Jonah and Ninevah’s Conversion

Dear Wake Up Family:

About sixty years before Israel was destroyed in 722 BC, God sent Jonah to the wicked capital city of Israel’s nemesis, Nineveh, to give them a message of hope. The story and message of Jonah illustrate that although we can’t change history, sometimes repentance can change our futures. Understandably, Jonah was afraid to preach God’s message; his life was at stake. The Ninevites and Israelites despised each other. People are often afraid to offend for fear of reprisal.
Jonah boarded a ship headed for Tarshish to run away from the Lord. But where can one go to elude an all-seeing God. Once at sea, a great storm blew in, so the crew cast lots to see who the offender was. Jonah drew the short straw.

They asked him, “ ‘What have you done?’ (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’ ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’ ” (Jonah 1:10–12)

Verse 13 says the men did their best to row back to land rather than throw him overboard. This shows they had good hearts; they weren’t sociopaths. They then cried to the Lord, “Please don’t let us die for taking this man’s life.” Even the pagans in Jonah’s day had a higher sense of accountability to God than the Israelites. The Bible says when they threw him over, the storm abated. Afterward, the men were so grateful that the God of heaven would save them that they offered a sacrifice of atonement.

Jonah could have jumped into the sea to calm the storm, but God wouldn’t allow it. He wanted these sailors to exercise faith in Him and throw Jonah overboard. Destroying Jonah would be a testimony they would take back to Nineveh, and then when Jonah showed up, they were there to tell the story. “We were in a ferocious storm. It was tearing the boat apart, so we threw this guy overboard, and instantly the sea went perfectly calm. This man has essentially come back from the dead to talk to us.”

After being ejected from the ship, Jonah was in a fish for three days which was enough time for the sailors to get back to town, into the pub, and spread the story. Of course, the story spread like wildfire.

I can picture Jonah, the dead man, staggering into town. He hadn’t eaten or drank anything for three days, overwhelmed but thrilled to be alive. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah for a second time. “Go to Nineveh and proclaim the message I gave you.” This time Jonah obeyed.
Without hesitation, Jonah began to go through the city and recite his simple testimony, “I’ve just spent three days in a fish, and I’m here to give you the word of the Lord. Forty days hence Nineveh will be destroyed.”

Nineveh was a substantial city with more than a hundred and twenty thousand people. Back then, it was the largest city in the world. The Bible says when the Ninevites realized their days were numbered, they got serious about their need for repentance.

Even the king of Nineveh, when he heard the message, got up, took off his royal robes, put on sackcloth, sat down in the dirt, and issued a decree. “Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 3:7–9)

The Ninevites understood compassion. They understood there was a conditional 40 days of mercy, and recognized their need of it. Verse 10 says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)

Jonah was not pleased with the Lord’s decision. He was angry with God because he had been put through the ringer for nothing. Even worse, now he looked like a false prophet. Jonah voiced his frustration to the Lord, then went outside the city to pout and wait to see what would happen. To ease Jonah’s irritation, the Lord provided shade from leaves of a vine. The next day though, the vine died. The discomfort from the blazing sun was too much for Jonah, so he begged the Lord to put him out of his misery.

Jonah’s story was a corporate slap in the face to Israel. Jonah, the Jew, believed his church was the right church and all others had no right or privilege to salvation. But this is the opposite of what God had chosen Israel to do. God intended that Israel would, as a nation, go forth to the whole world, proclaiming His love and bringing all nations to Himself.

Through this frightful experience, God was trying to show Jonah that He is compassionate and loves all people. He was also trying to show that Jonah didn’t love his neighbor as he should. Jonah was more interested in a vine than one hundred and twenty thousand people. How does someone become so callous? The Bible says that in the end time, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Luke 11:32)


Rex Johnson

Rex Johnson

Rex Johnson

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