Yesterday we read and talked about the first two chapters of Jonah, so we will finish this short four-chapter book today.
Again, here are four chapter headings to help you remember the story:
Chapter 1 – Jonah makes the sea sick.
Chapter 2 – Jonah makes the whale sick.
Chapter 3 – Jonah makes the Ninevites sick.
Chapter 4 – Jonah makes God sick!
The theme of our series through Jonah has been to talk about repentance. The prophet repented of his disobedience in running from God, and in chapter three we encounter the surprising result of the repentance of the heathen city of Nineveh.
3:1 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 large city; it took three days to go through it.
Indeed, by ancient standards Nineveh was a huge city. The walls were 50 feet thick and 100 feet high. The diameter of the main city was two miles with a circumference of eight miles. A lower wall was extended out farther from the city, so the metropolitan area was quite sizeable with a six-digit population. To cover the city with his preaching took Jonah three days, saying …
4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
So why would the Ninevites believe and repent? Well, there is the work of God involved in this, of course. Beyond that, we know from history that there were two large earthquakes in years just before Jonah’s arrival; and we know from science that there was a solar eclipse on a specific date at this same general time. Ancient people saw such events as divine omens.
6 When Jonah’s warning 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 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals 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.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
So, in a different sense, God repented – changed from one disposition to another. We know from history that this revival must not have had lasting effect for successive generations. It would only be about 37 years later that the Assyrians would indeed conquer the Northern Kingdom. Their attempt to capture the Southern Kingdom of Judah was unsuccessful due to the intervention of God destroying 185,000 of the Assyrian army. The prophet Nahum – our readings for Thursday and Friday of this week – spoke a prediction of judgment against them because of their wickedness.
Jonah’s Anger at the Lord’s Compassion
4:1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
Have you ever prayed to God like Jonah did here? I have – as I’ve several times shared with you the story of my anger at God earlier in my life, when, living in Texas and training for ministry, I did not receive a ministry position in a church that sure looked like a no-brainer at the time … and it still does. I should have gotten the position by all measurements … but God came along a few months later with a far better opportunity that has impacted my entire life since then.
Jonah is a guy you’d want on your Bible trivia team… he gets all the right answers. Verse 2 is a perfect definition of the revealed character of God. Jonah knows the truth, he just hated God’s application of it in the real world.
3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
5 Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
So Jonah finds a high spot that overlooks the city, and he there sets up shop to see what is going to happen – hopefully that God will destroy the place!
Along the way in this place of a dry dessert climate, God caused a large leafy plant to grow and provide shade, but also a worm to eat this overgrown vegetable. Jonah’s joy for his creature comfort far exceeded his joy for seeing people repent and turn from evil.
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
10 But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
The juxtaposition of Jonah’s attitude about a silly plant with God’s perspective on many thousands of people stands as a stark contrast with its own lessons (that we’ll talk about tomorrow).
But today, what else may we continue to learn about repentance? Here are three more points to add to those shared yesterday …
5. God often does things in his sovereign wisdom that we do not understand and that do not make sense to us, but his desire for repentance / blessing is greater than his desire to judge.
I cannot tell you why God does what He does, nor can I explain why He does not do others things a whole lot faster! But I can tell you that God is more interested in our obedience than our accomplishments. God allows things to happen to us, so that things will happen in us, that things may happen through us; and when you get that 3-point thing understood and accept it in faith – you’ve really accomplished something!
6. Though repentance for salvation is a once and done thing, repentance in the life of discipleship needs regular vigilance.
We talk about repentance in the issue of our salvation, and that repentance and change is a once-and-for-all life-changing directional shift where we move from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light. But in our present human condition on this side of Glory, we will have failings that require us to be vigilant about making matters right with God by turning from sin, and trusting in Him.
7. Our constant need is a view of the sovereign work of God, that we may be blessed by being in alignment and agreement with it.
We constantly need to be looking to see what God is doing around us … in our homes and families, through our work, and together here through our church … that we may align with it. In the midst of routine faithfulness and service, we may not always see God’s plan – which may not at times look like much – but we persevere, and in the end are able to look back at His good work.
Summary – So what is repentance? It is a change in us where we agree with God about sin (we call this confession) and then we turn from it in repentance and go in the other direction – not like Jonah away from God, but rather away from sin and toward truth.