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One of the perfections of the Lord that should fill us with amazement is his patience. In so many ways his people test his patience, often repeating the same offences. If it were left to us, we would probably write off the offender, but God draws us back in repentance and restores us to fellowship and to usefulness. We consider Jonah 3:1-10 Mission accomplished.
1. The commission
Jonah might have expected that his mission was over – how could God use such a failure? But God is a God of grace and everyone he uses is a failure. ‘Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time’ (v1) – that is full of encouragement for failed servants. There is still usefulness in the Lord’s service (although not necessarily the same work).
Note v3 ‘Nineveh was a very important city’ – a statement that Nineveh is important to God. Though he will exercise judgment if there is no repentance, he has a deep concern for these sinners. He is indeed ‘a gracious and compassionate God’ (4:2). His people should have the same heart of compassion for the unsaved, not delighting that ‘they get what they deserve’.
‘Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went’ (v3) – he exhibits a trust in the Lord he should have shown earlier. This is the attitude the Lord’s people should manifest – ‘I will hasten and not delay to obey’ (Psalm 119:60). Willing obedience is the fruit of grace.
We recall Jesus’ reference to ‘the sign of Jonah’ (Luke 11:29-30) – the ‘sign’ is divine authentication by deliverance from death and ‘one greater than Jonah is here’ (v33) – to reject the Messiah is deeply sinful and indeed fatal.
2. The response
Jonah preached the message of judgment faithfully (v4) and, contrary to his desire, there was a widespread positive response that included even the king:
- ‘The Ninevites believed God’ (v5) – the beginning of a true gospel response
- They repented, shown outwardly by wearing sackcloth (v5), including fasting. They throw themselves on the mercy of God – ‘God may yet relent’ (v9)
- They matched words with actions. They ‘give up their evil ways’ (v8). True repentance requires a change of life (Acts 26:20).
3. The deliverance
By grace the Ninevites respond appropriately to Jonah’s message, the response desired and enabled by the Lord. So ‘God relented of the disaster he said he would do to them’ (v10, lit.) – a gracious deliverance. How can an unchanging God (see 1 Samuel 15:29) ‘relent’ (or ‘repent’ as in 1 Samuel 15:11)? God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes and promises. That means that when the creature changes (e.g. by repentance), the Lord responds in a way fully consistent with his nature and withholds threatened judgment – not to act thus would be to contradict his gracious nature. The sinner’s only hope is such a gracious God.