The Compassion of God is Leading You to Repentance.
Are You Coming?
If you were here last week, this opening illustration should sound familiar. But I want to focus on a different mode of instruction. Last time I focused on how a miracle instructs. This time we’ll focus on how words instruct. My 3 year old daughter has a brutal enemy, a 4 year old boy.
Over her life, my 3 year old daughter has received 3 years of constant instruction and pleading to get her to obey me and to know and understand that I am kind and good to her. But though I have spent long hours and years of work and with many words of instruction, she still does not repent and obey me.
And now, she has this 3 year old boy who hates her. In order to make my daughter understand how compassionate I am, I decide to do something special for that boy.
I ask 6 words to this boy, who treats my daughter brutally, “Will you repent and follow me?” He responds immediately and we go off together, skipping in warm grassy fields together while I playfully throw him into the air, and we laugh and giggle together. I had compassion on that boy and I adopted him as my own.
My daughter looks on in jealousy…What should my daughter think?
If I repent and follow, how much more will he take me back as his daughter?
I spurned his compassion and all that instruction, yet I never repented! That boy received just 6 words and he repented! My dad is compassionate!
Now all that was made up, but again, that illustrates the second half of the story in the book of Jonah. Turn with me to the OT book of Jonah. Last week, the opening story focused on a miracle that I did for that boy. That miracle was meant to instruct my daughter. This week the story focused on words spoken to the boy. These words were to also instruct my daughter.
Last week the miracle of calming the stormy sea caused the sailors to turn to the Lord. It was also meant to instruct Jonah by bringing him to repentance. This week we’ll see how words spoken to pagan people were also meant to instruct Jonah to repent. And recall as well, that Jonah represents Israel in a way. And now, as God’s people, we can profit as well.
Last week we discovered that message of the book of Jonah is The Compassion of God is Leading You to Repentance. Are You Coming?
We determined that was the message of the book by asking one question. Why is this story…which is about a disobedient prophet preaching to Gentile people…why is this book preserved for God’s people? To understand the message of the book of Jonah, you must answer that question.
The answer to that question is that the repentance of pagan people is what is instructive for God’s people, both the sailors in chapter 1 from the miracle of the calmed sea and the Ninevites from the proclaimed Word of God in chapter 3. Remember, Jonah is ministering during a time in which God’s people are refusing to repent and truly follow the Lord. Yet we saw last time that the pagan sailors received one small miracle of the calming of the sea and they all repented and truly followed the Lord.
Yet God’s people have read about and witnessed miracles for centuries. They heard about the miracles of Moses and it was just 100 years or so previous to Jonah that the people of Israel witnessed the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. Yet in spite of all of this, they did not repent and earnestly follow the Lord. And so to instruct his people, he throws out a storm upon the sea. When the sailors throw Jonah into the sea, the Lord calms the sea. And the pagan sailors witness this little miracle and they earnestly follow the Lord.
Jonah is then swallowed by a great fish and responds by praying a hypocritical yet repentant prayer, and at the end of chapter 2, he is spit up back onto the dry land. And at the end of chapter 2, the text reads that the Lord spoke to the fish and the fish obeys the Lord by vomiting Jonah up onto the dry ground.
So it becomes clear that Jonah should have learned from the pagan sailors who repented and feared the Lord as well as he should have learned from the great fish who obeyed the Lord. In fact in chapter 3, we see that Jonah has learned somewhat of a lesson.
Last week I invited us to picture the message as if we were sitting in an amphitheater. That is because the four chapters of Jonah represent four different scenes. Chapter 1 is the scene of that tumultuous sea. Chapter 2 is Jonah inside the great fish. And then…
Scene 2 closes. Curtain down; curtain up, scene 3, chapter 3: the city of Nineveh
Here we’ll experience Jonah’s second commission by God (cf. 1:1), Jonah’s second confrontation with pagan people, the Ninevites this time (sailors in ch.1-2), and Jonah’s second prayer outside Nineveh (before Jonah prayed inside the belly of the fish).
A key feature of tonight’s message is how chapters 3 and 4 correspond to events in chapters 1 and 2. Chapters 1 and 2 are clearly intended to be parallel with chapters 3 and 4.
So the Lord commissions Jonah to go to Nineveh once again, this time Jonah obeys. (Way to go Jonah, you learned from the dumb fish, nice job!)
Let’s read chapter 3:3-4.
