Jonah 3

Readings for this week August 19 – 23
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Day 1 – Take Two

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:1-3

Let’s try that again. Jonah, having failed to deliver the message entrusted to him by God, is now commissioned again by God, to deliver a message of judgement to the Ninevites. This second commission is essentially the same as the first one, but there are two minor changes this time around. There is no mention of Jonah’s father: we, the reader, are starting to develop a bit of a picture of what Jonah is really like as a person – so no need to tell us of his lineage and who he is, as we already know. Also, the word of God came to Jonah “a second time” (v.1) – just in case anyone had forgotten Jonah’s sorry response to the first commissioning.

The message itself is also slightly different. First time out, Jonah was commanded to go and “preach against” Nineveh, and the city’s wickedness was specifically mentioned (see 1 v. 2). This time, Jonah is told to “preach to” Nineveh, and there is no mention of the people’s behaviour, wicked or otherwise. In fact, this time around, the emphasis, rather than being on the city’s wickedness, is on the message of God itself that Jonah is to deliver. And it looks as if Jonah has finally got God’s point, and is actually going to do as he has been told this time: he gets up and he goes. Maybe he has learnt something after all. Maybe, shown mercy himself and entrusted with God’s message a second time, he is about to start behaving as a prophet of God is expected to behave. Maybe…

Questions to Consider
How have you experienced God’s second chance? How did you act second time around? What had changed for you?

Prayer
Lord God, you are merciful, the God of the second chance. Thank you for not giving up on me when I give up on you. Teach me greater faithfulness and loyalty. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Jonah’s Message

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:4

Jonah’s speech to Nineveh, long promised but often delayed, surely ranks as one of the shortest, sharpest declarations in all of scripture. In Hebrew, Jonah’s message to the people of Nineveh is just five words long. Short and to the (very spiky) point. Jonah, still the reluctant prophet, looking to get in and out of Nineveh as speedily as possible, essentially does the bare minimum in order to fulfil his commission. He doesn’t offer the city an “if-then” scenario; he doesn’t tell them what must be done to avert the judgement of God; and he offers them no hope of escape at all. God’s verdict is in: destruction in forty days. Job done; can I go home now?

Jonah does not plead with the people to repent, he does not try to get them to change their ways, he does nothing to suggest there is anything at all that they can do to turn God’s wrath away from them. Jonah seems to have delivered his message in a way deliberately designed to ensure the people did not change their minds. The only real conclusion we can draw is that Jonah did not want Nineveh to be saved – he wanted it to be destroyed. No mention of God’s love and mercy, no call to repent and renounce evil ways, no words designed to spur people to action. God had promised to destroy Nineveh and that is what Jonah wanted to see happen. Even after his own experiences of the loving grace and mercy that God had shown to him, he didn’t want to see such love extended to people he considered unworthy of it.

Questions to Consider
What causes an attitude of ingratitude? Why does what happens (or does not happen) to others so often inform whether we ourselves are grateful?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, stir gratitude within me. Show me all the things I should be grateful to you for, in my life and the lives of others. Help me look for reasons to celebrate rather than complain. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – An Immediate Response

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:5

Based on Jonah’s desire to see the Ninevites do nothing in response to his message and thus be wiped off the face of the earth (surely no more than they deserve?), the people’s response to his message was probably deeply disappointing to the prophet. Despite the brevity of his message and the lack of information contained therein, the Ninevites react with decisive speed – and with genuine fear and sorrow. They believed Jonah’s message. They didn’t equivocate, they didn’t argue, they didn’t try to bargain their way out from under the judgement of God. They took responsibility for their sins, even going so far as to don sackcloth to show how repentant they were. (Sackcloth was a piece of clothing worn in times of sorrow, mourning or repentance. It was made of goat’s hair and was generally black in colour.)

It’s not often that the Bible tells of such a positive reaction to a prophecy of impending judgement and destruction. (It is somewhat ironic that such a speedy, positive reception should be given to such a badly, begrudgingly delivered message.) It is also not often that scripture records an idolatrous, pagan people showing such determined resolve to change their ways in response to the word of God. But the people of Nineveh responded immediately, wholeheartedly and contritely. The messenger’s reaction to his message being heeded and the people repenting and seeking God was amazing, but for all the wrong reasons.

Question to Consider
What do you think of Jonah’s reaction? Why do you think he reacted this way?

Prayer
Almighty Lord, help me not to react like Jonah when people turn around and seek you. Help me see all people, no matter their circumstances, as people made in your image and worthy of your love. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Contrasting Choices

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:6-9

People can do everything in their power to show their remorse at their behaviour and to repent for what they have done, but even so they must ultimately rely on God’s mercy to save them. There is nothing they can do to force God’s hand. But as we will see, God responds positively to what the people of Nineveh do. He changes his mind. He has compassion on them. So many times in the Bible God responds to the actions and decisions that people make. He gives us a choice in how we respond to him. Things are not predetermined or preordained, as if we were a part of some stage play where all the lines and stage directions are already determined and laid out in advance, with human beings just going through the motions, with no real choice in what they do.

Once God had called him, Jonah had choices to make (and I would suggest that prior to this story Jonah would also, like all of us, have had choices to make in his life – perhaps what we see of his character in this story hints at the type of choices he had made previously). He chose poorly, making decisions that dishonoured the God who had called him, and that dishonoured himself as an image bearer and messenger of that God. God responded to him accordingly. The Ninevites chose to humble themselves, prostrate themselves before God and throw themselves on his mercy.

Questions to Consider
What choices has God given you to make lately? How do you work out what to do?

Prayer
Almighty God, you can only guide me in all I do if I am listening and seeking to follow you in all I do, and making choices that honour you and what you are calling me to. Help me do this every day. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Not Up to Us

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Jonah 3:10

In many ways the book of Jonah is about opposites – or at least, so much of the story ends up occurring in ways diametrically opposed to how we would expect them to. Jonah is chosen to be a spokesman for God, thus leading us to expect that Jonah is an upright, obedient servant of God. And yet he shows himself to be anything but. Sent in one direction, he takes off in another. He is a prophet who would rather not speak. The Ninevites, on the other hand, are initially marked out for destruction and yet, upon repentance, they end up experiencing the forgiving, gracious compassion of God – and it is God’s chosen messenger who ends up experiencing the judgement of God (and, as we will see next week, who ends up being directly rebuked by God too). And this despite being on the receiving end of God’s saving grace himself in chapter 2.

We don’t get to choose who God delivers, who he judges, who he saves or who he condemns. And we also don’t get to choose how he does each of these things. All too often we rush to judgement, whether in making announcements about whom God can save – and how, and what is required for said people to be saved – or just silently writing people off in our minds as being utterly beyond salvation. But as in the story of Jonah, God is good at ignoring our prejudices and moving in any way he so wishes – for the salvation of all people, whether we approve (which we should, rejoicing all the way) or not.

Questions to Consider
Why do people like to pass judgement (especially eternal judgement) on others? What is dangerous about this? Why is it harmful to the gospel?

Prayer
Loving God, do not ignore my prejudices – and do not let me ignore them – but rather help me overcome them for the benefit of those not yet in your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)