The word of the LORD came a second time.
Can we please turn to the book of Jonah? It takes a bit of finding! It’s a funny thing how we know the story of Jonah so well, but the book of Jonah is not quite so well known. Back along I did a series on the book and I am not going to go into it in detail today – but I thought I’d just share a few thoughts from the book that I hope will be an encouragement as we head into a new year – really, I just want to bring out just one point from the story. The story is a favourite at Sunday school – everyone knows the story of the prophet who ran away [P], got in a boat to sail away from what God told him to do, how a storm came and Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish. How Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights and was then spewed out on shore. Then how Jonah having been through this ordeal finally went and did what God told him to do and preached to the great city of Nineveh. Everyone knows the story – but it is a most unusual story and especially since it is a book of prophecy. It is a most unusual book of prophecy – most books of prophecy are full of messages fromיהוה: “Thus says the LORD ……………!” Telling the people to turn around, turning the people back to God, the LORD telling them what is going to happen in the future. Some prophetic books contain a bit of biography in them, a few details of the life of the prophet, but the main feature is a message from יהוה. But where is “Thus says the LORD” in Jonah? It is there – in [Jonah 1:1-2 The word of יהוה came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” ] and again in [Jonah 3:1-2 Now the word of יהוה came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” ] but this was יהוה speaking to Jonah, it was not the prophetic message that Jonah spoke – it is there, we finally get to it in [Jonah 3:4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” ] – there it is the prophetic message of Jonah – the whole book and we have one short sentence: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” – an encouraging word! Of course the forty days came and Nineveh was not destroyed – the reason was that the people from the greatest to the least responded to the message and repented. That is another reason that makes the book of Jonah unusual – people didn’t usually heed the message of the prophet. And another thing that is not the norm, is that the message was not to God’s people but to Gentiles, in fact Israel’s worst enemy at that time. But these heathen heeded this prophetic message; they turned away from their sin. יהוה saw their repentance and spared them. There is a greater prophecy in the book of Jonah that Jesus refers to, that is not recorded in words but in what happened to Jonah – the prophecy of the resurrection from the dead after three days. But despite the lack of prophecy in Jonah, Jonah was a prophet and he prophesied, he spoke the word of יהוה and what he said came to pass A true prophet of יהוה had a 100% accuracy rate in his prophesying [Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which יהוה has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of יהוה, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which יהוה has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. ] If you spoke and it didn’t come about, you were a false prophet. But Jonah was a true prophet. So Jonah was speaking יהוה’s message to the people of Israel, but it is just not recorded in the book of Jonah – we get just a glimpse of this in: [2 Kings 14:25 Amaziah restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of יהוה, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher.] Now every other prophet was writing down the messages he had received from יהוה so that they were recorded for posterity. But not Jonah! I mean, if I were a prophet and had received this great revelation, I’d want people to know; that is what I’d want to be remembered for – but Jonah does not paint a very flattering picture of himself. You might even like to ask yourself: “Who wrote the book of Jonah?” – is this what he wrote about himself?! It doesn’t say that Jonah wrote it, but, personally, I think he did. Who else would know the details of what was recorded – what was prayed in the belly of the fish in chapter 2? Who would know the self-pitying going on in his heart found in chapter 4, other than the man himself? You have got to put Jonah down as one of the meekest men in the Bible. I mean if you are writing your autobiography you would record your spiritual highs, all those great words from יהוה that were fulfilled. But Jonah doesn’t mention one of them – that is left for others to record. What does he record? His disobedience, his running away from God, his vindictiveness towards the people of Nineveh – sitting there waiting to see them destroyed, his dissatisfaction with God’s mercy and compassion. He doesn’t mind painting himself in a bad light just so long as pure light of יהוה shines through – His compassion seen in stark relief against Jonah’s meanness – it reminds me of John the Baptist [John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.] Jonah gives a frank and open personal account of his life and the way that יהוה dealt with him so that by it we can learn by the ways of יהוה. So let’s read the story of Jonah: [Jonah 1:1-3:5 The word of יהוה came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying [P], “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of יהוה [P]. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship [P] which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of יהוה. יהוה hurled a great wind on the sea and there was a great storm on the sea [P] so that the ship was about to break up. Then the sailors became afraid and every man cried to his god, and they threw the cargo which was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them [P]. But Jonah had gone down below into the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep [P]. So the captain approached him and said, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish.” Each man said to his mate, “Come, let us cast lots [P] so we may learn on whose account this calamity has struck us.” So they cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us, now! On whose account has this calamity struck us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?” He said to them, [P] “I am a Hebrew, and I fear יהוה God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men became extremely frightened and they said to him, “How could you do this?” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of יהוה, because he had told them. So they said to him, “What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”—for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy. He said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.” However, the men rowed desperately to return to land [P] but they could not, for the sea was becoming even stormier against them. Then they called on יהוה and said, “We earnestly pray, O יהוה, do not let us perish on account of this man’s life and do not put innocent blood on us; for You, O יהוה, have done as You have pleased.” So they picked up Jonah, threw him into the sea [P], and the sea stopped its raging. [P] Then the men feared יהוה greatly, and they offered a sacrifice to יהוה and made vows. And יהוה appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to יהוה his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, “I called out of my distress to יהוה, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O יהוה my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered יהוה, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake their covenant-loyalty, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from יהוה.” Then יהוה commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. [P] Now the word of YHWH came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of יהוה. [P[ Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk. Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” [P] Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.] There is much in the book of Jonah, but the message I want to draw from the story is a simple one. Here was a man who God told to do something, and he did not – he went in the opposite direction. He set himself against God’s will and went his own way. He disobeyed. Here he was a man of God, a prophet; yet indisputably, he was doing what was wrong, what was not God’s will. And it had its consequences! Jonah went through the mill. Some of you may have been through the mill, but I am sure not to the extent that Jonah did! Although he deliberately ran away from God, God never let His hand off of him. All through Jonah you see the sovereignty of God: “יהוה hurled a great wind”; “יהוה appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah”; “יהוה commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land”; “יהוה appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah”; “God appointed a worm”; “God appointed a scorching east wind”. God was controlling events, from the great tempest to the tiny worm, in order to bring His servant to the place He wanted him. Jonah ran away; but God did not let him go. Jonah messed up big time; he went through the mill, but out the other side it says: [Jonah 3:1-2 Now the word of יהוה came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”] You notice that God’s requirement hadn’t changed. He said exactly the same thing. It was exactly the same command. He hadn’t altered His plan or His message. We can oppose God, we may delay what He intends, but He will not be thwarted. God’s will, will be done! The word of יהוה came a SECOND TIME. And that is the simple message I have for you for the New Year. You may have messed up, failed, think you’ve let the LORD down, fallen yet again, even deliberately gone your own way instead of His. But the word of the LORD comes a second time. God has not taken His hand off of you. He still has a job for you to do – and it is exactly the same job that He had for you all along. The word of the LORD came a second time. [Colossians 4:17 Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” ] There is a work the LORD has for you that needs to be completed. The same purpose for you that He originally. [Revelation 3:2 ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.] James was talking to me about some well known verses in Jeremiah – the context is when Israel would be in exile, there because they had turned away from יהוה: [Jeremiah 29:10-14 “For thus says יהוה, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. ‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares יהוה, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. ‘Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. ‘I will be found by you,’ declares יהוה, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares יהוה, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’ ] People take the lovely promise of (Jer 29:13) for themselves, ripping it out of context – but applying it from the context – it is saying that if you have turned from God and then turn back and seek Him with all your heart, then there will be restoration. You may think that you have failed or messed up, that God has given up on you, that He can no longer use you. But there is a purpose that He has for you that remains to be completed – His plan for you has not changed. The word of יהוה can come a second time – a restoration to the purpose God has had for you all along. And then of course there was the other classic case – Peter [P]. Now Peter was not like Jonah, He did not want to run away from the LORD, quite the contrary: he was going to follow Jesus wherever no matter what. He did seek the LORD with all his heart – he said: [Matthew 26:35 “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” John 13:37 “Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You.” John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. Mark 14:29 “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not.”] He was genuine, he wanted to be loyal, to follow – the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. And despite his best intentions when it came to the crunch he let His LORD down, he denied that he even knew Him. We know the story – after Jesus rose from the dead, His disciples had gone back to their business of fishing. In fact it was Peter’s idea – he was going back to getting on with his life as it used to be. Then, Jesus appeared there by the lake. Remember? They had been fishing all night and caught nothing, then this stranger told them to cast their net on the right hand side of the boat and they hauled in this huge catch. It must have brought back memories of a previous fruitless night trying to catch fish. Jesus already had fish and was already cooking it, but He told them to bring some of their catch and impetuous Peter went and hauled in the net [P]. After eating the breakfast that Jesus had prepared, Jesus had a chat with Peter: [John 21:15-19 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, (He doesn’t even call him Peter, the personal name that He himself gave him) do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”] I will never forget the LORD asking me the same question: “Paul, do you love Me? Some years ago Robin gave this passage to me and it was a message from the LORD – it is the reason I continue to preach. The word of the LORD came a second time [P] – Peter, despite his best intentions had let his LORD down – but there was still a work that His LORD had for him to do. Rhoda and I were reading a devotion by Watchman Nee, he based it on [2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;] He said: “Christianity is not the earthen vessel, nor is it the treasure. It is the treasure in the earthen vessel. It must ever be a cause for great gratitude to God that no merely human weakness (my failing) need limit Divine power. Too readily we think of power as the absence of the earthen vessel. There is nothing wrong in being weak – His strength is made perfect in weakness. We are earthen vessels; we are fallible, weak, a bit cracked. You, like me, may have let the LORD down. It is easy to get discouraged and think “I have failed the LORD, I can no longer be of use to Him.” But remember Jonah – the word of יהוה came a second time. You may have fallen [Psalm 37:24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because יהוה is the One who holds his hand.] Dust yourself off, and return; get back on track [Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.] You trip up and fall, and sprain your ankle – it feels like you will never be able to walk again! But what do you do? You gingerly put your weight back on it again you start to use it so that it gets its strength back. Maybe a bit tentative at first, but getting stronger all the time. That is my message for the New Year: “The word of יהוה came a second time!” We may not have been all that we would have liked to be, but we can return; His commission for us can be renewed; there is yet a work that God has for you to do, the same work that He has had for you all along.