Jonah chapter 3 begins with the Deja-vu which God tells Jonah to rise and go to the great city of Nineveh and call out against it. This sentence is already familiar with us, it is the exact repetition of what God said to Jonah in the beginning of this story. While these two sentences are the same, they actually carry different meanings and different weights, this is because the context has changed. For a disobedient prophet Jonah, the same word of God came to him for a second time, however this time the context has changed. What has changed?
Firstly, Jonah had tried to run away from the presence of God only to prove that it was an impossible endeavor. We humans cannot outrun God and we cannot disobey God and expect to get away with it unscathed. And when God wants Jonah to be alive, nothing is capable for killing him. In fact, not even Jonah himself. In chapter 3 Jonah received the same command from God, however this time Jonah is no longer the old Jonah. He had just experienced the power and sovereignty of God through his disobedience. Because of that, Jonah knew that he could not use the same tactics to avoid obedience. However, the context was changed not only by a display of God’s power and sovereignty.
Secondly Jonah was changed by a display of God’s judgment and mercy. When Jonah was in the terrible storm, Jonah knew very well that death was not only an escape from obeying God. Death was also the right punishment for disobeying God. A man who should’ve died by the hand of God was actually saved by the hand of God. Such a mercy was undeserving of Jonah. He had just experienced how fearful God’s righteous judgment was in the storm and in the raging sea. But after that he immediately experienced how comforting God’s undeserving mercy was in the belly of the big fish. When God’s first command came to Jonah, he refused to go to Nineveh. After experiencing all of that, Jonah should’ve realized that he is no better than the people of Nineveh. If Nineveh deserved to die because of their sins, then Jonah also deserved to die because of his disobedience. And if Jonah was comforted when God showed him undeserved mercy, why can’t he also allowed God to extend the same undeserved mercy to the people of Nineveh? Because of this the same command of God comes to Jonah differently this time.
Thirdly the context of God’s command has changed because Jonah had experienced the storm together with the gentile sailors. Because these gentiles rejected the true God and instead worshipped false God. According to God’s laws, the adultery they practiced was worthy of death. And so within this new context, Jonah was asked by God to reconsider the original command a second time. There’s something so merciful about God speaking a second time to Jonah and he finally listening to God. Jonah was forced to admit defeat, not just he understood that he could not run away from God but he should not run away from God. Interestingly when God wins, Jonah wins too. God’s victory over sinners is sinners’ victory over sin. The moment when God put Jonah into submission was the moment when Jonah put his own flesh into submission. God did not have to speak twice to Jonah, He could’ve simply rejected Jonah and raised up another prophet to go to Nineveh. God did speak twice to Jonah and God put him back unto a mission he first rejected. God has always given second chances to His people again and again. As we received God’s second chances, let us not forget that the basis of these second chances is not because God is lenient, instead it is the fact that all of our sins have been paid in full. Therefore, Jonah decided to obey God this time and received God’s same command and went to the great city of Nineveh.
God accomplished all of this to display his sovereign power and man’s repentance. What can be learned from God’s sovereign mercy in Jonah chapter 3? Firstly, it is said that the power of God is shown through the ordinary word of God. Secondly, the power of God is not only shown through the ordinary word of God but also through the ordinary preacher of God. We simply need to wait for God to work through ordinary preachers everywhere. We can also expect great things to come from our work as we serve God faithfully. Going to the story of Jonah, who are we? There’s no ambiguity that we are in fact the people of Nineveh. At the same time, we are also Jonah who representing an imperfect Christ in this story, but because now of the united Christ we are called to imitate Christ. Where culture continue the kingdom work the Christ has started in this world. In this sense, we Christians have all become Jonahs too. As Jonahs, we are to extend the same grace God showed us to the people around us.
1. Jonah was shown the beauty of humanity on the ship when the sailors tried to save his life (the remaining goodness in sinful mankind is to be counted as God’s general grace in restraining sin). God did this to appeal to Jonah’s appreciation of mankind, and to understand that God valued the people whom he had created. Now, put yourself in Jonah’s shoes. What about humanity do you value and appreciate, even though it is fallen? And why do you think God cares about them?
2. Through the 5-word sermon, God caused a great revival in Nineveh. This is to show God’s sovereignty in the repentance of sinners. And we can definitely apply this to our own evangelism too. In this way, Reformed theology does give us comfort and encouragement to share the gospel. Yet still, we are hesitant and anxious when we have to do.