“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.”
Jonah 3: 10
Jonah (Psalm 128)
In lots of ways this book is about responses to God. The sailors cried out to ‘their own gods;’ yet in the end they acknowledged, and cried out to the one and only true God; for grace (1: 14). The Ninevites believed God (3:5) and the people declared a fast. Their King, on hearing this, issued a decree stating that all should call on the Lord and affirmed the fast. The call was for repentance, giving ‘up their evil ways and violence,’ (3: 8b). These were not God’s people.
Jonah, God’s prophet, responded in very different ways. He heard God but ran in the opposite direction. He acknowledged he was to blame for the storm, he acknowledged God and offered his life to save the sailors. When, however, we consider his responses in the rest of the book, we have to ask whether this was a sacrificial act or one of selfishness? Even in prayer from within the fish, where he truly acknowledges God, does he actually say sorry? He does eventually obey God, but his reaction to God’s grace is one of petulance, again asking for God to take His life. We know that Jonah prophesied to Jeroboam (2 Kings 14: 25) and that, through Amos, this prophecy was altered (Amos 6: 14). Perhaps Jonah, and his relationship with God, had been hugely affected by this? God explains His compassion to Jonah and asks him a question (4:11b); we do not know Jonah’s response!
With the book of Jonah we sometimes fixate on the fish; was it possible for Jonah to stay alive? This, I believe to be a red herring (the actual fish will have been somewhat bigger!). If God can create the universe, if He can raise Jesus from the dead, then this miraculous act is nothing for Him. Jesus believed it, and that is good enough for me (Matt 12: 40). In this Gospel passage, Jesus links Jonah’s experience to a prediction of His own death and resurrection; perhaps this is what happened to Jonah?
Instead I believe we need to recognise God’s sovereignty, compassion and provision in this book. We see Him as the King of all nations, acting with compassion and calling for obedience and right relationships. We need to acknowledge that oftentimes non-believers, respond more honestly and openly to God and we need to accept that there is something of the begrudging nature of Jonah in all of us. Wrapped up in that attitude can be an inherent pride believing we know better than God and others. Despite our failings though, God can, and still does use us for His glory and the blessings of others; whether we receive God's blessings is sometimes dependent on us.
God’s call for Nineveh is a call for our world; a call for repentance that leads to reconciliation. His Holy Spirit works to convict the world of its sins and God’s impending judgement, whilst offering the righteousness of Christ, as the means of His grace (John 16: 8-11). We are vessels of His Holy Spirit, and the Church His agent in this mission with a great commission (Matt. 28 16-20). How will we respond to God’s call; as Jonah or as one who imitates Jesus?
The Question of Application
God’s call to the Ninevites caused them to respond. Their response caused their Government (King), to respond. What is God’s call to our country and city today, how might we respond to that call?
Almighty God, in our distress we call to you, the One who can bring our lives from the pit. Hear our prayers, as they rise to your Holy dwelling place, and help us to abandon false idols, turning instead to your grace and compassion. In praise and thanksgiving let us acknowledge that salvation belongs to you, repent and receive life. Amen
(Paraphrased from Jonah 2)
Out of the Depths by Sovereign Grace
Lord Jesus, Think on me sung by St. Michael and All Angels, Bassett
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.