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Chapter 3 is a really powerful part of Jonah’s story, maybe even the most powerful. People tend to focus on the fish and the plant, but those are really secondary to the story of God’s never-ending search to deliver humans. This is the main course of the little book, and in it I find three awesome principles.
A second time
The Lord said to Jonah a second time, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” Jonah 3:1-2
I like how this half of the book begins almost exactly the same as the first half. God had a specific task for Jonah to accomplish. The first time, Jonah ran away and almost got himself killed. God intervened in nature and disciplined Jonah until he repented.
Upon Jonah’s repentance, God never mentioned it again (though Jonah does in chapter 4). However, the task still had to be done. Parents do this with their kids all the time.
“OK, you threw your fit, so you don’t get dessert tonight [fill in your favorite method of discipline here]. Now clean your room like I told you to do.”
Discipline is for the purpose of bringing back into line. Jonah was back in line, so God approached him again. Nothing had changed in God’s mind.
Our rebellion doesn’t change God’s plan. It will “be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Did you notice that Jonah did not preach a message of repentance? By most standards, he didn’t preach a message at all. In Hebrew, his statement was only five words long – “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”
He didn’t cry out, “Repent!” He just said, “You’re toast! Deal with it.” So what made them respond?
- It certainly wasn’t his passion or Christian love. He wanted them dead.
- It wasn’t the threat of the Israelites. One Jewish prophet wasn’t going to scare the powerful Assyrians.
I have to believe that it was the message in the context of the messenger’s life. Like I said in Jonah 2 (Part 2), I am making the assumption that there were eyewitnesses to Jonah’s exit from the fish. There is no doubt that they would have followed (or even helped) him to Nineveh. His appearance and testifying groupies would be enough to bring the populace of Nineveh to repent before suffering like judgment from an obviously powerful God. The king’s response, then, is understood.
Our spoken message is not as powerful alone as it is when it is backed up with our life message. You can talk about your experience all you want, but when others start talking about what they have seen God do in/with/through you, that adds unbelievable power.
When God saw their actions – they turned from their evil way of living! – God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them. Jonah 3:10
God chose to make it clear that it was the people’s “actions”, not just their hearts, that he responded to. This is one Old Testament parallel to James’ assertion that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26). According to his first call to Jonah, God’s judgment was to be on Nineveh’s wickedness.
It’s not good enough to say, “Please save me,” but never experience life change. The whole Bible shows that an unchanged life is evidence of an unchanged heart.
Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. Proverbs 4:23
This is why faithful churches call Christians to things like water baptism, regular church attendance, generous giving, joining a small group, and serving on a ministry team. While these things don’t remove our sin, they do help us fight sin, grow our faith, and give evidence of growing faith.
If you have been a believer for a while and are not actively, visibly demonstrating your faith, it’s time for a heart-check. What’s your Jonah-problem? What is holding you back from doing what God has called you to do?
Posts in this series: