Response: Jonah 3.3b-10

Greetings, friends! We’re moving through a favorite time of year for me. It’s that annual pathway between our Thanksgiving season and the beginning of Advent—our time of anticipation. Super that we can travel take this road together!

As we do, we’re pressing toward the end of Jonah. This week’s passage is about bad preaching, the power of God’s message—despite the poor messenger—and the scope of God’s merciful plan that includes both bad messengers and the worst of sinners. Within the mirror-image structure of Jonah Episode 5 (3.3b-10) is the parallel counterpart to Episode 2 (1.4-17). In both passages, Jonah is with Gentiles who appease God’s wrath—the Mariners by casting Jonah into the sea, the Ninevites through their changed hearts.

Having responded, at last, to God’s commission to preach in Nineveh, Jonah turns up in Nineveh. The response to God’s merciful plan (despite Jonah’s half-hearted effort) is repentance on the part of some of Israel’s most violent enemies.

Nineveh responds to God’s message (:3b-6). From the outset it’s made clear that God rules Nineveh. The Masoretic Text (the standard from which our English translations come) makes this clear with the little phrase “to God”: Now, Nineveh was a great city to God.” (This phrase is, unfortunately, left out for stylistic reasons in most of our translations.) This “great” city belonging to God is such that it requires (literal reading) a walk of three days to visit the place. Paralleling Jonah’s three days in the fish, we see that Jonah’s deathly experience now results in the glorious opportunity to preach God’s message for three days!

But, what does Jonah make of this? Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey (:4). Jonah only goes into the city one day. This is a one-and-done!  A half-hearted effort!

Then, there’s the message. Possibly, it’s the message God gave to him (see 3.2), but does Jonah get it? Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown! (:5). The verb in question can be translated actively “to overthrow,” as in “to destroy”. Or, it can be translated passively (and, it is passive in the original) as “to turn”. But, turn to what? Jonah seems to believe that he’s been given a message of pure and certain judgement. God, it seems, intends to communicate the real possibility of judgment, but also the certain extension of mercy to those who will turn to Him.

And, look what happens. Despite the imperfect messenger, Nineveh responds! And, as His message is delivered, God dismantles human power structures (:5) Repentance begins with the common people who fast and cover themselves with sacks: … from the greatest of them to the least of them. God is doing something amazing—not because of the messenger, but in spite of him and because of the message itself.

Then, the King of Nineveh hears the message from others, not Jonah. Jonah never got to the palace, it seems. The king removes his vestments and sits in ashes, just like Jonah won’t. In all of this, we’re getting a clearer picture for why Jonah has responded so poorly all along: Jonah misunderstands the extent of God’s rule and thus the scope of God’s compassionate mercy.

Nineveh repents of its evil ways (:7-9). Making official Nineveh’s response, the King issues a proclamation: Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands (:8b). Like the Mariners of Episode 2, the King calls on the One-True-God of Israel, but goes further in calling for ethical transformation. All this takes us back to the reason for God’s threatened judgment in the first place: … for their evil has come up before me (:2b).

The King goes further: Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish (:9) The King understands God better than Jonah. He recognizes God’s sovereignty in punishing sin, but also God’s freedom in issuing mercy.

God relents from His plan to judge Nineveh (:10). God relents from judgement. Important here is what satisfies God’s wrath. In Episode 2, it was Jonah being judged, cast into the sea. In this passage, it’s Nineveh’s citizens turning from evil. God most desires the sacrifice of a changed heart. Is Jonah’s heart changed?

God will judge sin, but God’s merciful plan for the nations includes mercy an compassion for those who will take refuge in Him. Is Jonah taking refuge in God?

And, just like that, this ends God’s dealings with Nineveh in the book, but not His dealings with Jonah. God is just as interested in the transformation of the messenger as He is the response of those to whom the message is given. 

The major lesson of Jonah 3.3b-10 can be stated this way: My response to God’s merciful plan must allow me to acknowledge that no one lies outside the reach of the Gospel. 

In his time, Jonah didn’t get this. We’ll see next week that God’s mercy on Israel’s worst enemies landed outside of Jonah’s redeemed imagination.

Sometimes, I don’t get this either. Maybe, it’s because I’m not confident that God works through His Message and not only through me. Maybe, it’s because I lack the imagination to see whom God is gathering to Himself in His merciful plan. 

The Book of Jonah helps me here. And, certainly, the better I come to learn God’s plan, the better I will know God Himself. 


As we prepare to finish up Jonah next week, let’s think together about some questions coming from Episode 5 (3.3b-10):

Why do you think Jonah did such a poor job of preaching? In your own words, how would you describe Jonah’s grudge against God? 

Again, in your words, why do you believe Jonah misunderstood the purpose of God’s mission for him and for Nineveh? 

