One of the big lessons of the book of Jonah is the sovereignty of God in all things. He is involved in all the affairs of His creation, even the most minute. This is to say that God is ordering His creation to accomplish His purposes. This is the third lesson from this book – that His sovereign purposes are immutable by a human hand. Jonah’s will couldn’t withstand the sovereign omnipotence – neither yours nor mine can! We must always bow to God and understand that His counsel shall stand. We see this in two ways in chapter three of the book of Jonah:
1) The message of God is far powerful than we can imagine:
Jonah was forced to go to Nineveh and he preached the message of repentance boldly. He was told to “Arise and go to the Nineveh, that great city and call out against it the message I tell you.” This time round Jonah went according to the word of the Lord. Jonah preached the message given by God to the Ninevites, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He could not change it!
This was a terrifying message and it must have been terrible for the people to hear this sad news. A simple eight word message, easy to understand but powerful for the people believed the message as well as God. This tells us that the Word is powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. It is like a sledgehammer – it breaks to pieces all human resistance and penetrates into the human mind, into the heart and the conscience. Jonah preached it and the people of Nineveh as wicked as they were, were brought to submission. The Word of God is powerful to belivers as well as unbelievers alike and no one is too strong willed to resist its power. Those who reject it, are condemned and those who receive it are justified.
When people heard Jonah preaching judgment and demanding repentance, they did not just repent as the message demanded – they believed God (v.5). When you believe God you are justified (Gen. 15:6). But how do we know that one has believed God? There is repentance! Repentance and faith come together, just as the two sides of a coin. They who put their trust in God the Father, and the Son as given ability by the Holy Spirit, repent of their sins. This is what happened in Nineveh- they called a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them – from king to the pauper in the villages; from the nobles to the poor in their slums of Nineveh – there was national repentance. This is the first of its kind outside Israel! From this we learn that when the message of God is preached, it has powerful convicting power.
There is good news in this for you and me! It is a blessing to know that God can use even those who have fallen short for His glory! The upshot of this is that if God can use Jonah, God can use you too and bring glory to His name and good to His people. This also means that when the Lord gives you a message and you preach it as given (faithfully), the Lord will make blessings out of it. We must take confidence when we share the word of the Lord, knowing that He will bless His Word and that it will accomplish the purpose to which He sent it, Isa. 55:11! The truth is that the gospel is called the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. We must unleash it wherever the Lord has placed us.
From this event in Nineveh we see an outstanding miracle. The miracle lies in the fact that a whole great city turned to God! There have been great revivals throughout history, but this is the only instance of a town of this size, filled with such wicked people, being converted and delivered from sin. Isn’t it such a great miracle when revival comes and lives are changed? Shall we not pray for such to come upon our cities and our countries? The Lord did it in Nineveh, He is able! Pray for the conversion of your neighbours and countrymen from today. Pray also for the salvation of the nations. But, it is always a miracle when even a single soul hears the good news of salvation and comes to faith in Jesus! That is the glory of the Gospel, Rom. 1:16; John 1:12.)
2) God always remembers His great Mercy
When the people of Nineveh repented of their sins and turned to the Lord, God reacted to their faith in grace. When they turned to Him, He saved their souls by grace! Of course, God knew what would happen before Jonah ever arrived since He is the One who sent Him! Their conversion was part of His perfect plan! Salvation always works this way! When God loves a sinner, He has a plan to save his soul. So He sends the Holy Spirit to give spiritual life and the willingness to listen. He then appoints a messenger who is sent with the good news. Yes, His Word usually is sent to a sinner through a human agent. The sinner is convicted and sees his wicked condition and repents. When that sinner repents of his sins, God saves him by grace through faith, Eph. 2:8-9. Of course, it's all part of His plan! Remember that none of His purposes, plans or intentions are changed.
What about the word ‘relent’ used in 3:9-10,
Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish." When God saw what they 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 (3:9-10)
The Ninevites, although wicked people knew that God is merciful and will turn if they turn – He will not punish them if they repent. They knew that there is a way by which God’s fierce anger can be appeased. So they repented. So did God really thwart His plans? Can God change His mind? Isn’t God the unchanging or immutable One?
In dealing with this matter, John L. Mackay on his Focus Commentary on Job writes:
The OT does not hesitate to affirm both that God is unchanging, and that He can and does alter His attitude towards people and His way of dealing with them. It is interesting to find both these truths stated in the one chapter of Scripture, 1 Samuel 15. In verse 11, the Lord tells Samuel, ‘I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions,’ while a little later Samuel says to Saul, ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man, that He should change His mind’ (1Sam. 15:29). The same word is used for grieved is the same as change His mind and clearly it is not God who changed it was Saul. When God uses this language in the Scripture, it is that matters are viewed from a human perspective. It seems to us that God has changed, but what has in reality happened is the human conduct. Saul was no longer the human he once was, he had become with no regard for God and had turned to wickedness. Thankfully the opposite is true in the case of the Ninevites who were initially wicked but had now turned around for the better in light of God’s warning and threat. Clearly God could have been inconsistent if His holy and divine attitude had remained the same despite the change in their conduct for the better.
God is consistent in His divine government in all matters. His rule is that the soul that sins shall die and so whoever dies in His sins is committed to eternal punishment. On the other hand whoever is willing to give his sins to Jesus Christ has his punishment meted on Christ on his behalf. There is no question that there is no shadow of turning with God and so our confession of faith puts it like this:
There is but one, and only one, living and true God. He is self-existent and infinite in His being and His perfections. None but He can comprehend or understand His essence. He is pure spirit, invisible, and without body, parts, or the changeable feelings of men. He alone possesses immortality, and dwells amid the light insufferably bright to mortal men. He never changes. He is great beyond all our conceptions, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty and infinite. He is most holy, wise, free and absolute. All that He does is the out-working of His changeless, righteous will, and for His own glory. He is most loving, gracious, merciful and compassionate. He abounds in goodness and truth. He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin. He rewards those who seek Him diligently. But He hates sin. He will not overlook guilt or spare the guilty, and He is perfectly just in executing judgment. 1689LBCF Chapter 2:1
So in His outworking all things He is changeless and in the case of the forgiveness of the Ninevites, we see a demonstration of His mercy and grace. For this we must be so thankful that He is willing to commit His mercy not just on the people of His own choice, the Jews but also the Gentiles, for He is God of the Gentiles also. God simply gave the statement of intent if they were to remain in their course of wickedness, the very giving of the warning is an act of His grace. Threatening with judgment is the same as alerting the sleeping evil man of the impending disaster so that he may be awakened from his wickedness. This is what happened. Consider Jeremiah 18:7-10
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.