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Jonah 3 – itchy scratchy clothes of repentance

Jonah is given the exact same great commission as he was given earlier – go to Nineveh and call out. God has not moderated or compromised his call for Jonah’s obedience. Jonah must bend not the LORD. It is a short sermon – Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!

One wonders how Australians might respond. The Ninevites respond dramatically – there is believing, wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes, fasting, and calling out to God. Most of these were things people would typically do to express sorrow for sin and appealing for the mercy of God. However here these things are performed with even great exuberance. Not only are the people wearing sackcloth but so are the animals. Not only do the people fast without food for 3 or 7 days but they fast for 40 days and without water as well (fasting is generally only during daylight hours) – and the animals are again included. Not only do they cry out to God but they do so ‘mightily’. In their actions one can agree with the writer who said, “Repentance is that mighty change in mind, heart and life, wrought by the Spirit of God.”

These actions are accompanied by genuine repentance. The king of Nineveh calls his subjects to: Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Repentance involves a turning or changing from one thing to another.

The king’s hope is that if they repent i.e. turn then perhaps God will repent i.e. turn. He says: God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.The king has spoken correctly – When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God turned from his fierce anger – and he did not do it.

Jonah’s prayer taught us about faith in the good news; the actions of the Ninevites teach us the nature of believing and repenting. No wonder Jesus says that on the Judgment Day these Ninevites will stand and accuse the Galileans who having been spoken to by a prophet far greater than Jonah did not repent. Let us model our repentance on the former.