Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jonah Does the Unenvied (Part 3)

Sermon:               GM17-156

Series:                  Jonah: A Gospel of Grace

Subtitle:               Jonah Does the Unenvied (Part 3)

Scripture:            Jonah 3:10

Subject:               Jonah uses four illustrations of God’s grace to motivate his readers to repent of their sin

Scrutiny:              How does God demonstrate His grace?

Solution:              There are four ways in this passage that demonstrates the display of God’s grace

Sketch:                 1A     through the renewal of the commission (1-2) God gives Jonah a second chance to obey him. Throughout Scripture God is portrayed as a God of a second chance.                         

2A     through the response of the courier (3-4) Jonah obeys God’s call the second time. He travels to Nineveh as a living testimony of God’s grace. Jonah proclaims the Word of God to the Ninevites.

3A     through the repentance of the citizens (5-9) The citizens of Nineveh believed the Word of God proclaimed by Jonah. From the King to the lowest citizen they demonstrate their repentance by their attitude and their actions. Everyone, including the animals wear the outward signs of inward repentance.

4A     through the restraint of the creator (10) God observes the attitude and the actions of the Ninevites. God chooses to relent from performing His judgment upon the citizens and the city.

Scheme:               To provide examples of God’s grace as motivation to repent of sin in order to maintain a right relationship with God

Statement:           God is gracious


Jonah Does the Unenjoyable (Part 3)


Jonah 3:10 (Repeat)


We are continuing our study in the third chapter of Jonah. As a matter of fact, we are finishing up chapter three (3) today as we examine the final verse in chapter three (3). So, if you have not done so already, please take your bibles and turn once again to Jonah chapter three (3).

We are wrapping up what I have called the third division of Jonah. I have called this division, The Preaching Prophet. As I reminded you last week, let me remind you once again, that we have already looked at The Prodigal Prophet in chapter one (1), The Praising Prophet in chapter two (3) and  next week, Lord willing, we will see in the final chapter of Jonah, The Pouting Prophet.

This is the third message of Jonah the Preaching prophet. It is entitled, “Jonah Does the Unenvied. Jonah does not want to preach to these people. He does not enjoy this task that has been given to him by God. It is of no fun for him. Jonah takes no joy nor pleasure from this task.

The main theme of this chapter is the principle that God is gracious. God is gracious to Jonah. God is gracious to the Ninevites. God is a gracious God. One of the aspects of God’s graciousness is the gift of repentance. So, this section of chapter three (3) unfolds for Jonah’s readers the reaction to Jonah’s preaching. Remember Jonah walked around Nineveh, proclaiming or preaching, “Yet forty (40) days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

This verse raises a very interesting question for many people and has caused some great deal of trouble. This verse along with a few others.

Even though, it is not the main idea of this verse, and was not intended to become such a problem and detraction, it does cause us to ask at the very least, does God change his mind? 

Orient the Text

This morning, I want to continue to speak to you about God’s outrageous grace. Another element of God’s outrageous grace is the fact that God seemingly relents from doing disastrous things to His creation and/or to His creatures.

God has told Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim His Word to the citizens of Nineveh. As a matter of fact God had commissioned Jonah twice to take His message of judgment to them.

The first time, God told Jonah to, “…cry out against it…” The second time God told Jonah to go and “…preach to it the message that I tell you.”

Jonah finally did go to Nineveh. We don’t know what his entire message or proclamation was but we do know that he proclaimed, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” It seems that God had determined to completely destroy the city and everyone in it.

But the Ninevites do something very unusual, they repent. They don’t try to bargain with God, earn God’s favor, or even plead with him. They repent.

Their repentance results in God extending outrageous grace and relenting from destroying them. These people may have deserved to be destroyed as much or more than the people of Sodom or Gomorrah or all of the people on earth when God destroyed the earth by the universal flood.

But God is gracious. In this chapter we see the outrageous grace of God. As a matter of fact, Jonah uses four illustrations of God’s grace to motivate his readers to repent of their sin.


