1 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.
Two phrases that are essential for everyone to know are “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” These two phrases were emphasized to me and my sister growing up, especially by our father. And as we got older, it became clear how important these two simple phrases are in all aspects of life. They solved problems on the playground, in the classroom, on the soccer field, with friends, at work and they are especially important for dating and marriage. In fact, my best man speech to my good friend centered on these two phrases. When you go through life not using these phrases, it makes it hard for others to live with you because you aren’t willing to admit when you are wrong or move on when others wrong you. If you can’t say, “I’m sorry,” or “I forgive you,” then you really have a problem with showing compassion. Jonah had a difficult time with showing compassion as we will see from our Old Testament lesson from Jonah 3. Finally, God had to sit Jonah down like a loving father does with his children and teach him to pray for God’s compassion.
Jonah was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel. During his time as a prophet, the two countries of Israel and Assyria were in decline. God had an interest in both nations and so he told his prophets to tell both nations to repent of their evil ways or God would destroy them. Israel did not listen to the prophets God sent, so God allowed Israel to be taken over by Assyria. On the other hand, Assyria did repent when God sent a prophet to them, which was Jonah. Assyria listened to Jonah and God preserved them long enough to be the ones to punish the northern kingdom of Israel for their lack of repentance.
Jonah’s call to go to the people of Nineveh was simple. In Jonah 1, God told Jonah
2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian nation. It was a center for commerce and culture at that time in history, and was the envy of many nations around them, but the people were wicked. The people of Nineveh did not know God and they suffered for it. Without God in their lives, the people of Nineveh were lost in their sins. They lived frantic lives trying to make the best of their short time in this world and, like so many today, they could not find peace or contentment. The wickedness and hopeless condition of Nineveh had grown so great, God planned to destroy the city, but before he did, he showed compassion by sending Jonah to show them their wicked ways and call them to repentance. And if Nineveh repented, then God would not destroy them.
Jonah knew the great wickedness of Nineveh and the great compassion of God. Jonah knew that God had showed his own people Israel compassion for centuries by sending prophet after prophet to call them to repentance and assure them of God’s continued love and forgiveness. Jonah knew that God’s Word was powerful enough to make even the most stubborn hearts repent and that God always forgives those who repent, which is why Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and preach God’s Word because he knew God Word’ would work and they would be spared the destruction God had planned for them.
When God first called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah tried to run away. As soon as Jonah was told by God to go East to prophesy to Nineveh, he jumped on a ship headed West. At first, Jonah felt like he had avoided his calling, but soon God showed him that he could not out run him. During his voyage West, God caused a great storm and everyone on the boat with Jonah was afraid for their lives. Eventually, Jonah told the others on the boat to throw him overboard and God would stop the storm. Once overboard, Jonah was swallowed by a huge fish and survived inside for three days and three nights. In the fish, he finally told God he was sorry for what he had done and God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah up on dry land. And once he was back on dry land,
3:1 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.”
In retrospect, Jonah probably realized how foolish it was to run from God, but how many times do we all do foolish things when we are avoiding what God wants us to do?
I’ll ask it in another way, how many times have you like Jonah foolishly avoided showing compassion to someone because you don’t believe they deserve it? When you avoid showing compassion to someone because you don’t think they deserve it, you are playing God, but you are not God. Instead, God has called you to show love and compassion to all people. God has called you to use his Word with those around you. He wants you to use his law and gospel. He wants you to use the law to show people their sins, the reason why they face hardships in this life, why they are going to die someday and what is waiting for them if they do not know their Savior. He wants you also to share the gospel, that in Jesus, their sins are forgiven, they no longer have to fear God’s punishment for all they have done wrong and that they have life in heaven waiting for them through Jesus.
There is no excuse for not showing compassion to everyone around you. Each of you can think of people whom you do not want to share Jesus with. You may not want to because of their skin color, their language, their country of origin, their religion, their social standing, their weight, their housing situation, their sexual preference, their political persuasion, the fact that they have hurt you in the past, or something else that they have done, not done or might do that you think means they don’t deserve to hear about God’s love for them. All of us can come up with excuses and run like Jonah, but none of those excuses stand up to God’s desire to show compassion to each and every sinner in this world.
Jonah’s worst fear was that God would show his amazing compassion to the great city of Nineveh and he was right. When Jonah finally went to Nineveh and shared the message that God was going to destroy them in forty days if they did not stop their evil ways and repent, Jonah 3 says,
5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Jonah’s message worked on the sinful hearts of the people and they stopped what they were doing. The whole city by the order of the king of Nineveh stopped, fasted, put on sackcloth and asked God to forgive them. Everything that they did was a clear sign that God’s Word had worked on their hearts to see their sins and call out to God as the only one who could save them.
The change in heart by the city of Nineveh was the power of God on display. That same power of God to work in the hearts of people was the same power that Paul gave thanks for in his letter to the Colossians. Paul wrote,
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4 because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5 the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven.
God’s Word had been at work longer in the hearts of the Colossians, than in the hearts of the Ninevites. The Colossians were not only aware of their own sins and need for their Savior, but they were now showing love to others. The power of God’s Word is not only to make us repent and call out for forgiveness, but also to begin a life of love and compassion for those stuck in sin. Paul was thankful for the Colossians faith and love that was working to share the gospel and show love for others both fueled by their hope for eternal life in heaven.
Jonah’s heart was not glad or filled with love like the Colossians after God showed compassion for the people of Nineveh. After God showed compassion, the Hebrew the word for compassion literally means to stop or turn around, Jonah was mad and pouting that God did not destroy the city. Jonah went outside the city and sat on a hill looking at the city. God made a plant grow up to give Jonah shade as he sat, but then had a worm chew the plant so that it died and, as the sun then beat down on Jonah’s head, he was so angry he wanted to die. God told Jonah, he was wrong to be so concerned about the plant, which he neither planted nor caused to grow. On the other hand, God said,
11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
God wanted to show compassion to the people of Nineveh because God loves all people. In 1 Timothy 2, Paul said,
“God our Savior…wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
God our Father wants all people to be saved so badly that he gave up his only Son to save us. All of us deserve God’s punishment, even if we were only judged by our lack of compassion for others. The truth is we have all run from God and still do, but by God’s grace, we can’t out run his love. In our Savior Jesus, all our sins and the sins of the world were paid for on the cross. Jesus gave up his perfect life of love for us. Through Jesus sacrifice, God can say that your sins are forgiven because God turned from punishing you and punished Jesus. Through our Savior we are free from our sins and we have hope for eternal life in heaven.
Growing up, my dad taught me and my sister what it meant to say “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” As Christians, these two phrases do more than get us through this life because we are forgiven through our Savior Jesus. And if it is hard for you to say you’re sorry to God and others, or if you find it hard to forgive others or believe you are forgiven by your Father in heaven, remember that he spared Nineveh and that he did not spare his own Son to save you. As you go out this week, know that you are forgiven and dearly loved by your Father in heaven, but others may not know that love, so pray for God’s compassion. Amen.