In chapter 1 of the book of Jonah, GOD SAYS “GO” but JONAH SAYS “NO.” In chapter 2, GOD APPLIES THE PRESSURE as only He can until JONAH CRIES “UNCLE.” But let’s turn our attention to chapter 3 where GOD HAS TO CALL ON JONAH A SECOND TIME TO COMPEL HIM TO GO.
AS SOON AS JONAH HIT DRY LAND, HE REPENTED OF HIS REPENTANCE!
NINEVEH: THE GREAT CITY, GOD CALLED IT.
For a long time Nineveh held the title as the largest city in the world. The palace alone measured 1,310,000 square feet with 80 rooms. That’s much bigger than the 828,820 square feet of England’s Buckingham Palace! The city required a three-day journey — not to get TO it, but to get THROUGH it!!
And so the world’s most reluctant preacher walks through the gates of the largest city on earth and begins preaching. Imagine him muttering, “In 40 days, God is going to destroy Nineveh.” The biggest miracle in the book of Jonah is not the fish — it’s one of human nature. Verse 5 tells us that THE NINEVITES BELIEVED GOD!
Interestingly, Scripture does NOT say that they believed JONAH. When Jonah spoke, something about him and his message convinced them that GOD HIMSELF had actually spoken. SOMETHING swept through the mighty city of Nineveh causing a repentance wave. SOMEONE gripped their hearts with such force that they took off their big-city robes and put on the rough and scratchy sackcloth that signified great distress.
Even the KING repented (verse 6). While sitting in the dust, the king proclaimed, “By order of the king: No one is to eat or drink ANYTHING … No person, young or old, no animal in their stalls, no sheep in their pens … every single person and animal must be COVERED IN SACKCLOTH!”
And what were they supposed to do exactly? Call URGENTLY on God (verse 8) and give up their evil ways and their VIOLENCE!
NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD HAS ANOTHER REVIVAL LIKE THIS BEEN RECORDED. Every single person stopped eating and started fasting, traded their dignified clothes for burlap, and began to cry out URGENTLY to God, REJECTING the evil and violent things they had been doing.
When the most reluctant, rebellious prophet in the Bible obeyed God under compulsion, the POWER of GOD brought Nineveh to its knees.
GOD LOVES HIS ENEMIES!! HE LOVES TO SHOW THEM MERCY!!
As Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out dying words that bared the deepest longing of His soul when He said, “Father! Forgive them! They don’t KNOW what they’re doing!” Jesus, God in visible form, LOVED HIS ENEMIES — EVEN ON THE CROSS!!
Jonah? Not so much.
Sure, after sitting three days in the gastric acid of a great fish, at depths that would have had his ears about exploding (he described it as sinking down to the roots of the mountains), Jonah reluctantly agreed to obey God. No Nobel Prize for that one!
Can you see him staggering out of the water and up the beach, seaweed still wrapped around his head, and skin bleached to a TERRIFYING whiteness from soaking in those gastric juices? He would have scared the brains out of whoever happened to see him!
Then our God of second chances said to him, “Jonah, you ARE to go to Nineveh and tell them EXACTLY what I tell you!” So … Jonah went. AND AN ENTIRE NATIONAL CAPITAL CITY REPENTED WITHIN A THREE-DAY SPAN.
So what can WE learn from this strange history?
WE CAN LEARN TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES
- HATRED CLOUDS YOUR THINKING.
The Ninevites tortured and killed those they conquered; and they planned to conquer Israel! So you would think that getting them to REPENT and CHANGE their plans would be a GOOD thing, right?
It should have been a win/win for Jonah. If they REPENTED, he would be a national hero because he stopped the Assyrians from wiping out the Jews. But if they DIDN’T repent, he would be a national hero because when he prophesied destruction, the whole enemy nation would be fried.
WIN/WIN, RIGHT? Why wouldn’t Jonah LEAP at the chance to get this assignment? HATRED CLOUDS YOUR THINKING. Jonah had NO interest in seeing his enemies repent.
- HATRED DOESN’T WORK.
You can’t make enemies into friends by hating them hard enough. HATING HATERS only STRENGTHENS their hatred, and that doesn’t solve ANYTHING!
A friend of mine tried to put out a small fire in his warehouse by pouring a jar of water on it, but UNBEKNOWNST TO HIM, the jar was full of gasoline. THAT’S what it’s like to try to extinguish hate by pouring hatred on it. HOW COULD THAT EVER TURN OUT WELL?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
- HATING GOD’S ENEMIES IS NOT ENDORSED BY GOD!
King David, of all people, GOT THIS ONE WRONG! He loved God, but he HATED anyone who hated God!! In Psalm 139:21-22 David said, “O LORD, how I hate those who hate you! How I despise those who rebel against you! I hate them with a total hatred; I regard them as my enemies.”
David was able to RESTRAIN his enemies during his lifetime, but he didn’t bring about PEACE, only a cease-fire. That’s why the Lord refused to let David build the temple. God said to David, “You’ve killed too many people, fought too many wars. You are not the one to honor Me by building a sanctuary.” You can’t kill God’s enemies and then build a temple that’s supposed to be a house of prayer for ALL nations.
Jesus said, “LOVE your enemies, and DO GOOD to those who despise you and use you.”
Hatred RESTRAINS, but love RETRAINS! Love changes people! For example:
- You are not being disloyal to God if you love your grandson who has turned away from God. God WANTS you to!
- You do not have to disown your pregnant unwed daughter to show God whose side you are on. God WANTS you to love her. HE LOVES HER! THIS ISN’T A LOYALTY TEST!
- GOD IS AT WORK TO RECONCILE HIS ENEMIES TO HIMSELF, so you should be, too.
Interesting detail: The Assyrians’ creation story purported that the universe began with the Sea creating all mankind and that a FISH-MAN named Yoannach came up out of the sea at the dawn of creation to tell them (the Assyrians) how to live their lives. THEY ALL BELIEVED THAT!!
PLOT TWIST!! Jonah in Hebrew is pronounced “Yonah.” ARE YOU WITH ME? A strange-looking man named Yonah appeared in the city of Nineveh with the story that he had been spit out of the mouth of a great fish and that God said in 40 days their lives would end because they were being so violent and evil.
If they thought Jonah was THAT guy come back to warn them that their lives were almost over, it COULD EXPLAIN why they FREAKED OUT and put away their bloodthirsty and violent ways. (I think that’s why God used this ornery guy named Yonah — instead of just using someone else.)
God’s plan to rescue Nineveh was executed down to the tiniest detail so that the people of Nineveh would GIVE THE MESSAGE A HEARING … and not have to die!
God loves His enemies!!
Verse 10: When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and DID NOT BRING UPON THEM the DESTRUCTION He had threatened.
TO FOLLOW JESUS, YOU MUST LOVE YOUR ENEMIES.
JESUS CONQUERED ENEMIES BY LOVING THEM INTO BECOMING HIS FRIENDS.
Peter watched Jesus do this during three years of intense discipleship. Fortunately Peter paid attention, because there came a day when the Lord called to Peter in a vision on the roof of a house in Joppa and told him, “I have an assignment for you: I want you to travel into Gentile territory and tell them the message that I will give you.” These Gentiles were 100% NON-Jewish — just like the Ninevites had been!
IT WAS LIKE A REENACTMENT OF JONAH!!
A few years ago when I was right there, sitting on the second floor of a coffee shop in the Tel Aviv area of Israel, looking out the windows at a storm rolling in on the Port of Jaffa (which used to be called Joppa), the Holy Spirit brought into focus for me that it was from THAT VERY SPOT that Jonah EVADED God’s call to go to the non-Jews, and Peter OBEYED God’s call to go to non-Jewish people!!
Jesus told Peter (IN EFFECT), “It’s time to shift your perspective from seeing Gentiles as enemies to seeing them as part of the family — part of the family that hasn’t met Me yet — but I LOVE THEM. I died for them, too! I want you to go now and meet an Italian man named Cornelius.”
How about you? Has HATRED CLOUDED YOUR THINKING so much that you can’t see things the way God sees them? If so, in the name of Jesus, it is time to let that hatred go.
Or maybe you’ve been trying to prove loyalty to Jesus by LOOKING DOWN ON PEOPLE WHO TRY TO THWART HIS CAUSE. But His hope and desire is for you to EMBRACE THEM as He has embraced YOU — to cross the BORDERS and the BARRIERS to enter their neighborhoods and their lives to love them.
In the name of Jesus, it is time to let hatred go and learn to love HIS enemies. He is waiting to help you.