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Jonah Preaches (Part 1 of 3)

Jonah Preaches

Part 1 of 3

It is not often that people get second chances, especially when they made a big mess of things the first time, but thank God that there are second chances in His kingdom.

Jonah is a good example of that. He failed miserably the first time that God called him to arise and to go to Nineveh to preach. He refused to go. Instead, he fled from God’s presence in the opposite direction. What would the Lord do with him now? What would you do with him?

Jonah chapter 3 records for us how the Lord gave Jonah a second chance by recommissioning him and how Jonah fulfilled the great commission this time round. From verses 1-2, we have the LORD renewing His commission to Jonah. Then from verses 3 and onwards, we have Jonah carrying out his commission.

We’ll look at the first of these two parts in this article.

A Second Time

Verse 1 reads, “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying…”

No mention is made of the period of time that transpired between the end of chapter 2 when the fish vomited Jonah out onto dry land and the beginning of chapter 3 when the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.

Most likely, the Lord gave Jonah a couple of days if not weeks to settle down and to regain a sense of composure and stability after those very traumatic and intense few days of being in the storm, then in the depths of the sea, and finally in the fish’s belly.

But at some appropriate time after that when Jonah was settled down and ready, the LORD sent word to him a second time. Jonah was being re-commissioned. The LORD renews His commission to His prophet.

The words that are used and the form of the words in the first three verses of chapter three are very similar to the opening three verses of chapter one. In a sense, Jonah was back to where he was at the beginning of this book.

In the previous article, I noted that it is foolish and futile to disobey God’s revealed will because it gets us absolutely nowhere. Jonah was back to square one or back to where he started. It is foolishness to try and flee from the presence of the LORD.

So as we read the opening verses of chapter 3, we see Jonah back to where he was at the start. But at the same time, we are also aware that Jonah was not the same person that he was in chapter 1. He was a changed man. Not totally sanctified, but certainly much more sanctified than before. 

But notice how the Lord doesn’t highlight or even mention Jonah’s failure the first time round. He could have reminded Jonah of what happened the last time. He could have warned him that if he didn’t obey this time, he would face even more severe consequences. He could have reminded Jonah of the vow that he had made at the end of chapter 2. And so on. There are so many ways in which the Lord could have sent word to Jonah a second time.

But instead, all we read at the beginning of chapter 3 is that the Lord simply told Jonah to go to the same place, to the same people, for the same purpose, and with the same urgency. The Lord speaks to Jonah as if nothing had happened previously. It is as if the Lord said to Jonah, “Let’s start all over again. Let’s forget about the past, and move on as though it never happened.”

If the book of Jonah began at chapter 3, we would never know that Jonah had been rebellious and disobedient the first time that the Lord called him. This reminds us of the words of Isaiah 38:17, “for thou hast cast all my sins behind thy back.” And again in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” And finally Jeremiah 31:34, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

When the Lord forgives, He does not constantly remind us of our past failures and sins and faults. Rather, He puts them away, out of His sight and out of His mind. Not that God can absolutely forget anything but that He does not deal with us anymore according to our sins.

Jonah had been forgiven and God was dealing with Jonah anew and afresh. The opening words of chapter 3 ought to bring to our remembrance that the God whom we serve is a God of great grace and compassion. Jonah was a recipient of that grace that day when the word of the Lord came to him a second time.

But Jonah was not the first person in scripture to be given a gracious second chance by the Lord. Let’s briefly consider a couple of other persons in scripture who experienced something similar.

Consider Abram. God first called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land which He will show him. Abram left Ur, but he stopped at Haran, which was still hundreds of miles from Palestine. It appears that he would have stayed in Haran had the Lord not called him a second time. But the Lord did. And this time Abram travelled all the way to Canaan.

The same is true of Moses. When he was 40 years old, Moses murdered an Egyptian and he thought that his own people would recognize him as a deliverer. That was Moses’ way of bringing deliverance but that was not God’s way. As a result of his foolish act, he had to flee from Egypt to Midian, where he spent the next forty years as a shepherd in the service of Jethro his father-in-law.

From a human perspective, Moses had ruined his chances and destroyed his future ministry. And yet when he was 80 years old, the Lord appeared to him in the wilderness in a burning bush and called him out of retirement, as it were, to serve as the great leader and deliverer of His people. Moses was given a second chance.

We see something similar too in the life of the apostle Peter, don’t we? Peter was proud and self-confident. He boasted that he was willing to follow the Lord no matter what and that he would not desert Him. “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.”

The Lord responded by telling Peter that he would deny Him three times before the cock crows, i.e. before the morning. And we know the story. Peter did exactly as Christ predicted. He denied his Lord three times. He even went so far as to take an oath and to call upon God to be his witness that he did not know who this Jesus of Nazareth was. What a terrible terrible thing to do! Peter deserved to die for his denial of Christ under an oath. At the very least, he should have been removed from office and disqualified from future service and ministry.

But that was not how the Lord dealt with Peter. In John’s gospel, we read of how the Lord, after His resurrection, appeared to Peter and recommissioned him to service as His apostle. “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my sheep.”

It’s interesting that the Lord said to Peter three times, “Simon, son of Jona (Jonah), lovest thou me.” Peter’s recommissioning after his denial of Christ is reminiscent of Jonah’s recommissioning after his attempted flight to Tarshish. Simon Peter was indeed a son of Jonah the prophet when he was recomissioned a second time.

Our God is a God of second chances. No, He is more than that. He is the God of the 3rd or 4th or 100th or 1000th chance or however many it takes to restore His wayward children. Thank God for His grace and mercy and patience in dealing with us.

Have we never failed Him and gone astray like Abram, Moses, and Peter? Indeed all of us have. We have all run away from the Lord at some point in our life and in one way or another. Some of us, like Jonah, may even have run very far away indeed. But the Lord does not cut us off or disown us. He chastises us yes, but He does not utterly cast us away. The opening words of chapter 3 ought to remind us immediately that the God whom Jonah served and the God whom we serve, is a God of amazing and wondrous grace.

But the opening words of chapter 3 also teach us that our God is a holy God, who hates sin. We see this in the fact that He still calls his prophet to preach against the sins and evil of Nineveh. In chapter 1, we were told that Nineveh was a city of great wickedness and God was highly displeased with it. That has not changed when we go from chapter 1 to chapter 3.

Jonah may have been a changed man. The pagan sailors on board the ship may have been converted to Jehovah. But Nineveh was still the same. And so God still required Jonah to go there and to cry against it.

But even more than that, we note that God’s gracious purposes and intentions towards that generation of Ninevites had not changed. God was still determined to show them mercy and He was determined to do so through the preaching ministry of Jonah.

Remember that the way of God’s mercy often begins with the preaching of the word leading to the conviction of sin. And so we read in verse 2, “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” 

The phrase “the preaching that I bid thee” is not found in chapter 1. Previously, it was simply preach against it, but now, it is preach unto it the preaching or the message that I give you. Emphasis is now being given to the source and content of this message. God is the source and origin of this message. Jonah’s task is simply to deliver it faithfully and accurately to the people at Nineveh. Nothing more, nothing less. That is the task of the herald or the messenger of the King.

In the next instalment, we will consider Jonah’s preaching ministry in Nineveh.

—Linus Chua