Before we observe Jonah 3-4, read Jonah 1-2 in your Bible. Then as you read Jonah 3 below, circle every reference to time and double underline everything that tells you where something happened. Remember to color code key words like we did in the first two chapters of Jonah. Color all references to the Lord God, including the pronouns You and Your, yellow. Color Jonah orange. Draw a cloud around calamity and color it red. Mark all references to prayer, including synonyms like called out and cried.
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.
4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.
7 He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.
8 “But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.
9 “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
Now, analyze what you’ve seen–what do you learn about Jonah? Where is he going? Why? Have you ever wondered why Jonah was so reluctant to go the first time? Nineveh was a great city in Assyria, referred to by Nahum the prophet as the city of blood (Nahum 3:1). Eventually it became the capital of Assyria under Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.).
God had sent Jonah to a perennial enemy of Israel, one of the most powerful and vile, cruel, brutal empires in the world. Is it any wonder that he didn’t want to go?
So how did Jonah feel when the Ninevites from the king down believed in God, put sackcloth on man and beast, fasted and called upon God? Read Jonah 4 below. Mark the text as you’ve done before. Also color code or mark the following: angry, death (or perished,) compassion (or compassionate).
1 But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.
2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
3 “Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”
4 The Lord said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”
5 Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.
6 So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.
7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.
8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”
9 Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.”
10 Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.
11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
Once again, analyze what you’ve observed. What makes Jonah angry? What makes Jonah happy? What do you learn from marking the references to death? Can you relate to Jonah? Have you ever felt death would be better for you than life? What was your reason?
I remember when I contemplated suicide. I was hurting and felt overwhelmed. Then I came to my senses. I was a Christian. What would this say about God and the sufficiency of His grace? I had become centered on myself–my discomfort, rather than His glory.
Beloved, do you get the point? When you compare Jonah’s compassion with God’s, what do you learn? Is there any people group that God would leave out of the reach of His compassion? His love? No, not one (Revelation 5:9), and not you either, no matter how bad you’ve been. Surely you’ve seen this in God’s response to Nineveh.
By the way, when you listed what you learned about God in Jonah 3, did you notice that God relented of His judgment when He saw the Ninevites turn from their wicked ways (Jonah 3:10)? Did you notice why? It’s what Jonah already knew about God (Jonah 4:2).
Not only is He gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, but He relents concerning calamity. He can appoint plants, worms and storms–and a fish big enough to hold a man until he comes to his senses. Awesome!
Surely He wants us to be compassionate as He is compassionate. God forbid that we should be a wrong-way Jonah, loving our own comfort more than lost people, no matter who they are.