Friday, January 18, 2008
What is this passage all about?
Jonah finally proclaims God's message in Ninevah; the Ninevites repent and God has compassion for them.
What can I learn from it?
There is such a contrast between 1:3, "But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish..." and 3:3, "Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh..." At last, after the ordeal of sea storm and his time inside the fish, not to mention the whole being vomited up by a fish experience, Jonah was prepared to obey. So Jonah went to Nineveh and began to announce God's message that God would overturn the city in forty days. I guess Jonah didn't really feel he had any other choice but to preach God's word (if I was in his position, I wouldn't be trying to run away again), but at least he got on with it at last. Talk about a reluctant prophet!
In contrast, the people of Ninevah responded immediately to the word of God. Straight away, they declared their repentance with the typical public forms of fasting and mourning (v5): "The Ninevites believed God. The declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth." Even the king of Ninevah, when he heard the news, saw the need for repentance and made sure everyone got involved. He told the people (v8b-9), "...Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." The king saw the need for the public signs of repentance to be accompanied by both prayers for mercy and also by a change of behaviour. The king knew - or at least hoped - that there was a possibility of God forgiving them if they really did turn from the evil that He hated.
I am so happy when I read the last verse of this chapter (v10): "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened." Hooray! I can look back at this instance of God showing His loving kindness to the Ninevites (first through His grace in sending a prophet to warn them, then in His mercy in forgiving them their sins) and be reminded of the same situation in my own life. The people of Ninevah weren't God's chosen people, they weren't Israelites, but they still had to answer to Him, just as I do. When they chose to respond with repentance and an acknowledgement of His authority over them (in accepting the words of His prophet), He forgave them. 1 John 1:9 and 2:1b-2 say, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ... if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world."
How does this apply to my own life?
Just like the Ninevites, I need to stop behaving badly, and turn to God, who has authority over my life, in repentance, asking for mercy. I can do this in the sure knowledge that Jesus is interceding on my behalf, and I have forgivenness through His death on the cross.