Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
The heart of the command hasn't changed, has it? Jonah is still commanded to get up, go to Nineveh, and call out against it because of its evil.
There is one small addition this time around: Jonah is to call out against Nineveh the message that God gave Him.
Likewise, we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ without alteration: no edits and no additions.
So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
It's very interesting that God gave forty days' notice to the Ninevites. What's the significance of forty days?
In Genesis 7:12 we read that the rain of the great flood fell for 40 days.
Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai receiving the Law, both times (Exodus 24:18, 34:28).
The Hebrew spies spent 40 days spying on Canaan (Numbers 13:25).
Between the judgment of the prophets of Baal, and the judgment of king Ahab, Elijah was sustained by the Lord for 40 days (First Kings 19:8).
Jesus fasted 40 days and nights before His tempation (Matthew 4:2).
Jesus spent 40 days after His resurrection appearing to those who believed in Him (Acts 1:3).
God's message to Nineveh is that in forty days the city would be overthrown. The people of Nineveh could not have known that forty days held meaning, but Jonah certainly knew about the flood, and the giving of the Law, and the spies, and probably the story of Elijah.
And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Notice that the text doesn't say that "the people of Nineveh believed Jonah," but "the people of Nineveh believed God." A work of the Lord takes place in the hearts of the Ninevites.
Paul wrote Timothy about dealing with those who hold to and teach false doctrines in Second Timothy 2. Paul writes at the end of the chapter,
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
God is always in charge of repentance, not only to uphold His own glory, but because the best sinful human being is utterly incapable of repenting on his or her own moral strength.
God did a work in Nineveh. He granted them repentance, so that they knew and understood the truth of Jonah's message. He enabled them to come to their senses. The entire culture was drunk on violence and impurity:
Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms.
But God granted them repentance.
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
This repentance is personal. The king himself changes his royal robes for sackcloth - cloth made from goat hair - and his royal throne for a heap of ashes.
This repentance is corporate. All the people in Nineveh are ordered to fast, to eat and drink nothing, to dress in sackcloth, to call out mightily (or forcefully, or passionately) to God, to cease evil behavior and violence. Even the animals are not to be fed.
This repentance is humble. They acknowledge their own evil and violence, and admit that they have sinned against God.
This repentance is hopeful. The fact that the city has 40 days means that there is a possibility of being spared. They don't presume on God's mercy, but they hope for it.
Their repentance came upon them like the great wind upon the sea when Jonah was running from the presence of the Lord. It was granted to them by the Lord, it swept through the city, it gripped every heart, it burst from every soul.
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Their repentance was real - they actually turned from their evil way. It wasn't just words; it was visible, and God saw it. And the city was not destroyed, not at this time. Not long after, Nineveh would revert to her evil ways, and God would destroy the city. But not now.
Can you imagine the joy when it dawns on these people that they aren't going to die after all? The Scripture doesn't tell us how the time worked out, whether they had to wait the full forty days before realizing that they were spared, or whether the Lord made it clear through other means.
But Jonah realized what was taking place. He is still in the city, and sees the response even while he is preaching.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.
The mercy shown Nineveh had a huge negative affect on Jonah. It caused him to be overcome by anger and bitterness. Jonah wanted Nineveh to pay the price for its evil, which was off the charts. But he knew that Yahweh would show mercy if Nineveh repented. That's why he ran in the first place. And when he saw repentance taking place, he knew what the Lord would do.
We can see that Jonah didn't want Nineveh spared. He didn't even want Nineveh to have the opportunity to repent. He wanted them punished for their sin, punished for the evil and violence they had brought upon others, including Israel and Judah.
Jonah was so embittered by God's mercy to the Ninevites that he wants to die. There's more than a little irony; the rebel doesn't want to live in a world where rebels are not destroyed. He somehow misses the truth that HE wasn't destroyed when HE rebelled. Jonah actually reaches the point of saying, "If You aren't going to destroy THEM, then destroy ME – I don't want to live in a world where sinners receive mercy."
Before we criticize Jonah too much, let's check our own hearts and attitudes. Israel had been in existence for more than 700 years, and during much of that time they worshiped false gods. The book of Judges records a period of 400 years in which the people sinned, God punished them, they repented, and God delivered them. The same basic pattern continues unchanged when during the time of the kings.
Jonah was a man called by God to be a prophet at a time when the Word of God was being ignored and the people of God were engaging in idolatry. For seven hundred years the people of God had sinned against Him, suffered the consequences, repented, and been delivered. The prophets were already pointing to a devastating loss of both kingdoms, and captivity in a foreign land.