Last week we look at the fact that God was outrageously gracious. We have noted that chapter three (3) shows that God was outrageously gracious in at least four (4) ways. Last week we looked at the third way that God demonstrated just how gracious He was. 

God was outrageously gracious - through the repentance of the citizens (5-9)

The citizens of Nineveh believed the Word of God proclaimed by Jonah. From the King to the lowest citizen they demonstrated their repentance by their attitude and their actions.

They showed their repentance by their belief and by their behavior. Everyone, including the animals wore the outward signs of inward repentance. Everyone, the multitude and the monarch repented.

·        They called a fast
·        They ordered the wearing of sackcloth,
·        The Monarch, the King, even sat in ashes to demonstrate repentance and humility.

They hoped by their actions and attitudes that God would not destroy them and their city.

My purpose this morning is to continue to use these examples of God’s grace as motivation in order for you to repent regularly of sin in order to maintain a right relationship with God at all times.

Our theme continues to be God is gracious!

[So, let’s now look at our…]


[To continue to prove that God is gracious, let’s begin this morning with the fourth and final way that demonstrated the outrageous grace of God, and that is…]

4A     …through the restraint of the Creator (Vs. 10)

As we look at this verse some critical principles almost jump right off the page giving us tremendous insight into the mind and working of God.

Verse ten (10) describes two (2) reasons for God to restrain Himself from destroying Nineveh.

The first reason is described in verse ten (10) and it is…
1B     The Community Repents (10a)

          “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way…”

First of all, let me say that I know that I mentioned repentance last week. We briefly saw what repentance was not, and we briefly looked at what repentance was.

Verse five (5) makes it clear that the people of Nineveh believed God when Jonah said that the city would be overturned.

Second, we saw that their belief inspired their behavior. They:

·        Proclaimed a fast

·        They put on sackcloth

·        The king put on sackcloth and sat in ashes

·        The king published an order that all men and all animals should fast, that all men and all animals be covered in sackcloth , that the people should pray loudly and vigorously to God for mercy, and that the people should stop, forsake, turn from their evil ways or practices

Third, we also, ever so briefly, looked at repentance by seeing first, what repentance was not, and second, by looking at what repentance was.

The question that we have to ask at this point, and I deliberately did not raise it last week and saved it for today is this – Did the Ninevites repentance result in salvation and redemption. IOW, did the entire city biblically repent and receive saving grace?

So, several questions arise that need to be answered:

·        Is punishment for sin set aside or rescinded when repentance is evidenced?
·        Does God’s grace & salvation take precedence over threats of punishment?
·        Why does God threaten wrath, judgment, and punishment?
·        Did God change His mind? (Does this indicate God is fickle?)
·        Was the repentance of the Ninevites evidence of conversion to God?
·        Did God have a reason for sending Jonah to Nineveh?

[To answer these questions and hopefully all that you might think of, as we look at the fact that the community repented, let’s look at what is inferred, implied, or insinuated by their repentance and God’s restraint.]

[First of all…]

                   1C     the community’s repentance was reserved

Regardless of how deep or even how sincere their mourning over their “evil way” (vs. 10), their repentance was not permanent nor a lasting repentance.

Their repentance did show that they had some propensity to belief God and for the Word of God, which was evidenced in their turning and forsaking of their previously evil ways.

This alone was the reason that God according to His great compassion extended mercy and grace to them. God did not give them what they deserved, total destruction. God gave them what they did not deserve, a reprieve from that destruction.

This reprieve was limited. It was deferred for a period by the outrageous grace of God. Eventually Nineveh returned to their evil ways, and opposed God, sought to subjugate various nations, and as one commentator put it, “filled up the measure of their sins” became ripe for judgment.”

The prophet Nahum prophesized that King Cyaxares would destroy the city along with Naboplassar of Babylon. In approximately 100 years Nineveh was destroyed at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC.


                   2C     the community’s repentance was rewarded

In the meantime God acted according to His character. God extended grace. God saw their deeds – and what were their deeds? They turned from their ways of evil.

The verb means to turn, to return, to go back to do again, to change, to reestablish, to restore, to recompense. This verb is used over 1000 times in the OT. When the verb is used it simply describes divine or human reactions, attitudes, or feelings.

So, just as they king had hoped, God accepted their repentance. The reward for their repentance was that fire and brimstone did not fall from the sky and burn up the city, nor did the ground open up into a massive sinkhole swallowing up the city.


                   3C     the community’s repentance was restricted

I say it was restricted because I am not sure that we can determine if this actually led to the actual conversion of the Ninevites. IOW, the questions remains whether we will see these people in heaven.

Let me make three observations at this point about the repentance of the Ninevites:

·        The reality of this event isn’t discredited because there is no mention of this event in any Assyrian records. The truth of the matter is that there is a real lacking of material and information from the eighth century BC. We have very little information from this period. But many scholars want to deny this event because it hasn’t been found in any Assyrian records.

·        The reality of the Ninevites repentance must not be thought of as unusual, impossible or unreal if we keep in mind that Jonah’s preaching comes on the heels of two plagues, a lunar eclipse, and civil unrest.

Superstitious people would naturally react in such a way to someone who was preaching judgment after experiencing these things.

·        The reality of the text doesn’t necessitate the conclusion that the Ninevites were converted to the worshipping of Jehovah.

Alexander in his commentary made this statement, “Although the Ninevites repented there is no indication that they were converted to Yahwism.” [1]

What could they have learned about God or salvation? There is no mention of the Ninevites becoming proselytes to the Israelite religious system. It is somewhat doubtful that they were actually redeemed.

We should not look at Nineveh's repentance as a repentance unto salvation, but more as a superstitious repentance that God nevertheless honored in His common grace.

The superstitious elements can be seen in the sackcloth upon the animals. Often in the OT unbelievers repent a repentance that is not onto salvation, but one that causes God to at least relent from immediate judgment, Nebuchadnezzar one such example.

The fact that only a generation later true faith could not be found in Nineveh, and only sin and idolatry could be found, is another clue.

It is not a question of believing the Word of God or not, and it is not a question whether Nineveh's repentance was heart-felt. The question is - was it a repentance unto eternal salvation. That is not clear from the text.

We would have to assume that Jonah's sermon was much longer than 3:4, and that Jonah would have explained the gospel of the coming Messiah, but there is no gospel in Jonah's recorded message. It was not unusual for pagan cultures to genuinely fear a certain god at a certain time and repent to that god, but that doesn't mean it is a repentance unto eternal life, and I think that this better explains the evidence from Nahum, which gives no indication that the generation under judgment left the gospel or abandoned it having been given to them from the previous generation, but it seems they are judged for many years of idolatry (Nahum 1:14).

This generation however was spared from immediate physical death and the destruction of all that they knew.

[So, let me summarize and wrap up this point so that we can move to the next one.]

In my opinion the short answer may be that the whole generation of Ninevites was spared from immediate judgment, but that a smaller number might have been saved from eternal judgment. This afforded those spared the opportunity to be saved, and thus escape eternal judgment.

I think it is not always easy to separate the individual from the nation in the Old Testament. It is not always easy to equate Old Testament events with salvation.

[For example]

·        I don't think that all who were passed over and escaped from Egypt were true believers.

·         Neither do I find reason to conclude that all who physically entered the Promised Land were believers, either. Some were; others probably were not. But then this isn't all that different from today.

·        There are lots of church members, but not all members are saved.

So, with all of this in mind, remember, our theme is God is gracious!

[I am attempting to continue to prove that God is gracious, and we are looking the fourth and final way that demonstrated the outrageous grace of God, and that is…]

…through the restraint of the Creator (Vs. 10)

I said that verse ten (10) describes two (2) reasons for God to restrain from destroying Nineveh. The first reasons described in verse ten (10) is The Community Repents, and the second is…

          2B     The Creator Relents (10b)

“…and God relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”

First of all, this last verse closes out this chapter with the greatest encouragement to be found for God’s people to repent. Here we have the response of God to the actions of the people.

