Taking it In
Today’s text doesn’t really make it clear what it’s referring to when it says that Nineveh was a “three days’ walk.” Nineveh was certainly a big place at the time but there’s no way it took that long to walk across the city. What is probably being described is the amount of time it would take to go and preach in every neighborhood across Nineveh. This drives the point this description is trying to convey home quite well. The point is that whatever the description of Nineveh’s size is meant to communicate, Jonah needed only to preach for one of the projected three days to get a good response. Which, in some sense, should not be surprising. On one hand, a guy from out of town coming to proclaim destruction on the city unless it changes could cause people to snicker and ignore the threat. On the other hand, if the people are as receptive to Yahweh’s reputation and action as the sailors were, they’d be all ears as they seem to have been. There is a bit of irony about the message, though. To start, it is a word of salvation that looks like a word of destruction. That may be in accordance with Yahweh’s intention, but not Jonah’s. But, this would make sense because we still don’t really know if the words of Jonah are actually the words that God gave him to speak. You have to wonder if Jonah was still trying to, in some sense, operate outside of God’s watch and intent. As you may be aware, the number “forty” shows up a lot in the Bible and it indicates a time of trial or testing that leads to renewal and salvation whether it be Noah’s flood, Israel wandering the wilderness, or Jesus fasting in the desert among others. Jonah has already had his “baptism” and came back up from the sea. It could very well be, then, that these forty days of testing are Jonah’s! In fact, the word he uses to portray God “overturning” Nineveh is the same one used in the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Almost as if Jonah is hoping that’s the outcome for Nineveh, too. So clearly, it’s not the word of Jonah that inspires Nineveh to repent, but the word of God. And so, they call a fast. The Ninevites are repenting the way that Israel and Jonah should
Working it Out
True obedience is not simply a “do it because you were told” type of action or reaction when it comes to faith in God and following Jesus. Obedience beckons us to really dig deep and evaluate our hearts and motives within them. Many of us can respond or act before really checking our hearts and assuming that God is on our side, or, like Jonah, secretly hoping that even if God isn’t that our will be done instead of God’s. In fact, today or sometime soon, let’s do an exercise together. Identify something that you think God is calling you to do. It could be large, or small. You may already be thinking of it. Whatever it is, don’t act without first evaluating your heart and remember that God desires total and complete obedience, not just external actions or something that you think God would want. Pay attention to the situation both in yourself and in others. Are you growing? Are they growing? Did life and love come into the situation? Or did death, destruction, shame, or something else? Jonah responds to God out of fear, not necessarily out of faith. Jonah went and taught in Nineveh, but it wasn’t necessarily God’s words he was proclaiming. Many of them were his but he doesn’t have the courage to really confront this or check his own heart. So, he’s stricken with fear rather than driven to obedience through faith. This probably happens to us more than we think, too. So let’s put it to the test!