Why doesn't God do something about America and her sin? Abortion kills an average 1.2 million babies every year, about 40% of all unintended pregnancies. Homosexuality and other sexual perversions are legally protected; the time is quickly coming when it will be hate speech to disagree with any sexual activity at all.
Without question, America deserves judgment, and so does the entire world. Should God simply destroy all the wicked, right now? I'll let you ponder that for a few minutes.
The fact that the Lord would show mercy to an openly rebellious, pagan, idol worshiping people was too much for Jonah. He headed to the hills, and threw together a shelter made of whatever he could find, and waited for judgment day to begin.
Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Notice all the appointing God does here. He had already appointed a great fish (Jonah 1:17). Now God appoints a plan, a word, and a scorching east wind.
We see that Yahweh is absolutely and unquestionably in control of the situation. He is going to teach Jonah an important lesson about His own mercy and kindness; in order to give Jonah hope, not only for himself, but for Israel as well.
First, an appointed plant comes up, probably a climbing plant that covered the booth made by Jonah. It would have increased the shade and added moisture to the hot, dry air. It comes up out of nowhere in that dry, barren landscape. And Jonah as glad for the plant as he was angry that God spared Nineveh; it was a huge relief to him.
But the next morning an appointed worm attacked the plant, and it withered. The plant loses its moisture, the leaves fall, the plant hangs in tatters upon the booth. And then, an appointed, scorching east wind dries the plant out further, tearing it to pieces and scattering it across the hillside, probably with the remains of Jonah's makeshift booth. And the sun beats down on Jonah's head to the point that he was faint, dizzy, and sick from the heat.
And he asked that he might die and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live.'
Why? Because he was completely exposed to the elements, unable to escape the harshness of that world. The booth had done a small amount, and the plant had helped quite a bit, but he had lost the plant.
God asks a question which sets up the lesson: "Is it right to be angry because the plant died?"
Jonah answered, "Yes, it's right to be angry. That plant was small, but it all the protection I had from the heat and scorching east wind. Without it I am utterly exposed to the elements.
And the Lord presses the issue home: "You pity the plant which gave you, one person, just a little protection from the world. Shouldn't I pity the city of Nineveh, which provides far more protection for more than 120,000 people, not to mention all the livestock?"
You pity the plant; should God not pity Nineveh?
We have been given a message to preach, and it's a far more hopeful message than that given Jonah. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a sinless life, earning righteousness by His perfect obedience. At the perfect time, an exchange took place. God the Father took the full record of His people's sins, and put them down as belonging to Jesus, as though Jesus were guilty of all that sin all along. And the Father took the full record of Jesus' righteousness, and put it down as belonging to His people, as though they had lived in perfect righteousness all along.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Repent of your sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, and He will save you. That's the Gospel. It's called Gospel, "good news," because it's the best news there is.
But the world resists it and fights it and argues against it. The reality of sin should be the last thing anyone would question – the evidence is inescapable and truly universal; all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You would think that rescue from the eternal damnation that sin brings would be welcomed by all. But sin runs so deep that, like Jonah, most would rather die than live in a world where God saves sinners.
It can be easy for Christians to become bitter and disillusioned, and want to call down judgment on the earth. It's especially easy when we forget that we did not save ourselves, we did not even believe in Jesus apart from God's gifts of repentance and faith.
Why doesn't the Lord just put an end to sin right now? Do you remember the parable Jesus told about the man who planted good seed in his field, and his enemy came and planted weeds? When the man's servants wanted to pull the weeds he stopped them: "You might pull up the good plants with the weeds." Instead, he said, wait for the harvest, and then separate good from bad.
Our job is not to bring about the judgment of the world, but to patiently proclaim the same old Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, looking to the Lord to do His word of convicting and humbling and giving repentance and faith to the elect. Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is hope as long as there is life. No one – not even a Ninevite – is beyond the reach of God's grace.
When we partake in communion, we declare that this is real for us. We say before the Lord that we are trusting fully in Him, and not in anyone else, whether pastor or dearly departed or even angels, to secure our salvation. Jesus said in John 6,
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Eating and drinking are merely pictures of believing in Jesus Christ. Can you say, as you take the bread and the cup, "By the grace of God I believe in Jesus Christ and am saved!"? It is my prayer that you can. If you take this bread and cup, and doubt the Lord, or are counting on good works or religious duties, then this is just an empty ritual. But if you truly believe in Jesus, and call upon Him as Savior and Lord, and hope only in Him, and trust in His power and His grace to bring you safely home, then the Lord says that you are fully His and secure in Him.