Jonah 3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
The first time the word of the Lord came to Jonah he was not very receptive. He brought many into danger and caused massive financial loss. Jonah may have thought that God would never use him again, but God still had plans for Jonah. So the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time.
From this we learn that God does not dwell on our failures, and neither should we. If Moses dwelt on his failure, after murdering the Egyptian (Exodus 2:12), who would have delivered the Israelites from slavery? If Peter dwelt on his failure, after disowning Jesus (Matthew 26:74), who would have preached on Pentecost, when three thousand were saved? And if Paul dwelt on his failure, after approving the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), who would have evangelized the Gentiles, and written much of the New Testament?
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward (Philippians 3:13-14), wrote Paul. Two things are necessary to succeed as a Christian: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
An electrician flipped the wrong switch at a power plant, and caused a million dollars worth of damage. To no one’s surprise, he was promptly fired. A similar thing happened at another company, and the worker turned in his resignation. But his boss said, I just spent a million dollars training you. Why would I let you go now? That is God’s method of management. He does not fire us when we make a mistake; he uses our mistakes to make us better.
Jonah 3:2-4 Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you. Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. . . . Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown, he said.
The message was brief, and Jonah was not free to embellish it in any way. It is not the number of words that matters, but the power behind the words. Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29). A single sentence can change a life, if it is sent by God, and believed in the heart.
Many years ago I heard a teacher say, True information is always your friend. I was in the habit of rejecting true information, that I did not want to hear, only to suffer later on. Then I began to welcome true information, even if I did not like it, since it made me wiser. A single sentence changed my life, and a single sentence would change the city of Nineveh.
Jonah 3:5 The Ninevites believed God.
This was so completely unexpected that it is hard to imagine why it happened. Some people think Jonah’s fish story got to Nineveh before he did, so they were ready for his message. And if his skin was bleached by gastric juices, it would have reinforced his message. There was also an eclipse of the sun at this time, that would have been considered ominous. This may have made the people of Nineveh open to a word from God.
Regardless, the ultimate cause of people turning people to God is the work of the Holy Spirit. So when Jesus sent the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, three thousand became believers (Acts 2:41). Similar things have happened at other times.
In 1859, one hundred thousand people were gathered into the churches of Ireland, in what became known as the Ulster Revival. One year later, there was so little crime that police were laid off, jails were empty, and judges had little to do. Taverns were also empty, churches were full, and families were strong. The Holy Spirit empowered the message of the gospel, and lives were transformed. We should pray for something similar in our day.
Jonah 3:5b A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Sackcloth was made from goat’s hair, and was normally worn by slaves, prisoners and those who were destitute. When combined with fasting, wearing sackcloth was an expression of grief for sins, also known as contrition. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17), wrote David. If our hearts are broken by sin, we know that God accepts our repentance, through faith in in Jesus Christ.
Jonah 3:6 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.
If the king had stayed on his throne, he would have lost it forty days later. But he got off his throne, and was able to keep it much longer. Likewise, whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Matthew 16:25), said Jesus. When fighting God, surrender is victory.
Jonah 3:7-8 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. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God.
The king took Jonah’s message so seriously, that he declared a fast of food and water, for people and animals. Everyone was to show their repentance by wearing sackcloth and calling urgently on God. This was appropriate since the need to get right with God is always urgent.
Imagine Satan and his demons plotting to keep people out of heaven. One suggests telling the world there is no God. Another suggests telling the world there is no hell. Another suggests telling the world there is no hurry—and they all begin to cheer. Whoever waits too long, will discover to their everlasting alarm, that it’s too late.
Jonah 3:8-9 Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.
In addition to fasting and prayer, the king commanded his people to give up their evil ways. Likewise, Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon (Isaiah 55:7), wrote Isaiah. Genuine faith leads to repentance, resulting in transformation.
In a single day Nineveh went from being wicked to being righteous. Instead of lying, they told the truth. Instead of cheating, they were honest. Instead of violent, they were gentle. It became like heaven on earth. Any family, city or nation will only be as good as the people living there. The more people who are living for God, the better it will be.
Jonah 3:10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
God makes threats and promises, and he wants us to believe both. He threatens us with judgment to turn us from our sins. Then he promises salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The Bible and history show that God does not make idle threats, nor does he break his promises. This is dreadful news for the wicked, but wonderful news for all who repent.
Reflection and Review
Why does God give people more than one chance?
Why did Nineveh repent when they heard Jonah’s message?
Why does repentance make the world a better place?