Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
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.”
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.
“What is going on here? She was the one that rode her bike in a far away neighborhood where our parents had forbidden us to go. She was riding double! Yes, double! That’s really, really against the rules! So when she flew head first over the handlebars, is it really a surprise that she received a concussion? She’s bumped up a bit, but now…ice cream? New coloring books? Gifts? Waited on like the Queen of Sheba? Where is the justice?”
I find it comical that after over 50 years, I can easily tell this story in the voice of my eight-year-old self. Do you hear any compassion? Nope! Not a trace of compassion. In this family melodrama my parents took the starring roles of merciful father and compassionate mother. They generally were quite patient, long-suffering, slow to anger and full of mercy toward me and my two siblings. Don’t get me wrong; they expected obedience, but we disappointed them time and time again. Here’s the point: they modeled mercy.
Stop and think about this a minute: Which of these classic roles–petulant child, disobedient child or merciful parent–is Jonah portraying as he arrives in Nineveh in chapter 3? What role would God expect a prophet to play?
Unlike other prophetic books like Isaiah, in which a prophet’s wise words are recorded, the book of Jonah is a story about a cantankerous prophet and his disobedience to God. In this satirical Old Testament book, Jonah’s actions and words are meant to be a “mirror held to our faces”.
In Chapter 3, Jonah finally arrives in Nineveh. After all he’s been through (crazy big fish incident), he’s still not a happy camper. When Jonah addresses the Ninevites he only uses seven words: “Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (verse 4) Way to cut to the chase, Jonah! No list of how the Ninevites have offended God or specifics about who will bring about the Ninevites’ destruction; however, despite Jonah’s failure to elaborate on the important details, the king and his nobles quickly repent, change their wicked ways, don their best sackcloth and ashes and worship and repent before God. The king says, “Let everyone call urgently on God.” (verse 8) The king goes on to say that perhaps God will, “with compassion turn from His fierce anger.”
As you’ll soon see in Chapter 4, Jonah, a prophet of God, has a hissy fit about all of this.
Back to the mirror, my sibling story, and my personal hissy fit.
I really wish I could say that I put aside my less than admirable behaviors soon after my sister’s bicycle crash and the resulting concussion. Sadly, sibling rivalry continued to rear its ugly head for a long time after that. My sister continued to maintain an avid interest in trying anything fun and forbidden. Let’s just say that as we were growing up I had plenty of opportunities to envy my sister’s teflon ability to slip out from under consequences.
Then, as teenagers, it was my sister who first gave her life to Christ. Quite quickly, in the fervor of the recently redeemed, she came to me to explain how I too could be saved. I clearly remember my response, which was way more than seven words: “You need to repent because of all the stuff you’ve done. I, on the other hand, haven’t made any bad choices.” Cringe worthy. I was not at that time aware of Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That realization did come, and yes, I did accept Christ. But it was my sister who led the way to the cross and for that, I will always owe her a debt of gratitude.
You see, sisters in Christ, there is a darkest of all darknesses that lives inside of us all. We are all a lot like Jonah. We do not always obey God’s calling. We all need to remember scripture like 1 Timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst,” and Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
Joyfully, I know that God’s mercy unto me is a fountain that flows both deep and wide. Praise God that Christ’s mercy has fallen on me because, contrary to what my child-self believed and what my teenage-self believed, I have always needed, and have always received, God’s gift of mercy. What’s more, that mercy has flowed most plentifully when I was least deserving. Here’s the crux of the matter: God loves me, and you, despite any of the things that we have done in our lives. We are forgiven. We are set free. Out of our gratitude, we are to show others that same mercy.
Who are your Ninevites? What Ninevites in your life are not receiving mercy from you because you are wrongly attempting to take the role of the Holy Spirit? God freely gave mercy to you, now spread it around. Hear this: we are called to obediently spread mercy unreservedly just as He has luxuriously slathered it all over us. Make it your little “inside your head” reminder like this gal has done: Be obedient. Be, be obedient. Sometimes I throw a few little dance moves in there, just for fun.
Exhale, woman. You can trust me on this one: the Holy Spirit is in you. The day you professed, “Jesus is Lord” God sent him to you to encourage you and to guide you (John 14:26). Even when you aren’t feeling particularly merciful or when obedience eludes you, just whisper, “Jesus” and that will do it. Whisper and breathe…Jesus.
Thank you, Jesus, for shining your grace on me. You know that this woman, this sinner, often forgets to be merciful in a broken world that is so desperately in need of mercy. I truly do want to be obedient, but so often I fall down in this area. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) Thank you for your mercy which extends to even me, the worst of sinners. Jesus, the unblemished lamb, obediently went to the cross for me. Unbelievable, yet indisputable. Help me to live like a woman who has been forgiven and set free. Amen.
Recently, I took the time to read the last chapter(s) or of each of the gospels…Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It was powerful to read and compare each account of our risen Christ. If you find yourself in need of a reminder Christ’s redemption and how He has shown mercy to all of us, I hope you will follow in my footsteps. May you too be blessed as you read and reflect on Christ’s power over sin and death. Peter denied Jesus three times as Christ was going to the cross, but in the gospel of John, Christ sought after Peter and reassured Peter three times of His love and Peter’s willingness to, “Feed my sheep,” (John 21:17). We serve an awesome God.
Today’s post was written by Cindy Koopmans.
Cindy is married to her college sweetheart, Brian, for going on 38 years. She has three grown boys, two sweet daughters-in-law and a gorgeous little grand-man named Oliver Brian. Cindy teaches fifth grade at Sorrento Elementary and serves at the Mount Dora campus as their Worship Coordinator. Cindy’s passion is music, so her happy place is at the keyboard. She also enjoys reading (so many books, so little time), thrifting, and hanging out with Kramer the wonder Bichon. You can find her on Sunday mornings worshiping at our Real Life Mount Dora campus.
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