SS Lesson for 05/30/2021
Devotional Scripture: Matt 18:10-14
Imagine that you are nearing the end of a book you just can’t put down. You anticipate a satisfying ending. But the book actually ends by telling you that the whole thing had been a dream. What? Why was I so invested in this? That’s unfair! Few things are more frustrating to a reader than an unsatisfying ending to an otherwise excellent book. Or what if the book ended in the middle of a sentence and offered no resolution to any of the conflicts contained within it? What makes a really atrocious ending to a book is when that ending has nothing to do with the book itself, or it explains away the drama of the book in a ridiculous manner, or it fails to actually end up somewhere. Such endings make an entire read feel like a waste of time because nothing that happened actually mattered. All Jonah wanted was an ending that made sense to him regarding the story of the Ninevites. They deserved to be destroyed. They had done nothing to merit a happy ending. Everyone for miles around could see that they should be destroyed. But how would God write the ending of this drama?
Though the book of Jonah is only four chapters long, it has much to teach us about the character of God. But the book reveals Jonah’s character as well. He reacted to his call like no other prophet in the Old Testament. Those prophets consented to speak for God even when they would rather not (Exodus 4:10-12; Jeremiah 1:6-9; etc.). Jonah chose not only to keep his mouth closed but also to try to run away from God (Jonah 1:1-3). Jonah appeared to have been willing to live in self-imposed exile rather than deliver a message of repentance to wicked Nineveh, an important city of the aggressive Assyrian Empire. In this way, Jonah held a mirror up to Israel, a nation that would prefer to believe that God’s choosing them meant he cared about them exclusively. Perhaps Jonah and his fellow Israelites needed to read the “all nations on earth” part of Genesis 18:18; 22:18; and 26:4 again! Even so, Israel had good reason to desire God’s sole protection. Assyria was a powerful, expansive nation when Jonah received his call from God in about 780 BC. The city of Nineveh, to which Jonah was called, was a royal residence for the king of Assyria. The city was massive (see Jonah 3:3) and had a reputation for violence and cruelty (see 3:8). Jonah was not someone who had fallen into provincial small-mindedness. His nation—in fact the known world—would be safer if the barbarous Assyrians were destroyed. Ultimately, Israel’s fear of Assyria was justified. Assyria invaded the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC, plundered it, carried people into captivity, and resettled the territory (2 Kings 17). While history doesn’t provide detailed accounts of the Assyrian invasion, we have no reason to believe that the aggressors didn’t commit atrocities on the northern kingdom of Israel as done elsewhere. That was after Jonah’s time. Even so, he certainly preferred to avoid his assigned task entirely. In addition to his escape attempt (Jonah 1:3), Jonah later revealed his deep disappointment in God (4:1-3). However, God insisted that Jonah fulfill his prophetic tasks. Even Jonah didn’t dare try to escape God’s calling a second time.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
3:1-2. After turning Jonah from willful disobedience the Lord again commanded the prophet to fulfill his appointed task (cf. 1:2). Three times Nineveh is described as a great city (1:2; 3:2; 4:11; cf. “very large city,” 3:3). As noted in the Introduction the city was surrounded by an inner wall and an outer wall. The huge inner wall (50 feet wide and 100 feet high) was about eight miles in circumference while the outer wall encompassed fields and smaller towns (viz., Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen; cf. Gen. 10:11-12). The words “great city” probably included the city of Nineveh proper and its administrative environs. His instructions were simply to travel those 550 miles to Nineveh and preach the message the Lord would provide at the appropriate time (cf. Jonah 3:4). Interestingly in His recommissioning the prophet, God did not repeat the reason for the proclamation (cf. 1:2b).
3:3. The prophet’s response here differs from his response in chapter 1. Here he obeyed the... Lord and made his way northeast to Nineveh. Earlier (1:3) he disobeyed the Lord and went west. Jonah again mentioned the great size of the city, commenting that it took three days to go all through it, that is, through Nineveh and its suburbs.
3:4. Going a day’s journey does not mean that Jonah traveled into the city for a whole day before preaching. Instead it means on the first day he entered the city he began preaching. The message God gave the prophet was the threat of complete destruction of Nineveh within 40... days. Perhaps this was a period of grace, giving the people an opportunity to repent before the judgment fell. Jonah continued this proclamation for three days before going “east of the city” (4:5).
