Jonah 3:1-10 - Radical Response

Jonah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  30:55
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Israel constantly rebelled against God. Time and time again, a prophet would be sent and the people wouldn’t listen. It would take an enemy warring against them for them to wake up and repent.
This consistent theme throughout the Old Testament makes this account that much more intriguing. Here is a wicked people who are the worst of the worst. We have discussed how bad their war crimes were and how heinous their tortures were to their enemies. These people were so wicked that God had sent Jonah with a message that He would personally destroy this great city off of the face of the earth.
As we will see, this evil people gives a surprise response to the message of warning from Jonah. It is indeed a radical response.
As we study this third chapter in this great book, I want you to consider your response to the Word of the Lord - the Word of God - and compare it to this pagan people of Nineveh in Assyria.
Do you respond in humility like they do? Or do you respond like Jonah did in chapter 1?
Let us pray.
Today we are going to discuss a right response to God’s Word. The first is:

I. We Should Not Respond Reluctantly (1-4)

Jonah 3:1–2 ESV
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah 3:3–4 ESV
So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Jonah 3:1–2 ESV
Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Looking at verse 1, we have a direct parallel from the first verse of this book. The last time the word of the Lord came to Jonah he fled.
Yet, this time the word comes to a changed man. As we will see next week, he may not be as changed as we would hope, but he is changed none-the-less.
This is the same word of the Lord. God is consistent with His word regarding Nineveh. Jonah is to go and speak to this evil city. The author gives us more detail regarding what Jonah was to say here, but the message is the same.
Jonah’s antics have not changed God’s mind on this whole ordeal. He still commands Jonah go and preach a message to the city of Nineveh of Assyria.
Smith and Page in their commentary press in on the mercy of God in these first two verses. Not everyone was given a second chance in the Bible. Yes, some were by God’s grace, but some where not. Think of Adam and Even in the Garden (Genesis 3) or Moses in Numbers 20:12 who sinned against the Lord and was unable to lead Isreal to the Promised Land. These two situations were handled directly without a second chance. Although we have a wonderful God who does give a second chance to many - we should not rebel and presume upon His great mercy. As Romans 9:15 states:
Romans 9:15 ESV
For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
He is sovereign and has mercy upon whom He wills. This is a difficult teaching but is truth nonetheless.
Jonah 3:2 ESV
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Next, we need to note in verse 2 that Yahweh gave a direct and verbatim message that Jonah was to proclaim to Nineveh. There was no artistic liberty or reinterpretation that Jonah was allowed to do. He was to deliver the exact Word of the Lord.
That is my job as well, friends. Obviously, the word of the Lord does not come to me audibly as it did to Jonah here. But I am given the Word of God - namely the Bible. My job is not to give my opinion or feelings regarding the Word. My job is not to re-create or re-interpret the Word. My job is to deliver it and apply it to the lives of believers. That is what God has called me to do. The Word is most always singular in its interpretation but endless in its application. What it says it means and what it means it says. Yet, God can use the Word to teach and apply His truths through His Holy Spirit in many different applications in life. The same verse can teach a child to share his toys and an adult to share her time. The same verse can rebuke an employee for slacking at work or a student from slacking at school. The life applications are endless but the underlying truth is transcendent of those applications.
Sadly, that is not the way many preach it today. I want to earnestly warn each of you as i have before - beware of so-called pastors and teachers who explain away the Word of God and give their own opinions and re-interpretations. Such men deserve the judgment that will befall them if they will not repent of their wicked blasphemies.
God is zealous for His Word. And to twist or misuse His Word for your own advancement or agenda is to blaspheme His name.
Moving forward we get to verse 3:
Jonah 3:3 ESV
So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth.
As L.C. Allen states in his commentary on this great book, “Jonah is now compliant as those other servants, the wind, the sea, and the fish.”
God has been sovereignly directing man, a ship, a huge sea creature, and the climate. And now Jonah finally bends to the will of Yahweh. As chapter 4 reveals, he still does this reluctantly. He obeys but note that he still does not answer back to God. In most of the prophet narratives, the prophets will speak back to God. They may question God at times, but they will acknowledge Him and eventually come to terms with what God has spoken.
Not Jonah - after a beautiful prayer-filled interlude in chapter 2, he resumes his silent treatment to God. This time he does arise and go to Nineveh however.
This trek is likely around 500 miles from where he was in Palestine. See the map for details. He was likely back in Joppa when the great fish vomited him out. This journey from Joppa to Nineveh would have likely been around a month on donkey or camel or even greater on foot.
Note again, that there is no sign that he obeyed with the best of intentions here either. But he was one step further than he was before. He was at least going in the right direction.
The city of Nineveh is referred to as a great city in verse 3. It was some three days journey in breadth.
Around 150 years after Jonah’s message (around 612 BC), the city was completely destroyed to rubble to the point that Xenophon (A Greek philosopher, historian, and military leader) walked past it in 401 BC without even noticing it. There are some other historical references to the vastness of this great city, but the book of Jonah states that it was around a three days journey in breadth which would be between 45-60 miles in breadth. We see in chapter 4 that there were some 120,000 persons in this great city (Jonah 4:11).
Jonah finally arrives as we get to verse 4:
Jonah 3:4 ESV
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
He makes it a day’s journey into the city and starts proclaiming the Word of the Lord.
“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Note that this is not a prophesy of God that was guaranteed. This was a warning. If it was a prophesy that was guaranteed and the Lord did not offer any chance at repentance, then it would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah. God would have just rained down His judgment as He did to those two cities after getting Lot out.
But instead, this is a warning of what is to come.
And note the word choice that Jonah is given by God. Overthrown. This Hebrew word can be translated as turning something into a heap of ruins, destroyed, or demolished.
Obviously, the message is clear. If there isn’t a change, this city is doomed to destruction. This city will be wiped from the face of the earth.
We will go into Nineveh and their response in our next two points. But I want us to take a moment and consider Jonah first. He has reluctantly proclaimed this message from the Lord. He has obeyed, but as we will see next chapter, his heart is definitely not in it.
The way that we obey is important. Yes, we need to obey whether we feel like it or not. We are not commanded to obey the Lord only when it feels good or seems right. We are to obey the Lord no matter what. But our faith and trust in the Lord needs to be firmly fixed on His goodness and grace and trustworthiness. We must truly believe that He desires what is best for us. And we must obey wholeheartedly and not reluctantly.
Next we see that...
Scripture References: Genesis 3, Numbers 20:12, Romans 9:15, Jonah 4:11

