Jonah Declares The Message of His Great God
Jonah Declares The Message of His Great God
It hurts to encounter people who have no hope. They’ve blown it and there is no way to undo it. It may be that someone in their life doesn’t believe in second chances. One strike and you’re out! Or maybe they allow three strikes but then it’s all over. Or the person has lost hope because they feel that they are too sinful for even God to forgive them and ever use them again.
But it also hurts to encounter people who sin and refuse to change. Sure, they may be sorry they got caught. Or sorry that they made a mess of things. But there isn’t any evidence that they’ve changed.
People point out that Yahweh is a God of second chances. More accurately, He is the God of many chances. So we should have hope that as long as there is breath in us, we can turn to God and find forgiving and restoring grace. But that grace is only for those who repent of sin.
John the Baptist created a striking picture when he commanded the religious leaders to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mt 3:8). Have you ever wondered what that would look like? Try to picture a barren tree, sick with disease. Then picture a miracle that restores the tree to health so that vibrantly colored, bountiful fruit begins to appear. Wouldn’t that be awesome to see?
Paul’s message was similar. He declared that people “should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). Sinners are sick, barren trees. But when God produces repentance in them, they are transformed! I want to get it cemented in our minds that real repentance is observable. Other people can see it. So what does repentance look like in real life?
Using a powerful episode from his own life, Jonah sketches what genuine repentance looks like. In it he illustrates three broad characteristics of genuine repentance. Genuine repentance produces obedience, it produces noticeable change and it receives God’s mercy. In his sketch, we will also be able to see individual pencil strokes which capture the detailed work of God’s Spirit as He brought about this change in Ninevah’s population. Someone might say, “I’ve repented of my sin. You just can’t see it.” Could that be true? No. It is as obvious as the vibrant colors of ripe fruit on a tree.
Now if you want a fun rhyme to outline this chapter: Jonah consents, Ninevah repents, God relents. We get to see first how true repentance manifested itself so that Jonah obeyed God and fulfilled the ministry God had appointed him to. God will use Jonah’s repentance to bring about Ninevah’s.
I. Genuine repentance produces obedience (Jonah 3-4).
Jonah’s rebellion was obvious. He openly disobeyed God by running. But God graciously gave Jonah three days and nights to think it over. Jonah thought he could outrun the Lord. But as we sing in the song Hail, Sovereign Love, “But thus th’ eternal counsel ran, ‘Almighty Love, arrest that man!’” How glorious is the sovereign, yet tender, love of our God!
Almighty Love arrested the disobedient prophet. It held him in custody until he learned that he is no match for Sovereign Love! Yahweh will see to it that His children obey Him. And so we read the merciful words of restoring grace in 3:1, Now the word of Yahweh came to Jonah the second time. Remember how I paraphrased Jesus’ message to Peter in John 21? “Repent and get back to work!” What mercy to disobedient children in forgiving them! What love in restoring them!
Notice the difference this second time. In 1:3 after God commanded Jonah to go, we read, “But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh”. That is what willful disobedience looks like. Now in 3:3, we find a different man: “So Jonah arose and went to Ninevah according to the word of Yahweh.” That is what willful obedience looks like. God tells a believer to go and the next thing is, “so they went”. God commands a believer to do and the next thing is “so they did.” Jonah had become immediately obedient to His Creator just like the wind, the sea and the great fish.
It would have taken Jonah about a month to walk to Ninevah from Israel. Ninevah was located on the east bank of the Tigris river (modern day Mosul, Iraq), about 550 miles from Samaria, the capital of the Israel. That’s about the distance between Tulsa and San Antonio.
Three times in this book Ninevah is called a great city. It had both an outer and an inner wall. The inner wall was 50 feet wide and 100 feet high. Its circumference was about 8 miles. The outer wall went much further out, surrounding other cities and fields. The term “great city” includes the entire metropolitan area. This is supported by Gen 10:11-12 which speaks of “the great city” and refers to the whole area covered by Ninevah, Rehoboth Ir, Cala and Resen.
