The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.)
Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.
When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.
God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
Sometimes we succeed in spite of ourselves.
Remember, we said earlier that Jonah is a kind of satire. Here it verges into a tall tale, with Nineveh being a city “three days walk across” and even cows “putting on mourning clothes” and taking part in the fast.
The other satirical element is Jonah’s immediate success. Everyone in Israel knew their own checkered history with respect to the prophets, and here were the hated Assyrians responding immediately to God’s word! It was a message designed to remind the people: our God is for everyone. And if we won’t listen, maybe God will find someone who will – even if God has to go to Assyria to do it!
In the story, Jonah succeeds despite being totally unwilling to do the task; despite having a terrible attitude about the whole thing. How often do we dread doing something we know we ought to do because we are fearful, because we feel inadequate, or because we just plain don’t like it?
One of the messages of the book of Jonah is that with God’s help, we often succeed in spite of ourselves.
For Pondering & Prayer
When have you resisted nudges from God to do something, only to find that once you did it, you actually had a great experience?
Is there someone in your circle of friends or family that needs one of those nudges today? (Is providing that nudge actually something you’ve been resisting?)