Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning 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. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:1-10 (NIV)
The story of Jonah – whether we take the entire story as literal fact or as an allegory intended to teach us about our purpose, and about God’s grace- is a hopeful story for us. It has a lesson for us about how God views our enemies, too.
Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. The first time God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah got sidetracked and decided to go the opposite way (Jonah 1-2) which didn’t end well for Jonah. Jonah ended up in Nineveh the second time God asked him. Sometimes God has to ask us a few times before we get the hint that we need to go where He leads us, even if we don’t particularly want to go there. Jonah didn’t think the Ninevites deserved saving, but God had other plans for them.
Some people have brought up the question of whether or not God changes His mind. Given that we know three basic qualities of God- that He is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at the same time in all times and places), and omniscient (all knowing), it would be safe to say it is unlikely- though not impossible- that God changes His mind.
Sometimes, like wayward children, we have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the place where our heavenly Father intends for us to be.
Perhaps prayer and supplication and spiritual disciplines- especially the disciplines of confession and repentance, serve to bring us closer to God’s mind and heart? After all, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.”
Perhaps the message here is that God finds a way to get to his people, and to accomplish His purpose through them?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-11 (NIV)
The apostle Paul teaches us that our life and our purpose are gifts of God. We are made by God for God. So are the people that we don’t like so much. God wants our attitude to align with His attitude-which isn’t always such an easy prayer to pray.
How does this particular epiphany influence our attitude regarding the people around us, and our own place and purpose in God’s world?