A Walk In The Crowds (Jonah 3:1-10)

I’d like to begin by asking you this question: Does God ever repent?

While you are carefully considering your answer, let me tell you why I am asking it. Our text says in verse ten that “God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon” the Assyrians in Nineveh. This word “relented” is translated repented in many good versions of the Bible, including the King James Version. The Bible itself tells you God does repent.

When the Bible says God repents it does not mean He ever does anything wrong. It does not even mean that He changes His mind. It means He is responding in mercy to the faith of a condemned people. He must judge them for their sin; but if they turn to Him, He has made a way for them to escape the judgment and be saved. From our point of view God repents; but He is really acting in a way that is consistent with His nature.

A passage in Jeremiah will put this into perspective:

Jer 18:7  The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it,
Jer 18:8  if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.
Jer 18:9  And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it,
Jer 18:10  if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.

I’ve taken a moment to defend the use of the word “repent” because I see it as the key to unlocking the teaching of this chapter. In these verses you see that God does repent; but you’ll also see that He doesn’t repent:

God does repent in response to the faith of the people in Nineveh.
God doesn’t repent of His calling in the life of Jonah despite Jonah’s failure.

When we last left Jonah he had been vomited upon a beach by the great fish that God had prepared for him. He had attempted to resign his commission as a prophet; he had refused to pray for the lives of the mariners on the ship in the storm; he had requested that they throw him in the sea to kill him rather than he repent and go to Nineveh. In chapter four you will see that he remained rebellious even after the revival.

This is the background as you read,

Jonah 3:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
God still sends Jonah to Nineveh! Despite all of Jonah’s reluctance and rebellion, God does not change His mind. God does not repent of His calling upon Jonah’s life.

An important portion of Scripture puts this in perspective:

Romans 11:29 KJV For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

We will mention this verse again in a moment… But for now you see something truly amazing about God. He does not repent from His “gifts and calling.”

God’s “gifts” refer to your salvation and its many blessings.
God’s “calling” refers to His eternal purposes for your life.

Let’s be honest: It troubles us that God would still use Jonah after his reluctance and rebellion. But it thrills us to realize that God still uses us after our reluctance and rebellion!

God not only uses Jonah – He gives him the same commission that He had previously. If it were us, we would make Jonah earn his way back to the rank of Prophet. He’d have to prove himself. God immediately restored him to his office and service.

Forget about Jonah for a moment and look into your own life. If you are a believer, you will sometimes fall and fail. When you do, God does not repent from His gifts and calling upon your life. He works to bring you back to a place of serving Him.

When you fall or fail, put your name in place of Jonah’s: “Now the word of the Lord came to Gene the second time…”
Then, in place of the word “second,” put in whatever number of failure you are currently working on. “Now the word of the Lord came to Gene [for] the millionth time…” This is how you are to understand and receive these verses.

The Bible is full with examples of God giving believers a second chance. He keeps giving them – and you – a second chance over and over again.

God told Jonah to “Arise…” Jonah had fallen. You will fall. When you do, God says, “Arise.” Then He sends you on your way according to His gifts and calling upon your life that He does not repent from.

Jonah 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.

The Assyrian Empire, of which Nineveh was the capitol, extended all the way to the Mediterranean coast where Jonah had been barfed on the beach. It even included the island of Cyprus out in the Mediterranean. Jonah was still some five hundred miles from the city itself. It would have taken him at least a month to get to Nineveh. When it says that Nineveh was a “three-day journey in extent,” it means that it took Jonah three-days to walk through Nineveh after he arrived.

After a month’s journey, he had a three-day ministry. Jonah prepared ten-times longer than he preached! It should be a lesson to us. Power for your ministry and service comes from your secret preparation. It comes from walking with God when no one sees you.

Jonah 3:4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

Jonah had been told to preach “the message [God would] tell [him],” no more and no less. You need to be confident in the simple, straightforward Word of God. It is the power of God unto salvation. Let the Holy Spirit lead you when you speak for God.

We’ve made an awesome personal application of Jonah’s experience by showing you that God does not repent from His gifts and calling. There is an equally awesome prophetic application. Jonah is a prophetic picture of God’s dealings with the Jews as a nation.

I told you I would have more to say about Romans 11:29, which reads,

Romans 11:29 KJV For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

This verse is in a section of Romans which promises the Jews that, even though they have rebelled against God, He does not repent of His gifts and calling of them as a nation. God will fulfill His unconditional promises to Israel. He will regather and restore them in the Last Days; they will take His Word to the Gentile nations. Their failure as a nation does not cancel out God’s promised blessings.

If you are a believer, God does not repent towards you. You fall; you fail. Don’t you think God foresaw all of that? He says to you, “Arise.” He says it a second time… A third time… He keeps on saying it.
What if you are not a believer?

Close to one million people “believe[d] God” and were converted.

Before we see the response to Jonah’s three-day campaign, let me share an interesting fact I learned about the Assyrians. One of their gods was named “Dagon.” His name is from the root word meaning fish. Dagon was represented by an idol that was half-human and half-fish.