3:5. The words of Jonah spread rapidly through every quarter of greater Nineveh. The Ninevites accepted Jonah’s message and believed God. As the prophet preached doom, the people—ironically—changed. Earlier Jonah had repented, and now these Gentiles repented. As outward symbols of inward contrition and humiliation they fasted (cf. 1 Sam. 7:6; 2 Sam. 1:12; Neh. 1:4; Zech. 7:5) and put on sackcloth (coarse cloth; cf. Gen. 37:34; 1 Kings 21:27; Neh. 9:1; Es. 4:1-4; Lam. 2:10; Dan. 9:3; Joel 1:8). People in every social strata, from the greatest to the least, hoped that God might turn from His anger and spare them. As previously noted, some scholars find such an extensive turning to God incredible. True, Assyrian records make no mention of this city-wide penitence, but official historical records often delete events, especially those that might embarrass them (e.g., Egyptian records do not refer to the Israelites’ crossing the Red Sea or did the Assyrians record the loss of 185,000 soldiers in Jerusalem, 2 Kings 19:35). Another question about the Ninevites is whether their conversion was genuine. Was their religious response superficial as in the case of Ahab? (1 Kings 21:27-29) If the Ninevites’ conversion was genuine, it may be difficult to explain why the Assyrians continued their violence and why they soon destroyed Israel (ca. 37 years later, in 722 b.c., the Assyrians destroyed the Northern Kingdom). Perhaps the next generation reverted to the Assyrians’ typical violence. Also Jonah’s message concerned repentance from evil to avoid judgment; perhaps many believed Jonah’s words without becoming genuinely converted. They could have believed the fact of God’s threat of judgment without trusting in Yahweh as the only true God. C.F. Keil wrote, “But however deep the penitential mourning of Nineveh might be, and however sincere the repentance of the people... they acted according to the king’s command; the repentance was not a lasting one, or permanent in its effects” (“Jonah,” in Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, 10:409). Apparently the Ninevites responded from fear (cf. Jonah 3:8-9) under the power of Jonah’s proclamation. Though the people were outwardly contrite (fasting and wearing sackcloth) there may have been no enduring spiritual change. At any rate, the preaching of Jonah occasioned extensive and intensive, if not durative, religious effects.
3:6. Word of the religious humiliation of the people reached the king of Nineveh (probably Ashur-dan III). Though Nineveh did not become capital of the Assyrian Empire until some time in the reign of Sennacherib (705-681 b.c.), some of her kings did reside there. Such news of pending, almost immediate doom caused the king to respond in the way his people did (cf. v. 5). Wearing sackcloth, a coarse garment, and sitting in dust (cf. Isa. 47:1) showed he was contrite and believed the prophet’s message.
3:7-8. The king’s remorse led him and his nobles to issue a royal decree. The decree instructed the people to fast (this decree may have been the reason for the fast referred to in v. 5), to wear sackcloth (cf. v. 5), to call urgently on God, and to relinquish their wickedness (evil ways; cf. v. 10). Even the animals were not allowed to eat, and were draped with sackcloth. This practice was not strange in the Near East; it was another sign of the people’s remorse.
3:9. Who knows? (cf. 2 Sam. 12:22; Joel 2:14) hints at the possibility of God’s withdrawing His threat. By their contrition the king hoped that Jonah’s God would relent of His judgment and turn from His... anger, thereby sparing the city. (Cf. we will not perish, in Jonah 1:6.) This fear of judgment from God is startling because the Assyrians were a cruel, violent nation (cf. Nahum 3:1, 3-4) fearing no one (cf. 2 Kings 18:33-35).
3:10. The prophet’s message may have included conditions whereby the threats of God could be rescinded. As an evidence of His mercy to the Ninevites God sent Jonah to them, told him what to proclaim to them, and opened the hearts of a vast population. Also, seeing their repentant actions, God relented of His threat of destruction. He had spared Jonah (chap. 2); now He spared Nineveh. God’s mercies are always unmerited; His grace is never earned. Repentance is never a work to be rewarded. But this is not to say that God does not act in response to such repentance. Nineveh’s repentance delayed God’s destruction of the city for about 150 years. The people evidently fell into sin again, so that later the city was destroyed, in 612 b.c. (see the Book of Nahum). When God threatened punishment He provided a dark backdrop on which to etch most vividly His forgiving mercies. This emphasized His grace most forcefully to the sinners’ hearts. God’s readiness to have compassion on a wicked but repentant people and to withhold threatened destruction showed Israel that her coming judgment at God’s hand was not because of His unwillingness to forgive but because of her impenitence.
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you."
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.
4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day's walk. Then he cried out and said, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
15 Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.
11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
36 "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
6 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.
