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Feb 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

February 12, 2017 – Jonah 3:4-10

Second Chances

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. Jonah 3:4 

Intro: In scripture and world history, critical moments have occurred

When either an individual or a nation teetered on the edge of the abyss
– at times, people have been rescued from going over the edge
• more than once, God has postponed his judgment for a generation

It came about when Ahab heard these words, that he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently. Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah . . ., saying, “Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.” (1 Ki. 21:27 and cf. 2 Ki. 22:11-20, Josiah)

• today’s story provides another example
– however, to be clear, God’s sentence against Nineveh was postponed, not taken off the books

Jonah did as he was told (sort of)

A brief account of Jonah’s visit to Nineveh
– his only appearance in this episode
one day’s walk immediately follows the city’s size as a three day’s walk
◦ so Jonah had completed one-third of his circuit
• either he simply stopped or going further was unnecessary
◦ or he went on preaching though was did not make it into the story
he cried out – here again is a key word and its repetition has a purpose
• we are supposed to notice how it is used in different contexts
◦ this not God’s gentle whisper that we strain to hear
◦ rather, it is his voice of thunder or crashing waves (cf. Ps. 29:3-9)
• the people of Nineveh were to respond with the same intensity
◦ they were to call on God earnestly, (v. 8), mightily, or cry with vehemence
◦ God’s blaring siren was to be answered by their cry for help

Jonah’s incredibly brief prophecy — a one-liner
forty – in scripture, this is the time it takes for something big
• forty days of the flood, forty years in the wilderness
◦ for days for Moses to receive law and another forty to make intercession for Israel
• before Jesus began his ministry, he was tempted for forty days
◦ after he finished his ministry, he spent forty days prepping his disciples (Acts 1:3)
– should we be concerned that Jonah did not mention God?
Yahweh had already proved his superiority over other gods
• but it is as though Jonah obeyed God, yet held back something

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. Jonah 3:5

THE PEOPLE were the first to respond

People (Heb. enosh), is humans in their mortality and vulnerability
–  it is same word used of the sailors in the first chapter
• in fact, chapter 3 repeats the drama on the high seas

◦ the sailors and citizens of Nineveh are in mortal danger
◦ the threat to their lives comes from the hand of God
◦ Jonah is the prophet who understands what is happening
◦ the captain and the king step forward to represent their people
◦ both of them call for action–call on God–that could save them
◦ both express this outcome as a possibility: perhaps (1:6) and who knows? (3:9)
◦ both end their speeches with the same phrase, so that we will not perish (1:6 & 3:9)

– in regard to the storm, we saw God’s mercy for the sailors
• perhaps we’re supposed to be hoping to see it here

Believed reveals their internal response
Called a fast and put on sackcloth externalizes their belief
– regarding fasting and wearing sackcloth (a burlap-type fabric):
are an expression: of ultimate grief, despair, regret
◦ of being reduced to a state of complete humiliation
draw attention: to ensure that their misery does not go unnoticed
– fasting and sackcloth are not “functional” (like tossing the cargo overboard)
• instead, their value is spiritual
• the Bible does not give high marks to regular fasting (cf. Zech. 7:1-6; Lk. 18:12)
◦ fasting has specific application to crisis, emergencies, dire need (Mt. 9:14-15)

from the greatest to the least of them
– if an entire society is corrupt, then everyone in it must repent (Jer. 5:4-5; 6:13)

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. Jonah 3:6

THE KING was the next to respond

Here is something I enjoy finding in the Hebrew Scriptures
– the king’s actions are reported poetically
• we miss it, because the structure is not as common in English poetry (chiasmus or chiasm)
• the structure of the four lines begins AB and then returns BA

A — he arose from his throne (on which he was presumably sitting)
B — he laid aside his robe (which he had been wearing)
B — he covered himself with sackcloth (which he is now wearing)
A — he sat on the ashes (where he now is sitting)

◦ his throne was to the ashes what his robe was to the sackcloth 
– he, too, takes seriously the message of doom

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. 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. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:7-9

The text of the royal proclamation

First the negatives, Do not . . . Do not
– when fasting, the taste of food is what I miss most
• fasting is a voluntary deprivation — denying oneself not only niceties, but necessities
• that man and beast should be clothed in sackcloth at first this seems comical
◦ but that is because I’m imagining a chihuahua in a burlap vest
◦ but the image of donkeys, camels and oxen wearing burlap saddle blankets is not far fetched
– but why include the animals in this royal edict? Was it

  • an example of enthusiastic overkill?
  • because the animals were also at risk? (the city’s work force and a food source)
  • because the world of nature had been polluted by human evil and violence?
  • to place reminders everywhere?
  • because diseases and plagues have been spread by animals?

