“Jonah concluded that because he could not see any good reasons for God’s command, there couldn’t be any.” – Tim Keller, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy.
In chapter 1 of the book of Jonah, God says “go” but Jonah says “no.” In chapter 2, God applies the pressure as only He can until Jonah cries “uncle.” In Chapter 3, God calls on Jonah a second time to compel him to go. As soon as Jonah’s feet hit dry land he set off for Nineveh to warn the people.
For a long time, Nineveh held the title of the largest city in the world. The city required a three-day journey — not to get to it, but to get through it. And so the world’s most disinclined prophet walks through the gates of the largest city on earth and begins fulfilling the mission God sent him on. His message was brief and to the point: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!” Most people think about being swallowed by a giant fish as the miracle in the book of Jonah, but I am not so sure. The bigger miracle may be found in verse 5:” The people of Nineveh believed God’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they declared a fast and put on burlap to show their sorrow.”
The verse does not say they believed Jonah. They believed God. Something swept through the mighty city of Nineveh causing a repentance wave. Something gripped their hearts with such force that they took off their big-city robes and put on the rough and scratchy sackcloth that signified great distress. Even the king repented: When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.” (Vs. 6-9)
I doubt there has ever been another revival like this. Every single person stopped eating and started fasting, traded their dignified clothes for burlap, and began to cry out urgently to God, repenting from the evil and violent things they had been doing. When the rebellious prophet in the Bible obeyed God after three days in a fish, the power of God brought Nineveh to repentance.
This is a miracle and a clear demonstration of the love and mercy of God. What God was teaching Jonah – and all of us today – is that the love, hope, and redemption found in Jesus Christ is available for everyone, regardless of their past. It’s available for a rebellious prophet whose prejudices got in the way of obeying God and for an entire city that committed countless atrocities. That same love is available for you and for me. Why? Because “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8).
- How does the story of Nineveh change your view of God’s love?
- Does the story of Nineveh change your view of warning people?