Jonah Preaches at Nineveh
3 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, [a]a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
The People of Nineveh Believe
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
As believers we must not mistake mercy and grace for permission. The reluctant, rebellious prophet who went in the opposite of G-d’s direction, even in his disobedience, was made to point people to the Father.
The mariners, to their credit, did not immediately wish to throw Jonah overboard. Surely in such seas, as far as they knew, Jonah was going to drown.
Still, Jonah’s rebellion was so strong that it forced them to find out through pagan means why their voyage was placed in holy peril. Fortunately, G-d was merciful to them in their innocence of Jonah’s crime.
When they did as Jonah requested, and the sea began to calm down, the power of G-d was seen in the natural to the point where the sailors took oaths and made a sacrifice; whether they maintained those oaths is not known, but in the moment, they knew who the true ruler of the seas was, despite whatever other gods they sought in their native prayers. The power of the G-d was revealed to them in the natural world.
In Nineveh, which dealt violently with the prophets of its day, Jonah’s prophecy was short, but it says that he cried out. There was no meeting or gathering for him to preach to an assembly as such.
He cried out, and the important distinction here is that they did not spurn Jonah, but they believed G-d. How did a land so sinful come so quickly to a collective mode of repentance, from the greatest to the least, and even among the animals?
G-d imbued the words with the power of His Spirit, so that it penetrated every heart. Given the short time the Ninevites had, there was no time for a process, or for anyone to think about whether or not they wanted to repent; the power of G-d’s Word proclaimed by Jonah was such that none could refute it. The power of the Spirit-filled word had to pierce hearts and unstop ears that before had been resistant to the Father’s mercy. A disobedient rebel was used to convert the hearts and minds of disobedient rebels, and put a right spirit within them.
Jesus told His disciples such: (Luke 12:11)
11 “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. 12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
And although Nineveh eventually fell because they failed to pass along the values of faith, repentance, and obedience, we have an example of the Father withholding his punishment for those who willing to do His will and live under His covenant of grace, including Jonah, who was actually angry that G-d followed His word and did not destroy the land.
Let’s note then, that although the prophet still desired in his heart to see the city destroyed despite his prophecy, the Lord provided for him until he could see mercy manifested on people he believed the worst of sinners.
Therefore I pray:
Father in Heaven,
As You have revealed Yourself to us by the power of the blood of Your Son, and called us to also minister to a faithless, mocking, wicked, and adulterous generation while dealing with our own doubt, reluctance, and rebellion, we ask that You also imbue our words and deeds with the power of the Spirit, so that You are revealed to those we tell about you.
May it be so in the natural, as it was with the pagan mariners, and in the spiritual, as it was with the Ninevites.
We ask also for the Spirit’s discernment, that we not cover Your truth in the veil of our politics and self-righteousness, for all fall short of Your glory, and none are blameless before the throne save through the power of Calvary’s atoning work. Forgive us if we have done so, and bring it to mind if we backslide the next time we speak of the goodness of Your Name among those we have been called to prophesy and evangelize.
We thank You also, Father, for protecting and providing for us, that we may see Your mercy manifested among the worst of sinners so that they glorify You and bear more of salvation’s fruit in Jesus’ name.
May Your words be sealed to my spirit, now and forever.