05 Jonah: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

JONAH: The Storm-Tossed Prophet

“Revival in Nineveh”

Jonah 3:5-10

So far, we have traveled through some rough miles with Jonah.  In Chapter 1, we meet the prophet, who was well-known and well-respected in Israel.  He received an assignment from God that he really didn’t want to accept, so rather than go to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire and the largest city in the world of that day, and preach Jonah booked passage to Tarshish…in the opposite direction.

But as Jonah ran from God’s assignment away from a “great city,” he found himself in the middle of a “great storm” and ultimately in the belly of a “great fish.” His trajectory was downward, which is the only option you leave for yourself when you run from God.

While in the fish, in Chapter 2, and yes, I believe it was a real fish…Jonah came to his senses and came back to God.  But his repentance and turning and obedience were not complete.  In Chapter 3, after being spit out of the “the great fish,” Jonah is back on dry land and running toward Nineveh.  Like the prodigal son, Jonah came back to where he started and was welcomed by a gracious Father.  Then, he got a second chance to do what he should have done the first time.

Now, we want to turn to the balance of Chapter 3.  It is here that we see Jonah coming to Nineveh, speaking God’s message, and the surprising response of the Assyrian city.

JONAH’S ASSIGNMENT AND GOD’S MESSAGE

The call to REPENT

Jonah came with a clearly spoken, Divine mandate from the Lord.  God had said through Isaiah, “My Word will not return to me void…it will accomplish that for which I had sent it.”   The New Testament tells us that “the Word of God is active and cuts like a two-edged sword, dividing even the joint and marrow.”

When we speak or communicate the Word of God, we release something spiritually that we cannot see.  I do not think the power of the Bible is in the printed pages of a book produced by a publisher.  The fact that activists burnt Bibles in Portland does not diminish the Word of our Lord.   It is still “truth without any mixture of error” and it has a spiritual power that changes hearts and minds and lives as those words enter our heart.  We do not worship a book; we worship the God Who inspired the Words in the book.

Jonah unleashed a power when he spoke obediently what the Lord had told him to say.  He repeated it verbatim!  The results were staggering.   If we want to see our nation transformed and healed and brought back to God, it will be through releasing and proclaiming and obeying God’s Word…not through political or military or economic means.  It is “‘…not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.”

If our world isn’t changed, it is because we’re trying to adapt to and be liked by the culture and minimize the power of God’s Word that has been given to us.  Jonah did not go to Nineveh and run for political office, or start a social services program, or begin to lobby for change in the law.   Nothing wrong with any of these, but true heart-change and a new direction will come only as we speak God’s truth to a culture that prefers lies.  Substantial and lasting change will not come any other way.

The need to WARN

One pastor has suggested that there are over one hundred verses in the Bible that involve warning.  I did not count them all but there’s a lot!  Paul spoke about warning in Acts 20:31. It is a ministry of the church, but it’s also important that we do this with each other.

Jonah’s message was basically a warning to Nineveh from God…” forty days…”  He warned them.  They heard him.  We need people who are bold enough to warn us when our life is heading in the wrong direction. You’re not judging.  You’re warning.  You don’t hate someone when you tell them, “the bridge is out” …you love them.  Every person has blind spots.  But often our pride and independence won’t let us hear and heed those warnings.

We need warnings in life…railroad crossing signs, yellow lights, wet paint, and every medicine bottle has a section on it labeled WARNING.  We may not read them or heed them, but if we’re wise, we will.

JONAH’S WARNING AND NINEVEH’S RESPONSE

The response of the PEOPLE.

The city of Nineveh stopped and mourned at Jonah’s message and preaching.  This city was “great” in its history, founded by Nimrod, the great grandson of Noah. (Genesis 10:39) It was a city of great influence through art and culture and commerce.  It was great in its size, approximately sixty miles at its widest point.  One wall alone had a circumference of eight miles!  But it was also legendary and great in its sin.  And yet God called out to them through Jonah to repent.  And from King to cattle, they did!

Nineveh did not become converts to Judaism or “Yahwists” through Jonah’s preaching.  That much is clear.  The “believed God” but knew little of Jonah’s God.  When they referred to “God” it was translating the Hebrew word “Elohim” which could apply to a number of spiritual realities. They did not become people of the covenant by their repentance. But Nineveh was heading fast for the cliff.  Their injustice, oppression, wickedness, and notorious cruelty had begun to do what any culture does that builds itself on the wrong foundation.  Those qualities of injustice, cruelty, oppression, and victimization of the helpless was also being inflicted upon their own people.

