Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jonah 2-3 When Man Repents, God Relents


Jonah 2:7-3:10 "When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  But I, with a song of thanksgiving,will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord." And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time:  "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city — a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." 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.

When in the belly of the fish (some suggest it was a whale), Jonah understood the true meaning of grace: "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (2:8). Grace is not the absence of judgment but the presence of mercy.

What Jonah is saying here is that if we don't repent from our worthless idols, we will not experience grace. But if we repent, we will experience His mercy, which is a consequence of God's grace. So the Apostle James concurs: "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (James 2:12-13). The law was the basis of divine judgment but its purpose was to produce repentance that causes us to cry out to God for mercy. So, when Jonah himself repented from his disobedience, God in his mercy caused the fish to vomit him out onto dry land. 

Now that Jonah had experienced the mercy that flows out of God's grace, he was ready to go to Nineveh to preach God's message to that city: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned" (3:4). The Ninevites responded to this message of judgment in three ways:
  1. Faith ("The Ninevites believed God"): Faith is always the starting point to receive God's mercy and salvation flowing out of His grace: "For by grace are you saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8). According to Hebrews 11:6, faith means to "believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." Even though Nineveh had their own gods, they turned to the God of Jonah, who is the God of all Creation.
  2. Repentance ("They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth."): They did not just believe, because true faith always leads to repentance from false idols and the sinful lifestyle. 
  3. Humility ("When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust"): The mark of true repentance is humility. The king epitomizes this attitude by getting off his throne and taking of his royal robes in order to humble himself before the true King of kings. 
Because the king and people responded in faith, repentance and humility, the city was spared, and God relented from his intended judgement: "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" (3:10). When God threatens judgment, it is not to destroy but to give the people a chance to turn from their wickedness in faith, repentance and humility. When these three things are present, God will respond in compassion and mercy, for that has always been how God's grace is manifested towards sin and sinners.

Father, thank You that through Jesus Christ, You have demonstrated that while grace is free for us, it is costly for You. Therefore, help us never to take Your grace for granted but to always walk by faith, repentance and humility before You. Amen.

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