– why did the law specify that even cattle were to rest on the Sabbath? (Ex. 20:8-11)
• because God is concerned for his entire creation — he

prepares for the raven its nourishment
When its young cry to God
(Job 38:41)
and in God’s house
The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
 (Ps. 84:3)

Next the positives, call on God . . . turn from [your] evil ways and violence
– unlike the sailors, the people of Nineveh did not call on “Yahweh”
• one of those fine points Jonah failed to mention
• apparently they did not have to know God’s name
◦ it was enough that they turned to God, humbled themselves and gave up their evil ways
– God may take us to many strange places and different sorts of people
• but we do not take him to other countries or foreign cultures — he is already there

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. Jonah 3:10

God responded in way they hoped

Wicked way and the calamity God was going to bring translate the same word (ra)
– when they turned from their bad, God turned from his bad
• the two meanings of ra:
◦ moral evil sometimes and physical trouble or hardship other times
– the episode ends with a great sigh of relief

Conc: The logic that resulted in Nineveh’s reprieve:

“One good turn deserves another”

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Return to Me,” declares the LORD of hosts,” that I may return to you,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zech. 1:3)

– there are possibilities in our relationship with God we’ve never dreamed of

An old psychology theory viewed infants as human organisms
– they had no sense of self or others and did not make cognitive connections with others
• all of their actions and expressions merely reflected their inner physical state:
◦ if hungry, hurt, or in discomfort they would cry
◦ if they smiled, it came from within them and was not a response to their external world
• without language, it was believed they were incapable of meaningful interaction
◦ the were not considered participants in two-way relationships

More recently, Colwyn Trevarthen observed his research revealed “that infants are actually born with playful intentions and sensitivity to the rhythms and expressive modulations of a mother’s talk and her visible expressions and touches.”

– mothers stimulate responses from their infants and infants stimulate respones from their mothers
• it is as if mother and child were playing together on relational teeter-totter

In describing parents who are attentive to their baby daughter, Dan Hughes says , “Hundreds of times, day after day, they dance with her.”

• in healthy families, parents are able to read their infants’ physical and emotional state and respond to it
◦ and infants read their parents, learning from their verbal and nonverbal expressions

We came into this world designed and equipped for relational interaction
– neuropsychiatrists are now talking about therapy that engages core emotions
• and the importance of the relational interaction of a client and caring therapist
◦ they can help people begin to feel their emotions and the emotions of others
◦  to realize that their own bodies express their feelings before they can come up with words to describe them

Fr. Romuald once told me, “The fundamental revelation of the Trinity is relationship.”

– in describing how neither he nor John the Baptist could reach people, Jesus once said

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn” (Mt. 11:16-17)

• Jesus is the one who invites us to dance
• the problem is, we have forgotten how to recover our childlike relational skills
◦ expressiveness and the joy of discovering all the wonderfully odd people in this world

God was responsive to the Ninevites and to their responsiveness to him
– this is an essential feature of our relationship with him
• sadly, people like the Pharisees lost the relational aspect of religion and made it moral
◦ we, in our turn, have made it rational — for us it is all study and knowledge
• and this whole time what we needed was a voice to hear, a hand to touch, and a partner to dance with
– we are spiritual infants, “babes in Christ” who do not know the language of heaven
• but we can still know the experience of loving interaction with God

God to the people of Nineveh: “I’m not your enemy. I want to be your salvation. You cannot do all this evil and violence and hope to thrive. I see. I hear. I care. And I have come to your rescue, if you will let me.”
God to us, “I want to bring you to complete shalom. I see. I hear. I care. If I lead, will you dance with Me. For I have made you for Myself, and your heart will be restless until it finds its rest in Me.”

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