The “Results” of Jonah’s Preaching

Jonah 3:5-10

When Christians report on work of evangelism, is common to write or speak in way that fails to do justice to what really took place. Much of time emphasis is on numbers – “11 people sought Christ” – “we converted 21” – “hundreds responded to the invitation” – “29 salvations, 8 re-dedications”. The impression given is that evangelist, short-term missions team, camp ministry, represented one half of equation, responders the other half. I/we did this, they did that in response. Contrast that sort of ministry reporting with Bible – Ac 2.41Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” Ac 2.47 “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

I’m sure if challenged, some at least of those who make report would acknowledge better way to state details, to make clear who is responsible for conversions. Is easy for us to give priority to what we see, let what we know to be true fade into background. Story found in Jonah good reminder not to do that. What we see today as results of evangelistic presentation no less a work of God than conversion of people of Nineveh. We look at what Jonah preached – simple message of impending destruction, are blown away by how many salvations there were. Would be more accurate to look in chapter 4 to find results of Jonah’s preaching, instead see here in chapter 3 mighty moving of Spirit of God giving gift of repentance to thousands in Nineveh. This in perfect keeping with closing statement of Jonah’s prayer, Jon. 2:9Salvation is of the LORD.”

God is most pleased when his servants obey willingly with sincere heart, proclaim truth with genuine desire for God to bring about results. However… God can use any instrument, willing or not, to achieve his purpose. At one time even used donkey to speak truth to wrong-headed prophet! Jonah, grudging and reluctant all the way, did speak God’s truth to residents of Nineveh, outcome was indeed what Jonah expected. More on that in next chapter. Also had precise outcome God intended, city of Nineveh was turned upside down.

A. the people v.5

heard

impression given by our text – people heard God’s proclamation, immediately responded to it – if aerial view, see waves of action spreading out in all directions w/Jonah at center

this a perfect illustration of Paul’s statement Rom. 10:17So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

also Isa. 55:11 “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

believed

immediate reaction to preached word: belief, confidence that this God Jonah represented would do exactly as threatened

why did they have greater confidence in Elohim than gods they worshiped? because God enabled them to recognize truth, gave desire and will to respond appropriately

mourned

fasting and sackcloth typical traditional activities associated with mourning, humiliation – not limited to Jewish people

what were they mourning? gotten caught? their sin, exposed by nature of threatened consequences? would seem the latter

right response never comes about when message begins with God’s love instead of his holiness and righteousness

what seems harsh often most loving thing we can do – God is love, also holy/ just – sinners need to be warned, not stroked

all without distinction

from greatest to least – no social or economic distinctions, not even political – a message that could be understood by absolutely anyone as Spirit of God moved

given conclusion of story, perhaps author means to include idea of “oldest to youngest” given who God said he had in mind

but not without exception – whatever exact numbers were, overwhelming majority responded properly even if a few holdouts

B. the king v.6

heard

not given strict timeline, expect news traveled quickly as effect of hearing God’s word snowballed, reaching highest levels

no indication that was Jonah who brought message to king, most likely not Jonah – was reports of what was happening

when Spirit of God at work, can and will use all sorts of ways for people to hear truth – yes, appointed prophet necessary, but not only means God used

humbled himself

completely out of character for king to remove all signs of authority, level the playing field, stoop to take his place beside everyone else in city

king goes step beyond everyone else – replaced royal robes with sackcloth and sat in ashes – even greater act of humiliation along with mourning

accepted responsibility

for himself – shown by his actions, showing no desire to pull rank, no evidence of attitude of superiority – taking heat along with everyone else, expressing sorrow over his own guilt

for his people – king stood for people as their representative, also shown by his actions – did not stand by himself and issue decree only for people

set an example

showed first how all should respond, then gave further instruction through his edict – the way any good leader acts, far too rare in today’s world

had right effect on those in government – “decree of the king and his nobles” – universal gov’t approval of national response

side note: this the kind of character we should look for in elected officials at all levels of government, kind we should display in our leadership roles

C. the edict v.7-8

fast

this one a strict fast – no food or water, for unspecified duration – long enough to demonstrate sincerity of their grief

included animals, domestic beasts, who added their voices to those of people – together, from greatest to least, man and beast to participate in national repentance

mourn

all without exception to show outwardly their inner state of mourning and humility; showing also their unity, having put aside outward measures of distinction

pray

king by example and decree focusing people’s attention and activities… together crying out to God for deliverance from threatened calamity

not just a few sentence prayers, instead continued strong, vigorous, insistent and persistent crying out loudly to God

not the kind of ritual repetition prophets of Baal engaged in on Mt Carmel – this the genuine outpouring of people sorrowing over sin… seeing their evil ways as God did, worthy of God’s anger

repent

king’s edict included himself… “let everyone turn” – king understood and impressed on people: must be more than just words

if any hope at all of receiving mercy from God, must be radical change of behavior, complete turning away from evil/violence

mre evidence that king truly understood point God was making – conduct of king and people had been evil, sinful… king calling their actions what God did

D. the attitude v.9

humility

not taking anything for granted – if we do this then God must do that – no stated or implied reasons why God should respond favorably to their prayers

did not question justice of God’s fierce anger – simply accepted God’s assessment of their conduct without making excuses

dependence

king’s final statement leaves outcome entirely in God’s hands – they will persist in prayer and repentance depending on God’s mercy for reprieve

E. the result v.10

God saw they repented

doesn’t say God heard their cries, says he saw their works – of course prayer included in works… but not the only thing

saw they turned from evil way – not just stopping the next planned evil thing or two, actually beginning new way of life

“In 1951, Red Skelton and a party of friends flew to Europe, where Skelton was to appear at the London Palladium. As they were flying over the Swiss Alps, one of the airplane’s engines failed. The situation looked very grave and the passengers began to pray. Skelton went into one of his best comic routines to distract them from the emergency as the plane lost altitude, coming closer and closer to the ominous-looking mountains. At the last moment, the pilot spied a large field among the precipitous slopes and made a perfect landing. Skelton broke the relieved silence by saying, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, you may return to all the evil habits you gave up twenty minutes ago.””

Ninevites did not do that, at least not in near term – repentance widespread and sincere enough that God saw and approved

God relented

not that God changed his mind – for him to bring calamity after they repented would not have been just, perceived threat had desired effect

and… really a sense in which Nineveh was overthrown/overturned – anyone who visited Nineveh day before Jonah’s arrival, then 41 days later would think were in totally different city

Ninevites turned over new leaf, completely different priorities, behaviors, attitudes – no longer prime for judgment

same for us

when God confronts with message about something we need to change, rather than get defensive or make excuses, should respond….

as quickly as Ninevites – didn’t dilly-dally, rationalize or justify… simply heard and responded in sorrow and repentance

as sincerely as Ninevites – was genuine enough to “convince” God so he withheld threatened judgment

And remember: our job to communicate God’s truth as he directs us, his job to bring about results he intends. He may intend hardening as with Pharaoh, may also intend repentance as with Nineveh. Either way, is God’s call and he who gets glory.

 

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