Jonah Preaches for God
Although Jonah was one of the most reluctant prophets in history, he had great success. Why?
▸ A Great City
The location of Nineveh remained hidden for over two thousand five hundred years until French archaeologist Layard found it buried under tons of rubble in 1860 near the Tigris River. It was built by Nimrod the great-grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:8–10). The book of Jonah refers to the greatness of this city (1:2; 3:2,3). The city with its suburbs was sixty miles around. About 600,000 people lived there. The wall of the city had a circumference of about eight miles stubbed with over a thousand towers. One lone prophet, a foreigner was to confront this city filled with wicked men and women. Did Jonah’s message stand a chance?
▸ A Great Warning
Our God is the God of the second chance. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jonah 3:1). He preached a simple, direct, blunt message. It is only five words in the Hebrew text “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed.” It fit the needs of the hearers. They would not feel good about the message. His preaching was not watered-down and politically correct. They were given forty days warning. They took the message to mean there was a chance to avert God’s wrath. Notice that Jonah’s message did not mention repentance.
▸ A Great Revival
What took place was amazing. The greatest revival of all time took place in the wicked city of Nineveh. The King made reforms to save the people. He listened first and believed God’s word. He showed humility, expected the citizens to and animals to show humility by wearing sackcloth and ashes. They were to call upon God by way of a great fast. History shows that the Assyrian King Adad-Nirari made reforms. The monarchs which followed him did not explain their territory. Jonah’s prophecy that Israel was to recover her lost territory would be fulfilled as a result (2 Ki. 14:25) extending her borders to rival that of Solomon’s kingdom.
▸ A Great Show of Mercy
The hope of the Ninevites was not in vain. God is full of loving-kindness and when they repented He relented. To this day the book of Jonah is read on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in the afternoon service. When man responds to God’s message by changing his heart and his actions, God is willing to forgive and save.
▸ Universal Need of Preaching
God could not save Nineveh without Jonah’s preaching. Jonah was reluctant to preach. In fact he would rather run to the ends of the earth than preach for God. He would rather die than see his preaching successful. “Jonah learned, and through his valuable experience millions have learned, that when God enjoins the disagreeable duty, it is far easier to go and do it than to run away from it” (J. W. McGarvey, The Fourfold Gospel, p. 54). Jonah was sent and so are we. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We can run as far and fast in the other direction from the lost souls of this world, but the job still awaits.
In order for preaching to have it’s desired affect upon the audience, men and women need to have the proper response. First, the people of Nineveh had faith. “The people of Nineveh believed God” (3:5). Next, they demonstrated sorrow for their sins. They “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” (3:5,6). True repentance requires godly sorrow.
Paul wrote, “now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner” (2 Cor. 7:9-11a). Listening to the preaching of God’s Word will often lead to speaking words to God in prayer. The King of Nineveh commanded: “ let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God” (3:8a). Preaching is not just listening to a good speech. Good preaching demands a change of heart and action from the listeners. The King commands, “ let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands” (3:8b). “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way” (3:10). Preaching requires a call to repentance. As Peter said on the Day of Pentecost after accusing the Jews of killing Jesus: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19). Jonah’s message was simple: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
To preach requires the God’s spokesman to go. Jonah did not go at first, instead ran away. Given a second chance Jonah heeds the voice of God: “Arise, go to Nineveh.” He was to proclaim the message which came from God: “preach to it the message that I tell you.” The message of simple. There was nothing complicated about Jonah’s warning. Today, the gospel is simple enough for all sinners to comprehend.
▸ Universal Need for Repentance
No city represents the need for, or the example of, true repentance than that of Nineveh. Jesus then condemns the people of his day for a lack of repentance and contrasted them in the people of Nineveh (Mt. 12:41,42). We need to remind everyone that “God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
In this story there are three thing which motivated the Ninevehites to repent. First, there was the example of the leadership. “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” (3:6). Next, the hope of mercy encourages repentance. The King suggested to the people: “ Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (3:9).
– Daniel R. Vess