Jonah Episode 13

Beth's Notes

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.   Ephesians 2:1-10 (NIV)

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)

5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”  10 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. Jonah 3:5-10 (NIV)

Scripture here tells us that the Ninevites believed God.  It reminds me of Genesis 15:6 regarding Abram who God name changed to Abraham:

6 Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6 (NIV)

Of this Paul writes in Romans 4:3-5:

3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.  Romans 4:3-5 (NIV)

And again Paul states in Galatians 3:6:

6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.   Galatians 3:6-9 (NIV)

Paul here in Galatians went centuries back and asked:  Consider Abraham.  How was he, the father of Jewish people, justified?  The answer was simple and direct. Noting again Genesis 15:6, Paul declared, He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to perform what He promised was accepted by God as righteousness and so the patriarch was justified.  Salvation is not by works so that no one can boast before God’s Throne.  Paul tells us again in Ephesians 2:4-5:

4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved.  Ephesians 2:4-5 (NIV)

And further down in the same chapter we discover in Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

The great missionary hope, therefore, is that when the Gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, God Himself does what man cannot do:  He creates the faith that saves.  The call of God does what the call of man cannot.  It raises the dead.  It creates spiritual life.  It is like the call of Jesus to Lazarus in the tomb, “Come out!”  And the dead man obeyed and came out.  Or Ezekiel in the Valley of the Dry Bones when God brought the dry bones to life.  Ezekiel did the calling, but God gave the life.  We can awaken someone from the sleep of being dead in their sins with our call, but God alone can summon into being things that are not.  He alone gives life, He alone knows the condition of a heart, and He alone can change the leaning and bias of a heart.  Yet, this does not negate our duty as believers to put forth the call.     

Paul writes in Romans 10:14-15:

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Romans 10:14-15 (NIV)

And we are not to neglect the Lord’s Great Commission given to us all either in Matthew 28:18-20:

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

In the Hebrew text, there are only seven words in Jonah’s message in the NIV in verse four yet in our passage for today God used those seven words to stir the entire population, from the king on the throne to the lowest peasant in the field.  The brevity and terseness of Jonah’s message says much about our prophet’s attitude towards his God given task.  His heart did not appear to be in stirring up a revival in Nineveh, indeed, sadly, he simply appears to be doing the least he could do regarding God’s requirements of him.  Certainly not very impressive for a Prophet of the Most High God.  And it is also a red flag for us as well to check our attitudes!  Oftentimes, we appear just as stinking as our protagonist here!

Of all the unexpected twists in the Jonah story, this has to be the one we are least prepared for.  God had given the people forty days of grace, but they didn’t seem to need that long.  We get the impression that from the very first time they saw Jonah and heard his warning, they paid attention to his message.  The calling of a fast showed their total dedication and commitment to being right before God.  This was emphasized by the fact that they caused the animals to fast as well.  Jonah’s message from God certainly had given them no reason for them to hope that He would withhold their punishment.  They could only trust in the mercy of God – certainly that is true for every person.  It is always true.  Apart from Christ, we all stand before God’s throne terribly wanting.  The word translated “believed” is translated from the Hebrew word “Aman” the basic meaning is to be firm, trustworthy, or safe.  Thus it means to regard the one believed in as trustworthy, to have trust in that person or thing.  It is often used for trust in God as the One able to do Godlike achievements.

Nineveh was known as a religious city with temples to many gods, but in this instance the people of Nineveh turned their backs on all their national gods and personal gods and turned to the God of Israel who created the heavens and the earth.  They recognized God’s power and believed He would carry out the threats He had made through Jonah.  We discover this in the concrete ways the citizens of Nineveh demonstrated their faith.  As word spread quickly throughout the entire district, people humbled themselves by fasting and wearing sackcloth.  A fast was called of eating no food or drink and they donned sackcloth, the traditional clothing for mourning.    Humility was key here.  In God’s economy, our humility is always key.  God speaks to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14-16:

