ďGo to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.Ē
VERSE 2 of chapter 1 of the book of Jonah contains the command and commission God gave to Jonah. It is a command to take Godís message to the great city of Nineveh. The message was to tell the people there of Godís displeasure with their way of life, and that God would punish them for the evil they did. Although the message was one of judgement, it had a purpose of mercy and compassion. Godís righteousness and his love go together. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. From this command we can learn much about God that is important to know.
We can only learn so much about God through creation. The word of God takes us further so that we may know God in his relationship to us human beings, and what he requires of us.
GOD REIGNS IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.
The revelation we have here in this speaking of God to Jonah and commanding him to go to preach to the people of Nineveh is that God reigns. It is the king of heaven and earth who speaks.
The world lives in indifference towards God. The world rulers live as if God had no control over the affairs of men. The world lives as if God did not matter. The fact is that God is on the throne of the universe and reigns. God and his throne is over all.
This fact underlines this command given by God to Jonah. It seems to me that those who relegate the book of Jonah to a fictional story, whatever their best intentions, and their asserting that the story has meaning for us, the bottom line is that by doing this they relegate God to fiction. They deny the sovereignty of God. This is not their intention, but it is the result of their denial of the historicity of the book of Jonah.
This fact that God is on the throne of the universe and reigns is declared so graphically in Revelation 4. John sees a throne in heaven and one sitting on it. Then comes a description of the glory of the throne and the one sitting on it. The vision goes on to describes the throne of God and God sitting on the throne as at the centre of all things and centre of the universe. Everything and everybody surround the throne and give glory to him that sits of the throne. The first circle around the throne are the Cherubim - the four living creatures. The next circle around the throne is the twenty four elders, which represent the church of the Old Testament and the New Testament - represented by the twelve patriarches and the twelve apostles. Then encircling the throne are all the angelic body (Revelation 5:11). Then encircling the throne is the rest of all creation (Revelation 5:13). All give glory to God on the throne and worship before the throne. God is at the centre of all things, and reigns.
In these two chapters of Revelation also is declared the holiness of the throne. God reigns in righteousness.
This is what is expressed, less graphically and powerfully here in the command given to Jonah, but nonetheless real and the same.
GOD IS NOT INDIFFERENT TO THE AFFAIRS OF THE WORLD.
This command to Jonah reveals that God is not indifferent to the affairs of the world. Nineveh was a heathen city, albeit a city of note and of power, But though it was a Gentile city and not a Jewish one, still God was taking account of the affairs of the city, and was not indifferent to them.
The world lives without regard to God. The world would laugh if it was suggested that God was interested, yet the world is very ready to complain against God when things go wrong, suggesting God was wrong in not stepping in to solve the problem. Yet the fact shown here shows us that God was not indifferent to the affairs of the people in the city of Nineveh. The way the people in the city lived, from the King downwards, came up to God. The command for Jonah to preach against the city shows that these affairs of the people of Nineveh offended God, and made him against the people and their actions.
The command also declares to us that God will not, and can not, allow sin and wickedness to go unpunished. Sin and wickedness is an offence to God. It is a transgression of his holy law which is the foundation of his government of his universe. People live today and all down history, and rulers govern and act, as if God was not interested in the affairs of mankind, and could not care less about the way things are being carried out in this world. Godís attitude to Nineveh, expressed in this command to Jonah, tells a different story.
The fact is that God will not and does not stand aside and let sin and wickedness rampage all over the world. If there is not repentance, judgement will fall. This is the testimony of this history in which Jonah was involved. At this time, at the preaching of Jonah, the people repented from the king downwards. God spared the city and withheld executing his judgement. However, the city returned to its wicked ways, and as prophesied by the prophet Nahum, Godís judgement did fall on the city, and 150 or so years after Jonah Nineveh was completely destroyed, and does not exist now.
This concept of judgement by God is an offence to the church today. It is felt that it is dishonouring the true conception of God to say he destroys and judges sinners. The fact revealed in the Bible is quite different. In fact the idea of Godís love expressed in this denial that God could or would judge sin and sinners is a diminishing of his love and his holiness. It destroys the holy character of God because it makes him indifferent to sin. It destroys and diminishes the love of God, and makes the sending of Christ almost a useless gesture. The fact is that God so loved the world, and us wretched sinners, that he was ready to send his Son into the world to satisfy his holy law, and allow him to forgive sinners justly. Godís love is that Jesus was wounded for our transgression; was bruised for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was laid on him; and by his stripes we are healed, and in the fact that God laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all, and met the holy demands of his law in his Son, that we might go free. Here is unimaginable love, so deep, so strong. Whereas the idea of Godís love expressed in the idea that God will not judge sin is a sickly sentimentality.
In fact this action of God towards Nineveh, which was sending Jonah to warn them that God had noted their evil ways, was a warning with a purpose of grace and compassion. Godís purpose, as we shall learn, was to show mercy to the Ninevites. The preaching of Jonah was designed to lead them to repentance. Such was the result in the sovereign mercy of God, and the people repented and the city was spared.
This purpose is also true of the threatenings of judgement in the Bible. They warn of Godís just attitude towards sin. They warn of the inevitable result of impenitence. They are offered to the world together with the offer of the free pardon that is available to all in Jesus Christ. If disregarded, Godís judgement will result in death and hell. However the offer is open of free pardon for all who believe in Jesus. If people find themselves judged, it is not lack of love in God, but a lack of will to turn to God on the part of sinners.
THE OFFICE OF A PROPHET IS A VERY HIGH AND IMPORTANT ONE.
Jonah was used by God to proclaim his message to the Ninevites. God speaks to the world through his servants. Jonah was given a message of great importance for the Ninevites. It was a matter of life or death for them in the most real sense. If the message had not been delivered, or not been delivered in the correct, urgent and public way it was in the end delivered, the consequence for the people of Nineveh would have been catastrophic.
It is an amazing thing that God uses sinful human beings to speak for him in this world. We are weak and failing and imperfect, yet in spite of this God uses people whom he choses out for the task. What is true is that the calling of a prophet, that is of one who is the mouthpiece of God, is one of extraordinary privilege and of high importance and responsibility.
The privilege is to be chosen by the God of heaven and earth to be his ambassador in the world. There is no other office or work that anyone could have which is of higher privilege than this. In the eyes of the world it may not seem so, and this is because the world in its wisdom does not know God, and does not recognise God, but this does not diminish in anyway the extraordinary privilege of being a prophet. All Godís ministers today are prophets. As Paul tells us they are ambassadors for Christ.
The high importance of being a prophet is that the prophet is given the word of the Lord to declare in the world. The prophet of God is dealing with matters that effect the eternal destiny of people. There is no other office of such high importance as this. The importance is also that the prophet is speaking for God, the words that God has given.
This places on all ministers who are called to preach the Gospel the responsibility to proclaim the word of the Lord and nothing else. There is no place for the minister of God to exercise his or her wisdom and decide what should be declared and what should not. The duty of the prophet is to declare the whole counsel of God.
The importance of this office of the prophet is such that the prophet should be engaged earnestly to seek the word of the Lord, and on each occasion of preaching to have come out of the presence of the Lord with a message heard from the Lord for that occasion. It is not enough to preach the truth, the prophet must also always preach the truth given by God for that specific occasion. There are many things Jonah could have proclaimed to the people of Nineveh which were the word of the Lord, but none of them could he proclaim but the word received from the Lord. God will not bless a message that has been decided upon by the preacher, however good that message may be. God only blesses the word he has given to be declared.
The prophet must be careful not to shirk declaring the word received from the Lord. This was Jonahís sin. He had his reasons for not wanting to preach to the Ninevites. These we shall think about as we go through the book of Jonah. Some of them were good and spiritual reasons, though others were not, but however good the reason, this is no grounds for running away from the command of the Lord.
The prophet must not delay in proclaiming the word received from the Lord. The message is too important and too urgent for delay. Jonah was given the command ďgoĒ. The implication is that it had to be instantly obeyed. The reason was because there was a time factor involved. Any delay may be fatal. For preachers today there is a tremendous temptation to keep back something of what God has given to save for another later time. This makes life much easier because there is less preparation and work to do. However this is sinful disobedience. We can trust God for the next message, and there is no need to store up for a second occasion. The truth is that like the Manna in the wilderness kept for a second day against the command of the Lord went bad, so a message held back for another occasion will lose the unction of the Holy Spirit and be of little impact on the hearers. God will only bless when the prophet declares all that God has given him to declare.
It was a very hard task Jonah was given to do by God. He was called to go amongst enemies of Israel, and declare an unacceptable message. Fear must not be allowed to hold the prophet back from being obedient to God. If the message is unpopular, still it must be declared, and in declaring it the prophet must trust God for the result.
Our God reigns. He will have his way in the world. He is taking account of all the affairs of mankind. The sin of man comes up to God and offends his holiness. God can not and will not stand back and allow his honour to be tarnished. We must not presume on the grace of God, and suppose that God holds back his just judgements because he does not care. The reason God waits to execute judgement is because of pure love and grace. He gives time to repent, and he sends forth his prophets that they may call people to repentance.
Let us at least heed the word of the Lord, believe and obey it, when it is evident that God is speaking through a prophet.