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On to Nineveh
1. Our opening verse says, "The Word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time." These words bring to us the thought of a second chance. We are reminded of the story of the potter. Only lately, we were in North Carolina in a rustic, old-fashioned pottery house. Before our very eyes, the potter took a large lump of clay, started his wheel, which he ran with a foot pedal. With his hands, he molded a beautiful vase. We stopped him, and said, "You make us think of the potter in the Word of God who was making a vessel and it was marred, so he made it again."
Jesus Christ has made many a Christian over again. He is not saving them over again, but He is refashioning, remolding, and recommissioning them.
You will remember the Scripture which says that we are changed into His own image, "from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
Jonah, instead of obeying God, in his first commission, went down to Joppa and took ship to Tarshish. God immediately put Jonah into the school of affliction. He was graduated the hour that the fish vomited him out upon the land. Then it was that he had his second commission. We remember how Peter wandered from the Lord. However, Peter was recommissioned, given back his work. Indeed, it was Peter who preached that remarkable sermon at Pentecost.
We remember as a youth, in college, a song we sang. It ran like this:
"I walked through the woodland meadow,
Where sweet the thrushes sang;
And found on a bed of mosses,
A bird with a broken wing:
I healed its wing, and each morning,
It sang its old sweet strain,
But the bird with the broken pinion,
Never soared so high again.
"I saw a young life stricken
By sin's seductive art,
And, touched with a Christlike pity,
I took him to my heart;
He lived with a noble purpose,
And struggled not in vain,
But the life with the broken pinion
Never soared so high again!"
My boyhood song may be true, so far as the birds are concerned. It is not true so far as saints are concerned. Sometimes, I think that a Christian who has wandered from God, and been healed, and filled with the Spirit, may soar higher after his healing than before his temporary wandering.
This was truly so with Peter, He never preached before he followed afar off, as he did after he had been restored to his fellowship with his Lord. Jonah was unwilling to go to Nineveh at first, and we are not sure that he went happily the second time. However, he went obediently. He had learned that to obey is better than sacrifice, and obedience than the fat of rams.
2. Our opening verse also carries with it the thought of the all-powerfulness of God. He who hath stretched forth His hand will not draw it back, because of the unfaithfulness of some human servant. God will either prepare His servant to fulfill His will, or He will set His servant aside and secure another.
God was about to destroy Nineveh; however, before so doing, His eternal purpose determined on giving the Ninevites a solemn and true warning. Thus it was that He said to Jonah: "Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee."
Here is a wonderful lesson; God at first called Israel to be His witness unto the world. Israel was disobedient to the call. Israel was broken off, therefore God grafted in the Church, and gave to her the commission: "Go * * and preach the Gospel to every creature." If the Church is truant, as was Israel, she also shall be broken off.
The heart of God enclosed in its love even so wicked a city as Nineveh. It also encloses New York, and Paris, and London, and Petrograd.
Another lesson we need to learn is that we must preach what we are told to preach. We must not go to lost men, and fabricate our own message. A social gospel may appeal to our intellect. An ethical message may appeal to the people, but the Prophet that hath God's Word must preach it faithfully.
I. JONAH AROSE AND WENT (Jonah 3:3 )
How refreshing are the words of our key text! Here is the first suggestion that they bring to us.
1. Prompt obedience to any and every command of God. This gives God glory. It is not ours only to obey, but to obey gladly.
When the Word of the Lord came unto Abraham, he arose and went out not knowing whither he was to go. Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do, or die.
Onward and never back,
Along the beaten track,
Onward and never back.
May I the prize not lack,
At Heaven's dawn!
When that man sent forth His two sons, one son said, "I will not; but afterward he repented, and went." The other said, "I go, sir: and went not." Which of these two did the will of his father?
Jonah who said figuratively, "I will not." afterward arose and went. Prompt obedience is best. Obedience, however, if delayed, is always good. God grant that it may never be necessary to cast us into a whale's belly, in order to induce us to obey. Jesus says, "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me." He also says, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments."
2. True obedience will overcome every obstacle. Our key verse says, "Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey." The three days' journey stands in the Bible for death, and burial and resurrection. It was this kind of journey that Christ took when He died, was buried, and arose again.
Perhaps, once more, we see a little further into the deeper meaning of the word: "As Jonas * * so shall the Son of Man." We are happy that Jonah did not now hesitate. He took the journey without any further side-stepping.
3. A profitable thought will lie in God's deeper purpose in Jonah's delay. We believe that the three days and the three nights in the whale's belly, with the added three days of journeying on the part of Jonah, all had their bearing on Nineveh's repentance. Jonah, in fleeing from Nineveh, thought, perhaps, that he would make certain Nineveh's overthrow, for Jonah had no love for Nineveh. Instead, however, of making certain its overthrow, he was making more certain its repentance.
