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Jonah's Mission

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Introduction

“Arise, go”

No time is to be wasted in obeying the commandment of God. The seriousness of Jonah’s previous sin should be enough to spur him to immediate action. A reluctance to obey God can be just as dangerous as outright disobedience, and bring the discipline of a wise God.
And yet there is a real sense of the patience of God here. The word for word repetition of the earlier command reminds us that this is not the first time the King of glory required this of his lowly servant, and the first time he did not obey. God has shown himself to be a patience and kind master, although not a lax or careless one. The takeaway from the mercy God shows Jonah here is both a healthy fear that should push us to quick obedience, and praise for the great patience God shows us. There is no room for presumption when it comes to the mercy of God, for he is not obligated to show it and may withhold it at any time.
These words echo for us the words of Christ after his resurrection and before his ascension. Words familiar to us, and yet also convicting if we have been unfaithful or even lazy and uncaring about the work Christ has given us to do.
Matthew 28:18–19 ESV
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
The fact that Jesus had been formally given this authority by the Father prompts him to make a similar request of his disciples.
This request is of a much greater nature. While Jonah was called to one city in Assyria, Jesus calls his followers to go to all the world, every nation without exception, and preach his Gospel.
The promise attached to this command is much greater. Rather than being motivated by the prospect of a watery grave, Christians today have the freedom to be motivated by the great comfort that Christ is with us always, for he is indeed Immanuel. Perfect love casts out fear, not that healthy fear of God who is still the same God as the one that threw Jonah’s ship into a storm, but the fear of judgement for those who are in Christ. If we abide in Christ, there will be no greater motivation for our obedience to the Great Commission than the fact that he promises us his presence if we are about his business.

The “Great” city

Twice in the text we see Nineveh described as a great city, the second time it is an exceedingly great city. What is the purpose of emphasizing the size or greatness of this city?
Interestingly, the literal reading of the Hebrew in the second instance reads “Nineveh was a great, or important, city to God.” While most translations take this to simply mean that the city was one of the greatest cities, however in light of the context taking this more literally makes sense. God does care greatly about this city. We know this from later in the text where God shows mercy on the city and argues the point with Jonah,
Jonah 4:11 ESV
And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
This reveals something very special about the nature and heart of God. This city represented the enemies of Israel. They persecuted and killed God’s chosen people. They were pagans who were drunk with power and yet they are important to God. Specifically, their souls are important to God.
Isaiah 19:23–25 ESV
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”
Here God makes it clear that his plan for Israel was to be a blessing to them, that is, a people that would bless the nations around them with the witness of God. The idea was that those nations would repent and they would all worship together. Egypt and Assyria would know that the LORD is God and come to worship him. This is even seen during the time of Moses in
Exodus 7:5 (ESV)
5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”
God wants them to know he is the true God so that they would worship him. Paul reasons this to the Jews in the Roman church
Romans 3:29 (ESV)
29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also,
God’s purpose, although manifested differently in the church age than it was in the OT era, is the same. God desires to reunite his image bearers of all peoples, ethnicities, and kingdoms to himself. The actions of Jonah mirror that general attitude Israel had had for hundreds of years towards this plan.
This wording shows us that God loved the Assyrians. He wanted them to repent. And part of the purpose of this book is to challenge us as to whether we are on the same page as God on this.

The Message

Now let us get to the message itself and its content. In Hebrew there is a slightly different preposition used in verse 2 to describe the action Jonah is meant to take when he goes to Nineveh. While the command in chapter 1 was to call out against Nineveh, the correct translations in our text would read “call out to Nineveh.” This hints to us God’s true intentions behind the command. Even though he worded it in a hostile way to Jonah at first, there is no mistaking God’s true desire here.

Confrontation

Nevertheless, confrontation is obviously an important part of the message. God wasn’t lying the first time when he said he wanted him to preach against them. People of the world, especially in our world today, have a hard time understanding that God may desire the salvation of someone and yet still find it necessary to preach against them.
First, this is because they have no realistic knowledge of the doom that awaits them and the urgent need for repentance. The Ninevites saw no reason to repent until the preaching of Jonah, but then they turned to urgent repentance so that even the king was in sackcloth and ashes, a sign of the humility of his heart. Those who do not see the need for God to preach against them don’t know just how bad their situation is, which is exactly what they need that preaching for. To hear that the city would be destroyed in 40 days is certainly a dreadful warning, but what about an eternity in the lake of fire? If someone does not respond to that in the fashion that the Ninevites did, the messenger is not the one that is crazy, and it’s not the loving God who’s acting inappropriately. It’s them.
Second, because the only way they may have security and salvation from their impending doom is if their sins are confronted and repented of. Just like you cannot help an addict or alcoholic without dealing with their substance abuse, God cannot help a sinner without dealing with their sin. Their sin in an affront to his kingship, it is a rebellion that poisons their soul, their society, and their city. God will not suffer it to remain as it is for very much longer, which he why he graciously gives them such a warning. The inclusion of sin, hell, judgement, and the holiness of God in our message to the world is not mainly to show them God’s wrath, but through God’s wrath to show them his mercy. A lion does not roar at its prey, it roars to give warning to an enemy so that they will stand down before they find themselves in the beast’s jaw.

“..that I tell you”

But this message is specific. Jonah has no authority to go to the Ninevites with his own words or opinions. He is meant to go as a representative of God to be the very mouth of God. He is under the authority of God to be his instrument accomplishing the good he wants to do. In this case, Jonah rightly perceives that this good is the conversion of the city. Jonah’s sin was at its root a resistance towards God’s plan.
Today the dangerous temptation to resist God’s means and ends for missions can still affect us and cause us to wander out of the presence of God. When we refuse to stand for godly morality, are silent about the issues Scripture speaks directly to, or are unclear about the Gospel in an attempt to make it less offensive, we are actually being rebellious towards God. A messenger has no authority to tamper with the message, only to deliver it.
We can also be guilty of over-preaching the wrath of God at the expense of his mercy and the Gospel. Often this leaves the unbeliever with an impression of works righteousness being necessary rather than the mercy God provides. Although Jonah’s message is a bit off here, God is quick to show him his care for the people of Nineveh. When we reach the world, we must have the heart God has when he sends us. It is a heart of mercy, love, and a longing to see the sinner leave their rebellion and come humbly to him. Any evangelism or ministry that is not done with this heart is no ministry at all.

A Spark of Hope

Conclusion

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