In our cultural setting where are we most inclined to misunderstand God’s compassionate mission for those around us? 

Thanksgiving to Our God of Goodness: Psalm 65

This week we’ve come to Thanksgiving, my third favorite holiday. (My first would be a dead heat between Christmas and Easter!)

Thanksgiving is simple, not over-commercialized, and tied to the material world God has made. I like that … But, this year, as last, I enter the holiday week asking questions: What is the difference between simply giving thanks and giving thanks as one who has been with God? (Or, like a good Woodlander, I ask: How am I changed by faith in Christ as I think about Thanksgiving?)

Psalm 65 is a hymn of thanksgiving, likely sung in public worship. We don’t know for sure, but some scholars feel it might have been composed in the Southern Kingdom, in thanksgiving for deliverance from Sennacherib the Assyrian (around 712 B.C.). If correct, Isaiah 37.30 helps us understand its significance:

And this shall be the sign for you: this year you shall eat what grows of itself, and in the second year what springs from that. Then in the third year sow and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat their fruit.

Isaiah 37 looks forward to Sennacherib’s destruction and ties the harvest to God’s provision for His people. God is saying, Watch my work in My world, and my provision will be a sign for you. The connection between the two passages is not air-tight, but we find the same reasoning in Psalm 65.

Those who have been with God are changed (:1-4). The psalm starts in the Temple of the LORD, the meeting place for God with His people. “To you praise is silent, O God in Zion” (verse 1). Hard as this idea is to translate, it doubtless includes the idea that preparation for praise requires reflection and contemplation that takes place in silence. The result will be (verse 2) repayment of vows. Paying God monetary gifts and returning praise is appropriate.

Sins are removed (verse 3), as God atones for the iniquities of His people. These, His people, are then changed to enjoy God’s blessing (verses 4-5).

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple (ESV).

What I like so much about this psalm is the way it moves from the spiritual to the material. When we have been with God (verses 1-4), we understand that God’s goodness is to be enjoyed spiritually, and materially too (verses 5-13). In the next two movements we see that those who have been changed by God now have the imaginations to recognize God’s work in His Creation.

Those who have been with God see God’s work in power (:5-8). By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and the farthest seas … This might have included the destruction of a great, invading Assyrian army. It certainly includes God’s works in nature.

Those who have been with God recognized God’s work in creation. [He] established the mountains in strength being girded in might … [He] stills the roar of the sea, the roar of the waves. These are not random acts of nature, but natural phenomena that God controls—while not ruling out the laws of the nature that God oversees.

Those who have been with God will include people from the ends of the earth (:8). … Those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. 

Is this true? Do all peoples everywhere recognize God and praise Him?

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga the old hobbit, Bilbo, writes some fantastic poetry that helps us here:

All that is gold does not glitter …  Not all who wander are lost … The old that is strong does not wither … Deep roots are not reached by the frost … From the ashes a fire shall be woken … A light from the shadows shall spring … Renewed shall be blade that was broken … The crownless again shall be king.

Tolkien crafts his imaginative world in a worldview that recognizes decline and fallenness. Not all is as it should be. Yet, Tolkien’s character have a glorious theology of the end.

In the same way, to say that God is praised to the ends of the earth is to have a view of the end that we recognize will be fulfilled by Christ at His Second Coming. In the meantime, we give thanks. And, as the changed by God recognize God’s work in Creation, we move from thunderstorms to raindrops.

Those who have been with God see God’s work in earthly goodness (:9-13). This includes the gentleness of Creation:

You visit the earth and water it; You greatly enrich it. The river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it …

Likewise, it includes the overflow of the harvest:

You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening its with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.

Note the theme of overflowing. Remind you of Thanksgiving? Note how the psalmist personifies nature itself: the stuff of God’s world must sing for joy! And, those who have been with God, who have been changed by God, they see God’s Creation differently!

This year as we sit down to our turkeys, let’s bear in mind a couple of things:

First, let’s recognize the difference between the imaginary and the imagination. The imaginary is the escapist world we make up to help ourselves feel good. Comic books, action-packed movies, gadgets, advertising—these belong to the imaginary.

By contrast, the imagination is the actual world of possibility we can’t see, except by faith. I think Paul had this in mind in Romans 12.2:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind … 

Beings transformed to see everything in Creation as evidence of God’s goodness is a work of God through the redeemed imagination.

Second, let’s recognize that Thanksgiving looks back to a fruitful harvest and forward to a time of abundance at Christ’s return. There’s coming a day when every meal will be a Thanksgiving dinner. Those who have been with God by faith can see this!

So, if you’ve trusted in Christ, and so have been with God—be changed this Thanksgiving. See God in His works, and give thanks!


