Jonah 3:1-5, 10
It was a time of tumult and turmoil. The Northern Kingdom was losing ground, literally. Only when the ruthless Assyrian army invaded Damascus in 797 B.C., was Aramean power destabilized. Only then was Israel’s military, under Jeroboam II, able to triumph over Aram and regain lost territory. While this king, like many of his predecessors, engaged in much evil (2 Ki 14:24), Jeroboam II was encouraged by the words of God’s prophet, Jonah son of Amittai (2 Ki 14:25).
Jonah was thrilled to proclaim Israel’s victory and Aram’s defeat. He was glad his beloved Israel was returning to its former strength and stature. But the Lord did not want his prophet to become too complacent. God was about to stretch Jonah’s comfort zone in some very uncomfortable ways. The enthusiastic prophet of lower Galilee was about to become known as “the reluctant prophet.” Why? Because Jonah’s nationalistic fervor and zeal was on a collision course with the call of God to leave his beloved homeland, and to go preach repentance to Israel’s arch-enemy.
Let’s track Jonah’s journey: First, Jonah got off course (Jo. 1:1-3). Second, Jonah got back on course (Jo. 2:1-4). Third, Jonah finally ran the course that God had intended for him to run (Jo. 3:1-5, 10).
Jonah – Off Course (Jo. 1:1-3) – The mission and message given to Jonah was very simple. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jo. 1:2). How did Jonah react? Words like “shocked”, “startled” and “stubborn” come to mind. Assyria was Israel’s threat to the north with Nineveh a chief city. Jonah could hardly reconcile his narrow nationalism with the Lord’s call to “go and preach”. The futile outcome: See Jonah run (Ps. 139:7, 9-10).
Today we may face similar decisions. Do we head in obedience toward Nineveh? Or do we disregard God’s leading? Do we tend toward Tarshish? Lloyd John Oglivie states, “Whatever else, Nineveh is the call of God sounding in our hearts to put Him first, to be His person, and accept our vocation to be servants in mission.” (L. Oglivie, The Communicator’s Commentary, Vol 20, Hosea-Jonah, Word Books, 1990, p. 404).
Jonah – Getting Back on Course (Jo. 2:1-4) – Like Jonah, we can sometimes cool in our commitment to the Lord. But God never cools in his commitment toward us. Perhaps what was once a frequent and fervent prayer time is easily interrupted or increasingly neglected. Maybe the daily reading and study of Scripture is given less priority. Perhaps we grow less interested in fellowship with other Christians. Maybe a service project we enthusiastically embraced at one time now seems more of a burden than a blessing.
Like Jonah, God allows us to distance ourselves from Him, to endure much distress, to literally hit bottom, if that is what is required to get us back on track (Jo. 2:2). God’s desires are never diminished or denied by our disobedience. God’s purposes will never be thwarted.
Jonah – Running the Course (Jo. 3:1-5) – Jonah disobeyed God’s initial call and commission. Yet God mercifully protected and provided for his prophet. Through a violent storm. In a great fish. By drawing him to repentance. God re-commissioned Jonah (Jo. 3:1). God’s first commission had two commands: “Go” and “preach”. His second commission was identical. But this time Jonah was told exactly what to say. Obedience was no longer an option. Obedience was essential. Meanwhile Jonah learned that the Lord is compassionate and merciful, forgiving and rescuing whomever he chooses.
Not only was God merciful in giving Jonah a second chance, God was merciful to metropolitan Nineveh because he chose to send his prophet to them. The mercy of God is seen in His prophet’s preaching (Jo. 3:3-4); in the drama of repentance (Jo. 3:5-9); and in the sparing of this great city (Jo. 3:10). What is noteworthy is that God had prepared the hearts and minds of the Ninevites, so that Jonah’s first day of preaching brought about an incredible turning away from evil and turning toward God.
While Jonah, the narrow nationalist, longed for the Lord to punish Israel’s enemies Douglas Stuart observes that God’s mercy and patience far exceeds our own. “He manifests his sovereignty not in stubbornness but in grace; not in a narrow particularism but in a willingness to forgive any people. There is, however, a contingency. … Only genuine repentance can result in forgiveness.” (D. Stuart, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 31, Hosea-Jonah, Word Books, 1987, p. 496).
Sadly, Nineveh returned to its evil ways and in 611 B.C. the city was destroyed. Still Jonah – the reluctant prophet – got back on course. He discovered God’s mercy. He demonstrated obedience to God. He discerned that God was merciful and loving. Jonah realized that God loved not only his beloved Israel, but all persons everywhere.
Sermon brief provided by: Gary Bruland, Pastor of West Shore Baptist Ch., Camp Hill, PA