You’re on the beach at the Mediterranean coast. A great fish pukes a prophet onto shore! A man comes out of a fish… You have some fear of a god who is half-fish, half-man… You are freaked!

Word spread rapidly ahead of Jonah’s arrival. God had been preparing the citizens of Nineveh for his arrival.

Jonah 3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
Jonah 3:6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.

The people “believed God.” They didn’t believe in God; they believed God. There’s a big difference. Most people believe in “god.” In every poll in America, the vast majority of people claim a belief in “god.” But when you quit believing in “god” and really believe God as He is revealed in Scripture, then you are saved.

“Sackcloth and… ashes” are an outward sign of the inward sentiment. These people were repenting – turning to God from their idols. The king’s action was a symbol of what was happening. By taking off his robe he was rejecting self-rule and asking God to be his King.

Jonah 3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.
Jonah 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jonah 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

What hope was there in Jonah’s message that God might “turn and relent?”

I’m glad you asked! There are at least two things that inspired hope:

God’s message was, “Yet forty days…” If God wanted to destroy Nineveh, why warn them? Why wait? This was a warning that gave hope that God was waiting to see their response.

The experience of Jonah gave them hope. Despite Jonah’s reluctance and rebellion, God delivered him from the belly of the great fish. God must be a compassionate, merciful, second-chance-giving God.

God has a way of revealing Himself to nonbelievers:

He spoke to them right where they were at. They worshipped a fish-man; He sent them a man from a fish and showed them that He was the God of both men and fish – the God of all creation.
He warned them, then waited, which could only indicate He was a compassionate God, not willing that any should perish.

Jonah 3:10 KJV And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

God does repent in response to faith. He acts consistently with His character.

Nineveh was condemned; but the people had forty days to respond to their condemnation.

All men are born already condemned. If you do not yet “believe God,” you are already condemned. The span of your life is your own personal “forty days” in which God warns you and waits for your response. You may have years left; or months; or days; or mere hours.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
John 3:18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

“Already condemned.” Everyone who is born into the world is “already condemned.” But God has sent Jesus to take your condemnation upon Himself and offer you eternal life.

God does “repent” in response to faith. Believe God.

It comes down to your name and your number:

If you are a believer, memorize verse one, insert your name and the number of your failure, and then “Arise” and “Go.” God does not repent of His gifts and calling in your life.

If you are a non believer, you are already condemned – but God has warned you and is waiting for you to respond to His message of salvation in Jesus Christ. You can put your name in verse four in place of the word “Nineveh.” “Yet forty days and (your name) shall be overthrown.” The real problem, though, is that you don’t know your number. Is it years? Months? Days? Hours? Minutes? Seconds?

Maybe this is where we get the expression, “Your number is up.” God knows the number of your days… But you do not.

Believe God.

The Sea Was Angry That Day (Jonah 1:1-16)

“The story of the great fish swallowing Jonah borders greatly on the marvelous; but it would have approached nearer to the idea of a miracle if Jonah had swallowed the great fish” (Thomas Payne).

Mention Jonah, and you can’t help but think of him being swallowed. Too bad because there’s so much more to hear.

Jonah is a historical account. It is a true story; the events in it – including Jonah being swallowed and surviving – are real.

How do we know? Jesus Christ Himself referred to Jonah as a prophet and his experiences as literal. He pointed His critics to Jonah’s experience three days and three nights in the fish.

At the same time, Jonah’s literal experiences are also illustrations of spiritual truth:

Jonah illustrates the past, present, and future history of the nation of Israel. The Jews were commissioned by God to be a witness to the surrounding Gentile nations, but they refused. They were thus thrown into the “sea” – typical of the Gentile world – and “swallowed-up” by the nations. Still, they were not destroyed; they survived, and survive to this day. Israel will eventually emerge and be a blessing to the nations of the world as God originally intended.
Jesus used Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish to illustrate His own death, burial, and resurrection – saying that the only sign He would give the Jews was that of the prophet Jonah.

There is a Jewish legend that Jonah was the widow’s son whom Elijah brought back to life. Whether that is true or not, he is assumed to have been a disciple of Elisha.

In Jonah’s time, Israel had split into two kingdoms – Israel in the North, and Judah in the South. The division weakened them both. From the mid-8th century all the kingdoms of the region came under increasing threat from the expanding Assyrian empire. The kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722BC. It’s capital was destroyed, and both Biblical and Assyrian sources speak of massive deportations. Replacement settlers were brought in from other parts of the empire.

They were the cruelest, most brutal nation on the face of the earth. Listen to this quote from one of Assyria’s own kings, Ashurbanipal, found in records which have survived to the present time: “I pierced [their captured leader] with my keen hand dagger. Through his jaw… I passed a rope, put a dog chain upon him and made him occupy a kennel.”

Around 780-750BC, God ordered Jonah to reach out to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, and he famously refused.

