This was the prayer of the prophet Jonah, to God, who forgave the people of Nineveh when they repented of their evil deeds.
One of the central roles of a true prophet is reproof. He have to rebuke, warn and inspire men to repentance, so that sin will not stand between them and God. “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3). A true prophet is close to the heart of God, knowing Him and His holiness. He himself lives in holiness and therefore God uses him as “His mouth”. The Bible prophets, who told the truth of God’s word to the people and rebuked them, always suffered rejection and persecution from those who did not want to hear them. This is a difficult job which requires the prophet to tell people the things they do not want to hear, but must listen and it is to teach them the fear of God. The Lord knows who, in the body of Messiah, can meet His conditions in this role and who is willing to pay the price and be rejected and persecuted for His holy name.
In the book of Jonah, there is a description of the character of the prophet, who was supposed to be a vessel in the hands of God, but failed and acted in his flesh. Jonah was called to warn the people of Nineveh of the judgment of God that was about to come upon them, but because they were wicked, he tried to evade his duty and wanted God to punish them.
God, who is a God of grace, gave Jonah a second chance by His grace, after Jonah repented of running away from God’s call to him. It’s a lesson for us. When we miss a task he gives us for the first time, he will usually give us a second chance, after we repent. He will also teach us that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts, as happened with Jonah.
After the difficult experience that the Jonah had in the belly of the fish, he obeyed God and went to warn the people of the city: “…yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4). Something amazing happened here. To Jonah’s surprise, the people believed him, called for fasting and wore sacks. The king of Nineveh heard, removed his mantle (pride) above him also covered with sackcloth and sat on ashes. He ordered man and beast not to eat or drink. They cried out to God for help and repented: “…and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” (chap. 3:8-9). God heard their call and saw their repentance and relented from the disaster He wanted to bring over them.
Here we learn about the nature of God. He is full of grace even to the wicked, to those who repent. “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah…” (Matt. 12:41). Jonah did not agree with God’s forgiveness for them and expected Him to punish them. True, the Assyrian people were cruel, and harmed the people of Israel and so Jonah wanted them to be punished, but in this case here, they repented and God in His mercy forgave them.
Jonah proclaimed before God: “…for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm” (chap. 4:2). Jonah knew God as God of grace and mercy, but still opened himself to the thought of the flesh and did not remain in the mind of God’s Spirit. “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).
This was a selfish fleshly behavior of Jonah and of course God did not agree with this behavior. “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:8-9). The meaning of the Spirit of Messiah within us is to give grace, because we have received grace through Yeshua. To forgive, because we have received His forgiveness. To bless, because we have received His blessing, etc. In short, to be “pipes” of blessing, to testify of God’s goodness to others. “Not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9).
God has given us grace, forgiveness, blessing, love and more, so that we can share them with others and so that the name of God will be honored in all. “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God… that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
God gave grace to Jonah when he gave him a second chance to complete his mission. He gave him grace, when he heard his prayer and took him out of the belly of the fish. Jonah had not yet learned the lesson God wanted to teach him. Now, God is going to teach him another lesson and we can learn from it for our lives.
Jonah left the city and sat under a hut, to see what would happen in the city anyway… he probably thought to himself, maybe God will avenge them anyway. But God, who knew the thoughts of Jonah’s heart, did him another favor and created a plant, to shade over him from the sun: “And the Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant” (chap. 4:6). But it did not take long. God struck the plant with a worm and the tree dried up. Jonah fainted from the heat of the sun and wished to die. God asked him: Were you angry because of the plant (grace) I gave you? And Jonah answered honestly and positively. Here God asked him a question of conscience: “…You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left and much livestock?” (chap. 4:10-11).
The purpose of the book is here at the end. The book ends with a question and it is also addressed to all of us today: Are we willing to have mercy on those who have sinned against us and pray for them, since we have received the mercy of God? We must understand and remember that the enemy is the one who launches them against us (Eph. 6:12).
For us the believers, it is sometimes difficult to bless those who harm us (Matt. 5: 44-45), and even think of revenge, as happened with Jonah. But we must remember every moment, that God has given us grace in Yeshua, and that grace we must give to others. “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). The case with the adulterous woman (in John 8:3-11) clarifies this issue for us. Yeshua did her a favor, after the clergies wanted to sentence her to death. Yeshua told her: “…neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Yeshua gave her grace, but also warned her to respect this grace. God’s grace is very precious in His eyes and we must remember that grace does not give us the right to sin!
The Lord can remove His grace from us temporarily, until we repent. For example: 1 Corinthians 5:1-6 tells of a case of a brother in the community who committed adultery with his father’s wife. Because the Corinthians did not rebuke him, Paul in his second epistle to them, rebuked them and also guided them: “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (verse 5). They accepted Paul’s suggestion and removed him from the community. Later, in 2 Corinthians 2: 6-10, we read that Paul encouraged them to forgive him and comfort him and we understand that the man had repented: “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (verses 6-8). They showed him the grace of God, when they forgave, and comforted and loved him. We learn from this that even rebuke for sin is grace from God, when it brings forth the fruit of repentance. “…but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).
God’s chastening to us, through His word, through brothers or situations, is grace, because His task is to build, chasten and comfort us and bring us closer to Him. Repentance is part of the way of life of true believers (1 John 1: 9). We are still in the sinful body, which may stumble us at any moment. This chastening is not pleasing to our flesh, but it is for our goodness and for our eternal future, “For godly sorrow (reproof) produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted…” (2 Cor. 7:10). Amen!