Second, it wasn’t because of the outward ceremonies performed by the Ninevites that caused God to relent. It wasn’t the fast, or the sackcloth, it was the fact that they believed God. So, the question is…

Does God change His mind?

[First the bible tells us that…]

1C     God Is Immutable

Scripture teaches the concept of God’s immutability, i.e., the notion that his essence, character, and will are stable and perfect and they never change.

So, while ordinary things undergo transformation, the changeless Creator does not. He is the same forever (see Psa. 102:26-27).

With God there can be “no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (Jas. 1:17 ASV; cf. Heb. 13:8).

To suggest that God is whimsical, or that He constantly changes his mind, or the fluctuations that are characteristic of humanity, is to reflect upon the very nature of divine being.

“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.” (1 Samuel 15:29, NKJV)

Nevertheless, the Bible also says that God will not repent.

[For example]

Psalm 110:4 says, “The Lord has sworn; he will not repent: “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

And Ezekiel 24:14 says,
I, the Lord, have spoken; it shall come to pass, I will do it, I will not go back, I will not spare, I will not repent; according to your ways and your doings I will judge you, says the Lord God.” (See Jeremiah 4:27-28.)

But even more important than these are the texts that say God would be like a man if he repented. In other words, God’s freedom from a need to repent is based on his deity. Being God means that he cannot repent.

Numbers 23:19 — “God is not a man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should repent.”

The Bible seems so clear, God does not repent, He does not relent, He does not change, and He does not change His mind.

This seems to settle it doesn’t it? These passages are so clear and we should not have any questions about whether God would repent or relent.

But we have so many places where it seems to say that God does repent, or relents, or changes his mind: Does God repents?

·        Before the flood (and just after the sons of God had sex with the daughters of men), God repented for having made humans.

And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Genesis 6:6

·        After Aaron made the people dance naked around the golden calf, God decided to kill all of the Israelites. But Moses talked him out of it by saying, "What will the neighbors think?" “So God repented of the evil he'd planned to do.”

·        “And Moses besought the LORD ... Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. ... And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Exodus 32:11-14

·        God threatens to judge his people and repent by killing everyone, saying, "I will make mine arrows drunk with blood and my sword shall devour flesh."

For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants.... I kill ... I wound ... I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh. Deuteronomy 32:36-42

·        After Saul failed to commit complete genocide as God commanded, God repented of making Saul king.

It repenteth me [God] that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments [Committing complete genocide on the Amalekits] ... and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. 1 Samuel 15:11, 35

After God killed 70,000 men (and 200,000 or so women and children) in a pestilence to punish Israel for a census that God (and/or Satan) inspired, "the Lord repented him of the evil" and quit killing people.

The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. ... So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men. And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. 2 Samuel 24:1-16

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. ... And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. ... So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. 1 Chronicles 21:1-15

God told Hezekiah that he would die soon, but changed his mind (repented) after Hezekiah's prayer. So he let him live another fifteen years.

In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah ... said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live. ... Thus saith the LORD ... I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years. Isaiah 38:1-5

If a nation repents of its evil, God will repent of the evil things he had planned to do to it.

If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. Jeremiah 18:8

If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings. Jeremiah 26:3

Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will repent him of the evil that he hath pronounced against you. Jeremiah 26:13

Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him at all to death? Did he not fear the LORD, and besought the LORD, and the LORD repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them? Thus might we procure great evil against our souls. Jeremiah 26:19

If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I [God] repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Jeremiah 42:10

If a nation does evil, God will repent of the good things he was planning to do to it.

If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I [God] will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Jeremiah 18:8

So, we have a number of places where it seems that God has repented. Is this a contradiction of all those places that says that God does not repent? Absolutely not. We have to remember that…

                   2C     God is Intelligent

God’s threat of punishment can be set aside temporarily when repentance is evidence. God did not change in His essence, His being, His character or nature, God changed in the way that He dealt with Nineveh.

