Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17, NKJV)
A great fish swallowed Jonah. Jesus agreed, saying that Jonah being “three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish” typifies the Son of Man being “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). But, something more than a fish was eating up Jonah. When God first commanded him to go to Nineveh, he tried to flee his God-given work (Jonah 1:2). After three days and nights in the dark belly of the fish he went to sinful Nineveh with the burning light of truth, preaching “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4). But, instead of punishing the evil city, God showed it mercy and spared the city when the people repented (Jonah 3:5-10). This “displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry” (Jonah 4:1). You see, Jonah was eaten up with an unmerciful heart of vengeance. He even seemed to complain to God about the Almighty’s gracious mercy to explain (justify) his ill-conceived flight to Tarshish (Jonah 4:2). Now, he had rather die than see Nineveh live (Jonah 4:3). God showed Jonah mercy time and again (first the fish, then the plant, Jonah 4:5-10). The prophet needed to learn to be merciful as God had shown him (and Nineveh) mercy (Jonah 4:9-11). While we are quick to receive God’s grace and mercy, we must empty our hearts of vengeance toward others who also need mercy. Truly, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7).
“Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; He is utterly cut off.” (Nahum 1:15, NKJV)
Using language similar to an earlier prophet (Isaiah), Nahum announces the joy of Judah upon hearing the news of Nineveh’s overthrow. He pictures a messenger traversing the mountains to bring good news that the wicked enemy had been defeated and would no longer plague them. As the messenger proclaims peace, Judah is called to worship Jehovah free of the enemy’s oppression. Isaiah used these words to declare the coming of the Messiah (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7). In Romans 1:15 the apostle Paul used this figure to describe preaching the gospel. Like Isaiah and Nahum, the gospel contains both the message of salvation in Jesus Christ and the defeat of our enemies. Like the proclamation of Nineveh’s defeat, the gospel of Christ proclaims peace with God because our enemies, sin and death, are defeated (John 12:31-33). It is by preaching this good news that sinners hear, believe and call on the Lord for salvation (Romans 10:13-15; 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 2:36-41). With the oppression of sin removed in Christ, we now serve Him with the joy of salvation (Philippians 4:4-9).
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10, NKJV)
The Protestant Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church fell far short of restoring New Testament Christianity. One such area was its failure to return to the Scriptural (and thus, essential) place of obedience to God to be saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Obedience is an “unprofitable” servant’s faith at work (Luke 17:10). Protestantism opted to demonize every kind of work while codifying salvation by faith only, even though Scripture says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). And, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Nineveh’s salvation from God’s imminent destruction well illustrates the part that a working faith plays in salvation. Why would God consider Nineveh’s “works” at all, if works have nothing to do with God’s gift of salvation (Jonah 3:7-9, 10)? Jesus endorsed their works as proof that “they repented” (Luke 11:32). Even so, we do not earn salvation when we obey God’s command to repent (Acts 17:30). But, without obeying God and repenting of sins, we will not receive His grace that saves our soul. Repentance is a work of faith, a condition we must meet to be saved (Acts 3:19). God has given commands we must obey as conditions to be saved “by grace through faith.” Unless we obey them, we do not trust God. All we have is a dead faith.
7 The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble; And He knows those who trust in Him. 8 But with an overflowing flood He will make an utter end of its place, And darkness will pursue His enemies. (Nahum 1:7-8, NKJV)
The mighty city of Nineveh was no match for Almighty God. The Lord was preparing His judgment, and He does not acquit the wicked (Nahum 1:3). Yet, God knows those who trust Him. He is their protection in the day of trouble. What does it mean to trust the Lord? Solomon sums it up in Proverbs 16:20, “He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.” Trusting God means putting your faith in God’s purposes that are revealed in His word, including His commands, and then heeding (doing) them. Trusting Jesus is much more than saying it, then living as you please. It means to listen to His word and follow it in all things. The old gospel song still rings true, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” He knows whether you are trusting Him today.
The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. (Luke 11:32, NKJV)
God warned Nineveh through the preaching of Jonah, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4) Jesus validates Jonah and his work, as well as the repentance of Nineveh. He said “they repented at the preaching of Jonah”. This incident teaches us what the Son of God regards as genuine repentance. The people of Nineveh “believed God” when they heard God’s word and proclaimed a fast, indicative of contrite hearts over their sins (Jonah 3:5). Their king led them in acts of remorse over their sins, commanding them to “cry mightily to God” and to “let everyone turn from his evil”, thereby appealing to God’s mercy to relent and spare the city (Jonah 3:6-9). “Then God saw their works, that they turned form their evil way; and God relented…” (Jonah 3:10). Repenting of sin is not reporting one’s sin. Repentance is an action of faith, produced by godly sorrow. It is the change of heart that leads one to change his or her life conform to the will of God. The pertinent question is, will you repent at the preaching of the apostles and prophets of Jesus? If you will not repent, wrath is certain (Rom. 2:5). If you will repent, forgiveness is given (Acts 2:38). Will you be condemned by the men of Nineveh in the judgment, or will you stand with them?