In forty days, you will be destroyed…that is all. Carry on as you were.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what God wants from you? What does He expect from your life? You try hard to make a living, be kind to people (maybe imperfectly, but you try), and so on. But what does God really want from you?
Having been freshly vomited out of the great fish, Jonah finally makes his way to Nineveh. There, the word of the Lord comes to him again, and God’s message to the Ninevites is simple, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed” (3:4). We aren’t given any more of Jonah’s message to the Ninevites. It reads like my paraphrase above “In forty days, you will be destroyed…that is all. Carry on as you were.” Why isn’t there more to the message? How can our loving God not provide an escape plan for them?
As Christians, we like to point out that the Gospel means “good news”. Yes, there is a real place called Hell where sinners apart from Christ will spend eternity, but the good news is that Jesus died for your sins and offers eternal life to all who place their faith in Him.
As I read the story of Jonah and come to Jonah 3:4, I can’t help but wonder: where is the “good news” for the Ninevites? What did God want from them? Could it be possible that God simply wanted to destroy them? I understand that He had observed their evil (1:2), but where is God’s love and forgiveness? In fact, if He would treat the Ninevites in this way, why should I expect Him to treat someone like me – also a sinner – any more mercifully?
To this question, let me propose two answers. First, I assume there was more to Jonah’s message than we are given in Jonah 3:4. As an example, in verse five, it says “the people of Nineveh believed God,” even though God is not mentioned as part of the message in Jonah 3:4. So Jonah undoubtedly said more than, “In forty days Nineveh will be demolished!” As such, it is possible that repentance was part of Jonah’s message, but it is simply not recorded. However, it must be admitted that destruction must have been the essence of his message, otherwise something more would have been said.
Fortunately (and secondly), while destruction is the only part of the message we are privy to, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, I want you to notice one important detail about Jonah’s words to the Ninevites. God gave them 40 days. Consider this, if God’s only intentions toward the Ninevites were to destroy them, then why would He give them 40 days? Why would He send a preacher to warn them at all? If they are about to be obliterated, who cares if they know who, when, or why? He could have just destroyed them for wickedness and let that be the end of it.
Fortunately (again), the story of Jonah provides the reason God gave the Ninevites 40 days. Our great God, who knows all things, knew the hearts of every single human being who lived in the city of Nineveh. He knew everything about them – their names, the hairs on their heads, and exactly what it would take to bring them back to Him. God knew that if given 40 days, the hearts of the Ninevites would be miraculously transformed. And that’s precisely what happens. In Jonah 3:5-10, the Ninevites repent. It begins with the people and spreads to the king. In Jonah 3:6, there is an awesome description of the ruler of Nineveh. He gets up from his throne and takes off his royal robe (sings of wealth and power), then he puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes (signs of humility, shame, and sorrow). The people do the same; they all fast and put on sackcloth, and so on. And then in verse eight, the king issues a powerful decree. He says, “…everyone must call out earnestly to God. Each must turn from his evil ways and from his wrong doing” (Jonah 3:8). That is a wonderful description of New Testament repentance contained in an Old Testament story. What a turn of events! As a result of Jonah finally being faithful, a pagan king told his pagan nation to humble themselves, to seek God, and to turn from their sin. Think about that.
Have you ever wondered what God is looking for in us? What He is looking for in you? This story in Jonah gives us a powerful answer. The Ninevites were a barbaric and pagan people, and yet in Jonah 3:10, God sees their actions of humility and repentance and He relents from the destruction that He had planned for them. The Almighty God of the heavens, the Creator of the sea and the dry land, and everything in them, the One and only God changed His plans toward the Ninevites. That’s a monumental thing to say. Why did He do it? Because this pagan king and his pagan people sought God with humility and repentance. Think about that!
God wants the same thing from us. If you don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then God wants you to seek Him, to humble yourself, to turn from your sins, and give your life to Him. Look how Acts 17:24-27 says it:
“24The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26From one man [Adam] he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” – Acts 17:24-27
Focus on the power of verse twenty-seven for a second. God made the whole world and everything in it. From Adam, He created all nationalities and people…including you. He did this so that you would seek Him and find Him. God wants you to seek and find Him. And the promise of this verse is that He’s not far from you. Seek Him with all your heart. Humble yourself before Him. Confess your sins to Him and place your trust in Christ to save you. And guess what, He will!
And once you have done so, once you have given your life to Christ, then God wants you to continue to seek Him. In fact, spend your life seeking Him. Spend your life developing your relationship with him and continuing in humility before Him. And when you sin, simply turn back to Him. Seek Him again! Confess your sins to Him and strive to live for Him anew.
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” – James 4:6-8, 10
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