3:3 teaches that Nineveh was such an important city, that a visitor out of cutesy was expected to spend 3 days there (a city of 3 days journey, you should stay there 3 days). To the degree of the importance of the city in ancient times, to that same degree visitors were expected to stay. Interestingly, this is strikingly similar to the three days that Jonah spent inside the belly of the fish. So, I guess the fish was an exceedingly great fish of 3 day’s journey! Well, it was a great fish at least, 1:17.
Anyway, unlike Jonah’s stay inside the fish, it was after just 1 day in Nineveh, 3:4, that Jonah recorded speech begins. After three days in the fish, Jonah’s prayer is recorded. But it’s after just one day in Nineveh that Jonah’s message of judgment is recorded.
And just like ch. 1 opens, ch 3 opens with God threatening judgment (ch. 1 was the threat of the storm) here, in 3:4, God’s threat of judgment is Jonah’s whole sermon of just 5 Hebrew words “yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
And, just like the sailors in ch. 1, the Ninevites respond immediately and vigorously with conviction. Whereas the sailors cry out to their gods 1:5 and they “hurl” the cargo overboard to lighten the ship, here the Ninevites, responding immediately and vigorously with conviction, Jonah 3:5 (KJV), believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth [a sign of repentance], (every one of them) from the greatest of them even to the least of them (even the children, who don’t know their right from left hands, repented).”
Then 3:6 to 3:9 is an explanation for this statement in verse five. So Jonah preaches the message, and the people, verse five, repent!! Really!? Those pagan Ninevites? Those people who were so brutal and tortured people?! They just repented? The ancient reader has a question, since he is so aware of brutality of the Ninevites… Here’s the question, “how in the world did that happen?”
Well, verses 6-9 were meant to explain how that repentance came about. And within the explanation is a feature that is critical to the progression of the story and to the Lord’s confrontation of Jonah at the end of chapter 4. So let’s investigate this explanation to see how it came about that the people of Nineveh repented.
Notice that it came from the “top down.” It started with the leadership. We read in 3:6 that Jonah’s message came to the King of Nineveh.
It’s with great detail that the author of the book describes the king’s response. In fact, we have 5 different movements within a single verse. Picture this in your mind… Jonah 3:6 (KJV) For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
The king also publishes a decree in v.7 saying that not only should man wear sackclothes and fast, but also the cows should wear sackclothes and fast. Verse 7, at the end, “Let neither man nor beast (word for, cows/cattle), herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
The King says…Everyone should, 3:8, turn from his “evil” ways, or think of that word for now, as “bad stuff.” “Everyone, turn from your bad stuff! Perchance,” the king says, “God might be compassionate, Jonah 3:9 (KJV) Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” practically quoting the captain of the ship in ch. 1:6, look at it, he’s talking to Jonah “What meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will think upon us, that we perish not.”
So, notice the parallel with ch.1. Just as the captain of the ship in ch.1 participated in the response by expressing hope that God may be compassionate and change his mind about imminent judgment, so also does the king of Nineveh express hope that God would relent.
Keep this picture then in your minds. Cows in sackclothe! This is intended to be ridiculous! But will God respond to repentant cows in sackclothe? Funny to say, but tuck that away for a while.
You can see that the Ninevites responded immediately and vigorously with conviction, they even put their children and cows in sackclothe…just like the sailors did when they threw things overboard.
And, just as an aside, isn’t it interesting that, without being told how to respond to Jonah’s 5 words, they knew exactly what to do! All they were told was, end of 3:4, “Yet 40 days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
They knew to repent and they knew that if they did, God would be good to them! Jonah didn’t tell them to repent, they knew it. Why, because consciousness of wickedness and the compassion of God is built into the heart of man. Romans 2:14-15 teaches that when the Gentiles, like the Ninevites or those sailors, who do not have the law, when they do the things contained in the law they show that they have the law… where in their hands??… no, it’s written on their hearts, seared onto their conscience.
And just like God responded to the sailors, God compassionately turns from his plan to bring calamity upon the Ninevites, because he saw their works, 3:10. Literally in 3:10, God saw that they turned from their “bad stuff” and so God changed his mind about sending “bad stuff” upon them. Same Hebrew expression.
God observes the actions of contrite people and spares them. He spared the sailors who repented in 3:16 and he did the same for the Ninevites. Judgment was threatened on the sailors and the Ninevites, but God “changed his mind” sort of speak, but actually it was because of a change in man, that God, in order to be consistent with his own nature, modified his actions and withheld judgment.
