The first two chapters of Jonah are very instructional for those who would try to run from God. The Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach, but Jonah decided to go as far away from Nineveh as he possibly could: Tarshish. Jonah found out that it is impossible to run from God and eventually found himself in a place he would rather not have been: large fish. He acknowledged in prayer that his punishment was just and, when he was delivered by God, he would fulfill his vow and obey the Lord’s instruction. When the Lord heard Jonah’s prayer, He “commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Jonah is proof that you cannot flee from God’s presence. God always knows where you are. Running from God only causes you to run into a difficult place that requires God’s deliverance. If you do find yourself in a difficult place, the right response is to turn to God in prayer and repentance. True repentance involves doing what the Lord commands. We turn our attention this morning to Jonah 3 and learn about Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites.
Even though Jonah initially refused to obey God (Chapter 1), God gave him another opportunity (Chapter 3) and this time Jonah obeyed. In Chapter 3, the Lord once again commissioned Jonah by saying, “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.” This time, “Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s command.” If his journey started near Joppa, the trip to Nineveh would take him almost 2 weeks to walk the approximately 700 miles. Let us learn from Jonah about the importance of obedience and the compassion of the Lord. The word of the Lord came to Jonah a “second time” because the Lord is merciful and slow to become angry. Also, disobedience in the beginning does not mean you cannot become obedient immediately. Repent now of sinful, willful disobedience and trust God, committing yourself to Him fully.
Jonah went to Nineveh and preached God’s message. We are told that Nineveh was such a large city that it took 3 days to walk through it. The record of Jonah’s message is remarkable in that it was simple and direct. He said, “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” That is all of Jonah’s message that is recorded for us in the book of Jonah. We know that the message was motivated by the wickedness of the Ninevites and by the mercy of God. What is not explicitly stated—but well understood—is that the destruction coming in 40 days can be avoided with their repentance. The wrath of God comes upon the unrighteous. The way to avoid God’s wrath is to come to God so that He will grant you righteousness. Our wickedness deserves God’s judgment but thankfully God is merciful and compassionate, and He desires our salvation from judgment. We need the righteousness of Christ Jesus that is granted to us “by grace through faith” (Eph 2:8).
Jonah’s message may have been short, but it hit home. We are told that upon hearing Jonah’s message, “the men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least.” The people of Nineveh heard Jonah’s message and believed it. More specifically, they believed God and were terrified. We know they believed it because they fasted and dressed in sackcloth. That type of response might sound weird to us in 2019, but these were the things people would do when they were mourning. In Nehemiah 9:1, the Israelites confessed their sin and guilt before God as they fasted and wore sackcloth. In the book of Esther, Haman set out to destroy the Jewish people and in response, “There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict came. They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay on sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3).
The king issued a decree in Nineveh because he thought, “God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish.” A vital part of the fasting and mourning was the command from the king: “Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing.” True repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action. True repentance is more than just sorrow over punishment received or fear of punishment to come. True repentance is an agreement with God about His holiness and our sinfulness. It involves our cessation from sin and our pleading for His holiness. Let us learn from the response of the Ninevites and truly repent of our sins so that God may have mercy on us.
God is true to His word. The wicked will be punished and the righteous shall be saved. When the people of Nineveh repented, “God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it.” God loved the people of Nineveh. The history of Nineveh tells us much about what was happening at that time. During the reign of Ashur-dan III (772 to 755 BC), Nineveh was hit with two plagues, a revolt, and a solar eclipse. God used all these things to prepare the people of Nineveh to hear the preaching of Jonah. Jonah’s message was the spark that set the whole city ablaze. This helps us better understand why the Lord called Jonah and refused to let Jonah run away from His task. A few closing thoughts on Jonah 3:
- God sees all things, and nothing escapes His notice. This is bad news when we sin, but great news when we repent. A wise man once said, “You are only one sincere prayer away from being right with God.”
- When God calls us to do something, it is always for His glory and the good of others. It is foolish for us to tell God “No” because we think that the task is either not worthwhile (even though these are the two results) or too difficult (even though God supplies all we need).
Let us learn from Jonah and let us obey the Lord fully and wholeheartedly.