Let us continue analyzing the text where we left off last week.
Jonah 3:1-4 reads:
"Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 'Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.' So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 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!'"
After being vomited onto dry land, Jonah received a second chance! God was gracious in giving Jonah this opportunity again. Notice that he didn't scold Jonah for his previous disobedience, as men probably would have. As far as God was concerned, the sin had been punished, repented of, and forgiven.
Jonah did not squander this second chance; he obeyed this time--even though he still didn't want to, as we learn later in chapter 4! He preached God's message--though he hoped his message would fail to bring the people to repentance!
Jonah preached that Nineveh would be overthrown (i.e., completely destroyed) in forty days. His recorded message is exceedingly simple and straightforward (only five words long in Hebrew). There is no way to determine if this was the extent of the message Jonah preached or not. The fact that the prophecy was not fulfilled is not evidence that Jonah was a false prophet. Rather, it aptly illustrates the conditional nature of most of God's promises (cf. Jer. 18:7-10). The Ninevites were not destroyed because they repented and God relented from the disaster He was planning.
"So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 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. 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. 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. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?'"
Why did the Ninevites, a people noted for their wickedness and cruelty, respond so positively to Jonah's message of doom? Perhaps the answer is that they were at a political and military "low." Some scholars believe that a large-scale battle had probably just taken place and the people had lost much of their strength and power. If so, they may have been ready for a radical change. Perhaps Jonah entered the city in a critical time such as this. Others speculate that Jonah's unusual appearance--his skin probably bleached during his stay inside the fish's belly for three days--was enough to get the people's attention. It should be noted that even the king did not exempt himself from repenting. This is the kind of leadership that is needed today (in word and in deed)! They showed their complete repentance by not eating or drinking anything, as well as by wearing sackcloth. They even put sackcloth on their animals and did not allow them to ingest anything! The Ninevites went to extreme measures and consequently avoided an extreme end! Their thinking behind these actions was simple--they wanted God to know that they had humbled themselves and that He need not afflict them further. Their repentance was a plea for His mercy.
From verse 9 we learn that the king believed the words of Jonah, hoping that Jehovah would be merciful when He saw their genuine repentance.
The chapter closes with verse 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."
The proof of their repentance was in their works (cf. Matt. 3:8; Luke 11:32). God's original declaration of destruction was certainly conditional, as we noted earlier. If it was unconditional, why even bother to declare the message to the Ninevites? God "changed" His plan of action since they turned from their wickedness. It should be understood that any recorded "changing" of mind or action on God's part in the Scriptures is certainly accommodative language and should not be interpreted in a way that contradicts God's omniscience.
One could sum up chapter 3 by stating that Jonah (as well as the Ninevites) experienced a revival. He is RUNNING WITH GOD. How was Jonah running with God? He was running with God in the sense that he was obeying! This is the stage Christians should strive to maintain--submission to the divine will. This is how we show our love for God (John 14:15; I John 5:3). Jonah still did not understand the need for preaching to these foreigners, and he did not enjoy doing so. But, to his credit, he did preach the message God gave him.
The narrative continues in Jonah 4:1-3 - "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the LORD, and said, 'Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm. 'Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!'"
It is tragic that the preacher Jonah was full of rage over his evangelistic success! He wanted the Ninevites to perish; he didn't want them to come to repentance and God to forgive them!
In verse 3, he indicated that he would rather die than see the city spared. Here it becomes obvious as to why Jonah headed for Tarshish to begin with--he feared the mercy of the Lord toward those whom he viewed as unworthy!
Jonah 4:4-8 reads:
"Then the LORD said, 'Is it right for you to be angry?' So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah's head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, 'It is better for me to die than live.'"
God asked Jonah what right he had to be upset about the outcome of this matter (cf. 4:9). There is no recorded response given by Jonah to God's question. Instead, he went outside the city to watch and see what would happen. He still hoped that Jehovah would destroy them and that he would have a nice spot from which to watch it!
God "prepared" several things in this book (cf. 1:17 [the fish]; 4:6 [plant], 7 [worm], 8 [wind]). The first two things He prepared would be considered "good" and the last two "bad" from Jonah's perspective. However, everything that God prepared was ultimately meant for his good (i.e., in the refining of his character, cf. James 1:2-4). The plant that God prepared for Jonah made him extremely happy. Selfish Jonah's priorities are mixed-up. He became excited about a plant but not about a city repenting!
In verse 7, the worm that God prepared destroyed the plant Jonah treasured, and the wind and sun made him miserable physically. He wanted to die again!
The book concludes with Jonah 4:9-11 - "Then God said to Jonah, 'Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?' And he said, 'It is right for me to be angry, even to death!' But the LORD said, 'You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left--and much livestock?'"
Jonah's self-centeredness was at its zenith here--he thought he had a basis for being upset! But, he had no right to be upset, especially since he had done no work on the plant and since it had only existed for a day. One might wonder if Jonah even thought of the plant as a blessing from God or as something he "deserved"!
The patience of the Lord is noteworthy in this exchange with Jonah. He had prepared the plant and destroyed it to expose Jonah's inconsistency and hard-heartedness.
The final recorded thoughts from God in this book directed Jonah to think about his rage. For someone to get upset about the destruction of a meaningless plant and yet wish for the destruction of many people who were made in the image of the Almighty is downright inexcusable! The soul of just one person is infinitely more valuable than any plant, no matter how glorious!
It appears that God referred to the children of the city (the 120,000, cf. Deut. 1:39) and the livestock in order to show Jonah the needless slaughter that the prophet desired. The book closes and we know nothing of Jonah's end. Did he repent again? Did he learn to view souls as more important than temporal things? Or, did God grant his wish of verse 8?
On a side note, Nineveh's repentance was genuine, though it did not last. The Assyrian nation was destroyed by God through the Babylonians in 612 B.C.
Jonah did well in chapter 3 by running with God. However, he made a serious mistake in chapter 4 by RUNNING AHEAD OF GOD. He ran ahead in the sense that he took too much authority upon himself by making judgments that he had no right to make. Jonah, throughout most of the final chapter was in a rage.He had become a complainer. He certainly took his own salvation for granted and arrogantly reasoned that foreigners should not be given a chance at repentance. He was more than happy to call out to God from the belly of the fish and plead for mercy for his own hide, but he became mad at God for not annihilating the Ninevites (even though they repented as he had!).
Dear listeners, if you're not running the spiritual race for God, you need to enter it by believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, repenting of your sins, and submitting to immersion for spiritual cleansing (cf. John 8:24; Acts 2:38).
If you're in the race and you're running away from or ahead of God, stop and come back to Him while you still can. If you're constantly running to and with God, then keep up the good work!
Friends, please examine yourself. How are you running in the race that is your life? Be a faithful runner for the Lord and don't ever stop! Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.