Journeying With Jonah
Mr. Mike Hamel of Denver, Colorado, continues to share with us some practical teaching from the book of Jonah, this being his third of four short articles on God’s prodigal prophet.
The words of Jonah 3:1 & 2 take us full circle back to the beginning of the book. The disobedient prophet’s excursion away from the revealed will of God had nearly cost him his life, so when God spoke the second time, he was ready to obey, having learned the futility of resisting the Lord.
Isn’t it marvelous that the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time? Our God is the God of the second chance; He disciplines and restores His sinning children to fruitful service.
As we will see in chapter 4, Jonah still had reservations, but he was willing to do God’s will. He travelled the 500 miles to Nineveh, entered the city, and preached his five-word sermon of doom: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (3:4). (While Jonah’s message is eight words in our English translation, it is only five in the Hebrew text.) The word for “overthrown” is the same word used to describe the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nineveh was like them in life; hence she would follow them in death, as an object of summary judgment.
Here, the forty days is both literal and symbolic. In Scripture the number forty speaks of testing or probation. For instance, in Deuteronomy 8:2, God said to Israel: “And thou shalt remember all the way the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to test thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep His commandments, or not.”
The Lord Jesus Christ was tempted the forty days in the wilderness at the outset of His ministry, not to find out if He would sin — for He was impeccbale — but to prove through testing that He could not sin.
What is apparent in the forty days given to Nineveh is that God was leaving her room for repentance. Only forty days and she would be overthrown, yet this represented ample time for the people to repent. At the very outset of this period of grace the hearts of the wicked Assyrians were inclined by the Spirit of God to repentance. They believed Jonah’s warning and humbled themselves in the dust before Elohim. According to Christ’s words in the New Testament, their repentance was genuine. (I don’t think this means that everyone in Nineveh had what we would call a born again experience. They only turned from their wickedness to avoid judgment from heaven. They no doubt remained polytheistic, for history reveals that they soon returned to their former practices.)
To sum up thus far: Jonah repented and went to Nineveh (vv. 1-4); the Ninevites repented at his preaching (vv. 5-9). Now in verse 10, we read of God’s repentance.
Does God ever change His mind? After all, repentance means a change of mind. No, God never changes the eternal counsels of His will because His counsels are perfect, being based upon His omniscience and wisdom. But He does change in His dealings with men when men change in their dealings with Him.
When God promised to judge Nineveh, she was a haughty and violent city. When God pardoned Nineveh, she was a humble and repentant city. Nineveh changed, not God. He was simply consistent with His own character. He must always punish sin, yet He always pardons the sinner when the sinner turns from his sin in genuine repentance. God longed to pour out His grace upon undeserving sinners who were living in the shadow of divine judgment. He needed a human instrument, first, by repenting of his disobedience and second, by obeying the Lard, even though to him personally his obedience was distasteful and costly. The result was that Nineveh was spared and the world was given a gigantic object lesson of the grace of God.
This great chapter has a personal application for us today. If we who name the name of Christ will humble ourselves, turning from our own ways, and obey the Lord, three things would happen:
1. We would become useful and fruitful servants.
2. Sinners would be turned from the error of their ways.
3. God would be glorified on earth.