The Power of Five Words

Jonah 3:3b-4

Over and over Bible makes clear principle Paul declared to Corinthian believers:

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;” (1 Cor. 1:27)

How can God do that… repeatedly?

“Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:25)

Classic illustration of this in story of Jonah. If main plot line highlights length God goes to in order to bring men, women, boys, girls to salvation, secondary theme is this: expect to be surprised by God. He doesn’t do things in ways we would or use resources we view as suitable. Fact is at times we wonder how God’s methods can actually work… and for good!

What mission board would accept a candidate who didn’t want to go, didn’t think target people group should hear Gospel, resented idea God might save some of them? Add to that, already tried to escape going to that place, now only considering it because in quotes “God told them to”. Jonah had no heart for people of Nineveh, no burning desire to see them saved / escape destruction. Besides, absolutely no known converts among Ninevites, none who wanted missionary to come. No way Nineveh could be considered “waiting city”, ready to fill church planted by someone from away.

Yet this was individual God used to accomplish unbelievable results, the agent God worked with and through to provide deliverance from destruction for thousands. May think of Nineveh as being much different from today’s cities – in some ways yes, other ways no. No more or less godless than many modern places, same kind of people with same problems and needs – lost sinners headed for hopeless eternity unless God intervened… which he intended to do… in spite of Jonah’s reluctance. Truth is Jonah’s reluctance further highlights God’s persistence, determination, desire to save the lost in Nineveh.

As Jonah approached target city, faced large and daunting task; started out small; didn’t say much.

A. a large task v.3b

enormous city

one of great cities of ancient world – became capital of Assyrian Empire (followed by Babylonian, Medo-Persian), rising superpower of Jonah’s day

among most brutal oppressive world powers in all of history – first to establish large effective army to project power over wide area

Sennacherib moved capital to Nineveh, used brutality toward captives to intimidate and control, think ISIS tactics and worse

booty taken in war financed building program, captives provided skill and labor – Sennacherib built palace for himself in Nineveh

reliefs, sculptures depicting Sennacherib’s exploits, from palace alone side by side would stretch for 2 miles

Nineveh becoming an international city, estimated size: 1800 acres, population in heyday: 175,000; Jerusalem only about 160 acres, population of entire region of Judah smaller than Nineveh

3-day walk

uncertain exactly what the “extent” or “breadth” refers to – walk all streets in city itself or cover Greater Nineveh urban area

located in heart of enemy territory, weeks away from border and safety for someone on foot… who likely pretty distinctive in appearance

Jonah certainly observed during travel, maybe had minder assigned to him and reporting activities and whereabouts to king

even if Jonah said nothing, walking around in Nineveh for three days almost certain to draw attention, perhaps even following

surrounding area

by some estimates could have been home to upwards of 500,000 to 1 million people or more, maybe some less than that during Jonah’s visit

by ancient standards, a megacity and major population center of world… and God expected one reluctant prophet to effectively warn

long before public safety messages, emergency broadcast system, social media, other forms of mass communication

entirely dependent on word of mouth to blanket entire area and… had less than 6 weeks to make it happen

B. a small beginning v.4a

Jonah’s mindset

could easily have been discouraged, overwhelmed – approached city, saw magnitude of task before him, sat down and questioned God

“you sure about this?” – more to accomplish here than 10 prophets could, and I’m only one,, still recovering from the fish thing

could have figured great size was in his favor – no way he could do enough in allotted time to have effect he thought God wanted… but Jonah would be pleased

perhaps grumbling “don’t want to do this, don’t think it’s gonna work, afraid it is gonna work, will do exactly what you said, however turns out is your problem”

whatever Jonah was thinking, seems clear from Biblical record he did what God expected in spite of having bad attitude

began to enter

first day’s walk – expected would take at least 3 days to do minimum amount God expected, more to thoroughly blanket area

notice how all of modern techniques for evangelism and church planting are missing – preplanning, leadership team, surveys, arrangements for large venue, and on and on

as soon as reached sign “city limits”, started to cry out message God had given him – did not wait until at certain place, encountered group of people, saw likely prospect

as soon as someone to declare message to who looked like belonged to Nineveh, Jonah began prophetic task as he was called