During the six days that elapsed, between Jonah's being cast overboard, and Jonah's passage through the city of Nineveh, the Ninevites had, beyond any doubt, received word from the captain of the ship, on which Jonah had fled, relative to Jonah's commission, the great storm, his overthrow into the sea, and his being swallowed of the fish. All of this prepared the heart of Nineveh, ahead of time, to receive Jonah.
II. YET FORTY DAYS AND NINEVEH SHALL BE OVERTHROWN (Jonah 3:4 )
1. When Jonah began to enter into the city. The key verse says, "Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey."
Let us try to imagine the scene. A Prophet plodding along. A Prophet plodding along without any love in his heart. A Prophet crying out vengeance, and this against a city and a people for whom he had no pity. Surely there was nothing in Jonah's message to make the Ninevites love him. Jonah sounded forth no word of pity, gave no ray of hope. His one message was judgment.
The second day's journey through the great city brought no change, either to Jonah's mien, or to Jonah's message. It was the same word given on the first day, and given in the same way. What then made Nineveh repent? It was the fact that she had heard the whole story of Jonah.
Nineveh knew that Jonah had been swallowed by the great fish, and yet Nineveh saw him coming down the road. It was just as if we had seen a man die, had seen him buried; and then, to our amazement, we had seen him alive, sounding out a warning from Heaven.
2. Why did Nineveh repent? Let us go deeper into this theme. We think the New Testament will afford us an answer. Let us go to Pentecost, and stand with the great multitude who heard Peter preach (Acts 2:22-24 ).
We believe the repentance of the multitude at Pentecost was not due to anything that lay in Peter. They knew how Peter had cringed before a maid, and denied his Lord. For Peter, personally, they had but little real admiration. The reason that the people repented was because of Peter's words, This Jesus, whom "ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up."
To the people of that day there was no discounting the literalness of the resurrection. A dead Christ had actually broken the bands of death. They all knew how the Roman soldiers had fallen back in fear, as the stone was rolled away. It was this that made the 3,000 turn to the Lord.
In Nineveh it was the fact that a man, to all purpose dead and digested in the belly of a fish, was actually walking down the street of Nineveh. It was this that first startled, and then convinced the Ninevites.
III. NINEVEH'S FAITH AND REPENTANCE (Jonah 3:5-6 )
1. The people of Nineveh believed God. They did not believe Jonah, for Jonah's sake. They believed the One who had sent him. Let those of us who preach the Gospel never seek again to tie the people to ourselves. We have come to be what John the Baptist said he was, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." We have come to be the signpost along life's highway, pointing men to God. Paul said, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ."
2. The people of Nineveh proclaimed a fast. They put on sackcloth from the greatest of them, even to the least. Even the king of Nineveh arose from his throne, laid his robe aside, and covered himself with sackcloth and ashes.
It is written and it is true that a broken and a contrite heart God will not despise. If we would receive anything from the Lord, we must come as the publican came, beating upon our breast, and suing for mercy.
Just recently, down in the Carolinas, a man asked us if repentance should be preached in our day. He thought that the call to repentance belonged to the Ninevites, or to the people in the days of the Apostles. The Word of God, however, says, "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent." In the Book of Romans, we read, "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"
In the Epistle to Peter we read that God is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. The truth is, the Name of our Lord, as given by the angel to Mary, was Jesus, because He should save His people from their sins. We had just as well say that believing God belonged alone to the people of Nineveh, as to say that repentance belonged alone to them. God is still saying to us all, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him." Repentance apart from faith can never save, but a true faith in Jesus Christ necessitates a genuine repentance.
IV. THE GENUINENESS OF THE PEOPLE OF NINEVEH (Jonah 3:7-8 )
There was no doubting that the king and the people of Nineveh meant what they did. The king, and his nobles, sent out a decree, saying, "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands."
We agree heartily with those who teach the blessed story of salvation by grace through faith, and not of works. We know that sackcloth and ashes, and turning from evil ways, cannot save us. However, we know also that God looks down from above and does not despise the yearning of a sin-burdened heart. We believe that sorrow and a tear are a mighty telescope through which we may view the dying Son of God.
The fact of the business is that men who come by faith to Jesus Christ and receive Him as Saviour, do of necessity come confessing themselves as sinners. Why should they seek salvation, if they are not lost? Why should they trust in the cleansing Blood, if they were not sinners in need of washing and forgiveness? So it is, that every lost soul who believes and is saved recognizes not alone his Christ as Saviour, but himself a sinner.
Thinkest thou not that God meant what He said, when He uttered those memorable words: "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish"?
Let us go to the 10th chapter of Acts. There was a man named Cornelius who was a centurion of the Italian band. He was a devout man who feared God with all his house, who gave much alms to his people, and prayed to God always. Did God despise his prayers? Did God despise his devotion, his alms? Nay, He rather sent a vision unto him, telling him to send men to Joppa and call for one Simon whose surname was Peter.
Thus it was that Peter went down with the men, and said, "Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean." After Cornelius had spoken, Peter said, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons." Then he went on and proclaimed the story of Christ, God's Anointed, how He had been crucified and hanged on the Tree, and how God had raised Him up the third day and showed Him openly. Then he said to Cornelius, "He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead." Finally, Peter said, "To Him give all the Prophets witness, that through His Name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins."
