Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.
(Jonah 3:9 NIV)
If the book of Jonah was to be made into a film it would feature a cast of many. Group of sailors for the first chapter and representatives for the large city of Nineveh in the third chapter. The book is about God’s character revealed through his interaction with Nineveh through Jonah. The third chapter in particular sees the culmination of the meeting of those three parties from which we can learn much.
In the first chapter Jonah went off track, in the second he returned to the track and in this one we see Jonah on track. Of the four chapters, this is the one in which Jonah is arguably at his peak. It’s also where his part is the least in the scheme of things. He is God’s mouthpiece, so his obedience is in ensuring that what God says is communicated effectively to the given audience.
Simple though that might appear there are factors that could have worked against him. He’s a foreigner who is conveying a message from a foreign deity. The city is relatively large, there is nothing to suggest getting the message across could be done so successfully. Plus the nature of the message isn’t necessarily one that would meet with a positive response. People may have been offended at such a warning or might have jeered and ridiculed the messenger. Jonah, however, now in line and in tune with the call of God, is diligent in getting the message across and in doing so displays a trust in God and courage in fulfilling his mission.
The response of the city of Nineveh to what they hear is remarkable. They are not the covenant people of Yahweh. There is little to no reason for them to want to listen to this foreigner warning them of impending doom. Yet here they are, paying attention to the message of Jonah and the effect is citywide reaching every level of society. The King’s edict is a response as much to the city’s reaction to the news as it is an initiative in itself.
It says something remarkable about their collective conscience that on the one hand they would have been carrying out wickedness that they are well aware of and yet on the other hand be so captured and convicted by the message that they would collectively respond in such a serious way. There is the expression of contrition, but even more importantly there are the steps to identify evil and stop it. The King’s edict legislated a moral sea-change. The people, complicit in the evil-doing now become equally complicit in repentance. This happening on such a wide scale says much about the capacity for corporate change where the will pervades from grassroots to the highest levels of authority and back again.
Like Jonah, the role God plays in this chapter is not as prominent as it has been in previous chapters. He recommissioned Jonah at the start of the chapter and relents from the doom He threatened by the end of the chapter. In this chapter, however, there is still much we can learn about Him.
The seriousness in which He treats evil and injustice is the heartbeat of the message and mission in Nineveh. This declares again that God’s interests are not limited to His chosen people. Indeed the point of His relationship with His chosen people is for them to impact the world in bringing them back to Him and back to righteousness.
He is the God of the second chance, though. He gives Jonah a second chance at the start of the chapter. He gives the city of Nineveh a second chance at the end of the chapter. No matter how wicked or disobedient, He is there to redeem and restore in response to a repentant reaction. That degree of sensitivity and keenness to look for the good speaks volumes of His loving, compassionate and forgiving nature.
That pronounced in this chapter should resound today in our interaction with the world around us. That is determined, however, by how receptive we are to God’s character. As we will see, that also requires an honesty in ourselves about how we view the world in which we live. This can help us tremendously if we desire the honour of running with God.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden