Mercy is a quality rarely seen in the world today. Instead, we see a competitive spirit, a ‘get all you can, while you can’ attitude. Thankfully, when we look at the God of the Bible, we see mercy.
‘Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you. So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ (Jonah 3:1-4).
The word of the Lord comes to Jonah a second time. How refreshing to see here a God who is rich in mercy towards a rebellious-turned-repentant prophet!
God can bring his word to us a second time. Have you ever let an opportunity to serve God slip, or worse, flatly refused to do what God has called you to do? God does not throw us on a heap of washed-up ‘could-have-beens’. He can bring his word to us a second time.
Jonah is seen in this portion of Scripture fulfilling his original mandate. He preaches in the streets of Nineveh. It is worth noting here that Jonah was not called to save the city. He was called to be obedient with the message.
It can leave us feeling disheartened when we step out and attempt great things for God, only to be left not seeing the multitudes respond in faith. Success is not revival, or filling stadiums with throngs hearing the gospel; success is obeying God. The rest is up to him, and his ongoing work on a human heart. Jonah was successful in Nineveh before they repented, not because they repented.
‘So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.
‘And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, 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?’ (Jonah 3:5-9).
The Ninevites do the unthinkable, they repent! This was not a forced repentance from the king down; this was a city gripped under the con-viction of God. Jonah’s message made the difference.
Have you ever thought of how often church history swings on relatively small hinges — the apostle Paul’s journey into Macedonia; Patrick’s return to Ireland; Luther’s nailing of theses on a church door in Wittenberg; Billy Graham attending a Mordecai Ham gospel mission?
Jonah’s journey into Nineveh is one of those events which turns out to be far more significant than first imagined. Who knows what would happen if every Christian in the United Kingdom chose to speak of their faith, or chose to have a three-day fast for their community to experience the mercy of God, or decided to commit to a local church?
The truth is, until we actually take a step in the direction God is calling us to go, we will never know the impact our lives could have. We read in verse 10 that ‘then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it’.
The Lord had every right to bring his judgment upon the people of Nineveh, yet he chose mercy. I wonder if the British church is viewed by the British people as a church that displays mercy?
In the end, Jonah’s ministry displayed obedience, which in turn paved the way for the God of mercy to reign in Nineveh. Would to God that we as a church today might be obedient to our heavenly Father, and in so doing pave the way for the God of mercy to visit our shores once more.
William Wade is an Army Scripture Reader, with SASRA, in Colchester