Here’s a few questions to keep you talking about Psalm 65 this Thanksgiving:

The Psalmist takes us from God’s spiritual work (verses 1-4) to God’s work in His material world (verses 5-13). Those who have been with God recognize God’s work in both. Why is this thought so important for us as modern people? 

Have you ever thought about your Thanksgiving turkey being a picture of the abundance God’s people will know at the return of Christ? How does this connection put a different spin on your Thanksgiving celebration? 

What are you thankful for in this past year? What are you thankful for that you will experience at Christ’s return? 

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Reversal: Jonah 2.1-10

Have you ever heard a testimony that just didn’t sound right? Maybe, something like: “My life was a mess, but then I wised up and trusted God, and so now I’ve pulled it together …” Crassly put, but I bet you’ve heard something of the kind.

This week in Jonah 2, we find the prophet in the belly of the fish. Jonah’s initial response to God’s commission to preach to Nineveh was flight (1.1-4a). This response resulted in the prophet being out to sea, plunging toward death and destruction and in the company of Gentile Mariners. The continuing result of Jonah’s disobedience was Jonah’s apprehension by God (tossed from the ship and swallowed by the fish) and reverent fear of the One-True-God on the part of the Gentile mariners (1.4b-17).

Now, in the belly of the fish (a place of both death and reversal) Jonah prays to God. In his psalm of declarative praise, Jonah reverses his preference for death over obedience (:1-6). Jonah responds to God, recognizing God’s attentiveness: I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me (:1). How ironic. The Mariners had been praying to God when Jonah wasn’t. The ship chosen by Jonah had taken him to death and chaos, indicated by the sea; the fish chosen by God will carry Jonah to life, indicated by dry land. God had attended Jonah, but how odd Jonah would take credit for doing the calling.

Jonah responds to God, recognizing God’s mercy in judgment (:3). For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. “You did this to me!” Jonah seems to be saying. Oh, how extreme Your judgement. How severe Your mercy.

Jonah responds to God, recognizing God’s deliverance (:4-6). Then I said, “I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.” Jonah is quoting himself here. Prayers offered “toward the temple” reflect the language of exiles. Jonah will attempt to come to God once more, even as he passes into death: The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me … Language here reflects Ancient Near Eastern cosmology. He’s sinking, so he understands, to the foot of the mountains that hold the earth; he’s wrapped in the reeds of the River of Death. He’s going DOWN … DOWN … DOWN, even as he’s traveled since first rejecting God.

Then, we come to the crucial colon of the psalm: … yet you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God (:6b). In recognizing Israel’s God as his God, Jonah experiences reversal. He begins to move UP.

In the second half of the psalm, Jonah resolves to re-enter God’s merciful plan (:7-10). When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you in your holy temple (:7). Fantastic! But, where is Jonah’s emphasis?

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love, but I  with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you … (:8-9) True again, but something isn’t right here! There’s no repentance. There’s too much self-piety … too much self-resolve … too much passion for calling out other sinners … not enough brokenness.

… what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD (:9) And so it does, but in resolving to do what he hadn’t done before, the reader gets the feeling that the story is not done yet. And, it isn’t. God responds to Jonah (:10). And the fish, carrying Jonah to dry land where he will continue his lessons in God’s merciful plan, vomits Jonah on the shore.

Stepping back a bit from the story, we as readers recognize that Jonah thinks that God is all about getting him to go somewhere to do a job. We can see that God is really about the business of peeling back the layers of self-piety and bringing holiness to Jonah, even while He accomplishes His mission for the nations.

Jonah doesn’t get that, yet. And, sometimes, we don’t get it either.

My response to God in His merciful plan might involve misplaced self-reliance. 

Likely, this comes in our place of greatest struggle—probably the place where we feel we must work the hardest. Possibly, it’s here where we most desire to make a good showing of conforming to God.

That just could be the place where God wants us to know the greatest brokenness. Then, we might (like verse :6b, where Jonah got it right!) say with Jonah: … you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God!


Have another look at Jonah 2.1-10 and think through the following questions:

There’s laugh-out-loud irony in this passage, and it’s hard not to smile at Jonah’s poor example of following God. What about Jonah’s thinking in this passage do you find most puzzling?

Where in my life am I straining to please God? Where am I lashing out at injustice, or something that isn’t right in my life? 

Could it be that these two questions together could lead us to the hidden places in our lives where we’re simply trying to conform to God without actually being broken in His presence? 

Where have I known real brokenness over my sin? How is that different than simply trying harder to please God or resolving to do what’s right in God’s presence? 

Jonah’s career contrasts sharply with the ministry of the Lord Jesus. Where do you catch a bit of foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry in this passage? How is Jonah both like and unlike Christ?