Summary: God gives us a warning; He allows us to respond; He wants to show us mercy.
If we were to ask 100 people what the book of Jonah is all about, probably the majority would say, “It’s about a fish that swallowed a man.” The book of Jonah, however, is much more than a whale of a story.
The book of Jonah is about God’s love for all people.
The reason for Jonah’s rescue was not just to save Jonah from drowning in the sea but to save Nineveh from drowning in sin.
The people of Nineveh mattered to God.
The fish was an instrument of God’s love.
Praise Mixed with Protest
Some people get preoccupied with trying to prove whether or not it would have been possible for Jonah to survive inside a fish for three days. To me, it doesn’t matter whether it was possible or not because, even if it wasn’t possible, the Lord is a God of miracles. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
“Salvation belongs to the LORD” (2:9). There could be a hint of protest in Jonah’s statement. Jonah may have been thinking, “If salvation belonged to me, Nineveh would never be saved!”
Jonah has changed his mind about running away from God’s will, but he has not changed his mind about Nineveh (cf. 4:2).
Reconciliation with God
1. God gives us a WARNING.
“[Jonah] proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned’” (3:4b).
a. We deserve JUDGMENT.
b. We are offered MERCY.
“Overturned” [haphak] = “overthrown, changed, turned.”
“Overturned” has a double meaning. Jonah’s words could mean both “In forty days Nineveh will be overthrown” and “In forty days Nineveh will have a change of heart.”
2. God allows us to RESPOND.
a. We can respond with REJECTION.
b. We can respond with REPENTANCE.
The people of Nineveh responded with repentance (3:5-9). They declared a fast—fasting is a means of seeking God’s mercy. They covered themselves with sackcloth—sackcloth is a symbol of repentance.
“But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn [shuwb] from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands” (3:8 NKJV).
“When God saw that they did and how they turned [shuwb] from their evil ways” (3:10a).
3. God desires to show us MERCY.
“Mercy” = “compassion shows to an offender.”
“Who knows? God may yet relent [shuwb] and with compassion [nacham] turn [shuwb] from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (3:9).
“He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (3:10b).
The KJV says “God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them” (3:10). The Hebrew word for “repented” (nacham) means “to feel sorrow.” When God feels sorrow the word cannot mean “repent” because God does not sin. “Relented” (NKJV, NASB) or “had compassion” is a better translation. God knew what the consequences of Nineveh’s wickedness would be and felt sorrow (nacham; “had compassion”).
“Mercy” (2:8) is capitalized in the NKJV [“grace” NIV] because it is used as a synonym for God.
“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11b).
“My heart is changed [haphak; “overturned”] within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man—the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:8-9).
How can God’s heart be changed if He is unchanging (immutable)? God’s love never changes, and His love often stirs Him to give sinners mercy instead of the judgment they deserve. The Lord says, “I am God, and not man.” Jonah did not have compassion on Nineveh, but the Lord did.
Big Idea: God desires mercy for sinners, not judgment.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).
“Live” = experience eternal life. “Die” = experience eternal death (separation from God; hell).
“I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).