LifeWay Explore the Bible Series for Dec. 14
When God speaks, it would be wise to listen
By John Duncan
Lakeside Baptist Church, Granbury
“Mine, O thou Lord of life, send my roots rain,” the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once penned. Grace is the refreshment of God on our lives like a gentle rain falling on a summer day. Grace nurtures spiritual roots for growth and service. Grace inspires confidence to confess, to repent, and to follow God in ways not before chosen.
Grace inspires a second chance. God's mercy spit Jonah on the shore and opened his ears to God's voice again (Jonah 2:10-3:2). Jonah now hears God fully, accepts God's call and walks to Nineveh. The journey to Nineveh took three days (Jonah 3:3). Jonah's call involved preaching God's message (literally, “preach the preaching,” Jonah 3:2).
Preaching meant heralding the news of God, suggesting that Jonah entered the city center and wandered through the city thundering God's judgment. The message of judgment was twofold: warning and announcing words loudly so contact with God can be initiated. Specifically, Jonah proclaimed the city would be destroyed in 40 days (Jonah 3:4).
Nineveh was one of the largest cities of its day. Although the problems and sin of Nineveh were different than that of Sodom and Gomorrah, the city seemed destined for the fire of God's judgment. The poet Langston Hughes described Nineveh's challenge if following God became their choice, “Descent is quick, To rise again is slow.” Nineveh had descended into wickedness (Jonah 1:2). Their wickedness involved acts of evil that broke their hearts and crushed their moral strength. Sin destroys heart and soul. To rise again toward God would require a long journey mandating a change of heart, habit and lifestyle.
Jonah preached a message spoken with passion and the expectation of God's penetrating power. Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch said, “The respite granted is fixed at 40 days, according to the number which, even as early as the flood, was taken as the measure for determining the delaying of the visitations of God.”
Forty days gave the people of Nineveh time to repent. Forty days in the Bible is a reference to God's special work or activity during and at the end of such days. Eugene Peterson said Jonah called into question the Ninevites' future and that “'40' is a stock biblical word that has hope at its core.” The Bible clearly places “40” as a word that, in its duration, supplies opportunity for God's restoring and refreshing work. God longed for Nineveh to be transformed and turned back from their wicked ways. Jonah preached a repentance leading to obedience to God.
Feast of faith and a fast of repentance
God's word went forth in the preaching. God's message jolted hearts and souls. The people believed and placed faith in God (Jonah 3:5). Belief inspires confidence to follow God and his ways by faith. Faith indicates a powerful dynamic. It also means the dynamic work of God brought forth a swift change in one moment, or “to be fixed in one spot.” Salvation by faith has definite spiritual character and a fixed time of spiritual change. God graced the people of Nineveh, and a feast of faith enjoyed promise in their hearts.
The feast of faith in the heart produced a genuine spirit of repentance (v. 5). The people of Nineveh fasted. As a part of the fast, each person, whether king or servant, rich or poor, good or bad, great or small, took off their outer garments, put on sackcloth and rubbed ashes on their foreheads. Sackcloth was used for mourning, begging during famine or poverty, repentant acts and for grief in the shadows of sorrow. Even the king took off his royal robe, clothed himself with sackcloth and sat woefully in ashes (v. 6).
The king then decreed for the people to refrain from eating food and drinking water (v. 7). The king enforced a law for the people to put on sackcloth and cry out to God (v. 8). The intensity of the act of turning to God vibrates in this passage. Not only were the people to cry to God, but also to turn from evil and violence (v. 8). The grace of God's second chance in the words “evil” and “violence” indicate that God takes the broken and restores them while simultaneously taking the disorder of wrong by replacing it with the order of God's righteousness and peace (v. 8).
Turning away from evil and violence provides grace for God to deliver the comfort of forgiveness, to hold back his fury and burning anger, and to replace perishing with the protection of his saving grace (v. 9). The question in verse 9 hints at the hope of transformation among the people of Nineveh and the essential quality of grace which leads to a change of direction and conduct.
Grace of a gentle rain
God's eyes, hands and heart grace the people. His eyes see their repentance. His hands withdraw from judgment. His heart unites with their hearts to bring mercy. Mercy renews their lives like a gentle rain. The grace of obedience to God blossoms in Nineveh like a beautiful flower.
Question for discussion
What do you suppose life in Ninevah was like after this period of repentance?