II. We Should Respond Rightfully (5-8)

Jonah 3:5–6 ESV
And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Jonah 3:7–8 ESV
And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
These verses comes out of nowhere. The people of Nineveh believed God. This belief was not just a head nod. They believed and acted. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth - from the greatest of them to the least of them. Talk about a radical response. Here is a pagan culture known for their brutality in war and combat. This is a group of people that seemed to lack any conscience when it came to their evil ways. And yet they respond to the message of the Lord and turn from their wicked ways and believe God.
This word of the Lord reaches even the king of Nineveh who goes so far as to call everyone to completely abstain from both food and water. And not only were the people to put on sackcloth and fast but the animals were to wear sackcloth and fast as well.
Smith and Page in their commentary assert that “the Ninevites’ reaction is conveyed by three verbs: believed, declared, put on.”
The Ninevites responded rightfully to the word of the Lord.
They first believed the word of the Lord, inwardly.
We should believe the Word of the Lord as well. We should believe the Bible and what God has told each of us through His living and active Word (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Second, they declared or proclaimed the Word of the Lord.
They articulated the word that they recieved. They agreed with it.
Jesus made the following statement that is terrifying to modern-day believers who take a hands-off approach to Christianity:
Luke 9:26 ESV
For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
True believers proclaim the Word of God. They share the Gospel with those around them. They aren’t ashamed of being a Christian. They want to spread the message of the Gospel - the Word of the Lord to those around them.
That is a rightful response to the Word of God.
Finally, the Ninevites put on the word of the Lord by putting on sackcloth in repentance.
They started by inwardly responding by believing the message, then they talked the talk by articulating the message, and finally they responded outwardly by showing their response to the message.
We have a lot to learn from this group of people. We should believe the word of the Lord. Belief should then move to affirmation and then outward confirmation through a changed heart and life by the Gospel and Word of the Lord.
Many scholars doubt whether the response from Nineveh was a true saving faith or not. We know that eventually the city was destroyed - but that it was around 150 years or so after this point.
But their steps of repentance are certainly something we can learn from. And I would go so far as to understand that this act was an act of true repentance because of what Jesus went on to say in Luke 11:32:
Luke 11:32 ESV
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Jesus refers to Nineveh’s repentance and states that they will rise up at the judgment with the contemporaries of Jesus who refused to believe His teachings. They would condemn those stubborn religious leaders who refused to humble themselves before the Son of God. I’ll agree with Jesus here and call this a true repentance from Nineveh!
Some might wonder why this people group - who was known for such evil atrocities - would respond with humility and repentance here. The main reason is God’s working in their hearts. But we know that God likely also plowed the soil of their hearts with afflictions and tribulations. We saw last week that it took Jonah quite an affliction to obey the Lord. And according to astronomic history there was a full eclipse of the sun in 763 BC. This eclipse occured while Nineveh had already been experiencing repeated attacks from their enemies. There was likely even famine in the land due to all of the warfare as well.
As we discussed last week, God allows suffering to show the need for a Savior. The Ninevites’ hearts had been prepared by the Lord for His message.
Is your heart ready for the word of the Lord, my friend? I pray that it doesn’t take the afflictions that Jonah or Nineveh had to endure to get to the point where they would respond to the message. But I do pray that if that is what it takes, by all means, I pray that He acts on your life to draw you to Himself to save you from the fire of Hell.
If you have not responded to His free gift of salvation - I pray that you do that now. Believe in Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God - 100% man and 100% God - who came to earth through the virgin Mary some 2000 years ago and died on the cross for our sins. Who rose from the dead three days later and now is at the right hand of the Father.
May you respond rightfully to the Word of the Lord - the Gospel.
If you are already a believer - I pray that you respond rightfully to the Bible. I pray that you submit your life to being obedient to the commands of God.
Finally, we come to our last point today...
Scripture References: Hebrews 4:12-13, Luke 9:26, Luke 11:32

