Jonah Chapter 3 Bible Study Lesson: The greatest of revivals

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Jonah Chapter 3 Lesson: The greatest of all revivals

by I Gordon


When we left Jonah at the end of chapter two he had just been vomited back onto the land. I hate it when that happens. Not sure about you but, smelling as he probably did, I have a feeling that it wouldn't have taken him long to go run and jump into the sea again! Now I did a wee 8 verse poem in the last study to summarise the previous chapter so it would wrong of me to start this one in any other way. This one will take in the events of the last chapter as well as a preview of the one before us today.

With Jonah swallowed, now nowhere in sight, his future is bleak, not looking so bright
Yet still in faith he lifts up his voice, and in God his Saviour, he does rejoice.
And like a spud, shot straight from the gun, he's restored to life, back under the sun
So obeying the Lord, he goes off to preach, a prophet he is, though smelly and bleached
And after long travel and not looking so flash, Nineveh repents... In sackcloth and ash!

Ok, let me pre-empt the emails by saying that I won't give up the day job! This chapter and bible study lesson then is about the restored Jonah following God's original plan for his life and preaching to those in Nineveh. And what a response he will see. Let's have a look.

The God of second chances... and third... and...

Jonah 3:1-2 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: (2) Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.

God is a God of second chances... and the third for that matter. Here we see the graciousness and patience of God who not only restores His prophet back from the place of death and onto dry land, but also re-commissions him with the original plan for His life. It's like God looks past the whole episode of Jonah running away and just brings to him back to the place where they left off when Jonah was last walking in faith. What an awesome merciful God we serve! Without wanting to justify our times of failure, unbelief and straight out disobedience, I am thankful nonetheless that our God knows what we are made of, that we are fallen, and maintains His faithfulness even in the face of our ever abundant weakness and at times shaky commitment.

There are numerous cases in the Bible where God has proven Himself to be the God of second chances. Can you think of any characters who would testify to God's faithfulness in this way? You'll find that many of the 'big names' of the Bible would testify to this. I'll let you think for a while and add a few names in the footnote.  [1]  Now what do you think would have happened if Jonah had run away again? Well, he would have had to face the consequences of his own choice and act as he did the first time. But he also would have found that God is the God of the third chance as soon as he turned his heart again to the Lord.  [2] 

I also wanted to point what God says in the 're-commissioning' of Jonah in verse 2. God doesn't say very much does He! He doesn't lay the whole plan out. He doesn't say 'Now Jonah, this is going to be amazing! I've peeped into the future and you'll go there, march through the city saying that I'm going to destroy it all in 40 days and they will actually repent! From the King down to the lowest servant... it will be amazing!' No, God doesn't tell Jonah how things will turn out even though He knows. Why is that? Why doesn't God say very much? The answer is that He wants us to walk by faith one day and step at a time, trusting Him for each new circumstance that comes our way. All He was interested in at this point in time is in the obedience of His servant Jonah to do that which He had asked of him. The rest would take care of itself. God deals with us in the same way.

Rise and Obey...

Jonah 3:3-4 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city--a visit required three days. (4) On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned."

This time there is no argument from Jonah to the command of God. There is no dilly-dally, no thinking it through or weighing up the options. There is just simple obedience this time. Why the change do you think? There is no doubt that Jonah would have been grateful for God's mercy that had just been shown to him. He also would have been amazed at God's power. The Bible says that 'Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power' (Psalm 110:3). Jonah probably reckoned that if God can save him after being in the fish for three days and nights then God could save him from an angry Assyrian reception! At the end of the day, God is simply after people who will listen, rise and obey. What is God asking of you?

So Jonah arrived in Nineveh with a short but sharp message: 'Forty  [3]  more days and Nineveh will be overturned.' There is certainly simplicity in the message. No one in Nineveh could say that they don't really understand what Jonah means! What do you think would happen if someone starting doing this today? '40 days and New York will be destroyed!' You would probably get locked up... The message of any type of judgement is not popular today! 'God is a God of love - He won't judge us. He loves us!' Well, it is true that in this age of grace God isn't destroying cities in His wrath. However, He does give people over to their own ways and sin, Romans chapter 1 tells us about the wrath of abandonment and that He has set aside a day when He will directly judge and overthrow the cities of this world.

