Jonah 2023 Bible Study (Relentless Grace)

Jonah 3, The God of Infinite Chances


The third chapter of Jonah opens with these words: “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time.” In the first two chapters we read about Jonah running from God. He does not want to be God’s prophet. He wants to quit God and be done with it all. However, God has sent a storm which has led to the sailors throwing Jonah overboard. Rather than repenting, Jonah would rather drown. However, the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah where he remained for three days and three nights. We saw that Jonah is on the seafloor and his life is fading away when the fish comes and rescues Jonah. Jonah remembered the Lord, turned his heart toward the Lord, and proclaimed that he will offer sacrifices of thanksgiving. Chapter 2 ends with the Lord speaking to the fish and the fish vomiting Jonah out on the to the land. This is the setting for what we read in Jonah 3.

God Presses Reset (3:1-4)

I would like for us to think about all the things God could have said to Jonah after the fish vomited him out on the land. Chapter 3 could have opened with God condemning his prophet. The text could tell us how the wrath of God rightly consumed Jonah for his rebellion. There are so many things God could have said or done to Jonah at this point after all that Jonah has done. But we are told that the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time. In verse 2 you read the Lord telling Jonah to go to Nineveh and call out against it with the message that the Lord gives him. The word of the Lord is nearly identical to the first time it was given to Jonah in Jonah 1:1-2. The book opened with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh and call out against it. Now that Jonah has been vomited on the land, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and call out against it (3:2).

I want us to appreciate that God lets Jonah start over. Jonah is not rejected. Jonah is not fired. Jonah is not demoted. Jonah is not on probation. Jonah is told to go and fulfill his mission that he had been given. Notice that Jonah gets up and goes to Nineveh as the Lord had told him to do. To understand what a large city Nineveh was, we are told that it would take three days to walk through the city, proclaiming God’s message to the inhabitants. So on the first day Jonah starts his work walking through this great city. Verse 4 tells us what the message was. “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (NRSV).

This is a very simple message. This message is certainly not a “seeker sensitive” message. Jonah does not go through the city taking a poll of what people are looking for in God. He does not ask them if there are characteristics about God that they do not like. Jonah proclaims what is going to happen. The city only has 40 more days and then judgment is coming down on it for their wicked ways. For there to only be 40 more days until the city is judgment tells us that the wickedness of the city is great. You might remember that the Lord told Jonah this in the first chapter. The Lord said that the “their wickedness has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). We just recently finished our sermon series on Nahum where we read about some of their cruelty and evil ways. It is time for Nineveh to fall because of its sins and that is the simple message Jonah proclaims.

A Picture of Repentance (3:5-9)

Notice the response of the first day of Jonah’s preaching. Verse 5 tells us that the people of the city believed God. This is a major contrast to Jonah. When Jonah heard the word of the Lord, he ran the other direction. When this wicked city hears the word of the Lord, they believed God. Notice that their belief led to immediate action. Verse 5 records that the people proclaimed a fast and every person, from the least to the greatest, put on sackcloth. Sackcloth was an uncomfortable, scratching material and it was worn to show the depths of one’s mourning and sorrow. It is self-humiliation as a way to show their repentance. There is an inward response of belief in the people which led to a declaration for fasting which led to the people outward showing of repentance. The one time we read about a true repentance from Ahab, we see him doing the same thing. He fasts and puts on sackcloth (cf. 1 Kings 21:27). Everyone is participating in this wholehearted repentance.

Verse 6 shows that even the king of Nineveh is moved by the word of the Lord. He also removes his royal robe and covers himself with sackcloth and sits in ashes. He does not see himself as above the word of the Lord. He leaves his royal throne and sits in the ashes, showing his repentance and sorrow. This is a beautiful picture of repentance. True repentance means that you humble yourself and lower yourself. True repentance does not care about what other people think or see. The king does not concern himself that he might be humiliated by wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes. Public perception is not what a truly repentant person cares about. A truly repentant person owns the sin and does not care who knows about it. True repentance does not make excuses. True repentance does not try to put up a good show for everyone to see. True repentance does not say, “What will everyone think about me?” This was a failure of King Saul when Samuel confronted him with his sin. Listen to what Saul says to Samuel.

Then he said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the LORD your God.” (1 Samuel 15:30 ESV)

Friends, I have too often heard people say how upset or offended they are that the whole church was notified about the sin that they were committing. They supposedly wanted to repent publicly but not publicly tell everyone what they had done. Friends, this is not repentance. True repentance cares only about what God thinks. True repentance does not say, “Now honor me before the people!” True repentance does not try to make their sin look good. True repentance says that I have sinned without excuse or qualification and they are willing to let anyone know it. Jesus described the truly repentant tax collector, standing on the street corner unwilling to lift his eyes, and simply beat his chest and proclaimed, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). This is a picture of repentance without excuse or qualification.

But this is not all that the king does. You will notice in verses 7-8 that the king makes a proclamation for the city. No one, not even animals, should eat or drink. Instead, let everyone be covered in sackcloth and call out mightily to God. Now look at the end of verse 8. “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.” True repentance means that we will stop doing wrong. The king says that we need to call out to God and stop the evil that we have been doing. Friends, true repentance means we do not willfully return to the sins that we were asking forgiveness from. The inward conviction leads to the outward change. We have heard the word of the Lord and we must turn from our evil ways. Notice the thinking that the king has in verse 9.

Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.” (Jonah 3:9 NRSV)

The thought process is very simple. If we turn, then God may turn. If we turn away from our sinning, then God may turn from bringing the rightful justice and judgment that he has decreed.

The God of Infinite Chances (3:10)

So look at verse 10. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10 NRSV) God relented from the decreed disaster on the city when the people turned from their evil ways. Friends, this is the character of God. God does not want to bring judgment but must be a just and righteous God. But we see God relent from decreed disaster on many occasions. We see this during the golden calf sinning of the people of Israel. God was going to destroy his people and start a new nation through Moses. But Moses interceded for his people and God relented. The prophet Jeremiah expresses this character of God well.

If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. (Jeremiah 18:7–10 ESV)

Here is what I want us to hear God saying: God can change the outcome if we will change. We saw this idea expressed by the captain of the ship when the ship was being ravaged by the storm. The captain tells Jonah to get up and call out to his God. “Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish” (Jonah 1:6). When Jonah turned to the Lord, then the Lord gave him a fresh start and told him to go and carry out his mission. God did take notice of him and they did not perish. When Nineveh turned to the Lord, then the Lord gave the city a fresh start and did not bring the disaster on the city that they deserved. The king proclaimed that maybe God will turn if we turn from our sins. God can change the outcome if we will turn from our evil ways.

There is only one reason why God does not relent from the judgment that we should receive for our sins. The only reason is that we do not truly repent. We do not turn to the Lord completely like we read the city of Nineveh and its king doing in this third chapter. When Peter preached the gospel to the people of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and he tells them that they are worthy of judgment because of their sins, the people are cut to the heart and ask what they should do. Peter gives a very simple answer. The first word Peter says is to repent. If you believe the word of the Lord, then you need to repent. God is not only a God of second chances. God is a God of third chances and fourth chances. God is a God of infinite chances if we will turn back to him and turn away from our worldly ways. I do not know what you are going through right now in your life. But I do know that you can turn back to God and push the restart button today.

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