To walk the entire circuit through the metroplex was a little over 60 miles, a three days’ walk. As he walked, Jonah would have stopped at many places within the metroplex to preach his message over and over. Jonah began to preach on the first day that he entered the city. Through Jonah, God foretold that He would overthrow Ninevah within 40 days. By giving the people advance warning and by giving them forty days, Yahweh is demonstrating Himself to be “slow to anger” and leaving open the possibility that He may indeed turn back from destroying their city if they repented (4:2). There was mercy in giving them advance warning and time to respond. Don’t get angry when someone points out your sin to you. Consider it an act of God’s tender mercy.
Is repentance hidden? No. If you truly repent, it will be obvious in your obedience. But there’s more.
II. Genuine repentance produces noticeable change (Jonah 3-9).
We saw in chapter 1 how God works the circumstances around people so they will carry out His plan. Notice from history how God had prepared the Ninevites for Jonah’s message. There had been three dramatic events that would have been seen as signs of divine anger: a total eclipse of the sun in 763 B.C. and two deadly plagues in 765 and 759 B.C. The most likely date for Jonah’s visit is in 759 B.C. Imagine after all of that, and later in the year after the second plague, this Hebrew prophet walks through the city with a message of total destruction! You bet their ears perked up!
Let’s now consider how genuine repentance produced noticeable changes in these Ninevites.
- Repentance and faith are united. Look at v. 5.
- Repentance applies to all, from the greatest to the least.
- Repentance is contagious. Often when God brings you to repentance, He will use that to bring others to it too. Look at v. 6 [read]. Just as those deadly plagues swept through the city, so now a wave of repentance swept through until it reached the king.
- Repentance applies to all. No one is too great to need repentance. The king humbled himself, stepped down from his high position, removed his royal robe, put on sackcloth and sat on ashes. Sackcloth was very coarse cloth made from goat’s hair. It was commonly used to make sacks for grain. It was worn by the poor, prisoners, slaves and those who are fasting or in mourning.
- Leaders should set an example in repenting when it’s called for. Look at v. 7 [read]. Husbands should set the example for their wives. Parents for their children. Church leaders for their flock.
- Leaders should take care that repentance is real and complete. The king and his nobles laid out guidelines for the people. They included man and beast in their fasting to demonstrate that repentance must be total. Help those under your care to know what repentance should look like.
- Repentance is observable. It should be obvious to those around you.
- True repentance also has no reservations. It holds nothing back. Look at v. 8 . They called on God earnestly. This word means “with strength.” They sought God with all their might.
- Repentance is God ward. It is about turning toward Him. It is not just being sorry for what you’ve done.
- Repentance produces inward, moral change. Its essence is turning from sin and turning to God. The Assyrians were an unusually wicked people. Soldiers took cruelty to new extremes. They now each must turn from his wicked way. Genuine repentance is a sincere desire to change your evil ways and adopt God’s ways.
- Repentance manifests itself in outward be behavior. True repentance is observable. There is a real change in relationships. The idea of violence describes how they have treated other people groups. This is a good way to tell if you are repentant: are your relationships with other people improving?
- Repentance includes a total trust in God’s mercies. They held out hope that God would relent and not destroy them. You know you don’t deserve mercy. But you trust in the character of God to forgive you and restore you. And so we’re back to faith, where we started in v. 5, “the people of Ninevah believed in God”.
The pagan people of Ninevah became a rebuke to God’s unrepentant people in Israel. Jesus even said to the scribes and Pharisees in Mt 12:41 that “the men of Ninevah shall stand up with this generation at the judgment, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah”.
You can set an example for your children in repentance, but you can’t repent for them. It appears that the next generation of Ninevites returned to the evil ways of their forefathers and did destroy the unrepentant nation of Israel in 722 B.C. We’ll look at that in Nahum’s message after Jonah.
III. Genuine repentance receives God’s mercy (Jonah 3:10).
Did God change His mind? If so, we have a severe theological problem because God doesn’t change (Mal 3:6). So how do we explain this? God had intended all along to spare the Ninevites. He orchestrated the events around them so that they would repent of their ways. His threat of destruction was the final part of His plan to bring them to repentance. From man’s point of view, it can look like God changes His mind sometimes, but that’s because we don’t see the whole picture.
True repentance is as obvious as ripe fruit on a tree. Fight sin in your life. Turn from it and embrace God’s ways so that those around you can glorify the beautiful fruit God is producing in you.