Jonah, for all his shortcomings, avoided common trap – people who look at magnitude of task, are overwhelmed by it, give up before starting

whether he could achieve what he understood goal to be, Jonah started… “he began to enter” – continued his obedience by doing what came next

step-by-step obedience helps keep focus off outcome/results – first duty is to do as God expects, God responsible for outcome

cried out

not what we might think of as prophet of doom – guy with sandwich board proclaiming end of world standing on street corner

nor is it situation like ice cream truck playing music while driver makes rounds looking for customers to come running

much more like fellow who makes you real uncomfortable – homeless or panhandler who gets your attention, makes eye contact, engages you in conversation

Jonah does similar – cries out so as to get individual’s attention, delivers message to one or group of people

doesn’t care if is embarrassing, if others stop / look / listen… when they do it makes his job way easier, ensuring message is heard by maximum number of people in shortest possible time

is warning directed to entire population of Nineveh yet delivered personally – notice how persistent and specific God is

God not interested in sky-writing, notice on town bulletin board, communication that could be overlooked or ignored as not pertinent to particular individual

C. a brief message v.4b

complete message only 5 words in Hebrew – od / ar.ba.im / yom / ve.nin.ve / neh.pa.khet:

this God’s message in God’s words Jonah was to proclaim to people of Nineveh – v.2 makes clear Jonah had no liberty to improvise

a gracious introduction – 40 days

just as God did through Moses to Egyptians – gave warning that included built-in delay… not momentarily, not tomorrow

time enough for all who would be affected by calamity to get message and respond, not react – God does not require people to act without thinking, comprehending what they are doing

God expects prompt obedience but not blind loyalty – say jump, ask how high on way up

40 days long enough period for sincerity to be apparent – if response is quick, resolve would begin to weaken if no obvious threat

a specific target / focus – Nineveh

not Assyria in God’s immediate view, not Tigris River valley – instead, the city itself, its surroundings, really the 100K+ people

similar situation to Sodom and Gomorrah – those two cities had become so evil their neighbors complained; perhaps similar true for Nineveh, certainly would be that way eventually

no reason not to expect God’s judgment to be precisely targeted – he didn’t need laser-guided munitions to achieve his purpose

good to remember God is just as particular in his judgment as he is in showing mercy – Ninevites certainly deserved judgment as much as S&G, Egypt, any other place we might name

a clear warning – overthrown

city would be overthrown – God has liberty to carry out his purpose directly or use other means as his instrument of justice… e.g., a foreign army or aggressor like Babylon

people would understand clearly what God meant, what was being threatened – overthrow of a city signifies what you think it does: death, destruction, pain, suffering

the word Jonah used – neh.pa.khet – used number of times in OT, one of first and common uses with reference to S&G… overthrow, as in destroy

yet also used in sense of turning or overturning – forty days and Nineveh shall be overturned – could be direct synonym for overthrow, …or have different sense… stay tuned

Are things both positive and negative to learn from Jonah as he begins ministry to Nineveh. Obedience is good, doing as God commands / expects. Attitude is not good – should obey willingly, should desire same outcome as God, whatever that might be. Beginning the assignment just as important as finishing, even when task looks to be impossible.

Really, Jonah was picking up from where someone else left off, continuing what they had started. In big picture, Jonah would complete his portion of task, yet would require many more generations to completely finish. We today are part of bigger picture, taking message of love for lost, hope for sinners to needy world. God has same desire to save lost today as he did for Nineveh… he expects us to do our part wherever he leads us to share truth with others. We can expect God will move future generations to continue what we have been part of until day Christ returns.

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