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Jonah IV: Turning Away from Evil - Jonah 3:1-10

Now that we have a new Jonah, a Jonah who went down to Sheol under God’s judgment, but who has been raised up by God’s mercy, let’s begin again. Jonah’s second chance demonstrates that God is merciful, that mercy leads to obedience, rather than the other way around, and that even though you’re a sinner, God can still use you to spread His glory to the nations.

Jonah 3 also gives us a clear picture of what repentance involves, and shows us a God who graciously forgives sinners who believe His Word and repent of their evil ways, not in a fickle or unpredictable way, but in a way that perfectly expresses His eternal nature according to His Word of promise. While the literary structure and artistry is quite complex, the message of Jonah 3 is very simple: God renews His call, Jonah obeys, Nineveh repents, and God shows mercy.

Last time God called, Jonah rose to flee; this time, he rose and went, according to the Lord’s word. Nineveh is important to God, and so He repeated His commission to Jonah, who finally obeys. The message that Jonah preaches is stripped down to the bare essentials, “Forty days left until Nineveh is overturned!” Jonah’s message was an announcement of coming judgment, a warning of what God was about to do. But astonishingly, in 3:5, the people of Nineveh believe God and put their faith in His word, and as a result, they immediately crumble in heartfelt repentance. They begin fasting and put on sackcloth, signifying mourning and humiliation, from the greatest to the least. The king himself steps off the throne, lays aside his royal robe, takes up the clothes of poverty and mourning, and sits in the ashes of death. He’s saying that he doesn’t deserve to be king; he deserves to die.

Not only that, but he then issues a proclamation that sets out the official response of Nineveh to God’s word of warning: Food and drink are forbidden; the only thing any Ninevite, even the animals, should be doing is repenting. And the heart of their repentance is an ethical change, a changed life in response to God’s Word: the Ninevites turn from their evil way and from the violence that is in their hands. It has only taken one day, not forty, but God’s Word has overthrown Nineveh, and turned the whole city upside down.

What happens next is stunning: God sees how they humble themselves, and how they turned from their evil ways, and God relented of the evil that He had said He would do to them. Nineveh turned, and so God turned. They stopped doing evil, and so He didn’t bring evil upon them. Nineveh was not destroyed; God had mercy on them!

And every sinner who reads this should be shocked and stunned with relief and joy, because God is a God of mercy! The same mercy that God showed Nineveh is the mercy that He offers to you through Jesus Christ. Realize this: you sinned, and yet God did not destroy you! God’s fierce anger was aimed right at you, and Jesus Christ stood in the way, so that you might not perish, but have life instead! The mercy of God means salvation for you!

God always has mercy on those who believe in His Word and repent. What we see in Jonah 3:10 is not the human-like relenting of a fickle, changeable man, but the divine relenting of an unchangeably merciful God, the God of grace and forgiveness, the God of second chances, both for rebellious prophets and repentant nations. When God relents and turns away from bringing disaster, He’s doing exactly what He said He would do in the face of a changed situation (see Jeremiah 18:7-10). In Nineveh’s case, what changed seems to have been a three-day journey of death and resurrection. Nineveh ritually offered herself up in sackcloth and ashes, and God acted entirely in accordance with His merciful nature.

And for us, that’s good news. When we sin, God pursues us in order to turn us back to Him, and when we turn, He turns away His fierce anger. This is true no matter who you are, or what you have done, whether violence like Nineveh or rebelliously refusing to speak for God like Jonah. We are all sinners, in desperate need of God’s mercy.

Jonah warned of judgment, and Nineveh repented in hopes of mercy. In Christ, a greater prophet has come, promising God’s mercy to all who repent and believe. So if you have not yet overthrown your life in repentance and don’t have peace with God, now is the time. Don’t wait. Believe God that judgment is coming, and cry out to Him for mercy in the name of Jesus Christ!

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2019 by CJ Bowen