Having been told at the conclusion of the second chapter that God spoke to the fish and it “vomited out Jonah upon the dry land,” we come this week to God’s second call to Jonah to preach to the Ninevites.
God made it clear that He was displeased with Jonah’s rebellion, but God never deserted this man. God was in control all the way from Joppa to the place where the fish deposited Jonah. We may not understand why God does this, but He promised to never leave nor forsake us. Isaiah wrote, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee” (Isaiah 43:2).
It is the nature of God to forgive, and then use, some men. Moses was one of those men. He killed a man, then fled from Egypt, but God called him to lead his people. The apostle Peter denied Jesus three times, but Jesus forgave him and used him to proclaim the Gospel.
God forgave Jonah and told him to proclaim His Word in the great city of Nineveh. Some archeologists believe the city was truly great. Its circumference might have been 50 or 60 miles, and its population was probably at least 500,000. Added to its size, Nineveh was a wicked and violent city.
This was the place Jonah entered and where he cried, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Nineveh would face God’s judgment and destruction if its people did not repent. This was probably not the only thing Jonah said as he preached, but it was definitely at the heart of the message he delivered.
God graciously gave the people 40 days to repent, and it seems they readily “believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” Under usual circumstances, Jonah would have had no audience before the king, but this message was delivered under the power of God, and the king was made aware of his sinfulness.
The king was a man who could get the attention of the people, and he issued a proclamation that was published throughout Nineveh. The king decreed a fast for all people and animals. Man and beast should be covered with sackcloth, and “cry mightily unto God,” the king said. Furthermore, he said “let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.”
In the ninth verse we find the question, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” The awareness of their sins brought such remorse that not only the king asked this, but all the people in the great city.
Notice they first believed God’s message. Secondly, they fasted and demonstrated humility because of their awareness of their sins. Thirdly, there was the firm conviction that they deserved to be destroyed.
God “saw their works, that they turned from their evil way” and he did not destroy the Ninevites.”
Repentance is about acting on sinfulness, and it begins with the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sins. It is believing fully in a holy God who will not tolerate sin. Repentance is about turning from evil and then following Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
All of us deserve destruction, but by the grace and mercy of God we can be delivered by the blood of His Son.
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org