14 If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.  2 Chronicles 7:14-16 (NIV)

Humility always precedes exaltation from the fiat of God’s divine economy.  Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:5B-7:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:5-7 (NIV)

James also tells us in James 4:6-10:

6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.   James 4:6-10 (NIV)

One such humble life was Gladys Aylward a poorly educated 28-year-old parlormaid who had her heart set on China missions.  Robert Morgan writes:

“Here is the divine antidote against the pride and restless ambition of the men of this world.  Nothing is more sad than to witness a pushing, bustling, forward, self-confident spirit and style in those who profess to be followers of Him who was meek and lowly in heart.  It is such a flagrant contradiction of the spirit and precepts of Christianity, and is a sure accompaniment of an unbroken condition of the soul.  It is utterly impossible for any one to indulge in a boastful, pretentious, self-confident spirit, if ever he has really measured himself in the presence of God.  To be much alone with God is the sovereign remedy for pride and self-complacency.  May we know the reality of this in the secret of our own souls.  May the good Lord keep us truly humble, in all our ways, simply leaning on Himself and his grace…”  C H Macintosh, Notes on Deuteronomy, 1869

“And if you don’t lie prostrate on the ground before that cross, you have never seen it:  if you are not humbled in the presence of Jesus, you don’t know Him.  You were so lost that nothing could save you but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten.  Think of that, and as Jesus lowered Himself for you, bow yourself in lowliness at His feet.  A sense of Christ’s amazing love to us has a greater tendency to humble us than even the conscious awareness of our own guilt……Pride cannot live beneath the cross.”   Charles H. Spurgeon 

“It is a contradiction to be a true Christian and not to be humble.” Richard Baxter

“Stoop if you want to climb to heaven. Is it not said of Jesus, ‘He who descended is the one who also ascended’?  So must you. You must grow downwards, that you may grow upwards; for the sweetest fellowship with heaven will be enjoyed by humble souls and by them alone. God will deny no blessing to a thoroughly humbled spirit. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’ with all its riches and treasures. All of God’s resources will be made available to the soul that is humble enough to be able to receive them without growing proud because of it.  When a man is sincerely humble and never tries to take the credit or the praise, there is scarcely any limit to what God will do for him. Humility makes us ready to be blessed by the God of all grace and equips us to deal efficiently with our fellows. True humility is a flower that will adorn any garden. This is a sauce that will season every dish of life and improve it in every case. Whether in prayer or praise, whether in work or suffering, the genuine salt of humility cannot be used in excess.”  C. H. Spurgeon revised by Alistair Begg

As we have discovered, the words of Jonah spread rapidly through every quarter of greater Nineveh. The Ninevites accepted his message and believed God.  As the prophet preached doom, the people—ironically—changed. Earlier Jonah had repented, and now these Gentiles repented. And as we discovered, as outward symbols of inward contrition and humiliation, they fasted and put on sackcloth.  People in every social strata, from the greatest to the least, hoped that God might turn from His anger and spare them. When news reached the King of Nineveh, he too joined the greatest and the lowest in putting on mourning garments.  The King of Nineveh would also have been the King of the entire Assyrian Empire – one of the most powerful men on earth.  Amazingly, and very unintentionally, Jonah became the most effective preacher ever!  What a wonderful testimony of God’s grace reaching to the ends of the world.  The Ninevites repented, and God’s glorious compassion shone brighter than the sun.   Surely this had to be one of the greatest spiritual revivals in history!  Yet Jonah seems so disinterested in it all – so blasé – so uncaring of the salvation of these souls.  The Bible gives no reason for the King to have listened to Jonah except for the power of God’s message on the people and on his own heart.

