When Ninevites Believe

Scripture Focus: Jonah 3.3-5a
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God…

Reflection: When Ninevites Believe
By John Tillman

Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to turn. He wanted them to burn. After preaching through the city for three days, Jonah climbed a hill and watched, hoping to glory in destruction, not mercy.

Jonah had practical reasons for fear, hatred, and despair. He feared their reaction. He hated them for their evil deeds. He despaired that they would ever change or repent.

But the Ninevites believed, and Jonah couldn’t believe it.

Unexpectedly, the people he feared violence from turned from violence to fear God. The people he had given up to wickedness gave up their wickedness and called on the Lord. The people he hoped would suffer for the suffering they caused experienced repentance and mercy.

I have Ninevites in my life and probably you do too. They are the people I’ve given up on. People whose reactions I fear. People who’ve harmed me. People I long to see fall under God’s justice.

Don’t forget that our enemies are loved by God. Jonah was sent to minister to those who had traumatized his country. Nineveh wasn’t just a random evil city. It was the capital of the Assyrian Empire that had been raiding Israel’s borders for decades. Jonah was unable to see them as God saw them, with compassion and sympathy.

Don’t expect God to deal with evil in the way we want him to. Jonah had prophesied against Assyria before. On that occasion, God used a wicked king of Israel to deliver his suffering people from the wicked Assyrians. (2 Kings 14.23-27) Jonah’s experience with Ninevites was as enemies on the battlefield, and he wanted God to treat them as such.

Jonah’s story tells us that it is a long, difficult journey to see those who’ve caused harm repent. There are storms. There are monsters. There are prayers from the depths. There is anger. There is suffering. There is questioning.

God goes with us through every bit of that journey. He lets us feel our feelings and rage our anger. He treats us with mercy we don’t deserve and then turns around and treats our enemies the same.

We don’t have to deny or hide our feelings about Ninevites. However, God holds out hope for Nineveh and, in some cases, may entrust us to take the gospel to them. May we be faithful.

God’s glory is best seen in his mercy. May we be able to celebrate when Ninevites believe.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
God looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. — Psalm 53.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Jonah 3 (Listen 1:31)
Psalm 78.1-37 (Listen 7:12)

Read more about The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet

Imagine a Ukrainian prophet commanded to take a message of mercy to Moscow and you might have an inkling of what Jonah felt like…

Read more about When God Has Mercy…Will We?
Jonah held his bitterness so deeply that the depths of the sea couldn’t wash it away and the sun couldn’t burn it away. How deeply will we hold on to ours?

The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet

Scripture Focus: Jonah 3.10
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. 

Jonah 4.1
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry.

Reflection: The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet
By John Tillman

Imagine a Ukrainian prophet commanded to take a message of mercy to Moscow and you might have an inkling of what Jonah felt like being told to preach to Nineveh. It’s no wonder he was angry.

In some ways, Jonah is the maddest and saddest prophet. He is madder than the most vitriolic of scripture’s prophets and sadder than even Jeremiah the weeping prophet.

Jonah doesn’t want a savior. He wants a weapon. But God won’t allow himself to be weaponized.

The Maddest, Saddest Prophet
God’s word, Jonah didn’t care for
The people he hated, therefore
He started out with a detour
Down the road to the seashore
Sailors didn’t know they were in for
Finding what God had in store
He had mercy.

In the storm, Jonah’s waking
To a mess of his making
On a flight of his taking
In a ship that was shaking
Sailors’ knees they were quaking
Very soon they’d be sinking
They were desperate.

Jonah’s crimes he confessed
Sailors reacted, distressed
To save him they do their best
Nautical skill and finesse
But couldn’t escape unless…
Jonah’s God they addressed,
“Please forgive us.”

They toss him in. Jonah’s sinking
Gulped down by a fish, stinking
Of God’s temple, he’s thinking
God’s mission he is accepting
Rebellion he is rejecting
Out of the depths, he is getting

He sets out upon his trek
His obedience is correct
The message he won’t neglect
But doesn’t want its effect
to blossom. He wants a wreck.
God’s love he doesn’t respect
He is bitter.

