For the purposes of this article chapter 3 of this book can be divided into three parts:
At the close of chapter 2 Jonah found himself ejected from the fish’s belly and, in a sorry state, left standing on dry land. Probably he arrived at one of the coastal areas near to Joppa. This would make sense as those who are disobedient need to retrace their steps in order to make restoration fully effective. This principle was seen in other Old Testament characters such as Abram and Jacob. Abram returned to the place he had been ‘at the beginning’ and Jacob was asked his name by the Angel who wrestled with him near the brook. The ‘place’ where each had started to go wrong became the starting place for restoration.
1) Verses 1-4: Restoration for Jonah
We do not know whether any onlookers witnessed Jonah’s exit from the fish but even if it were not so the exciting news of his dramatic experience would soon get around. As men looked at him they would probably see a man with bleached hair and facial discolouration. After all, he was to be a ‘sign’ to Nineveh. People’s natural curiosity would want to know what had happened and why; probably his story got back to Gath-hepher before he did.
I believe he most likely returned to his home for an appropriate period of mature reflection and meditation on his experiences, God’s mercies and man’s disobedience. How long he remained there is not known but when God was ready to proceed so was Jonah. Restoration is a step-bystep process and is vitally important. The first step is repentance, as in chapter 2, and then restoration to the Lord Himself. Restoration to His people and to His service may follow and, if so, in terms of time will take rather longer. Neither does one step guarantee the next. Evidence of restoration will include a change in character. Jonah, who had been heretofore proud, arrogant, selfcentred and dismissive of others, would now be humble and meek with a pervasive desire to put the Lord first in his life. The basic meaning of ‘restoration’ is to ‘set in order’, and Jonah needed time to adjust all aspects of his life rather than simply majoring on his own nation and its special, but not exclusive, relationship with God to the detriment, in his eyes, of all others. But God wanted to move on and was willing to use Jonah, so, on this man He bestowed ‘grace upon grace’ to effect full restoration to service.
However, we must not presume that a restored person will have the opportunity to return to the same service or position that he had earlier. Indeed, in some positions of trust that is just not possible. That Jonah was called a second time to the same task was due solely to God’s grace. No one has a right to a second chance though many of God’s servants rejoiced that they had second chances, including, Abram, Moses, David, Peter and John Mark. There is ample evidence in scripture, however, of others who were not afforded a second chance.
In verse 1, to Jonah, back in the place he was in when the first call to service came, the call comes again, a second or ‘double’ time. On this occasion he rises to fulfil it immediately. Here is a lesson for those of us who are older, as well as a challenge for young people to serve God in their day and generation. Perhaps when we were young we heard a call to service, yet for one reason or another we did not respond. Now, when we are retired from secular employment, maybe it is our second chance to fulfil that exercise. Remember, Moses really began his impressive and successful service at 80 years of age! In willing obedience, Jonah sets out for the great city, great even in God’s eyes, to deliver a message yet to be spelled out to him. He had to walk over 500 miles. That would take about a month and would give him ample time to consider his situation. His trek was overland in a northeasterly direction through territory presumably foreign to him. To his credit he kept on going, perhaps fearing the worst as to the Ninevites’ response when they heard a message from one of their hated Jewish enemies. What a shock it must have been to him when he learned the content of the message he was to give.
Nineveh was a great city and is first mentioned in Genesis chapter 10 verse 11. It was built by Asshur around 2000 BC, probably under the supervision of Nimrod. The city was large, its architecture splendid and its population expanding. There the king of Assyria had his palace and excavations have revealed further palaces, temples and a hugely significant library with around 25,000 inscribed tablets. The city motif was a fish inside a womb! In spite of this culture and religion the people were violent, often vicious in their treatment of enemies, pathologically immoral and wicked. All this would have been known to Jonah and must have caused fear in his heart. As he arrived in the city, despite weariness and trepidation, he began to deliver his message, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown’, Jonah 3. 4. But did he announce it in Hebrew, the Jews’ language or in Aramaic that a significant number may have understood? Whatever, the message was proclaimed, but Jonah must have added some words of explanation as to who would destroy the city and why; and that the forty days were an opportunity to avoid the destruction.
2) Verses 5-9: Reaction in Nineveh
In scripture the number forty, especially as used in the phrase ‘forty days’, indicates a time of testing and approval and it is usually followed by a dramatic change in direction. Here the forty days offered the Ninevites an opportunity to react to the message. There were many ways they might have responded. They could have rejected and ridiculed the preacher, abused him and hung him up in the marketplace as an example of what happens to those who denigrate the city or its inhabitants. They might have claimed their own gods as superior to Elohim. They did none of these, but, wisely, ‘believed God’. This faith was outwardly demonstrated by their wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes and turning away from the violence and evil works they had inflicted on their society.
Nineveh had never seen anything like this before. But then this was the first time they had heard such a message preached by a strange yet compelling man who was ‘a sign’ unto them of the mercy and judgement of God. The king and the people were serious in their response. They turned from their wicked ways in the hope that God would turn from His anger. They wondered if such a thing would be possible and in a sense they threw themselves on God’s mercy. They realized their sins and God’s anger towards them and hoped against hope that their repentance would be recognized. They were absolutely genuine and their response delayed the destruction of their city for a further 150 years.
3) Verse 10: Repentance by God
This last verse of the chapter, tells us that ‘God repented of the evil that he said that he would do unto them; and he did it not’. We should note that God does not ‘do evil’, but what He does in righteousness may be judged to be evil by the people it impacts upon. Interestingly, the word here translated ‘evil’ comes from a root word meaning ‘to crush’ or ‘to break’. That would be an accurate description of God’s plan in moving against the city of Nineveh. Another thought is that the ‘old Nineveh’ of wickedness, intolerance, vice and violence had already been overthrown by Jonah’s preaching. Any resident of the city returning home after a few days away would have wondered whether he had stumbled into the wrong city so great was the change. It had been ‘set in order’. As it had been ‘destroyed’, in the sense of a total change, there was now no need for God to ‘destroy’ it again. God is just, and when He promises to take action based on the evil that people are doing He must not, should the people change their ways, bound by His righteousness and His promise, treat them as though they had ignored His threats. So He ‘repented’, or as some suggest, He ‘relented’. He ‘turned’, as the king had hoped.
So, through the grace of God, a great city, its numerous inhabitants, animals and possessions was spared. How wonderful that they ‘believed God’. As we will see, the only one who did not rejoice at this great miracle was Jonah himself. He was not a happy prophet!