A Hateful Prophet’s Message Converts A Nation

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Jonah 1:1-3

Jonah was not too happy that God gave him a message to deliver to the people of Nineveh.  He was so disgusted with the message, that he fled in the complete opposite direction hoping to run from God.  Why?  He despised the people of Nineveh in all that they did and all that they were for the city was filled with sin.  Jonah wanted them to be destroyed without mercy.  But, God had a different plan as we are familiar with the story of Jonah ending up in the belly of the fish for 3 days until he repented and returned to God.

We see then that God asks one more time and this time. Jonah knows he can’t get a way with running away even though he is still reluctant and not too happy about delivering the message.  His judgemental, hateful thoughts about the Nineveh people had not changed, but he decided that he’d half-heartedly tell them anyway, just so God would leave him alone.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey[a] in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!””  Jonah 3:1-4

A miraculous thing happened even with Jonah’s weak deliverance of the message.  The city immediately turned around and repented of their wickedness and were spared from God’s judgement.

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? 10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”  Jonah 3: 5-10

How do we know that Jonah’s heart was still filled with anger towards Nineveh even while delivering the message?

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!””  Jonah 4:1-3

Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!””  Jonah 4:9

We might ask why did Nineveh turn so quickly from their sins?  Was it Jonah’s incredibly convincing, powerful sermon that he barely got out and even at best, half-heartedly?  I highly doubt it.

I just came across this information today and found it very interesting and probably the reason that Nineveh turned so quickly.  When we research the historical cuniform tablets called the Assyrian Eponym Canon we find a very interesting event that occurred just prior to Jonah’s preaching in the city.  We find that Nineveh experienced one of the most famous solar eclipses in all of ancient history.  This Eclipse was even given the name, “Bur-Sagale Eclipse,” and occurred over Nineveh on June 15, 763 BC during the reign of King Ashur-Dan III.  This eclipse turned the land to night during the middle of the day and the people knew full well that this was an omen from the true God.  Then, when Jonah came to deliver the message shortly after, or perhaps even the next day, the people realized this was the answer to their question about why they fell in complete darkness.  They knew that God wanted them to repent and return to Him or He would judge them.  Thank God for His sign to them and thank God that He kept on Jonah to get his job done, and thank God for His incredible mercy to forgive an entire nation of their sins if they would just repent and return to Him.

We see that God can use the lights that He has established in the sky to show us signs of things to come.   The ancient people knew that, but many today are unfamiliar with how God continued to use them in His Word and still uses them today.

“Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs [appointed times] and seasons [set feasts], and for days and years;”  Genesis 1:14

Jesus told the Pharisees that He would give them one sign, and this was the sign of Jonah, which to us would mean that He would be raised in 3 days from the dead as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three ways, but could it also mean that the same Eclipse that went over the land of Nineveh as a warning of darkness to them would be the same sign in the sky when Jesus took His last breath, giving them a warning to repent and return to Him?

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”  Matthew 12:38-39

45 Now from the sixth hour[a] there was darkness over all the land[b] until the ninth hour.[c] 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””  Matthew 27:45-46

Thank you God for your incredible mercy on us.  We do not deserve for our sins to be washed away, but you’ve set your heart upon us and have given us a way to be forgiven through faith in the blood sacrifice of your Son, Jesus.  We are eternally grateful for all that you have done for us.  Help us to not be like Jonah, but instead be willing to do your work no matter what it is, and help us to have hearts which are like yours, full of mercy and love for everyone.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.