III. We Should Respond Respectfully (9-10)

Jonah 3:9–10 ESV
Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
See how respectful this pagan king of Nineveh is when he appeals to God. Note that the pagan ship crew responded in humility to the Lord in the midst of the storm. Now we see a pagan city respond in humility to the word of the Lord. And yet for Jonah - it took him to the point of death to humble himself before the Lord. The irony that the prophet of God is slower to respond than the pagans in this book is incredible.
This king has seen his people worship multiple gods for ages. He wants to make sure that this is a true showing of humility and repentance. He encouraged them to not only cry out to God for mercy, but to act by turning from their wicked ways. He wanted to see follow through.
We may miss the importance of the phrase ‘who knows’ here. The king is appealing to the mercy of God with this statement. He has obviously heard about the mercy of Yahweh. We see this same phrase in Joel 2:14
Joel 2:14 (ESV)
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?
and Esther 4:14
Esther 4:14 (ESV)
For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
It is seen elsewhere as well. And each time it acknowledges the sovereign hand of God while realizing that God does respond with mercy to those who humble themselves and turn from their sins.
My friends, there is no better place to appeal than to the mercy of God. Mercy means not getting what we deserve. It means that the wrath of God that we deserve due to our sin is not placed upon us even though we deserve it. Christ has taken that wrath on our behalf if only we place our faith and trust in Him and repent of our sins.
Our God is faithful to forgive us for our sins if only we turn to Him.
Verse 10 shows us the vastness of God’s mercy.
Jonah 3:10 ESV
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Even to a pagan and wicked nation, God relented of the disaster that He had proclaimed.
Some of you may live your life running from the Lord because of the sin in your life. You might feel unworthy of salvation or unworthy of His love and forgiveness. And frankly, you are right in those feelings. We are unworthy. None of us are worthy of our Savior.
Yet, God still loves us. He is still full of grace and mercy to those who are His children.
Those who are His enemies and do not repent - they should most certainly fear.
Hebrews 10:31 ESV
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
To die without the blood of Christ covering your sins is to be feared above all else. The wrath of God and eternity in Hell is most certainly a fearful thing!
But for those who are in Christ - we need not fear our Savior. See Psalm 103:8:
Psalm 103:8 ESV
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
We can rest in the shadow of the Almighty. We can go to our Heavenly Father who is merciful and loving and gracious and know that we will be accepted because of Christ’s great work on the cross. What a blessing we have in Jesus.
Scripture References: Joel 2:14, Esther 4:14, Hebrews 10:31, Psalm 103:8
Today’s message has been a radical one. We have seen a pagan city repent and turn from their wicked ways before Yahweh. I pray that our response is that radical as well. If anyone here is not saved - I pray that they fully put their trust in Jesus Christ and Him alone for their sins.
And for those of us who are believers - may we live a life of radical response to Jesus Christ and His Word.
May We...
Not Respond Reluctantly
Respond Rightfully
Respond Respectfully
Let us pray.
If you would like to learn more about salvation through Jesus Christ or want to obey Jesus by obeying the first commandment of a believer in going through the waters of baptism - please let me know.
Have a blessed week.
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