Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Summary – After a time of chastening, God’s command is repeated and this time, Jonah obeys [a pattern that plays out dozens of times daily in my home!]. Jonah made the long land journey from whichever coast where he had been abruptly “deposited”. He was headed to the greater metropolitan area of Nineveh, the heart of enemy territory. He walked through the region loudly warning of God’s impending judgment. But rather than being attacked or scorned, his message was sincerely received and the king declared a fast for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest [and even all the livestock!]. When He saw this, God repealed His judgment and spared the people of that land.
Insight – Throughout this book, Jonah comes across as a big whiner. We often see him plopping down on the ground to pout. Then God has to tell him, “Get up!” The really amazing thing is that Jonah seems to keep sulking around during his hike through Nineveh. His preaching wasn’t really preaching. It was just announcing the judgment that was to come. When he finished, he plopped down again under a shady vine outside of town and waited for the brimstone. But somehow, the people were deeply haunted and moved by his words, despite their messenger. They repented and began to fast in the desperate hope that – like the pagan sailors who had to deal with Jonah just a chapter before – “Who knows? Maybe God will see and just might have mercy on us.” God did see … and more than this, He responded by relenting and sparing the land. This is a glorious Epiphany passage. It is like the 2-minute movie trailer previewing the way that God’s grace will be fully extended to the Gentile nations one day [and now is!]. It also highlights the mind-boggling nature of God’s grace. He absolutely loves to show mercy, but He finds no pleasure in the judgment of the wicked. I find that I’m an expert at talking myself out of speaking gospel words to others because of the fear that I’ll say something poorly or get stumped or come across as overly-judgmental. The example of Nineveh is an antidote for me. My tongue may get tied but God’s word can never be chained. He is able to speak and work mightily through us, weak flawed earthen vessels. Speak up when the opportunity providentially arises. It is God Who gives the increase.
Child Catechism – Which people fasted in Nineveh? [you may need to define “fasting”] Everyone fasted – great and small.
Discussion – When the storyteller says “God changed His mind”, what does it mean? God’s word produced the fruit of a great revival throughout the land, despite the fact that it came by the mouth of this weak, whiny, and grudge-bearing prophet who actually wanted to see his audience perish. What principles can we derive from this about revival and our role in evangelism? Freebie: This little book includes regular references to wildlife, including the one here in our passage [though not printed above] where even the livestock were required to participate in the fast. We know that God regarded this as a precious thing because of the last lines of the book, where He expresses deep pity for the toddlers and livestock of the land after they endured fasting. What is a Christian view of the treatment of animals and animal ethics?
Prayer – God of glory, You have shed Your light abroad into the darkness of the world and drawn all nations to Yourself. Cause us, by Your Spirit, to likewise delight in mercy, forgiving our enemies as You, in Christ, have forgiven us, in Whose great name we pray. Amen.