Summary: God’s Great concern in the salvation of the lost. Is this our concern or are we more concerned about our own comfort?
Jonah 4 June 23, 2002
God’s great concern & our petty concern
Have you ever got it completely wrong? Have you ever flown off the handle, and let someone really have it only to discover that what you thought had happened hadn’t really happened or that you were the one in the wrong? It’s the stuff that life’s most embarrassing moments are made of, or at least what sit-coms are made of.
Jonah gets it wrong.
Jonah was called by God to go and preach to the people of Nineveh that God was going to destroy the city because of its wickedness. Nineveh is wicked, and powerful, so Jonah is afraid for his life. Instead of taking the next camel train to Nineveh, he jumps on a ship and heads for Tarshish, which is at the exact opposite end of the then known world. He is running from God, but God runs after him with a huge storm that threatens to break up the ship. The sailors figure out that Jonah is the problem, they ask him what they should do, and he says that they must throw him overboard into the raging sea. They don’t want to do it, but the storm is so bad that they finally throw him over. The storm stops as Jonah sinks to the bottom. God doesn’t let him drown, but sends a fish to come and swallow him. Jonah is three days and three nights in the belly of the fish. While he is there he prays, and admits his wrong.
The fish spits him up on to dry land, where God calls him again to go to Nineveh. This time he obeys, and he goes and preaches to them.
It would have taken about three days to cover the city, on the first day Jonah begins his task, and prophesies God’s message to them. Jonah may have said more, but all we are told that he said was “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” He is only one day into his three-day preaching stint and the people repent.
The Ninevites demonstrate the greatest example of corporate regret that we find in the Bible. They declare a fast, they remove their fancy clothes, they sit in the dust, and go about mourning.
This fast of regret and mourning is complete in that from the least person in the city, to the greatest, they all fast.
Even the King, when he hears the news of their impending doom, gets off his throne, removes his royal robes puts on sackcloth and sits down in the dust.
He sets a royal decree to fast and wear rags. He extends the fast to not just people, but the animals as well. Nineveh goes from this powerful, arrogant, wicked city to become a city of massive mourning. They actually turn from their wickedness and begin to do what is right.
3:10 speaks of God’s fantastic mercy: “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.”
What an amazing thing! These people were so evil that God saw the need to wipe them from the face of the earth! But they repent – show true remorse, stop their evil ways and begin to live right. Some Judges would say, too bad, you still did all that evil, it doesn’t matter that you turned it around, your still toast. But not God – he has mercy and changes his plan.
And Jonah is furious.
1. These guys deserve it – they are evil
2. Jonah looks the idiot – he said they’d be destroyed and now they won’t be
3. Race – they are Assyrians for Pete’s sake!
And Jonah is dead wrong. He doesn’t get God’s heart at all – he knows it, theologically speaking, but he doesn’t get it.
Forgiving is what God does best. Jonah knows it, and he hates it – I bet you never thought you would hear the words of verse 2 spoken in anger: “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity!”
Jonah does not see this as a good point. Because these people deserved judgement!
As I told you in my sermon on chapter 1, The Assyrians were a cruel and heartless people - Assyrian engravings depict people being tortured, skulls worn around their necks to show their cruelty. When they took over a town in battle they would take any survivors and they would impale them on stakes in front of the town. After a battle they’d pile up the skulls of their enemies making pillars out of them. Their leaders would often remove the heads of their enemies and wear them around their necks. And, this is the nation that eventually invades and destroys Israel in 722BC