Jonah 3:4-5 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
The people of Nineveh had no personal knowledge of the one true and living God, and were not part of the Covenant people to whom he had revealed himself, but they were, nevertheless, under God’s Judgement for their God-less attitude and lifestyle. The Apostle Paul will help us to understand the theology of their situation in Romans 2:14-15 – “(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the [Mosaic] Law, do by nature things required by the Law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the Law, since they show that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
So, right from the start, Jonah was never anticipating any success in his mission to pronounce God’s Judgement on the wicked city. In fact, he was not only SURPRISED but ANGRY when the entire population genuinely repented, turned from their evil ways and sought God’s forgiveness. It is clear that this amazing, ‘impossible’ outcome was SUPERNATURAL in origin, the SOVEREIGN work of the HOLY SPIRIT in people’s hearts on a major scale.
As we pray earnestly for our own nation, seeking to make known as widely as possible the message of God’s saving grace in Christ, and warning people of the consequences of their persistent ungodliness and rejection of God’s gracious provision of a Saviour, do WE believe in the possibility of such a comprehensive turn-around happening today? Jonah’s own experience of God’s mercy should have prepared him better for what happened.
Do WE anticipate that the Holy Spirit CAN change lives radically today through FAITHFUL PRAYER, PREACHING and WITNESS of his people? Do we persevere in ALL these things?
I find it interesting that perhaps one of the major influences in what happened in Nineveh was Jonah’s appearing, and his probably very ‘bleached’ appearance, as the story got around of his surviving THREE DAYS in the belly of the great fish. In the light of this, it is interesting that, when Jesus was asked for a ‘sign’ to back up HIS claims, he replied, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation.” (Luke 11:29-30), and, not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul backed this up in his sermon at the Greek Areopagus: “[God] has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to ALL MEN by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31).