“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” - Jonah 3:1-5
Jonah is probably one of the most famous prophets in the Bible. From running away from God because he’s called to preach to his enemies to being swallowed by a great fish for his disobedience, Jonah’s story is action-packed, relatable, and fascinating.
Our passage today comes directly after Jonah has been vomited out by the fish that swallowed him. He has repented for running away from God’s call after a dark and difficult three-day lesson in obedience. This is, in a way, Jonah’s second chance at obedience.
There are two things that stand out to me most. The first is that God could have allowed Jonah to die in the belly of the fish and chosen someone else to complete the task he’d assigned to Jonah. But God chooses Jonah. Why? Why would the God who can tell a giant fish when to swallow and spit a person up continue to bother with a man who only obeyed after being thrown overboard a ship and suffering inside the dark, acidic belly of a fish?
The second thing that stands out to me is that God never told Jonah to preach grace or mercy or even love to the people of Nineveh. If you go back over his initial instructions in chapter 1, it matches what Jonah says here: Nineveh shall be overthrown. If all God wanted Jonah to preach to his enemies was judgment, why didn’t Jonah jump at the chance to do that? Was it fear of being attacked for his words? Who wouldn’t want the chance to preach God’s judgment to the people they fear and despise most in this world?
The answer to why God bothered with Jonah and why Jonah didn’t want to preach to his enemies is the same: God is a kind and gracious God, full of compassion and mercy. God didn’t give up on Jonah because he loved him and used Nineveh’s judgment to work in Jonah’s heart. Jonah didn’t want to preach to Nineveh because he knew God’s proclamation of judgment could bring them to repentance, which would lead to God’s loving mercy on their lives. That was the last outcome Jonah wanted.
Consider how you might be like Jonah and who your Nineveh is that you don’t want to repent. Do you resent God showing mercy to some sinners? Take these feelings to the Lord in prayer.