When last we saw Jonah, he had scooped up by a great fish at the bottom of the ocean, stubbornly spent three days and nights in its belly, and finally repented and was saved by God. He had been spit out on dry ground at the end of chapter 2.
Verses 1 & 2- Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time. saying, Arise and go to Nineveh and tell them my message...
It's been a few days since I started this book, so I went back to see what the first word of the lord was. It had changed. The first time, the Lord specified that Jonah was to go preach about their wickedness in Nineveh. This time the Lord just seem to say, go make a proclamation that I will give you. Maybe I'm reading too much into it; but it seems to me that the first time God gave Jonah the topic and trusted him with the message. Jonah had been a prophet to the king, so I'm guessing he had been walking close enough with God to know what to say. But this time, after having been reluctant to the point of open rebellion, god tells him that he's going to make a proclamation; but God will give him the exact message.
I think there's something important there. God changed his assignment for Jonah. Not by much, but what changed was not a loss to the Ninevites, but to Jonah himself. He seems to have lost God's trust. I'm not saying God changed, please don't understand. God knew all along what Jonah would decide and do. but God gave him the first chance anyway. He gives us our shot at Plan A, even when He knows we'll waste the opportunity. He has a Plan B, C, and D ready to go; but we get a try at Plan A so that we retain our self-determination, our self-will.
But it's worth remembering that while our God is a God of second chances, the second chances or 20th chance, whatever it takes, is not the SAME chance. Something my get lost o us with each rebellion, even though God's ultimate plan will prevail, it doesn't mean we'll get HIs best- if we decided previously that we didn't want that. I think of Sampson and all that God had planned for him, and how much of it he traded away for his own desires.
The Wiersbe commentary, Be Amazed, frames it more positively. God is a God of renewal. The enemy would like us to think that our failures are the end of our ministry; but the Lord picks us up and brushes us off and sends us back into the game. Hopefully more humble and dependent on Him.
Back to the text. Verse 3 tells us that Jonah arose and went to Nineveh. He was, apparently, spit out at a point that was a three days walk from Nineveh. He spent three days in the whale and a three days walk. Three is such a prominent number in the Bible and one of them that represents "wholeness" as I understand it.
Verse three also tells us that Nineveh was a great city. I think I read elsewhere that it was one of the biggest cities in the world at the time.
We get exactly one verse on Jonah's preaching. In verse 4 he walks through the city and tells them that they will be overthrown in forty days.
Again, maybe I'm reading too much into the short text we are given, but it seems like the message has changed a bit. God originally told Jonah to cry against their wickedness; but now they're just being told of the bad outcome that is coming their way. Maybe we're getting the abbreviated version of the sermon here, but this is different than when the Lord first spoke to Jonah. And the only thing that changed was Jonah. I wonder if any of the commentaries will comment on the change or if I'm reading to literally.
Either way, the message worked. The people of Nineveh "believed God", according to verse 5. They seemed to know instantly that the message was true and from God. This shows in their behavior. they did something to show that they believed. From the greatest to the least of them, they put on sackcloth and fasted. That's pretty concrete action for a word from someone else's God. they had their own gods and had to have believed their gods were stronger since it was in their home turf; and the gods had powers based on regional boundaries, according to most ancient cultures. So they were showing this fear and repentance to a foreign God at the risk of punishment from their own gods.
in verse 6, even their king wore sackcloth and sat in ashes, setting aside his own robe. Amazing display of belief in Jonah's message.
I've heard before that one reason the people responded so strongly was that, having been in the belly of the great fish, along with whatever digestive juices the fish had, Jonah had been bleached completely white. He may have appeared as a ghost or other celestial being, making his message more powerful. Maybe that's why God could skip the sermon on wickedness and just head straight into the prediction about their coming demise.
The king then proclaimed a city-wide food and drink fast and that all men and beast to be covered in sackcloth. Then they were all to call out to God and turn from their wicked and violent ways. The King stated that maybe this would God to relent and prevent the calamity.
in verse 10 God did see that they did take action. They had deeds to show they were serious. And so He did relent and did not bring the calamity.
It's such a short chapter, but such an amazing turn of events. This vile, cruel, massively violent people had a change of heart.
Maybe the commentaries will get into this more; but one reason some historians find this book improbable, and call it allegory and such is that the Assyrian don't have a record of this event. I have two responses to that. First, if there had been a record of it, knowing the brutality and vicious nature of this nation, I would think that future leaders would try and wipe this season from the record. Submitting to a foreign God so completely would be offensive to future leaders and I could see them try and wipe it from the record.
But more importantly, as I understand it, about this timeframe the Assyrian began to move to being a monotheistic people, although not the God of the Hebrews. And this change came after an eclipse and a plague had softened their resolve in their own gods' power.
The point is, these people did change and I see traces of God's handprint on it. They heard God's word and responded, even when God's own prophet did not.
Wiersbe Commentary, Be Amazed
- In a footnote, the author points out that "great" is one of the key words in this book of the Bible. Nineveh is a great city; Great wind; great tempest; great fish; great fear; great people; great displeasure; great gladness. I'm not sure what to make of that; but I thought it was worth capturing.
- Throughout the scripture, 40 seems to be the number for being tested or judgement.
Like the sailors in the storm, the Ninevites didn't want to perish. That's what witnessing is all about, "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life"Warren Wiersbe, Be Amazed, page 110
The MacArthur Bible Commentary
- Jonah was the only prophet sent to a foreign land to preach repentance. Over 500 miles from Joppa to Nineveh.
- This text states that animals were often used as part of repentance. Even the donkeys had to deal with sackcloth and ashes! More evidence of how much God values animals.
God loves us. And He loves the animals. And the brutal, evil Ninevites. And the pagan sailors. And the difficult, selfish, broken prophet.
God Loves. But He also corrects. And brings destruction to those who interfere with God's Great Plan to save us all.