THE BOOK OF JONAH
Read chapter 3 and ask yourself the following questions as you do:
What similarities/contrasts do you see in Jonah 1 and Jonah 3?
What was the author's point by the comparison/contrasts?
Did the Assyrians truly believe in God?
What does it mean for God to “relent” (3:9)?
Take the time to read through Psalm 51. What does David teach us about repentance?
1. What similarities/contrasts do you see in Jonah 1 and 3?
Jonah 1:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, "Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city because their wickedness has come up before Me"
Jonah 3:1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh, the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you...Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown
Compare: God judged
Jonah 1:3 But Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord
Jonah 3:3 So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord
Contrast: Jonah ran from God, but after his experience in the sea, he was finally obedient to God
Jonah 1:5 Then the sailors became afraid, and every man cried out to his god
Jonah 3:5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God
Compare: The unbelievers immediately obeyed.
Jonah 1:6 Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish
Jonah 3:9 Who knows, God may turn and relent, and turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish
Compare: The unbelievers understood that Jonah's God was in control of His creation and they placed hope in His willingness to save.
Jonah 1:17 the Lord designated a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish for three days and three nights
Jonah 3:10 God relented of the disaster which He had declared He would bring on them. So He did not do it.
Compare: God shows His mercy
2. What was the author's point in the comparison/contrasts? Most scholars believe our author was purposeful when he formed these two chapters with such obvious parallels. He is essentially beginning his book again; Jonah is getting a "do-over." Though God's actions, as well as those of the unbelievers, are the same, Jonah's choice is drastically dissimilar. He learned some lessons at the bottom of the sea and, like the Hebrew people continue to do, found hope in the God of salvation.
Remember, Jonah found himself in the belly of Sheol, the place of hopelessness. However, when he obediently went to Nineveh, the people found hope in the mercy of Jonah's God (3:9). What a reversal! That is such an important lesson for Jonah. God, who is full of mercy, needs Jonah to understand that his mercy extends to all His creation, not just the Israelites, therefore, he graciously gave him a second choice. That is obviously our author's point - God is a God of second chances, do-overs, and renewals because His desire is, and has always been - redemption. God continues to "make plans so that the banished one will not be cast out from Him" (2 Sam. 14:14).
3. Did the Assyrians/Ninevites truly believe in God? The results of Jonah's eight-word sermon are extraordinary. From the greatest to the least, the entire nation repents in sackcloth and ashes. But the Assyrians did not become known as a nation that followed the God of Abraham, so did they truly repent? The word used in Jonah 3:5 is 'āman. It is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 - "And he (Abraham) believed in the LORD, and he counted it to him for righteousness." It is the same word used of the Israelites who believed Moses when he told them God had sent him to speak to Pharaoh, "And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped" (Ex. 4:31). It is the same word used when the Lord parted the Red Sea, "and the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD, and his servant Moses" (Ex. 14:31). The Assyrians wholly believed/trusted God would do what He said He would do. They didn't merely believe in the concept of God; they believed God. At least at this point in their history, these Ninevites believed God's promise to judge and repented of their wickedness.
4. What does it mean for God to “relent”? Did you notice the repetition of the word "turn" in this chapter? If you did, did you ask yourself what point the author was making? There are three "turning" events mentioned in the third chapter. The first is found in Jonah's message to the Ninevites, "Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overthrown" (3:4). Strong's Concordance defines the word "overthrown" as, "to turn about or over; by implication, to change, overturn." Some translations read that God would turn over Nineveh if the people did not repent. The second turn is found in the king's decree that, "every person and animal must be covered with sackcloth, and people are to call on God vehemently, and they are to turn, each one from his evil way. The third instance is found in the king's hope that God would, "turn and relent, and turn from His burning anger” (3:9).
The second and third instances of "turn" are the same Hebrew word," šûḇ" (pronounced shoob). In other words, God and the Ninevites did the same thing, they turned from the way they were headed and moved in a different direction. However, don't think of God turning as God repenting; He was not repenting of His anger. The Ninevites turned away from sin and toward God seeking His mercy. God turned from His wrath and toward the Ninevites offering His forgiveness. God did overturn Nineveh; He overturned them from destruction to redemption. He did not repent; he relented or turned away from his anger and accepted their repentance.
5. What does Psalm 51 teach us about repentance? Create in me a clean heart…
Context: When King David spoke these words, he was publicly denouncing his heart's depravity after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin against Bathsheba. David confessed that 'original sin' had infected him at birth and continued to wreak havoc (5), so he asked God to graciously, with lovingkindness and compassion (v. 1), wash him, cleanse him thoroughly (2), and purify him (7) so as to restore (12) and deliver (14) him from sin's damage. He knew that would only come from honest confession and repentance because God desires truth in our "innermost being" (6).
