Summary: Like it or not, Jonah helped bring about one of the largest mass conversions in history. He’s hoping the city will reject his message of doom, which he likely enjoyed delivering!
Jonah, “the Preaching Prophet” -chapter 3 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Evangelism is a program originated by God. In the light of human depravity and inability to lift ourselves from our sinful condition, God takes the initiative, opening our blind eyes and drawing us to the Cross. If God didn’t intervene, we’d all be lost. In order to make known the remedy for sin, God has chosen us, to share our faith by telling others about the grace and forgiveness we’ve experienced. None of us can ignore this responsibility.
Quick story: In 1860, Dwight L. Moody surrendered to God in downtown Boston, not in a church but in a shoestore near the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans on Court Street (next time you’re there look for the historical marker on the wall). Moody committed his life to fulfilling the Great Commission. One day Moody asked a passerby if he was a Christian, and the man snapped, “That’s none of your business”, to which Moody replied, “That is my business.” The man stared and said, “Then you must be Mr. Moody.” Spreading the Gospel is every Christian’s business. We all have a Ninevah to go to.
As chapter 3 opens, God again calls Jonah to go to Ninevah. If we were in God’s place, I imagine at this point we’d have had enough of Jonah! “Let’s find someone else!” But God is patient with His prophet. He re-commissions Jonah, giving him another chance, and uses him in spite of his faults. If God didn’t, none of us could serve. Nearly everyone God chooses to use have committed sins that would justify dismissal from God’s service. God is telling Jonah to “Cowboy up”, to be in the game, to take an active role. In the same way, God wants us to play the game, to serve Him with all our heart.
Ninevah is described in vs 3 as an “important” city, or literally, “a great city to God”. But God wasn’t impressed with Ninevah’s architecture, culture or military might; He was impressed with the number of people who needed Him. And it was a vast city, with three surrounding suburban towns. When an OT scholar asked about visiting Lebanon he was advised to make time to see all the points of interests, and was told, “Beirut is a city of three days,” just like Ninevah.
Imagine Jonah approaching Ninevah and preparing to deliver his message. What kind of reception would he get? Would the people ridicule him? Would they harm him? Or even worse (in Jonah’s mind), they might believe and repent! For Jonah, Ninevah was the place accepted, not chosen.
We can see that Jonah’s attitude was completely wrong from verse 4--judgment’s coming, period. He wasn’t preaching for conversions; he was simply announcing condemnation. I think he enjoyed delivering his message of doom. Jonah was vengeful and eager to see Ninevah toasted as a burnt offering. As he walked the streets of the city, it was like he was telling them “where to go”, shaking his fist at the people, hoping they’d do nothing and burn. The word “overthrown” indicates complete destruction, and is used elsewhere to describe what happened to Sodom & Gomorrah.
Any church that lacks compassion for unbelievers; any church that creates arrogant, self-satisfied people has lost its purpose. Churches that do not reach out, will die out. If we only baptize our children, we’ve lost sight of our discipling mission, given us by Jesus. When Jesus preached, He critiqued Israel for losing sight of its purpose to be light to the world.
Jonah wasn’t alone in his exclusiveness and bigotry. His countrymen hated Gentiles with a passion. By becoming God’s instrument of bringing blessing upon the Ninevites, Jonah not only would be hurting Israel (so he thought), but would really lose his popularity among his countrymen. What would people think of him now? He might be regarded as a traitor or spy, like someone passing sensitive defense secrets to an enemy. “Jonah, you did WHAT?” Jonah might be treated like a Yankees fan at Fenway Park! In II Kings 14 Jonah delivered a message of prosperity for Israel that came true. But being “prophetic” often means telling people things they don’t care to hear. As an Army Chaplain I had to at times tell my Commander that there were problems in the Brigade. Obeying God can be challenging if we have a need to be liked.
Any warning of judgment suggests the possibility of mercy. Why preach to Ninevah if they’re not going to be given a chance to repent? And why give them 40 days to decide? Why did Jonah dread preaching to Ninevah? Because he knew God all too well! The king of Ninevah also understood the implication; he dares to hope in verse 9: “Who knows? God may yet relent, and with compassion turn from His burning anger so that we shall not perish.”