The king’s remorse led him and his nobles to issue a royal decree by making the fast official and issuing an edict ordering the people to humble themselves, cry out to God and turn from their evil ways.  Quite literally “caused a cry for help to go out”.  The King thus called on all citizens to join him in a national cry for help.  This was a matter of life and death.  The decree affected every living thing in the land – even the animals were included in the activities by wearing sackcloth and abstaining from food and drink.   The extent of their repentance is shown by the extent of their fast.  Indeed, humans and animals joined in refusing to eat or drink as they cried out to God.  The decree instructed the people to fast, to wear sackcloth, to call urgently on God, and to relinquish their wickedness.  Again. from the King to the animals no one was allowed to eat or drink, and were all draped with sackcloth.  This practice was not strange in the Near East; it was simply another sign of the people’s remorse. The King’s purpose in the decree is discovered in the “Who knows?” as it hints at the possibility of God’s withdrawing His threat and staying His all-powerful hand.  By their contrition the King hoped that Jonah’s God would relent of His judgment and turn from His burning anger, thereby sparing the city.  This fear of judgment from God is jaw dropping startling because the Assyrians were a cruel and violent nation who feared no one.  Yet the King credited God with having the power to change things.  If the Lord did not relent and change His way then Assyria would have had no hope.  And the King of Assyria appeared to be fully aware of this.  

The wording “Who knows” is reminiscent of King David’s words when the Lord struck the child he and Bathsheba had had through their adulterous relationship and the child became very ill.  We find in 2 Samuel 12:19-23:

19 David noticed that his servants were whispering among themselves and he realized the child was dead. “Is the child dead?” he asked.  “Yes,” they replied, “he is dead.”  20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped.  Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.  21 His servants asked him, “Why are you acting this way?  While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!”  22 He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept.  I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’  23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?  I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”   2 Samuel 12:19-23 (NIV)

While the King of Nineveh’s edict had included the passive wearing of sackcloth and not eating or drinking, it also called for positive action.  Everyone was to call urgently on God.  Yet, praying desperately was not enough – everyone must turn from their evil ways as well which was the Hebrew way of calling for repentance.  It remains God’s way of calling for repentance.  The King specified it as turning from “their violence” meaning their “oppression, violence, wickedness, wrong, unrighteous gain.”  This may refer to Assyria’s war practices by which they treated conquered nations and captive prisoners with great cruelty as we have discussed.  His hope was that the people’s actions would bring a divine reaction of compassion from God and that He would relent and turn from His burning anger - staying His Hand - so that they would not perish.   Interestingly, in this, the King of Assyria credited God with the power to change things.  Again, the King knew if the Lord did not change His decision, then Assyria had no hope. The King points to the One high, all-powerful God in control of his fate.  Had the Assyrian King, like the pagan sailors, come to recognize the exclusive claim to deity made by Israel’s God? 

“To loathe my own sin, to humble myself on account of my own personal faults, and to endeavour in the sight of God to renounce every false way, is a work of something more than human nature.”   Charles H. Spurgeon

Remember, when Jonah had been in dire straits, he recalled the promise concerning Solomon’s temple looking toward the temple and calling out to God for help.  Also included in Solomon’s prayer was a promise for people outside the nation of Israel, and that would have included the Ninevites.  We find in 2 Chronicles 6:32-33:

32 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, 33 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”  2 Chronicles 6:32-33 (NIV)

2 Chronicles 7:13-16 also states:

13 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.”  2 Chronicles 7:13-16 (NIV)

Jonah knew this promise and perhaps it was the basis for the whole awakening.  Like the sailors in the storm, the Ninevites did not want to perish.  Indeed, that is what witnessing is all about – the turning of perishing souls to the God Who can save them.  The very familiar verses in John 3:16-18 states:

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”  John 3:16-18 (NIV)

Their fasting and praying and their humbling of themselves before God, sent a message to heaven, but the people of Nineveh had no assurance that they would be saved.  They hoped that God’s great compassion would move Him to change His plan and spare their city.  Once again, how did they know that the God of the Hebrews was a merciful and compassionate God?  Jonah’s message did not seem to leave any room for discussion.  God will destroy Nineveh.  It seems inevitable and decisive.  Jonah’s message did not seem to leave any room for repentance; it was a message of judgment. Perhaps Jonah had also told them of the Lord’s compassion, grace and mercy for this was a doctrine he himself believed.  Jonah 4:2 tells us:

2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”  Jonah 4:1-2 (NIV)

When God saw how the Ninevites turned from their wicked ways, He relented and changed His course from destroying them.  No imminent judgment for Nineveh.  No destruction.  It was God’s gracious response to man’s change of heart.  God is utterly consistent with Himself; it only appears that He is changing His mind.  The Bible uses human analogies to reveal the divine character of God. The Prophet tells us in Jeremiah 18:1-10:

1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.”   Jeremiah 18:1-10 (NIV)

As an evidence of His mercy to the Ninevites God had sent Jonah to them, told him what to proclaim to them, and opened the hearts of a vast population.  Also, seeing their repentant actions, God relented of His threat of destruction. He had spared Jonah and now He spared Nineveh as well.  God’s mercies are always unmerited; His grace is never earned.  The Prophet Jeremiah tells us Lamentations 3:21-26:

21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”   25 The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26 it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lamentations 3:21-26 (NIV)

“Grace is the grand and only resource for us all.  It is the basis of our salvation; the basis of a life of practical godliness; and the basis of those imperishable hopes which animate us amid the trials and conflicts of this sin-stricken world. May we cherish a deeper sense of grace, and more ardent desire for glory!” C H MacIntosh

God had announced His sentence on a guilty people and declared the punishment they must endure because of their guilt.  The statement that God relented sometimes designated a change of His purported course of action based upon man’s change of heart (Jonah 3:10).  This does not mean that the exercise of God’s sovereign will is contingent upon man’s behavior.  The Lord is not whimsical or fickle.  God is consistent.  He is morally bound not to change His stance if man continues to travel on an evil path.  Yet if man turns from his wicked ways, God, in His graciousness, exercises mercy in withholding judgment.  Though it may appear to men that God’s purpose has changed; according to God’s perspective, nothing has changed.  God’s Word is a message on mission.  He is seeking to save the lost and to equip them with the power to live rightly.  Scripture states of Scripture:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)

When His Word accomplishes its mission so that the people respond to it in the way God desires, then He does not consider Himself bound to carry out His Word.  Albeit, He is never taken by surprise and all His actions are motivated by mercy, grace and love.  Prayer, repentance, a change of attitudes and actions move God’s Hand.  He responds. Yet, repentance is never a work to be rewarded.  It is God’s mercy and grace that is to be lauded.  

Nineveh’s repentance delayed God’s destruction of the city for about 150 years.  The people evidently fell into sin again, so that later the city was destroyed, in 612 bc.  When God threatened punishment He provided a dark backdrop on which to etch most vividly His forgiving mercies.  This emphasized His grace most forcefully to the sinners’ hearts.  God’s readiness to have compassion on a wicked but repentant people and His withholding His threatened destruction showed Israel that her coming judgment at God’s hand was not because of His unwillingness to forgive but because of her impenitence.  

How deep was the spiritual experience of the people of Nineveh?  If repentance and faith are the basic conditions of salvation as stated in Acts 20:21:

21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.  Acts 20:21 (NIV)

Then we have reason to believe that they were accepted by God; for the people of Nineveh repented and had faith in God.  The fact that Jesus used the Ninevites to shame the unbelieving Jews of His day is further evidence that their response to Jonah’s ministry was sincere albeit perhaps not all of them lasting.

Many have wondered why the Assyrians would have responded to a Jewish prophet.  The reason for this, according to rabbinic traditions, is that Nineveh had heard of Jonah’s miraculous deliverance from the belly of the fish.  This is very probable, since Jesus said that Jonah was a “sign” (or “miracle”) to the Ninevites.  He further explained that the “sign of the prophet Jonah” was the only sign that would be given the nation of Israel concerning Himself, stating that just as Jonah spent three days and nights in the bely of the fish, He Himself would spend time in the “heart of the earth” or the grave.  Unlike the Ninevites, sadly, the Jews rejected Christ even though He performed many signs and miracles.

These are Beth’s personal notes, due to this fact sources are not often stated.

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