7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
22 "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. 23 "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,
14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
29 "You warned them to return to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, by which a man will live if he obeys them. Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. 30 For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples. 31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
45 for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.
11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."
41 Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!"
34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
As a result of the people’s repentance, God had compassion on them. When the King James Version says that God “repented of the evil” that He had promised to bring upon Nineveh, it does not mean that God had committed a sin of which He needed to repent. “Repented” in this case simply means “changed.” Because the people “turned from their evil,” God withheld His hand of judgment. It is still true that God takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:32). He is not willing that anyone should perish, but wants all to repent (2 Peter 3:9)
7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.
13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
38:1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." 2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3 "Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 5 "Go and tell Hezekiah, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
10 'If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am grieved over the disaster I have inflicted on you.
For the second time, the “word of the Lord” came to Jonah: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (vs. 2). It is not a new command that Jonah is given, but almost a repetition of the command given to him in chapter 1. This time Jonah obeyed, not joyfully or with a proper attitude, as we shall soon see, but at least Jonah went to Nineveh.
The population of the city of Nineveh, perhaps including its “suburbs,” was exceedingly large (cf. 1:2; 3:2; 4:11). We also know that the city was great in size. The city was described as being a “three days’ walk” (3:3). Secular history has a great deal more background information concerning this city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria.
Jonah’s message was simple, to the point, and frightening: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (3:4).
Just like the seamen of chapter 1, the people of Nineveh took these words of imminent divine judgment seriously. We are told, “They believed in God” (3:5), which focuses on the faith of these Gentiles in the God of Israel, and not just their fear of judgment. It suggests to me that there was a real revival resulting from Jonah’s proclamation. This revival seems to have begun from “the bottom up,” rather than being imposed from “the top down.” The people, we are told, believed in God. They called a fast and put on sackcloth (3:5). The response was unanimous, from the lower to the upper classes.
By the time word reached the king, the city’s repentance was already well under way, but because the king also believed Jonah’s warning, he made every effort to assure total compliance to the city-wide repentance. He began by personally repenting (3:6). The king then made a proclamation which required all of Nineveh to fast, and to abstain from drinking water (3:7). Both men and animals were to be covered with sackcloth, and all the people were to call upon God and to abstain from their wicked ways and their violence (3:8).
It is particularly interesting to note that there was apparently no need for the people to be told what their wicked ways were. Of course, Jonah could have filled in the details for the people, but it seems as though no one needed any such clarification. The issue, then, was not one of having inadequate knowledge of what God considered sin, but lacking the desire to abstain from it. The issue was not that of information, but that of motivation. I have the distinct impression that if our nation received word of God’s impending judgment, we would have little difficulty determining what it is we are doing which is offensive to God, which is, in short, sin.
If the Ninevites had but 40 days left, why would they cease sinning? One would think that they might be inclined to act in accordance with the expression, “Eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow (or 40 days) we may die.” Nineveh’s motivation for putting off the wickedness of the city is described in verse 9: “Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?” (3:9).
Some people find it very troubling that God would “relent,” that is, change His mind, regarding the destruction of Nineveh. Let me simply point out that Jonah expected God to do so (4:2), and the Ninevites at least hoped He would do so (3:9). If God intended to destroy Nineveh, why would He announce to them that He was going to do so? The proclamation against Nineveh which God instructed Jonah to deliver was not simply a promise of things to come, but a warning. The Ninevites were absolutely correct in understanding Jonah’s words as they did, as the occasion for repentance. This is entirely in keeping with what God has said in the book of Jeremiah:
Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it, if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it, if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds”’” (Jeremiah 18:5-11, emphasis mine).
God’s promises of blessing are contingent upon man’s obedience, and God’s judgment may be averted by repentance. The Ninevites hoped for and Jonah expected God’s “relenting,” based on the principle expressed above.
Had Jonah been any other prophet in the history of Israel, he would have been overjoyed with the results of his ministry, the repentance of the great city of Nineveh. Throughout Israel’s history, her prophets had failed to turn the nation to God, and were rejected and even killed by the people. As Stephen put the matter, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:52a).
In spite of joy at the repentance and salvation of so many, something for which his colleagues would have been overjoyed, Jonah was angry with God: “But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry” (4:1). Why would Jonah have been so angry with God? Jonah is not hesitant to explain, and so he prays this prayer of protest:
“Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life” (Jon. 4:2-3).
Jonah’s anger is incredible. Let us take note of what his anger was all about.
