The Sign of Jonah – Scene 5 – "The Conversion of Ninveh" – Jonah 3:3b-10 – 3/18/10

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We've known all along that Jonah would eventually wind up in Nineveh where the Lord had told him to go. A significant part of the story of Jonah is that it took until the very end of scene IV before he finally went there. But now, as scene 5 opens, it opens in Nineveh. And next week, as we come to the final scene, the curtain closes in Nineveh.

I. Exceedingly great city.

1. Having finally arrived, we begin by getting a bit of background about the city. It is "an exceedingly great city, three days journey in breadth."

2. 1:2 – "Go to Nineveh, that GREAT CITY…"
3:2 – "Go to Nineveh, that GREAT CITY…"
Now we're told that Nineveh is an 'EXCEEDINGLY GREAT CITY.'

3. 4:11 – "120,000 people and also much cattle." It's greatness is not its physical size or population. A religious center as indicated by the many shrines, temples to gods. Also, important to God.

4. He sends His prophet Jonah to it. 130 years later, He sends prophet Nahum to Nineveh.

5. Tells us something about the God whom we call "our God." Our God has a love and concern for pagan nations. GREAT means GREAT IN THE EYES OF GOD. Not great in the eyes of the other nations – Israel in particular.

6. Informs our understanding of how God feels about nations that we have a hard time loving. Ex. Iran, China, North Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, etc.

7. 3 days – not the time it takes to walk around it or through it, but the time it took to cover it with the message. Luther: "To walk hither and yon, here and there."

II. Jonah's Sermon

1. Words given to Jonah by Lord – 3:2 – "Arise, go to Nineveh that great city and call out against it THE MESSAGE THAT I TELL YOU."

2. "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."

3. Only 5 words in Hebrew. Powerful sermon. Let's look at it.

4. 40 DAYS – 40 is a special number in the bible. Lots of stuff in bible happens in 40 days or years.
– Rained on Noah – time of destroying and cleansing the earth.
– Israel in desert – time of testing and judgment
– Elijah on run from Ahab – time of learning to trust in Lord
– Jesus in desert – time of testing and trusting in Lord
– Nineveh – time of preparation to be overthrown.

– A defined period of time. Short. Yet there's still time. 40th day becomes the final day. Day of judgment.

5. OVERTHROWN – Word means "changed."

– Can be used to describe impending destruction. Example: same word as used in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah.

– Can be used to describe radical reversal of heart / mind. Desires and intentions of the heart / mind OVERTHROW the direction or course or path of an individual or group or entire nation.

– Example: Japan. Pursuit of military power to no military.
England / U.S. Openness to slavery to abolition of slavery.

– Which meaning meant here??

III. People's Response – Believed God.

1. They understood that the words they heard from mouth of human were from God.
– As do we in "Absolution"

2. What does it mean to "believe God?"

– Not mere intellectual assent – I believe God exists.

– Not mere agreement with His Word – I believe that this is the Word of God.

– 1st Commandment: "You shall have no other Gods." What does this mean? We should fear, love and trust in God above all things. God will do what He says He will do.

– Isaiah 55:10-11 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

– Believe this in both fear and trust and love.

3. So, what does it mean for the Ninevites?

– They're response tells us what they believe.
– Only God sees faith in the heart. But others and God see the things we do.

– A Fast – An outward expression that an inner problem before God exists. Compare to the reasons for which we fast. To loose weight, quit smoking, etc. Inner problem, but not always connected to our life before God. Idea to fast by cutting TV because it interferes with time in Word or Prayer.

– Sackcloth – A rough material worn close to the skin to remind the wearer that an inner problem before God exists.

– Problem is that these can become offerings to God in and of themselves that though to please God by doing them. Religious activities thought to please God. They serve only us. Do nothing for God or for neighbor.

4. King's response

– The word reaches the King of Nineveh. A true grassroots movement. From people to government.

– From throne and robes to sackcloth and sits in ashes. On behalf of whole nation.


a. Nationwide fast: People and animals. If God was going to 'OVERTHROW' Nineveh, then even the animals would suffer. Even they were involved in the evil of the Ninevites – horses, stolen cattle, etc.

b. Sackcloth: Both man and beast. Hard to picture.

c. "Call out mightily to God" – Fervent prayer. Compare to Sailors. Called out to LORD. Yaweh. Here, "elohim." Either way, King regarded the situation in Nineveh the same as the sailors regarded their situation on the stormy sea.

d. "Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands."


+ Outward works attest to the sincerity of repentance.

+ Isaiah 58:6-7 "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him…?

+ James 2:14-17 "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

+ Application: Examine your own life. What needs to be "overthrown" in you in 40 days?

What evil is your hand doing? Or mouth? Or eyes? Don't just be aware of it. Make a resolution to "turn from your evil way and from the violence that is in your hands."

Or is it more subtle than that? Is the evil that you are doing located in something that you are not doing that you know you should be? Prayer, stewardship, service, attitude? Don't just put on sackcloth and fast because of these things. "Turn from your evil way and from the violence that is in your hands."

5. "Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish."
A. Fear / Sodom and Gomorrah

– The King is moved by FEAR of God's 'fierce anger.' A chance he may "turn and relent."

– May be familiar with Jewish history. Some events have worldwide awareness.

– When Moses sends spies into Canaan, Rahab hides them and says that everyone is aware of what the God of Israel did to Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.

– May be that King is aware of Sodom and Gomorrah. Significant that the same word for "overthrow" was used repeatedly in the conversation between Abraham and angel of the Lord.

B. Our confidence
– Our faith is built on a better foundation than just fear of the Lord. Also trust and love. We have the sure and certain promises of God for confidence. Not "who knows?"

– When Peter preaches to the crowds on the day of Pentecost, he doesn't say, "Who knows? If you turn to God He may save you." With perfect confidence in the promise of God, he says, "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.' Acts 2:21

IV. God's Response

A. Saw their works / Relented

1. "When God saw what the did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it."

2. It doesn't say that God saw their fasting or their sackcloth. He saw what they DID.

3. Doesn't mean salvation is based on what we do. The works we do are the expression of the faith in our heart.

4. "God relented from the disaster." God loves to relent from the disaster!
– "ALIEN WORK of God" – disaster and punishment.
– "PROPER WORK of God" – mercy, forgiveness, 'relenting from disaster.'

B. Through Preaching of Law / Gospel

1. This is the way God works. Through the preaching of His Word. Simple sermon. Not because of the great preacher.

– 1 Corinthians 2:1-5: "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

2. This is the way God works. Through His Word by His power. And this is the way God does His "PROPER WORK" in the world. At the end of the book of Revelation, when all of the battles are over and all is said and done, we read this, "And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Revelation 21:5

3. He doesn't say, "I am making ALL NEW THINGS." That's the way we think God should do things. Wipe them out. Start over again. That's God's "ALIEN WORK." That's what Jonah wanted God to do. But by grace, through faith for Christ's sake, through the preaching and teaching of His Word, He makes all things new.

NEXT WEEK, we will see what Jonah's reaction is to God's relenting from the disaster he promised on Nineveh.

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