In the belly of a fish Jonah realized that death away from the presence of the LORD might not be what he really wanted as he thought he did when he stood aboard that ship and told the sailors to throw him overboard. In the belly of a fish, convinced he was in the depths of Sheol, Jonah turned his heart back to the LORD and cried out for salvation. The LORD then had the fish vomit Jonah out onto dry land. I can imagine the look on Jonah’s face when he finally realizes he wasn’t in hell after all, but was in a fish, and the presence of the LORD had remained there with him the entire time. It was the LORD’s unseen presence that gave Jonah the hope against hope to cry out to Him.
Then in Jonah 3:1 we read, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.’” The LORD did not berate Jonah. He did not belittle him. He did not condemn him. He did not shame him. He simply restated His original instruction. The discipline had been given, the correction received, and now the LORD simply says, let’s try this again.
Here in this interaction between God and Jonah we can learn a great lesson. We can learn a lesson particularly as parents, coaches, or leaders of others in any and every other capacity of life. We have a good, good Father. We will see how good of a Father in Heaven we have as we continue to walk through the recorded life and words of Jonah. Let us learn from our LORD.
This second time, Jonah obeys the word of the LORD and goes to Nineveh. However, I am not so sure that Jonah goes with his happy pants on, even though he himself has just been given a second chance. Jonah walks through the streets of Nineveh and cries out, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4). Notice that Jonah obediently declares the coming wrath, yet notice what Jonah conveniently leaves out. Let us be reminded that the only reason that the LORD gives warning to His coming judgment is for the hope of repentance. In Ezekiel 33 we read of the responsibility of the watchman to proclaim the coming danger. In Act 20 we read of the great responsibility of the believer to declare the whole purpose of God. “Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7). The LORD is not into sneak attacks or guerrilla warfare. He truly wants mercy to triumph over judgment.
“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
Jonah neglects to mention the option of repentance as he walks through the streets of Nineveh declaring the overthrow of this great city. He really had no desire to see them repent. He wanted to see them judged. We see this clearly by his response to seeing the people of Nineveh respond to his proclamation. The king of Nineveh went so far as to send out his own proclamation that the entire city cover themselves in sackcloth and ashes and cry out to the LORD for mercy, and the people did. The LORD saw and the LORD forgave the people of Nineveh and did not pour out His wrath on them.
“But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.’” (Jonah 4:1-3)
In Jonah’s defense we have no history of how this people group had possibly affected Jonah or those he loved. Let us be reminded that this was a brutal people. They were described by God as “exceedingly wicked”. I liken the LORD’s instruction to Jonah being similar to myself being instructed by the LORD to walk through the streets of Nigeria proclaiming the coming judgment of God on those who are slaughtering Christians by the thousands. However, knowing God this probably runs even deeper than that, my guess would be that God specifically chose Jonah for this specific city not just to save these people, but to save Jonah as well.
Let’s bring the lesson closer to home. Let’s walk it right inside the doors of the place we call home. Let’s take it straight up to the altar of our own house of worship. Our Bible-belt label of “that’s my home church.” Let’s bring it right up to the doors of our own hearts. Who have you chosen to shake you head at, grow angry with, and refuse to pray for? Who in your life have you already decided that you would rather see the LORD judge than save?
It’s a serious question.
It’s a real question.
Think about it.
Who is clearly not welcome in your church, in your home, or in your heart? Who would you refuse to build a close enough relationship with that would allow you to share the truth of the gospel with because you despise them that much?
The Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)
Jonah still has a few things to work with the LORD. The LORD hasn’t given up on him yet. The LORD hasn’t given up on us either. Sometimes when we step back and look at hard things, especially hard things that seem to be on a carousel returning to us again and again, we realize that it’s not life kicking us in the gut, but perhaps it’s simply the LORD saying, let’s try this again.