“The LORD gave this message to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh! Announce my judgment against it because I have seen how wicked its people are.” (1:1-2)
Jewish people believed their god was the one true God – of everything and everywhere; Assyrians believed in territorial deities – every region has a god that rules over it. The Jewish people believed that since we have the true God – he is like our secret weapon against our enemies. Going to Nineveh with the word of the lord is like giving your secret weapon to your enemy.
God is not behaving the way that God should, according to Jonah. God is supposed to take care of “us” not “them” And sometimes we do this too: When we sing, “my Jesus” or “our God” Maybe sometimes we think of God as our genie or our mascot. Like “my cat” it is something that we own and control. This is the heart of what is creating the frustration for Jonah – Jonah thinks of God as “our God” and not the God of the entire world.
Jonah’s view of God is coming in to conflict with what he has been told to do. This book is really about Jonah’s view of God – that Jonah’s view of God and the real God are not the same thing.
“Then the LORD spoke to Jonah a second time:…” (3:1)
God has not moved on. God is not going to just forget it. God calls Jonah a second time, “Jonah, I want you to go to the great city of Nineveh.” If all God was concerned about was getting Jonah to Nineveh, we wouldn’t have this line. Jonah matters in this story – God is concerned about straightening up Jonah as well as straightening up Nineveh. God is a great coach and teacher – if we run away from our issues, eventually he will bring them back to us.
“This time Jonah obeyed the LORD's command and went to Nineveh…(3:3a)
This is the only time in the story that Jonah gets things right. Everything else gets mixed up in his disobedience, running, and hiding. But here, after all the ups and downs, Jonah finally obeys.
I know you and me -- we all get stuff wrong a lot of the time. Like the Bible says, we do the things we don’t want to do and we don’t do the things God wants us to do. It can be pretty maddening. But amidst the constant struggles, there are moments when you get things right:
- Moments when you might gossip about a friend or colleague and you don’t.
- Moments when you might act angrily to your spouse and you hold back.
- Moments when you might act lustfully or impulsively and you resist.
And in those moments, when we obey, even if it seems small, it matters. Our obedience matters. If Jonah doesn’t go, we wouldn’t see what we are about to see happen in Nineveh. So Jonah obeyed God and went to Nineveh.
“The people of Nineveh believed God's message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to go without food and wear sackcloth to show their sorrow.
Sackcloth was an abrasive covering made of goat hair that was worn in public as a sign of repentance. It is not the kind of thing a respectable person would do. But even the people of privilege and power are doing this. Think of Bill Gates publicly fasting. Think Paris Hilton putting on sackcloth. (It would be far more than she normally wears). These are public acts of conversion made by all the people of Nineveh.