what kind of response we'll get to the gospel, until we go to the person to whom God directs us. We must not be disobedient, because we don't know how God might have prepared them to receive our testimony. We also don't know what kind of reaction their repentance might have on others, i.e., those in their circle of influence.

What would happen if we all responded to our commission to share Christ? What kind of reaction might we see in our area if we went into our city to share the bad news and the Good News? We might be surprised. In fact, I know we would!


Appendix

An illustration of an unlikely candidate for Christian conversion

A few years ago, a campus pastor sent from our church was kicked off her college campus because of a ruling made by the university regarding Christian groups. She wanted to continue to be close to campus for her meeting, but the closest place she could rent was a Jewish synagogue. They started meeting there, and soon our campus leader began speaking to the young, Jewish rabbi about Jesus and how he might become a Christian. (Unlikely candidate, wouldn't you say?)

When the sponsoring churches in the area heard where her student group was meeting, they were very upset. She agreed to leave, but just before she left, the Jewish rabbi was converted. He is now in seminary preparing to be a Christian pastor.