Scene 3 closes. Curtain down, curtain up, scene 4 chapter 4: Outside the city gates of Nineveh, as seen in 4:5, where it says “Jonah went out of the city.” So the setting is outside Nineveh.
But how did Jonah respond? God did not judge the Ninevites. Jonah…is that a good thing? Jonah 4:1 (KJV) But it displeased Jonah exceedingly [that God spared them], and he was very angry. Literally there, it “was bad stuff” to Jonah exceedingly.
So, notice the 3 occurrences of this same root word. Twice in 3:10, trans. “evil”…”evil way of the Ninevites,” which means “moral wickedness” and again in v. 10 “God repented of the ‘evil’” –same word, meaning disaster. Again, in 4:1 (the verb form, trans. “displeased”).
So, based on this same Hebrew expression used, it’s as if Jonah says to the Lord… “Lord it is great ‘bad stuff’ to me [displeased] that you didn’t bring “bad stuff” [disaster] upon Nineveh because of all their ‘bad stuff [wickedness].’”
Thus, we have the book’s major irony. Jonah accepts God’s compassionate deliverance from the fish in ch. 2, but hates it when God displays it toward the Ninevites in chapter 3.
So in ch. 4 we have Jonah’s second prayer, a prayer of resentment that God showed compassion to the pagans. This is contrasted with Jonah’s first prayer of ch.2 that expressed repentance and thanksgiving. Whereas in ch.2, he boasts about the Lord’s compassion that pagans supposedly forfeit, 2:8 (which obviously didn’t happen), in ch. 4:2, he complains that the Lord expressed his compassion on pagans. Jonah was grateful to have been spared in ch.2, getting vomited up out of the fish’s mouth, now he’s resentful that the pagans are spared.
So Jonah waits outside the city now, to see what will happen to the city (4:5). In order to teach Jonah a lesson about His compassion, God shows his control once again over nature. Remember, ch. 1 God “sent out” storm v.4 and “prepared” a fish 1:17, now God once again “prepares” three additional things (gourd/vine 4:6, worm 4:7, wind 4:8). This sets up a scenario to teach Jonah that God has compassion upon repentant people and God will also have compassion on God’s people if they repent.
As Jonah sits in the scorching heat of the Middle-eastern sun, God (4:6) “prepares” a vine that shades Jonah from that fierce sun, and of course, Jonah is exceedingly happy about the plant. But then God (4:7) “prepares” a worm that destroys the vine. God then, 4:8, “prepares” an east wind and the sun almost scorches Jonah and he complains this time about the death of the vine and Jonah wishes he could die.
Then 4:9 begins God’s instruction of him about the situation, Jonah 4:9 (KJV) And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd [vine]? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.
But God chastens Jonah for his concern over the vine. God says, 4:10, “You had compassion on the plant. But you didn’t even labour for it and it was ‘here today/gone tomorrow.’ Jonah, how much more should I have compassion on people living in Nineveh? In Nineveh are 120,000 immortal souls…souls that don’t even know the difference between their right and left hands (speaking of course of children. Remember they put on sackclothe, 3:5). And Jonah, why should I also not have compassion on all those repentant, look at the last word of the book….cows!” Remember, they put on sackclothe, too, 3:7.
God is almost ridiculously compassionate! What’s God’s point? Even the children and the dumb cows know how to repent! Jonah (and God’s people, for whom this book is preserved), don’t you know how to repent? The pagan sailors repented, the pagan king, the pagan children and even the pagan cows put on sackclothe, and God says “I had compassion on those cows!” Just like the dumb fish knew how to obey, so the dumb cows know how to repent.
Israel received God’s Word, all the way back with Moses, and had all these long years to know and understand God and his requirements. And they wouldn’t repent; now, Nineveh receives just 5 words from God and the whole place falls down, renting their souls and their garments in repentance.
“O my people, says the Lord, turn from all your evil ways and I will have compassion on you! It’s not hard, even cows and children know how to do it. I’m ridiculously compassionate!”
God has been compassionate to us. Our church here, we are witnesses to the miracles of salvation like the sailors experienced the miracles of the calmed storm and we are privileged to experience the faithful proclamation of God’s Word, like the Ninevites experienced. We too should fear the Lord and repent of our sins b/c God has been so compassionate to us.
Can’t you see it then! The compassion of God is everywhere and it’s leading you to repentance. Are you coming?