One remarkable turnaround!

Jonah 3:5-8 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (6) 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. (7) 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. (8) 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.

This was one remarkable turnaround! It may be that Jonah was able to help them see their need of repentance because he had just seen his need. When we speak to people we are not preaching at them as if we are up here and they are down there. We are telling them what they need to do based on what we have already seen our need to do.

In terms of the repentance recorded here, there is nothing else like it in the Bible (that I can think of anyway.) The entire Assyrian nation who, as recorded in the notes of chapter 1 were known for their absolutely wicked acts, turn to God through the preaching of one man. Repentance was found in the king right down to the least of them. The king himself put on sackcloth  [4]  , repented and led his country in doing the same! Can you imagine the leader of your country doing this?  [5]  The repentance of this nation was seen in the following actions:

Evidence of Nineveh's Repentance

1) Fast
2) Cover themselves in sackcloth
3) Call on God in prayer
4) Turn from their wicked ways

This is true repentance. It begins with hearing the word of God and results in a turning to God and a turning away from the evil previously done. This is revival! When we compare this with what sometimes passes as repentance and revival in the West today (with plenty of fleshly stupidity) we can see how far short we fall.

But revival came to Nineveh. This has got to be a God empowered sovereign act to turn their hearts though the sight of Jonah (whose skin and hair was likely to have been bleached white) and the amazing story of his journey would have helped validate his message!  [6]  In looking for comparisons, the closest would be in that which is still to come. We do know that sovereign acts of His grace will be poured out on several of these same countries at the end of the age. This includes Israel, Egypt and Assyria as prophesied by Isaiah:

Isaiah 19:19-25 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. (20) It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. (21) So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD... In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. (24) In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. (25) The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."

The two repentance's

Jonah 3:9-10 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." (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.

The thinking of those in Nineveh was that maybe, just maybe, their repentance would lead to God's repentance in destroying them. And they are right! God doesn't delight in the judgement or death of the wicked. He will always repent if the people will. He wants none to perish. If any will turn, He will turn and be merciful. He is calling out all the time, drawing people back to Himself. He is willing and able to turn from that which He has announced if the actions of people warrant it.

Jeremiah 18:6-10 "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. (7) "At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; (8) if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. (9) "Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; (10) if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.


So a whole city turns to God in repentance after seeing Jonah and hearing the message. They put on sackcloth and cry out to God, ashamed of their ways. Will this happen again? Will a nation look on the real Jonah, one back from the dead, and believe and turn to Him? Yes! We know the remnant of Israel will and we await that day. They will look on the one they have pierced with great mourning and repentance and, as Paul tells us, 'all Israel with be saved'. (Rom 11:26) As mentioned, there is also salvation promised for other nations in the Bible. The worst and best of days are still before us!

[1] ↩  Abraham knew about God's faithfulness even after trying to take the matter of having a promised son into his own hands with Hagar. Moses thought he had blown it forever and went to live out his days as a shepherd in Midian. Yet God still had a plan for him! Samson had blown it many times yet even in death still found God faithful to restore his strength one last time. And we could easily speak of David, Peter or the woman caught in adultery. All these people found God to be the God of the second chance.

[2] ↩  I've been enjoying the album 'Live' by All Sons and Daughters lately. The first song on the Album called 'Brokenness Aside' speaks of this thought of God's grace and faithfulness in the face of man's sinfulness. The song starts with;

 Will your grace run out if I let you down? 'Cause all I know is how to run
'Cause I am a sinner, if it's not one thing it's another, Caught up in words, Tangled in lies
But You are a Saviour and You take brokenness aside And make it beautiful... Beautiful

[3] ↩  The number forty is interesting in scripture. Can you think of any times this pops up? Do you know what it stands for? It is generally understood to be about the time of testing and trials. Nineveh would be tested for 40 days. Then, should they not repent, comes judgment. Have a look at some of the many other examples of 40 in the Bible:

In the days of Noah's flood, the rains fell for 40 days and nights (Genesis 7:4). Israel was in the wilderness and ate Manna for 40 years (Exodus 16:35, Numbers 14:33-34). Moses was with God in the mount, 40 days and nights (Exodus 24:18). The Israelite spies searched the land of Canaan for 40 days (Numbers 13:25). 40 stripes was the maximum whipping penalty (Deuteronomy 25:3). Goliath presented himself to Israel for 40 days (1 Samuel 17:16). Saul reigned for 40 years (Acts 13:21). David reigned over Israel for 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4, 1 Kings 2:11). Solomon reigned same length as his father; 40 years (1 Kings 11:42). Elijah had one meal that gave him strength 40 days (1 Kings 19:8). Egypt is to be laid desolate for 40 years (Ezekiel 29:11-12). God gave Nineveh 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4). Jesus fasted 40 days and nights (Matthew 4:2). Jesus was tempted 40 days (Luke 4:2, Mark 1:13). Jesus remained on earth 40 days after resurrection (Acts 1:3). Women are pregnant for 40 weeks (time of testing).

[4] ↩  Sackcloth is an interesting one. Tracing its usage and history comes back to Jacob as the first mention. It was used in times of great repentance or great sorrow and mourning.

 Genesis 37:29-35 Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. (30) He returned to his brothers and said, "The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?" (31) So they took Joseph's tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; (32) and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, "We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son's tunic or not." (33) Then he examined it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!" (34) So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. (35) Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son." So his father wept for him. 

[5] ↩  It is possible. I've mentioned this before but look at what Abraham Lincoln said in a speech to proclaim a national fast day in 1863:

 'We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behoves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.' 

[6] ↩  There is an interesting point mentioned about this on the Got Questions website that says;
 'As for Jonah's success in Nineveh, Orientalist Henry Clay Trumbull made a valid point when he wrote, 'What better heralding, as a divinely sent messenger to Nineveh, could Jonah have had, than to be thrown up out of the mouth of a great fish, in the presence of witnesses, say on the coast of Phoenicia, where the fish-god was a favourite object of worship? Such an incident would have inevitably aroused the mercurial nature of Oriental observers, so that a multitude would be ready to follow the seemingly new avatar of the fish-god, proclaiming the story of his uprising from the sea, as he went on his mission to the city where the fish-god had its very centre of worship' (H. Clay Trumbull, 'Jonah in Nineveh.'Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 2, No.1, 1892, p. 56).' 

The historical authenticity is also backed up by the following points from the same site:
 'As for Jonah's aquatic experience (which is the crux of the story), while there is no conclusive historical proof that Jonah was ever swallowed by a fish and lived to tell about it, there is some provocative corroboratory evidence. In the 3rd century B.C., a Babylonian priest/historian named Berosus wrote of a mythical creature named Oannes who, according to Berosus, emerged from the sea to give divine wisdom to men. Scholars generally identify this mysterious fish-man as an avatar of the Babylonian water-god Ea (also known as Enki). The curious thing about Berosus' account is the name that he used: Oannes.

 Berosus wrote in Greek during the Hellenistic Period. Oannes is just a single letter removed from the Greek name Ioannes. Ioannes happens to be one of the two Greek names used interchangeably throughout the Greek New Testament to represent the Hebrew name Yonah (Jonah), which in turn appears to be a moniker for Yohanan (from which we get the English name John). (See John 1:42; 21:15; and Matthew 16:17.) Conversely, both Ioannes and Ionas (the other Greek word for Jonah used in the New Testament) are used interchangeably to represent the Hebrew name Yohanan in the Greek Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Compare 2 Kings 25:23 and 1 Chronicles 3:24 in the Septuagint with the same passages from the Hebrew Old Testament. 

 As for the missing 'I' in Ioannes, according to Professor Trumbull who claims to have confirmed his information with renowned Assyriologist Dr. Herman V. Hilprecht before writing his own article on the subject, 'In the Assyrian inscriptions the J of foreign words becomes I, or disappears altogether; hence Joannes, as the Greek representative of Jona, would appear in Assyrian either as Ioannes or as Oannes' (Trumbull, ibid., p. 58). 

 Nineveh was Assyrian. What this essentially means is that Berosus wrote of a fish-man named Jonah who emerged from the sea to give divine wisdom to man - a remarkable corroboration of the Hebrew account.' 

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