JONAH 3: NINEVEH REPENTS AT GOD’S WORD 

(Sermon notes by John Coekin, preached on 15th June 2003)

As we leave chapter 2 we are faced with the same question we had at the end of chap.1 What IS going to happen now? Is the expedition to Nineveh all over? After all, God is under no obligation either to the Ninevites to offer them repentance or to foolish Jonah to use him. But God hasn’t given up on either of them (reassured?) - He calls Jonah a second time ….Remember this is a book about God and His actions.

1. GOD’S MESSAGE IS PROCLAIMED

Jonah no doubt took a long time to recover from his ordeal but this time he obeys God‘s call - although not altogether wholeheartedly, if we take note of 4:1,2. He is still upset that God could offer His grace and mercy to such wicked gentiles. Moreover, Nineveh is a large city - although the reference to its huge size may include provincial minor towns. So what is Jonah to do exactly? Well, (1) he is to ‘go’ - it was quite a journey to Nineveh - in a foreign land. They will not hear if he does not go! Jesus said ‘Go‘. (Is there anyone here who ought to be thinking seriously about ‘going’ to serve God?) (2) He must take God’s message - v.2 ‘the message that I will tell you’. Neither Jonah nor we have any licence to proclaim anything other than what God has said (Bible). (3) Jonah was to preach with urgency v.4b. Are these urgent days, would you say?

2. THE NINEVITES REPENT

The message spread like wild-fire! Vs.4b,5. The Ninevites were pagans, no doubt with many gods, but they took this message very seriously. What happened is not to say that they became mono-theists overnight nor that they now embraced the covenant faith of Israel. But their repentance was authentic enough for Jesus to say that on the Day of Judgement they would rise and condemn the unbelieving Jews. (Matt.12:41) 

The news reached the king v.6 resulting in his own repentance and a royal proclamation v.7 - with an admission of guilt v.8 end. Interestingly in v.9 the king acknowledges God’s sovereign freedom, as did also the ship’s captain in 1:6 and the sailors in
1:14. This is a sophisticated understanding of God, basic to OT theology, but it is an irony that it is found on the lips of heathen, while Jonah, representing Israel, finds it difficult to accept. God is dealing with Nineveh in exactly the same way as He deals with Israel! For example, in the Book of Joel, the prophet warns Jerusalem of pending doom - see Joel 2:12-14 (p.862). READ - note the acknowledgement of God’s sovereign freedom in v.14. Thus Nineveh repents and ….

3. GOD CHANGES HIS MIND!

Read v.10. What does it mean ‘God changed His mind‘? Isn’t God unchanging? In 1 Sam.15:29 it says ‘the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal that he will change his mind.’ The OT does not flinch from teaching both that He is unchanging AND that He is responsive to His creatures, as here in Jonah 3:10. God’s warning of judgment is conditional on them continuing in wickedness. But He is consistent! He responds to wickedness with judgement but with grace and mercy to repentance. 

The Ninevites had trembled at God’s word: their response to one man’s preaching in such a place as
Nineveh is a continual encouragement to us and wherever the Gospel is preached.