Monday

06 July 2015

“And the people of Ninevah believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.” (v. 5)

Psalm: Psalm 37:1-11

Background

Jonah has to be one of the strangest people in the Bible, yet he has some interesting lessons to teach us about both human nature and the nature of God.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time (verse 1), we read - because the first time he simply disobeyed it. Told by God to go to Nineveh and cry out against its wickedness, he instead took a boat to Tarshish (Jonah 1:3) - about as far as he could possibly go in the opposite direction - sparking a train of events which resulted in his brief encounter with the stomach of a large fish. To his credit he acknowledged he was to blame for the tempest ravaging the boat, even telling the crew to throw him overboard if they wanted to avoid going down (Jonah 1:8-12). Cue the whale, three days and nights of prayer and repentance in its belly, and Jonah's eventual re-acquaintance with dry land.

Eventually Jonah did make it to Nineveh to warn the Ninevites of God's impending judgement on their city. And, despite the apparent lack of conviction behind his message, they took him seriously, instantly proclaiming a fast and repenting without reserve. The Ninevites even donned sackcloth and ashes, including the king. And God, seeing this 'turning from evil' (verse 10), decided to spare and not destroy their city.

It's striking that the people of Nineveh responded wholeheartedly to Jonah's message despite its extreme brevity and his lack of passion in delivering it. As we read later, Jonah would much rather the people hadn'trepented and got what he thought were their just deserts (Jonah 4). He certainly doesn't go overboard (this time!) in persuading them to change.

This is a reminder that, however hard we try to reach people with the gospel, in the end it is God who changes people's hearts. We might carefully craft our sermons and go to great lengths to get people to hear them, and rightly so. But, if God chooses, the entire population of a city can be brought to repentance on the basis of one unpolished sentence delivered by a person who didn't even want people to hear it!

 

To Ponder

  • Have you ever felt tempted to try to get as far away as possible from where you fear God wants you to be? Why?
  • What might be an equivalent expression of repentance today to putting on 'sackcloth and ashes'?
  • Have you ever felt God has used you beyond your capacity or conviction? If so, what happened? And how did it feel?


Bible notes authors: Andrew Bradstock and Phil Jump (members of the Joint Public Issues Team: Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed Church and Church of Scotland working together)

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