3 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 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 3:1-10 NIV)
When we last saw Jonah, he had just arrived back on shore, courtesy of God’s appointed sea creature. Both the fish and Jonah felt much better after parting ways.
As we begin chapter 3, we see the Lord calling Jonah once again. There is no running away this time – God calls and Jonah obeys. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh – the same destination as God’s first command to Jonah. We don’t know how long it was from the time Jonah and the fish parted ways until God’s calling, nor do we know where Jonah landed, or how far away Jonah was from Nineveh. All we know is that when God called, Jonah obeyed immediately.
The text tells us that Nineveh was a large city (v. 3); later in Chapter 4, we’ll see that God tells us that the population is about 120,000 people. The text says that it took three days to go through the city. This meant to walk up and down every street in the city.
Remember that in Jonah’s day there was no Internet, no public address systems, no phones, no newspaper, just Jonah walking up and down each street and proclaiming God’s message along the way.
And what was the message?
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Imagine, for a moment, the sight and sound of this strange messenger, walking up and down the streets of Nineveh preaching repentance. If we take our cues from more recent survivors who were swallowed by a fish, Jonah’s appearance would be almost ghoulish – he likely had no hair (including missing eyebrows), and his skin was likely discolored, with brown, yellow, and red blotches. Three days in the belly of the fish, marinating in the fish’s digestive juices did nothing for his good looks.
So what happened? Verse 4 tells us that Jonah finished his first day of preaching God’s word; verse 5 tells us that the entire city repented! Jonah had only finished one-third of his appointed task, and the entire city bowed its knee before Almighty God.
Even the king heard the message and repented (v. 6). The king declared that the entire city should repent, and passed a law to make it mandatory (vv. 7-28). Every man and beast was to be covered in sackcloth, and there was to be no food or water for people or animals. All were to call urgently upon God, to repent of their evil ways and of their violence. They knew the history of the God of Israel, and they knew that unless they changed and turned to God, they would be destroyed.
While they knew the wrath of the Hebrew God, they also knew of His compassion and love toward those that obeyed Him. They saw God’s blessings upon Israel, His hand of favor in every aspect of their lives. The king of Nineveh asked everyone in the city to throw themselves on God’s mercy by repenting, by turning from their wicked, sinful ways, asking God to spare them.
And indeed, verse 10 tells us that the Lord did show compassion and mercy to the city of Nineveh because they changed their ways and put their faith in God.
Can you imagine the magnitude of this change? An entire city comes to God! We often look at the smaller story of Jonah, when the bigger story is that this is likely the biggest revival in history! An entire city – 120,000 people – come to faith!
And what was the origin of this revival?
God at work, convicting people of their sins.
And the obedience of one man – Jonah.
Isn’t God great, giving Jonah a second chance?
And so this same God gives us “do-overs”, second chances as well.
He doesn’t have to, but He chooses to because He loves us.
Yes, there are consequences for our disobedience.
We might have some equivalent of Jonah’s blotchy complexion and no eyebrows in our lives, but God still loves us and gives us another try, because He loves us and has a purpose for each of us in His work and world.
Be encouraged, friends – and take that next step of repentance and obedience to what God is calling you to be and do today.