What was God thinking? He tells you what He was thinking in the very last verse of the book:

Jonah 4:11 “And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”
The word “pity” is compassion. God singled-out the worst people on the face of the earth and said, “I have compassion for them.”

God puts compassion in action by giving His prophet a commission: “Go!” Jonah is about God’s compassion for souls and His commission of His servants.

God’s compassion remains in effect today: “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
God’s commission remains in effect today: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

The only difference is that the commission is not coming to Jonah; it’s coming to you and I!

Jonah 1:1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,
Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

Jonah understood God’s compassion. Jonah did not want the Assyrians spared and saved. He attempted to flee from God’s commission.

In the New Testament, the disciples were given a commission by the risen Lord:

Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Commissioned to take the Gospel to “the end of the earth,” they remained in Jerusalem – reluctant to “Go!” to the Gentiles. God shook-up their world: Stephen was stoned to death, a storm of persecution broke out upon the church in Jerusalem, and then they were “scattered abroad” and began preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Jonah 1:3 But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

“Tarshish” is probably the coast of Southern Spain. He headed west as far as he could go, about 2500 miles.

He found a ship; he could afford the fare; and he could sleep in peace. Circumstances can be deceiving. You can’t determine God’s will for your life merely by circumstances. His will is found first and foremost in His Word. You need to live on principle, not on perception. Christians too often allow circumstances to comfort them while they are actively disobeying God.

Jonah 1:4 But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.
Jonah 1:5 Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.

These were experienced sailors. They ate storms for lunch. Their skill failed them as they began to realize that this was unlike any other storm they had ever experienced.

Once their own skill failed, they each cried out to their “god.” They were brought to the point of understanding that there are spiritual realities we each must face.

Terror and tragedy prepare unbelieving hearts for truth. They strip away sources of strength and expose the failure of belief systems.

Jonah 1:6 So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”

The unbelieving captain rightly guessed that Jonah’s God was not willing that any should perish. He went to Jonah with God’s message of compassion – when all the while it was Jonah who had been sent to Nineveh with that same message.

Jonah could not miss the irony. He had tried to avoid sharing with Gentiles who were perishing, but God busted him. If he wouldn’t go to the Gentiles, God would bring the Gentiles to him!

Jonah 1:7 And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.
Jonah 1:8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?”
Jonah 1:9 So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

Right about now the “God of heaven Who made the sea and the dry land” was just Who you needed. God was forcing Jonah to give his testimony to Gentiles. As terrible as the storm and potential loss of life, you have to see the humor in this.

Jonah 1:10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

No child of God should ever suffer the humiliation of being reproved by an unbeliever. Nevertheless, God will use them if it suits His purposes.

Jonah 1:11 Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?” – for the sea was growing more tempestuous.
Jonah 1:12 And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”

I’m not sure this was the only answer. How about just turn the ship around and Jonah repent and go to Nineveh? He would rather die than go to Nineveh.

Notice, too, how your sin always involves and affects others. We speak of “victimless crimes” and seek to legalize things like drug use and prostitution. There is no such thing as a “victimless crime.”

Jonah 1:13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.

These pagan sailors put Jonah to shame. They cared more for him than he for them. They were not willing for him to perish – even though he had put them in harm’s way and had hidden the message of salvation from them.

Jonah 1:14 Therefore they cried out to the LORD and said, “We pray, O LORD, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O LORD, have done as it pleased You.”

They had a respect for the sanctity of human life. They acted slowly and deliberately – and prayerfully.

It seems odd that they threw him overboard – until you see the spiritual truth being illustrated. Remember that Jesus would later use the story of Jonah to illustrate His own death, burial, and resurrection:
In order for these sailors to be safe, Jonah must die.
In order for them to be saved, Jesus would die.

Jonah 1:15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.
Jonah 1:16 Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the LORD and took vows.
These sailors are converted:

They “feared God,” which is used as an expression of saving faith.
They “offered a sacrifice,” which was the proper way to approach God.
They “took vows.” If they had taken vows before the sea grew calm, I would be suspicious. Many people make promises to God while they are in trouble, only to forget them after the trouble has passed. No, they took vows afterward – indicating a true conversion.

Again please note the irony: The very thing Jonah had wanted to avoid had now come to pass. God had used him to minister His grace to the Gentiles and they had gotten saved. Too bad Jonah wasn’t there to see it.

Jonah was languishing. “Languish” means to grow dull; to no longer be active and vigorous; to lose strength. You see Jonah languishing: He was sleeping on a ship headed for Tarshish when he should have been serving in the city of Nineveh. God shook-up his world to arouse him from his languishing.

Wherever you are, that’s your Nineveh. Thankfully, no one is piercing your jaw with a keen dagger and kenneling you like a dog. As bad as things might seem, your boss or your teacher is not flaying you and spreading your skin on the wall.

In your Nineveh, don’t languish. Be moved with God’s message of compassion and discover your method of communicating it to those who are perishing.