We noted in our last post that God, in mercy, ran after Jonah when Jonah was fleeing from God’s command. God overtook him, saved him from drowning and restored his soul. The same Jonah who was running away from the presence of the Lord was now a man who was earnestly seeking God’s face.
God’s mercy continued to Jonah in sending him again to Nineveh, “And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee” (Jonah 3:1-2). The second time! God was willing to still use Jonah in His service, even after Jonah’s failure. Jonah certainly hadn’t earned this privilege, but God’s grace still called upon Him to take His message to Nineveh. Christian friend, have there been moments where God has come to you “the second time” (or 3rd, 4th, and 5th) to call you again to obedience? Maybe through a sermon, God has reminded you of some area of your life where you have not been faithful. Perhaps, through some adversity you have been convicted to grow as a parent or witness for Christ or to go seek someone’s forgiveness. From this passage in Jonah, many have referred to God as “the God of second chances.” Amen! But the Christian’s experience is also that He is “the God of the 400th” chance as well! This is not to abuse God’s longsuffering and grace, but to call us to admire and be thankful for His abundant mercy towards His children. This great mercy should inspire us to quick obedience.
Be encouraged that if God can use an imperfect prophet like Jonah, He can use imperfect people like you and me. It is imperative that we seek to be “usable” in God’s service through manifesting a humble, obedient, trusting heart. But we must also remember, the power is not ultimately in the instrument God uses; it is God’s power behind and thru the instrument that makes it effective.
We alluded to it last time, but it is appropriate to note again God’s mercy towards Nineveh. This third chapter notes that when Jonah came and preached God’s message, that they believed God (Jonah 3:5). They fasted and put on sackcloth as an outward sign of mourning for their sins. The king of Nineveh even got up from his throne, exchanged his royal clothing for mourning clothes, and called on the people to turn from violence and evil and to cry mightily to God (Jonah 3:6-9). The last verse of chapter 3 tells us God relented from His threatened judgment. He had mercy! Their repentance didn’t put an obligation on God to show mercy. It wasn’t as if their repentance atoned for their many, many violations of God’s holy law. Only Christ’s one perfect sacrifice atoned for sins, whether they be Ninevite sins or Hebrew sins. But, God was pleased to honor their repentance with mercy. As Jonah knew, the Lord is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness (Jonah 4:2).
God’s mercy towards Nineveh is not an afterthought or a footnote of this book; rather, it is a significant part of the main plot. All along, God purposed to give undeserved kindness to this great city. This was the reason behind the commissioning of Jonah in the first place. It seems that God sending Jonah to Nineveh is a precursor to Christ sending out His disciples to preach the gospel all over the world. You see, God’s plan was never to confine His light and truth to a small geographical area called Israel. His love is great; His grace is large. Jonah was rebellious about going to Nineveh. Peter was reluctant about dealing with Gentiles (Acts 10). God’s grace overcame both of them and used them to spread His word. From the Book of Acts and throughout history since then, we joyfully see how God has sent forth the gospel of the forgiveness of sins all over the world. He has gathered in His elect people under the umbrella of the gospel of Christ. He has used Jonahs, Peters, famous pastors and unknown preachers, faithful parents, former drug addicts, godly factory workers and many more. Through fervent prayer, financial giving, seeking to make relationships in our neighborhoods or other social circles, and being attentive to people around us, may God be pleased to use us in this great ongoing work. All for His glory alone!
In closing, it is heartening to learn that God’s mercy is a great encouragement to repentance. Rather than rejecting genuinely contrite sinners, God smiles to receive them. Yes, His mercy will prune and purge our impurities, but it is from a heart large with love and grace. Is God still willing to show mercy and give repentance to sinners today? Will God receive you when you seek His forgiveness, even for the 100th time? Rejoice in David’s words, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” (Psalm 86:5).