·        God accommodates His word to our understanding

John Mackay writes, “When God is said to change his mind, matters are viewed from our human perspective. It appears to us that there has been a change in God, but what has in fact changed is our human conduct.” [2]

·        The HS used a different word with God than He did for the Ninevites

o   The word for the Ninevites repentance meant to turn from evil to good

o   The word for God’s repenting or relenting denotes an inward suffering. The best way to explain this is that God was moved to pity. Pity motivated God to relent temporarily from inflicting his judgment on the Ninevites. Another way to think of it is to understand that God had compassion on the Ninevites.

·        God can do this, this relenting is an option for Him:

“At times I threaten some nation or kingdom that I shall tear it up, break it down, and make it perish; then the threatened nation turns from its wickedness and I relent over the punishment I intended to carry out.” [Jere. 18:7]

·        God’s character and promises do not ever change. But we see in a number of places that God’s plan of action can change according to his purpose.

God works out His plan in various ways and sometimes it seems as if he changes his plans, but they are still worked out according to a perfect and eternal plan – God accomplished is will. He works differently with men at different times under different circumstances, including relenting of a planned action and completing it at a later date.

Don’t forget, God did overthrow or destroy Nineveh. He did not change His mind about that. About 100 years later there is not a thing left of Nineveh. God experienced compassion or pity when He saw the Ninevites repentance, and by the way, that wasn’t a surprise to Him, it wasn’t a curve ball, He knew from eternity past that they would repent, so in accordance to his perfect plan, based on his compassion at their repentance, He relented for 100 years and then fulfilled His word which he had spoken through Jonah.

So, God does not change His mind. God is not fickle. He does not change. He does change in relationship with how he deals with mankind based upon circumstances such as repentance.

[What do you say we wrap this up?]


The citizens of Nineveh believed the Word of God that was proclaimed by Jonah. From the King to the lowest citizen they demonstrated their repentance by their attitude and their actions. Everyone, including the animals wore the outward signs of inward repentance.

The multitude proclaimed a fast and wore sackcloth. The monarch issued a decree demanding that both animals and peoples show their repentance through wearing sackcloth, fasting, praying, and abandoning wicked, evil behavior.

And so we have seen this morning that God is gracious. This morning we were able to see that God demonstrated His outrageous gracethrough the relenting of the creator (10)

Our theme this morning was, God is gracious! And so, my purpose this morning was to continue to use these examples of God’s grace as motivation in order for you to repent regularly of sin in order to maintain a right relationship with God at all times.

Lord willing next we will conclude chapter three (3) by examining verse ten (10). As we look at verse ten (10) there are at least two things I want to carefully look at in additional to the meaning of verse ten (10). Those two things are:

·        What does it mean “…the people of Nineveh believed God.”

·        Does God change His mind? 

What does God want my people to believe?

God wants you to believe that He is outrageously gracious so that you are not hindered by anything conceivable from maintaining an intentional, strategic, and loving relationship with Him.

Why do my people need to believe this?

So many people struggle with doubts of whether God really does love them, has forgiven them, and fully accepts them. Knowing that God is outrageously gracious erases and removes any of these fears or doubts.

What do they need to do?

Seek to know both intellectually and experientially the grace of God. Bask in His grace. Delight in His grace. Pray that God would make you more sensitive to his graciousness towards you.

 Let’s pray! J

Father, please, help us today to realize just how gracious you really are. Help us to know that you not only desire to be gracious to your children, but you delight in being gracious. Help all of us to remember that you are patient, kind, merciful, and gracious even when we fail you and sin against you.

Father, help us to follow the Ninevites example of responding to your great graciousness through the means of repentance. May we always be reminded to genuinely recognize our sin and to repent of our sin?

Thank you for being so loving and so gracious to us! Thank you for Jonah’s great proclamation and for your gift of repentance to the Ninevites.


[1] David Baker, T. Desmond Alexander, Bruce K. Waltke, Totc: Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah, Vol. 26, (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), p. 138

[2] John Mackay, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah: God’s Just Demands, Focus on the Bible, (Ross-shire: UK Christian Books, 1998), p., 47

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