Jonah Goes to Nineveh

[Note: Read part 1, delivered by Joleen: Jonah Goes the Wrong Way]

Click here to read Jonah 3–4

The story of Jonah is such as incredible story!

And, this is one of my favorite lines in the story: “Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time …”
you thankful for the second chances? Jonah messed up royally the first
time around; now God is giving him another chance! Have you ever needed
a second chance?

God says: “Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh, and deliver
the message of judgment I have given you.” This is followed by another
one of my favorite lines in the story is this one: “This time Jonah
obeyed the LORD’s command and went to Nineveh.” Well, you would too, if
you had just spent 3 days in the belly of a big fish! And Jonah finally
gets it right, sort of.

Jonah goes to Nineveh, “a city so large that it took three days to
see it all.” On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the
crowds: “Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!”

Message of Judgment
You don’t notice this in English, but
in the original Hebrew, there’s a slight variation. The first time,
God’s message was a threat of impending judgment. But the second time,
along with the message of impending judgment, was a positive element, a
call to repentance! For example, “There are still 40 more days for
repentance …”

Nineveh repents
And amazingly enough, the people of
Nineveh believed God’s message; they fasted and put on sackcloth to
demonstrate their repentance.

The King’s Decree
When the king of Nineveh heard what
Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his
royal robes. He dressed himself in sackcloth and sat on a heap of
ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the
city: “No one, not even the animals, may eat or drink anything at
all. Everyone is required to wear sackcloth and pray earnestly to
God. Everyone must turn from their evil ways and stop all their

The people made U-Turn …
The king went on to say: “Who can
tell? Perhaps even yet God will have pity on us and hold back his
fierce anger from destroying us.”

This is amazing! These spiritually confused people believed the
message of this angry, reluctant prophet, and hoped that God would be
gracious and compassionate toward them. And God did. When God saw that
they had put a stop to their evil ways, God had mercy on them and
didn’t carry out the destruction God had threatened.

But there’s a problem. God didn’t get Jonah’s approval: “This change
of plans upset Jonah, and he became very angry.” So he complained to
the LORD about it. And here, toward the end of the story, we finally
discover just why Jonah ran from God: “Didn’t I say before I left home
that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I
knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry
and filled with unfailing love. I knew how easily you could cancel your
plans for destroying these people.”

Jonah is mad because God loves the Ninevites!
Nineveh was the capital of Israel’s archenemy Assyria. They were wicked
and brutal; they hated the Israelites and their God. But they, like all
people, mattered to God. Interestingly, The name, Nineveh was a symbol:
a fish inside a circle.

Jonah said: “Just kill me now, LORD! I’d rather be dead than alive
because nothing I predicted is going to happen.” IOW, “I’d rather die
than live with a compassionate God like you!”

But look at what God asked to Jonah: “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”

Well, Jonah ignores the question and goes out “to the east side of
the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see if
anything would happen to the city.”

The Plant
God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there,
and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from
the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful
for the plant.

The Worm
But God also prepared a worm! The next morning at
dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant, so that it soon died
and withered away.

Again, Jonah wants to die! As the sun grew hot, God sent a scorching
east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew
faint and wished to die …
Jonah: “Death is certainly better than this!”
God: “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
Jonah: “Yes, even angry enough to die!”

What’s wrong with Jonah?
Now, you’re probably thinking,
“Jonah is stupid! Jonah’s angry enough to die because of a little
plant, but he doesn’t care about people? What’s wrong with Jonah?”

And, you’re right. Jonah is stupid. But haven’t you been angry about
dumb stuff before? I have. Sometimes we get so bent out of shape about
so many meaningless, trivial things: things like what we will eat or
what we will wear; churches get caught up in trivial stuff too:
furnishings, ways of worshiping or ministry, etc.

While we get angry about these things, God is concerned about people!

That’s what John Wesley taught us: “You have nothing to do but to save souls!” (John Wesley)

We’ve got to get our priorities right. Maybe you’re angry because
you don’t understand God’s ways; maybe God keeps changing the
direction, and you don’t like it. Maybe some of you are angry because
people don’t come to church like they used to.

The world is constantly changing, and it’s passing us by. A few
decades ago, all you had to do was open the doors, and people would
come. But now, it doesn’t work that way. Now we have to go to them; we
have to build relationships with people and reach out to reach people
wherever they are, and we have to them God’s Story. BTW, that’s the way
Jesus and the early Christ-followers did it!

From …

  • Less than 1% of those who come to Christ do so as a result of an evangelistic crusade.
  • No more than 4% say they are influenced by local church programs or worship services.
  • Fully 80% come to faith “because a friend or family member cared for me until I accepted Christ.”

God said to Jonah …
“You feel sorry about the plant, though you
did nothing to put it there. And a plant is only, at best, short lived.
But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness,
not to mention all the animals.”

This great story ends with a question …
It’s the only book in
the Bible that ends with a question. It ends with the most challenging,
heart-penetrating question. It had to have penetrated Jonah’s heart; it
penetrates my heart, and I hope it penetrate your heart too.

“Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”

Jonah’s Courage
There’s one thing I love about Jonah – his
courage. To go right into the heart of your archenemy and tell them
they have forty days till their city is going to be overthrown – that
takes courage!

I want that kind of courage – to proclaim God’s Word, to follow God,
and lead people wherever God leads. That kind of life requires courage!

But Jonah was missing something – compassion!
is a requirement, along with courage. You can’t just have one or the
other; you’ve got to have both! If we are to ever understand God, we
need to understand this about God: God is irrationally, passionately in
love with all people.

So, God leaves us with this question …

“Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
It’s a
question that’s supposed to make us think. It’s supposed to challenge
us. It’s supposed to disturb us! How does it disturb you? Shouldn’t we
be compassionate toward the spiritually confused people who live among
us — in our neighborhoods, communities, valley, and our world.

Shouldn’t we be compassionate for all people — our friends,
strangers, people at the margins of society, and people we don’t get
along with.

Shouldn’t we allow God to reach spiritually confused people through us?

U-Turns …
The story of Jonah is a great story. It’s full
of so many u-turns. In this story, everybody and everything – sailors,
the captain, the weather, the fish, the Ninevites, the plant, and the
worm – everything and everyone obeys God, except Jonah! Now, we don’t
know the end of the story. What don’t know what happened after that
penetrating question that God asked Jonah. I hope Jonah made another

But I’m more concerned about the u-turns that need to be made here today! To repent means to make a u-turn, to return to God.

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