(1) Jonah was angry with God. In the final analysis Jonah was not angry with himself, or with men, but with the holy, righteous, perfect God. Jonah’s anger was so intense that he would rather die than live. Having prayed in chapter two that he might live, Jonah prays now that he might die (4:3).
(2) Jonah was angry with God because He acted consistently with His character, and for doing exactly what Jonah expected Him to do.
(3) Jonah was angry with God, protesting those very attributes of God for which the psalmists praised Him. The psalmists of the book of Psalms praise Him for His lovingkindness, His grace, and His mercy (cf. Ps. 86:5, 15), but for Jonah this is grounds for protest rather than praise.
(4) Jonah was angry with God because He showed grace toward the Ninevites. God’s question to Jonah should have served to instruct this prodigal prophet. It should have called Jonah’s attention to the utter sinfulness of being angry with God in the first place. Who can sustain a holy anger against a holy and perfect God? Furthermore, the gentleness of God’s rebuke should have reminded Jonah that He was not only gracious to the Ninevites, but also to Jonah. Indeed, more so, for while the Ninevites had repented, Jonah had not. Jonah persisted in his rebellion.
(Adapted from URL:https://bible.org/seriespage/3-nineveh-s-repentance-and-jonah-s-wrath-jonah-3-4)
Throughout Scripture, we witness time and time again that God loves mercy (Exodus 33:19). The story of Nineveh illustrates this in extreme fashion: the enemies of God’s own people were spared when they turned their hearts toward him. God’s intention for all humanity is to encounter his love and remain in it. The apostle Paul catalogued all of the forces incapable of separating God’s people from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). No outside force can cause that separation. But we can voluntarily cause it ourselves by rejecting his will as we become as the Ninevites had been. When we do so, repentance is the cure, as the Ninevites discovered. Today, we also should accept the reality that God’s work will not be limited by geopolitical lines. We see Jonah’s attitudes in both individuals and faith communities who fixate over which groups of sinners are too far beyond the reach of God’s love. Meanwhile, we are reminded that we have a Savior who dined with sinners (Luke 7:34) and reserved his fiercest anger for the self-congratulating Pharisees (11:39-52). Our Lord intends to establish a new people, from every tribe and tongue (Revelation 7:9). God’s love will go everywhere. We can experience joy at the prospect, or we can resist this reality. Our attitude does not change what God will do for our enemies, but it will change how we react to his blessing those we would curse. Think about it: if God was concerned for a petulant prophet and a morally bankrupt city, then his loving commitment to us will remain unshaken. We can celebrate that God is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2). And in the face of divine kindness, we, like the citizens and rulers of ancient Nineveh, can repent.
1. Because God is gracious, our past does not disqualify us from serving Him in the future (Jonah 3:1)
2. Obey God, do not compromise His message under pressure, and trust His power to protect you from all enemies (vss. 2-4)
3. Speak the gospel plainly and simply, trusting God to move men's hearts (vs. 5)
4. God's Word is for everyone (vs. 6)
5. Our compassionate God desires that every sinner repent and turn to Him (vss. 7-9)
6. Share the gospel freely, knowing that God responds in love to any heart turned toward Him (vs. 10)
Warnings - The first time the Father assigned Jonah to go to ungodly Nineveh, His prophet refused. But the second time, after his big fish experience, the reluctant prophet went. His message was, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" God required that the people in this city repent, or this thriving metropolis would shrivel under God's wrath.
Repentance - Jonah convinced the Ninevites; more importantly, they "believed God." He spoke; the nation listened. The king took the warning to heart. He set aside his royal robes, clothed himself in sackcloth, and sat among ashes, like a person mourning for the dead. The king ordered no one to eat or drink anything. The citizens followed the king's example, donning sackcloth and sitting in ashes. He ordered the animals also to follow suit. The whole place stopped regular business and pleasurable activities to reflect brokenness before God. Their behavior sent a strong message to the Almighty: the people were serious about asking God for His mercy and forgiveness. The nation hoped to experience God's pardoning compassion. The Father honored Nineveh's turnaround and decided to spare the city.
Revival - In the 19th century, America faced several crises. Banks failed, factories closed, and lots of people were unemployed. Prayer meetings broke out all over: in New York, Chicago, Louisville, Cleveland, and St. Louis.
The prayer revivals ignited movements in other countries throughout the world. Many Christian leaders were greatly influenced by this wave of revival, including D. L. Moody, William Booth, C.H. Spurgeon, and A.B. Simpson. Is it possible for Christians to begin to call out to the Lord again for revival? Could there be an outpouring of prayer and revival once again?