When a psalm's title states, "for the choir (or music) director," it indicates a psalm to be sung in the people's assembly. David did not offer a private prayer or an "unspoken" prayer request. When David was confronted with his sin and sought restoration, he asked God for the willingness to teach others what God taught him about his heart (12b, 13), and for the opportunity to share the joy (7, 8, 12a) of redemption with others.
David was not merely seeking pardon for his sin, so he chose not to offer a sacrifice (16). He sought unqualified heart transformation. He desired the total annihilation of the effects of original sin on his heart (5). King David sought a new heart - one not blackened by sin - but a pure, clean heart. David is asking the Creator to do it again: take the bony rib of a stone-cold heart and create a heart softened by the Holy Spirit. Graciously God has promised to do just that (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).
When we speak, think, or act in a way that is contrary to the decision we made to follow Christ, it reveals an area of our heart that still needs purification. God was not solely concerned with David's sin against Bathsheba (though it was appalling). God was concerned with the depth of sin in David’s heart that led to his sinful behavior. God's focus is never merely on our sinful behavior; God's focus is always on the condition of the heart that led to such conduct. Our decision is whether we will allow God to reveal the depth of sin that causes us to do what we don't want to do and not do what we want to do (Rom. 7:15-20). If we choose to merely focus on the "bad" behavior, we seek forgiveness but do we seeking heart transformation?
God's concern is never only “bad” behavior, nor is His concern merely “good” behavior - including any outward/public display of moral performance (Ps. 51:16). Transformation doesn't come by religious effort or "trying harder." Change comes by giving God permission to go to the core of the issue that enabled sin to take root in our hearts. When God reveals that issue to us, He gives us the responsibility to give our heart to Him for cleansing (Prov. 20:9). But we must be willing to go beyond the sin we see and allow God to reveal the root of sin to us.
That was His concern for David, Jonah, Nineveh, and that is still God's concern for us today - have we allowed Him to reach the innermost places of our heart to reveal any level of captivity therein. God knew that the root of Jonah's sin was pride; surely that was why He sent him to his enemy. He not only wanted to heal the hearts of the evil Ninevites; God wanted to heal Jonah's heart in the process.
At the root of all sinfulness is a misunderstanding of the heart of God; we simply don't trust that He is for us, not against us. You might not have ever voiced those exact words; however, somewhere down in our inmost being, we doubt God when we choose to take life in our own hands. That was most assuredly Jonah's sin and, though he may never had spoken those words audibly, in the next chapter, Jonah will finally get real with God. He'll do it in anger, but he'll finally tell God why he ran from His assignment and His presence. But for now, God is doing what only He can do. He is redeeming hearts in Nineveh. Will the nation's hearts remain loyal to Him? No, one day God will judge them for their continued wickedness, ("The Lord has issued a decree against you: 'Your dynasty will come to an end. I will destroy the idols and images in the temples of your gods. I will desecrate your grave, because you are accursed" (Nahum 1:14). But, they will always know that God's wrath was preceded by His merciful call to turn from evil and toward Him.
Anne Lamont has said, "Grace bats last," and it does. However, grace also bats first. When we say God's mercy overwhelms His judgment, we don't only mean that when we repent from our sin, He offers forgiveness. It also means that God will mercifully provide an opportunity for our repentance.
When God "relented," of His anger, He was not saying, "I am sorry I lost my temper." God, a God of justice, must judge sin. I'm a parent and I would not be a very good one if I didn't hold my children to some standard of behavior. However, if I punish them from a place of anger and not in a way that holds them accountable to being a good citizen, I am not effectively parenting. It's a weak analogy, however, you see the point. The purpose in God's judgment, and this is where my analogy is weak, is because God, unlike us, demands holiness. So when God relented, He was not admitting to losing His temper or to changing His mind. His standard is incontrovertible. Even though the "Lord is slow to anger..., the Lord will certainly not allow the wicked to go unpunished" (Nah. 1:3). But, as we have read, He mercifully offered an opportunity for Nineveh to repent before He brought His judgment some 100 years later.
For New Testament Christians, it is important for us to remember that God's wrath was satisfied on the Cross. However, we still receive correction/discipline from Him - "For they [earthly parents] disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it" (Heb. 12:10-11). However, one day, when God decides to withhold His grace, the "day" of God's wrath will come. He is patiently withholding that day, " being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pt. 3:9). Following that day, God will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, and His righteousness will once again rule this earth. Until then, we, like Jonah, are given beautiful opportunities to show the world that they can trust that He is faithful, perfect in justice, mercy, grace, righteous, and love.
However, Jonah hasn't looked much like the holy God he claims to serve, and our author's use of contrasts and comparisons between him and the unbelieving Ninevites and sailors compels us to look at ourselves and ask God to show us where our heart is not bent on holy justice, mercy and grace. Don't be satisfied with quick forgiveness when you impose your will over God's; instead, seek a new heart. Who knows, God may turn and relent, so that you can be a part of sharing His relentless love with your world.