Lessons from Jonah, Part 4
By the Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer
Background text: Jonah 3
Devotional text: Isaiah 56:3-7
Today, as we read chapter three of Jonah, we finally get to see Jonah at work as a prophet of God. The chapter begins with the word of the Lord coming to Jonah for a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I gave you.” In verses three through five, we read the Lord’s message given to Jonah for a second time and the response of both the people and their king.
Previously, we have read in chapters one and two that Jonah had run from God’s calling for him to go preach to the Ninevites. Jonah did not want to preach to the enemies of Israel, so he boarded a ship going in the opposite direction. Once out to sea, God had allowed a great storm to come up and the crew threw Jonah overboard so God would calm the storm.
At the end of chapter one, we found that Jonah did not die by the sea, but God provided a huge fish to swallow him. Jonah stayed inside the huge fish for three days and three nights.
We read in chapter two Jonah’s prayer to God while inside the fish, offering him praise and thanksgiving for saving his life. He was ready to follow God’s calling to Nineveh. At the end of this chapter, God commanded the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land.
Continuing on with chapter three, one of the most important lessons we can learn is that our God is indeed a God of second chances. We, as believers in God, know the Holy Spirit will nudge us to do various things in service to God or we will have a persistent thought to do something.
Sometimes, like Jonah, we do not answer these callings. Maybe because we are fearful to follow God’s leading. Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say or what is required of us to do.
However, we quickly learn that God never gives us a call to do something that is against our nature nor against the loving nature of God. When we do answer God’s call, he gives us the words to say or nudges us into the action to take. We find afterward we have great joy knowing we have followed God’s calling. Both recipient and giver feel joyful.
Getting back to Jonah, his message to the Ninevites took him three days to go about the city proclaiming these words found in verse 4b: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
Once again, in reading the scripture we do not get all the details. We are not told how the Ninevites knew Jonah was God’s prophet. Did he tell them as he preached that he was a prophet of the Lord? Surely God had anointed him so the people would listen and take to heart the words he was saying.
In verse five, we read of the people’s response to Jonah’s proclamation: “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.”
In ancient times, the wearing of sackcloth, which was a coarse material used for making sacks, was to signify both mourning and the need for repentance. Often the coarse material was made from camel or goat hair. We find the word sackcloth in 50 verses and more than 21 books in the Bible. It is mentioned most in the book of Isaiah.
As we read on, we find it was not only the people coming to repentance, but when the king heard of Jonah’s proclamation, he made a proclamation of his own. These are the words of the king to his people found in Jonah 3:7b-9: “Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw their true repentance and how they actually did turn from their evil ways, we read in verse 10, “he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
As soon as Jonah proclaimed God’s coming wrath on the Ninevites, they immediately took to heart his words by fasting, wearing sackcloth and giving up their evil ways. They had heard God’s words of destruction, and their fear of God turned them around to repent.
Before turning to Jonah chapter 4, it’s good to notice that our God is a God of compassion. He is not a violent God of destruction. He’s not going to harm us if we make mistakes and fail at certain times in our lives.
God tells us again and again that he is with us and will never forsake us. No matter what happens in our lives, as long as we stay close to God, believing in his salvation and forgiveness, we can ask God for help, for he is with us.
We find these words, “God is with us,” more than 300 times in the Bible.
From Old Testament to New Testament, we find scriptures reminding us that “He will never leave us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6), “Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9), “Fear not, for I am with you … ” (Isaiah 41:10) and “ … And surely I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Next week, we will read Jonah’s response to God concerning the repentance of the Ninevites, and once again God will reveal his mercy to all people.