Jonah’s Journey to Nineveh:
Making the Most of A Second Chance
Jonah stands on the shore, covered with fish vomit, thankful to be alive. He has a second opportunity, a second chance at life – to be the prophet he is called to be. When we are presented with a second chance in life we all know it. We know when life goes sideways, and when we find ourselves back on track. Second chances often come with a new set of eyes – you see the world differently. Jonah was glad to have air to breath, food to eat, clean clothes, warmth of a fire.
There are some things that keep us from seizing the opportunity when it presents itself:
- Not Doing Anything with the New Opportunity: Fear of what happened before. Fear of making the same mistakes.
- Not Seeing the Value of the New Opportunity: Presupposing There is a Third Chance, I can do whatever got me off the rails last time, because God will just give me another chance.
- Not Willing to Grow as a Person, being Fixed in our Understanding of the World: The new chance is an opportunity for you to grow as a person, but you just don’t see it that way. Jonah falls into this category, he is a prophet, but even after being swallowed by a giant fish, living inside it for three days, and being thrown up on dry land, his heart is hardened.
Prayer – Lord as we emerge from a global pandemic, help us to see this as a new day, a new opportunity to be the person you have called us be. To be the church that turns Bellevue and Nashville upside down with the gospel. Lord help us to see ourselves in the story of Jonah, and to see what you desire to change or cheer on in our lives.
Jonah’s Second Chance (v. 1-4)
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.
Cancel culture and our society is not a culture of second chances. Our culture today is constantly looking for opportunities to take people down. If you say or tweet something, that society, or even small fragments of society disagrees with then you can lose your job. There are instances where someone boards a plane, tweets out a careless of not thought through tweet and by the time they plane land they have been fired.
Our society has no room for thoughts and ideas that may run differently than them. Even if those ideas were said decades before. There is no dialogue or thoughtful discussion, only you are wrong and have to be punished because of your ideas and feelings.
This time when Jonah has a second chance to do what God told him to do, he seized the opportunity, obeyed the Lord, and “arose” to go to Nineveh.
Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Nineveh is described again as an “exceedingly great city” – We see the description of Nineveh several times, and all these descriptions points out that there would have been thousands upon thousands of people in the city who were not following the Lord.
We see “forty days” used throughout the Bible. It designates the length of the flood (Gen. 7:4, 12, 17), the time Moses was on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:18; 34:28; Duet. 9:9, 11, 18, 25), the time for the mission of the spies (Num. 13:25; cf. 14:34), the duration of Goliath’s taunting (1 Sam. 17:16), the time of Elijah’s journey to Horeb/Sinai (1Kings 19:8) as well as the time of Jesus’ fasting (Matt. 4:2, Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2).
But why give a forty-day heads ups that they were going to be destroyed? Couldn’t people just leave the city on day 39? If God’s ultimate plan was to destroy the city, why even send a prophet – just fire and brimstone from the sky and be done with it.
“Nineveh shall be overthrown”— The word “overthrown” is the same word used in connection with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:21,25, 29) because of their depravity, the cities would be destroyed by an act of God and left as a pile of smoking rubble (Genesis 19:28). This word overthrow is used several times in relation to cities being destroyed (Duet. 29:23; Isa. 13:19; Jer. 20:16; 49:18; 50:40; Lam. 4:6; Amos 4:11).
Jonah’s sermon is five words long in Hebrew. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He is to tell the Ninevite people the message that the Lord was to give him.
Nineveh’s Second Chance (vv. 5-9)
5 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. 6 The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 8 but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
There are no other stories in Scripture where an entire city of non-believing pagans because of God’s Word repent and believe God – this was an unprecedented response to an unprecedented command. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
Remember one of the reasons I suggested for Jonah running in the opposite direction to begin with is no other prophet had been commanded to preach to foreign kings in person. That was unprecedented.
When the sailors and the caption encountered the storm, they believed in the one true God. When Jonah was disciplined by God and swallowed for three days, he repented to the one true God. And now the great city of Nineveh believes in God, – from five words.
We should never underestimate the power of God’s Word and his calling upon our lives.
“And the people of Nineveh believed God” – There are many people who pronounce a belief in God. Do you believe that God exists? They may say, yes I believe in God. The people of Nineveh believed God – meaning they believe God would do what he said He would do according to His Word (destroy them).
When the prophet Jeremiah preached a similar message to God’s own people in Jeremiah 26:8,11 they want to kill him, “And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! . . . 11 Then the priests and the prophets said to the officials and to all the people, “This man deserves the sentence of death, because he has prophesied against this city, as you have heard with your own ears.” The fact that everyone in an entire city of 120,000 people in Nineveh believed God’s Word is a miracle.
How do we know they believed? They called for a fast, put on sack cloth, sat around praying in ashes, issue proclamations, and everyone called out to God. Their belief led to action. The Ninevites believed inwardly, and their belief expressed itself outwardly.
There are those followers of God who say they believe but do nothing for the Lord, and their lives have no outward expression of that faith. The Bible refers to these actions that result from a genuine belief in God as “fruit.”
Galatians 5:22-23 “. . . the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;”
This is perhaps the largest revival in the history of mankind up to this point – and it was not even God’s people.
We typically describe a revival as a gathering of believers, we bring in a preacher, meeting more than we usually do (Sunday-Thursday), food is mixed in there, with the goal of church people’s heart to be refocused or recommitted toward Christ.
But biblical revival is where God’s people, obey and do what God commands them to do (even if it seems different or unprecedented), and lost people come to believe in Christ in great numbers.
Bellevue, our country needs revival, our community needs revival, our church needs revival. It begins (in His mercy) when we cry out to God, seeking His face, and follow Him in obedience.
Who Knows What the God of Second Chances Will Do? (v. 10)
The king of Nineveh says, “who knows?” We see this same phrase, when David and Bathsheba were praying for their sick child (2 Samuel 12:22). Eventually the child died, but while it was alive, David didn’t eat or drink, and spent his time fasting and praying for the child.
2 Samuel 12:22 “He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knowswhether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”
There is another instance of this phrase “who knows,” in Joel 2:12-12, “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?”
The God of the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is a God of mercy and grace and wrath and judgement. But even if we humble ourselves before the Lord, fast, pray, put on sackcloth, sit around in ashes, God is not obligated or forced into any action. We should never presuppose or try to force God to do anything.
James 4:13 “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
If we pray, it is God who determines to answer in such a way as He desires (or not at all).
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
An entire city of lost people, repented of their sin, cried out to God, and sought His mercy and grace. In Jonah 4:11 “there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left.” They need a teacher, a preacher, someone to explain the ways of God, to show them the way.
Romans 10:13-15 “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
The people of Nineveh are saved, but they don’t have the entirety of God’s Word, they are described as not knowing their left hand from their right – they need someone to show them God’s ways. What if the place you least want to go, is the place where you are needed the most?
The problem of the church praying, is that the church is blown away when God actually answers the prayer. Are we ready when God’s answers the prayer?
The revival did not last very long, I wonder if it was because the man who could have taught them, still hated them, his heart toward the Assyrians was unchanged, even after being in the giant fish.
If God can use a hateful rebellious prophet to save 120,000 people – what is God will use Bellevue Baptist Church to reach 1.2 million with the gospel? If Jonah did it with five words –
 James Limburg, The Old Testament Library, Jonah (Westminter/John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky, 1993) 79.
 Billy Smith & Frank Page, The New American Commentary, Jonah (Broadman & Holmes Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1995) 261.
 Limburg, 83.
 This passage is used to explain the Baptist theology of “age of accountability”
 Another example, Jeremiah 18.