He should have railed against sin
For Nineveh’s violence to end
But he knew God might give in
If repentance were to begin
He thought mercy might kick in
He thought God’s love was a sin
He was angry

It didn’t sit right with him
Forgiveness was just for him
Not for the Assyrians
That’s why he sailed on the wind
He thought God’s purpose to bend
Hoped they would die in their sin
He was vengeful.

He hates that wrath was undone
He longed to see destruction
He didn’t want grace to come
He’s mad that God’s will is done
God leaves him there in the sun
He doesn’t get a “well done”
He is alone.

May we promote repentance
Rather than long for vengeance
May we be love and joy-filled
Not revengeful and rage-filled
May we reshape our preference
Increasing love and acceptance.
For the gospel

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. — Psalm 96.1

Today’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31)
John 15 (Listen – 3:20)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jonah 4 (Listen – 1:56)John 16 (Listen – 4:14)
Micah 1 (Listen – 2:46)John 17 (Listen – 3:40)

Read more about Abandon Human Vengeance
Vengeance breeds hatred, and hatred fuels vengeance. This pattern is not new, but it is accelerating.

Read more about When God Has Mercy…Will We?
Do we desire mercy for ourselves but not our enemies?…our leaders, our tribe, our institutions but not those who oppose us?

To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic

Scripture Focus: Jonah 3.6-10
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: 
  “By the decree of the king and his nobles: 
  Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. 

Reflection: To Wicked Kings, Foreign and Domestic
By John Tillman

Jonah took God’s messages to wicked kings, foreign and domestic. 

Most people know that Jonah was sent to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Few remember that Jonah also delivered a message regarding the wicked king of Israel, Jeroboam II.

Jeroboam II is described as “doing evil” and not “turning away” from sin, but despite his wickedness and lack of repentance, God still chose to use him to expand Israel’s borders. Despite Jeroboam’s unrepentant wickedness, Jonah delivered this good word to Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14.23-27)

Amaziah, who threatened Amos when he brought messages of judgment against Jeroboam, is not described as objecting to Jonah’s positive messages. Likewise, scripture does not note any objections from Jonah regarding delivering good news to his own national leaders. However, the entire narrative of the book of Jonah is driven by his desire to keep from sharing God’s message with the enemies of his nation. 

Nineveh was not just any wicked city, it was the capital of Assyria, the greatest existential political threat to Israel and a country actively oppressing and threatening Israel, even during the reign of an otherwise successful king such as Jeroboam II. Jonah was not unwise to fear them. They would eventually be the nation that destroyed Israel for her refusal to repent.

In the fish, Jonah pleaded for his own life and thanked God for hearing his repentance, but he wished for God to ignore the pleading and repentance of his enemies. Jonah intended to weaponize God’s wrath by withholding God’s offer of salvation through repentance. 

We, unlike Jonah, must hold out hope even to our enemies. We must call for repentance from all people. We can share God’s love with any political threat, whether a foreign nation or a fringe party within our own nation.

God used a fish to save Jonah from drowning in the depths of the sea. But because of Jonah’s unrepentant hatred for those God wished to save, God abandoned Jonah to bake in the desert sun, alone.

We must abandon Jonah’s sinful wish to weaponize God’s wrath. God will not be our tool of destruction. When this is all we want from him, he will remove even the shade of his comforting presence from us and we, like Jonah, will be left alone in the heat of the desert.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say forever, “Great is the Lord!” — Psalm 70.4

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jonah 3 (Listen – 1:31)
Luke 8 (Listen – 8:09)

Read more about The Sign of Jonah and The Cross
Jesus is, indeed, “greater than Jonah,” as he claims in Matthew 12.

Read more about In Amaziah’s Shoes
Put ourselves in Amaziah’s shoes. Amos is badmouthing the king who supports us. He’s …obviously on some errand from our political enemies.