Devotional: Jonah 3:1-10
Verses 1-4: The first thing that I notice in this section is that while we don’t know where Jonah was spit out, we know that his interrupted voyage to Spain started in Joppa, near current day Tel Aviv. Maybe the fish took him north along the coast a ways, but in any case, now he had to travel (probably on foot) at least east from the coast to the other side of the Tigris River. I am guessing that his running away doubled the distance he had to traverse to get to the city where he was to proclaim Jehovah’s message.
The next thing that I notice is the message he is to proclaim has changed somewhat. In fact, instead of repeating exactly what He had told Jonah at the start (in chapter 1, “call out to her, for their evil has risen before me”), now He tells Jonah “cry out to it the proclamation that I am telling you.” And when he gets to the city to begin his message, Jehovah has him cry out “Another 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” What I see in this message is God’s mercy extended to the people of Nineveh. He has every right to just proclaim their doom and be done with them; their evil has been so extensive that it has come to His attention. Back when Joshua was going to lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan, they were told by God that it wasn’t because of their own righteousness that God was giving them this land, but because of the wickedness of the nations that already occupied it (Deuteronomy 9:4-5) There was no hint of giving them time to repent; the decision had been made. Here, the LORD is mercifully giving the Ninevites time to recognize their sin and repent.
Speaking of recognizing their sin, I notice that nobody argued with Jonah. Nobody tried to justify their sin—“well, look at such and such or so and so, they are much worse that we are!” They knew their sin and immediately took responsibility for it and repented. It made me think of Romans 1:18-32.
Verse 5: I find it interesting that so far, Jonah has referred in his testimony to God as “Jehovah”, which according to Strong’s Concordance means “[the] self-Existent or Eternal” or “LORD” (ADONAI in my Jewish Bibles). The meaning of this name grew as God revealed Himself more and more over time to the Jewish people. He became known as not just the “God who exists”, but the “God who effects His will”, and eventually they understood His name included deliverance in its meaning. Here in verse 5, though, “the people of Nineveh believed ‘God’”. According to Strong’s Concordance this word is a plural word that refers to rulers, judges, either as divine, representatives at sacred places or as reflecting divine majesty and power. It means specifically the supreme God. It is occasionally applied by way of deference to magistrates. Among other things, it has been translated as “God”, and “judge”. It is interesting to me that they recognized God’s authority as Supreme Judge, and that throughout the rest of this chapter, Jonah also refers to Him in this way as well (even when, in verse 10, He sees their repentance and withholds the calamity that He had been going to bring upon them).
I also notice that the number 40 pops up often: the earth flooded 40 days and 40 nights (Genesis 7:4); the Israelites ate manna for 40 years (Exodus 16:35); Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18); Israel wandered in the wilderness for that period of time (Numbers 14:33), as well as the spies investigating the promised land for 40 days (Numbers 13:25). Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in connection with His being tempted (Matthew 4:2; Mark 1:13; and Luke 4:1-2).
In verses 5-9, I see the people of Nineveh responding to God’s mercy. This reminds me of Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and restraint and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” I also think of Psalm 86:15, Joel 2:13 and Ephesians 2:1-7. I also think it is interesting that the “common” people were the first to respond to Jonah’s warning, but their numbers were so significant that it caught the attention of the king. How tender the Holy Spirit made their hearts! It seems that no one in this city continued to rebel against Almighty God, but all repented of their wickedness.
In line with the fish obeying God by spitting Jonah out on the dry land, I think that it is interesting that the proclamation by the king for “everyone” to fast and wear sackcloth was not just limited to humans (verses 7-8).
Verse 10: The words “When God saw their deeds” really stood out to me. True repentance (changing one’s mind) necessarily involves outward actions. James 2:14-26 comes to mind. While our actions do not gain us forgiveness and salvation, there must be repentance (a change of mind) for us to enter into a relationship with God through Christ Jesus. All action starts in the mind; if our mind turns from sin to God, our actions will proclaim that new mindset.
This chapter seemed to fit right in with what is going on in Afghanistan currently. Picture this, you have been told by the LORD to go to that country—to Kabul—and proclaim the message that He will give you to the Taliban. How hard would that be to do, knowing this terrorist group to be committing atrocities to all who are their enemies? It would be so easy to just write them off. “They won’t hear the warning and repent.” “I could get killed just bringing up the subject!” And yet, this is what Jonah was called to do. I think about the believers in Christ in that country. They didn’t have to travel to where the Taliban were; God brought the Taliban to them—right to their own doorsteps. Do they have a Bible app on their phones? They die. Multiple “Jonahs”, who are given a final opportunity to testify to their trust in Christ Jesus, who are given the opportunity to proclaim God’s message to these terrorists—because God cares about each member of the Taliban! I pray that they will be brave and willing to speak the words the Holy Spirit puts in their hearts to say, and that the message will ring loud and clear in the minds and hearts of those Taliban. Can you imagine what the world would suddenly see if all the Taliban suddenly believed the One True God and repented of their wickedness?
We may have the opportunity ourselves to make this kind of difference. We don’t even have to go to Afghanistan; God is sending them here. Our part of Washington state is being “host” to some 6,000 unvetted Afghans. Will I have the courage to speak up if the LORD gives me an opportunity and the message that He wants them to hear? I think the hotter the flames of persecution are, the more our testimony will speak powerfully to our audience. Let’s pray for boldness in witnessing, whether we face possible ridicule or the threat of death.
Devotional reading to be shared on September 9th: Jonah 4:1-11