Remember, God did not, through Peter, tell Cornelius that his prayers and his alms could save him. He preached to him salvation by faith. However, this centurion did say what he knew, and the alms and prayers of Cornelius came up as a memorial before God. Thus it was with the Ninevites. They cried mightily unto God, and they turned every one from his evil way, hoping that God would turn away His fierce anger, that they perish not.
V. THE BASIS UPON WHICH NINEVEH WAS SPARED (Jonah 3:9-10 )
In the study of this portion, we must cautiously observe that God did not give to the Ninevites regeneration. He did spare their city.
1. The deeper meaning of the expression, "God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto them; and He did it not." Whether it be saint or sinner, God rewards every one according to his work; God does not save men according to their works. Please, in your minds, underscore the word, "Reward."
Even the wicked shall be rewarded according as he hath done. Let us turn to the Book of Revelation, and see the Great White Throne, and Him that will sit upon it. The Book says, "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another Book was opened, which is the Book of Life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." The next verse says, "And they were judged every man according to their works."
Thus it is that if a man who is in sin, and is about to receive the judgment of physical death, repents, God will turn away from what He was about to do. God's attitude is unchangeable. To those who walk righteously God gives favor. To those, individually or nationally, who walk unrighteously, God sends judgment. If, therefore, the wicked turn from his evil way, and repent, God will, of necessity, be forced from judgment to kindness.
2. Jonah foresaw this Divine attitude in God, and, therefore, he did not want to go to Nineveh. Chapter 4 opens with the startling words, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray Thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil."
God is the same today that He was yesterday. We believe that our own nation has been under judgments from God. We saw this some months ago. We passed by the western cornfields which had been ravaged by the grasshoppers. We believe that if our own country would nationally fall upon its knees and turn from her love of gold, her lust for pleasure; that God would save us from the depression, and every national ill that hovers over us.
VI. GOD'S GOODNESS EXPLAINED (Jonah 4:5-8 )
1. The story of the gourd. When Jonah, in his anger, went out from the city of Nineveh, he made himself a booth and sat under it, in the shadow, until he would see what would become of the city. Whatever Jonah wanted, by the way of a curse for Nineveh, he did not want for himself. He wanted fire to fall upon the city, but he wanted himself sheltered from the heat of the sun.
God easily read the spirit of His Prophet and so He prepared a gourd and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. When Jonah saw this kindness of God toward him, he was exceeding glad.
Then God prepared a worm, when the morning arose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. God, in addition, as the day came on, prepared a vehement east wind, and, in addition, the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, and he fainted and wished to die.
God then said to Jonah, "Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?" Then God said, "Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night." The Lord help us lest we seek favor for ourselves, and the curse upon our neighbors.
VII. THE INSIDE VISION OF THE HEART OF GOD (Jonah 4:11 )
To us, this is the John 3:16 of the Old Testament, in this particular: It gives us the spirit of God toward a world lost in sin. Jonah wanted God to spare the gourd for his sake. God said, "Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"
1. Behold the love of God toward little children! Had Nineveh perished, the innocents would have perished with her. God loved Nineveh, because He loves the world. God loved Nineveh because He commendeth His love unto us, in that while we were yet sinners, He loved us. God loved Nineveh because He hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires that all men shall repent and turn unto God.
How much more then did God love the little children. Let us remember that in Heaven their angels do always behold the face of our Father who is in Heaven. Let us remember that He said, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of God."
2. Behold the love of God toward the beasts of the earth. God not only said, "Should not I spare Nineveh, * * wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons," but He also said, "Much cattle." Have we not read that His eye is on the sparrow? Doth He not observe its fall? Has not God also said, that "the creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God"? Have we not read that the lion shall eat straw like the ox; that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together?
The greatest love verse in the Bible is conceded to be John 3:16 ; and even there the love of God is restricted to those who believe; while those who believe not, perish.
It had been a dull year in the church where Moffat was converted. The deacons finally said to the old pastor: "We love you, pastor, but don't you think you had better resign? There hasn't been a convert this year." "Yes," he replied, "it has been a dull year sadly dull to me. Yet I mind me that one did come, wee Bobby Moffat. But he is so wee a bairn that I suppose it is not right to count him." A few years later Bobby came to the pastor and said, "Pastor, do you think that I could ever learn to preach? I feel within here something that tells me that I ought to. If I could just lead souls to Christ, that would be happiness to me." The pastor answered, "Well, Bobby, you might; who knows? At least you can try!" He did try, and years later when Robert Moffat came back from his wonderful work in Africa, the king of England rose and uncovered in his presence, and the British Parliament stood as a mark of respect. The humble old preacher, who had but one convert, and who was so discouraged, is dead and forgotten, and yet that was the greatest year's work he ever did and few have equaled it. Publisher Unknown.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Jonah 3". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24