[May 29]—Lessons From The Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

Jonah 3

            Sorry about the title, but I’m a big Star Wars fan, and I’ve been waiting for about three years to use that line. 
            I think one of the most beautiful and most meaningful sentences in all of Scripture is found in the first verse of today’s passage. In fact, the part that really gets me is a little three-word phrase: “a second time.” Like the dog who didn’t bark in The Silver Blaze (by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), sometimes it’s what’s missing that’s all-important. Notice what’s missing here. There’s no condemnation of Jonah’s disobedience and rebellion, nothing about how he put the sailors’ lives in danger, and no mention about a probation period. 
            He’s the God of Second Chances. No matter how badly we screw things up, no matter what we’ve done, he stands ready to forgive. And when he forgives, he promises to never bring it up again. Never. Ever. There’s no probation period in which “We’ll see how it goes, then maybe we’ll talk about going back to the way things were before.” All we have to do is come to him and agree with him that we’ve done wrong (which is what we mean by “confessing”), and he forgives and cleanses from the inside-out.
            So finally Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. The author takes time to mention how large the city was—it took about three days for him to tour the city, and 4:11 says that there were at least 120,000 people living there (see my note tomorrow about this). So we’re talking a huge amount of lives at stake.
            I’ve had Bible professors and some teachers say that vs. 4 is the sum total of Jonah’s message, that he said absolutely nothing to them to give them any hope of forgiveness if they repent. That’s possible, I suppose, but with all respect, I think it’s a summary, not necessarily the exhaustive total of what he told them. I’m sure he didn’t want to give them any message of hope, but it looks like he was finally obedient in telling them what God wanted them to hear, not what Jonah wanted to tell them. Of course, if he had a choice in what to tell them, he might lie to them and tell them that everything’s going to be perfume and roses in their future, then sit back and laugh as the city burns.
            No matter what exactly he told them, an incredibly amazing thing happened. This incredibly sinful city, the scourge of the Ancient Near East, a place responsible for the destruction of hundreds of thousands if not millions. . . listened. And boy, did they listen.
            Talk about your plot twist! Let me remind you of something. Israel/Judah didn’t listen to Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos or Ezekiel. The Lord sent prophet after prophet after prophet to his people, and their reaction usually ranged from indifference to violent rejection. Why did Nineveh respond positively when Israel didn’t? Some might say the Lord sovereignly moved in the hearts of the Ninevites and he didn’t do so to the Israelites. Others might give a more human-oriented explanation: Maybe the Ninevites were just ready to hear, and his appearance and message caught them at the right time. How much of it was God, and how much was the decision of the people, and how do those two interact? We don’t know exactly, or at least I don’t.
            But that open question doesn’t affect my next point I want to draw from this. Until this life is over, there’s always hope for anyone. Please don’t give up on them. This is the point I made with Saul of Tarsus. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether or not they’ll respond positively to the Message.
            And finally we see that the Ninevites learned the same thing Jonah learned back in verse 1: He truly is the God of Second Chances. When they repented, he listened and forgave and relented from the destruction he'd threatened.
            That’s the type of God that he is, which I’ve discovered in my personal life over and over and over again. Have you?
             And now, presenting this message far better than I could ever dream of doing, here's the inimitable Veggie Tales song "God of Second Chances"

Father, you truly are the God of Second Chances. And third, and fourth. . .  Thank you. Make me a faithful herald of this awe-inspiring grace, this incredible mercy. Please. 

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