Historians tell us that this neighbor upon neighbor violence, oppression, robbery, murder, and assault was rampant in the streets.  When you raise an army that are specialists in these kinds of activities and then bring them home without a war to fight, they naturally will turn on each other and the surrounding population.

Nineveh was teetering and eroding away.  Their soothsayers and spiritual leaders were noticing portends of disaster in things that were happening in nature through a rampant famine, disease, and unnatural weather phenomenon.

Add the social deterioration to this, and they knew something bad was about to happen.  They were telling the people as much. Perhaps that prepared their hearts to be open to a lone Jewish prophet shouting, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be no more…”. The “king” was likely not the King of Assyria.  Nineveh was not even the capital city of Assyria.  Had the King of Assyria repented, he would have called the entire empire of Assyria to repent.

As it was, the voice of the prophet was directed specifically to Nineveh.  And likely, the use of the word “king” was speaking of a governor appointed by the king but who spoke with authority for him.  It was not unusual for ancient eastern cultures to refer to their leader in that way.  But the ruler of Nineveh, and every citizen and even animals, were brought to their knees by this proclamation.

I cannot imagine this, having never been a part of a true spiritual awakening in which God ‘s message has stopped commerce, impacted government and the economy, and swept through in power.     I grew up in Kentucky, where the Second Great Awakening took place in camp meetings in the woods as a circuit riding preacher would come, people would create a clearing by cutting down trees and turning them into seats lined up (don’t complain about uncomfortable pews).  The meetings would last for hours and go for weeks, people wouldn’t even go home.  It impacted how my home state still does church!

A spiritual awakening swept Ireland that was so intense it shut down the mining industry because the mule trains that hauled coal out of the mines stopped. The animals were so accustomed to being cursed and abused by those who ran them that they didn’t know what to do when the operators returned to work, now with Jesus in their hearts, and they stopped cursing!

Those awakenings called God’s people back to being what God had intended them to be.  In America, they called Christians back to the foundation of our nation as a Christian nation.  They were calls to repent and to believe God’s Word.

We have a rich history of spiritual awakenings in America, and throughout the world.  Most of the educational institutions, social reforms, and hospitals in America began out of those awakenings and still affect us as a nation today.

The last true “spiritual awakening” in America and, in fact, through most of the world took place in the 1970’s in a former Methodist church that worked with hippies in California.

Chuck Smith, the pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, decided to allow the long-haired, unwashed, barefoot, young people to come to his church sanctuary and play their music their way.  Some churches had already thrown them out because of their unkempt appearance, and smell, and music and bare feet, the oil of which was destroying the carpeting in their buildings.

Smith simply ripped the carpeting out!  And the kids flooded in by the hundreds and hung around outside as he taught them the Bible verse-by-verse.  The church fed them, gave money to some to travel back home, and just one-by-one won them to Jesus.  A movement began, called “The Jesus Movement.” Proud to say, Baptist pastors and churches were some of the first to open street missions in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco!  I was saved in the middle of that, in December of 1974.

When the nation of Israel was called to repent by the prophets, it was to remember their calling as the people of God and the people of the covenant. The prophets called the people back to what they were at the beginning.

When Nineveh repented it was to turn away from idolatry and injustice and cruelty and oppression and back to God Who had created them.  Repentance is the key to getting us out of the prison of sin.  The Bible is our rehabilitation.  (Eric Mason)

There is, in every person, the ability to know there is a God.  They have even done research on what is called “The God Gene” in people.  It’s in our DNA.  The Bible say so , “What could be known of God is plainly revealed to them,” which means that people who refuse to believe in God (probably refuse to believe in what God has told them to do) are acting in conflict with their own created nature.  The Ninevites knew they were out of alignment with the God they only knew as “Elohim.” Jonah introduced them to “Yahweh,” God of Israel and Maker of Heaven and Earth.

NINEVEH’S REPENTANCE AND GOD’S FORGIVENESS

Does God change His mind?

God cannot and will not act in conflict with His own counsel and will and Word.

We will never see a scenario in which God says, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.”  God will never “walk back” a decision as though ill-advised or ill-conceived.  When the Ninevites repented, His forgiveness was in alignment with the His already revealed will: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”

It is impossible for God to lie.

1 Samuel 15:29 says, ‘[The God of Israel] does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.’

It is impossible for God to change.

The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘It is impossible for God to lie’ (Heb. 6:18), and Paul refers to ‘God, who does not lie’ (Titus 1:2).

It is impossible for God to violate His Own will. 

When Nineveh repented, they turned directly into the will of God Who said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” and Who desires all men to be saved.

The repented toward God.  They believed God.  And God forgave.

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