Revivals in the Bible: At Nineveh with Jonah

Bible Study : H. E. Alexander, 1950_04_02 translated from French

Revival at Nineveh with Jonah

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Reading it carefully, we are constantly amazed. Jonah is an extraordinary man who had an unusual experience, and the fact that there was an action of the Spirit of God in Nineveh is simply miraculous! From this account emerge three divine principles of utmost importance, and I am convinced that it is because of our ignorance of them that our prayers have so little biblical orientation, spiritual authority and efficacy; they give us a key to discern the times in which we live:

  1. The inexorable justice of God
    against the sins of the nations as such. Each one, responsible for her own sins, will render an account of them to God and will reap what she has sown. There will be a judgment of nations (cf. Matthew 25:31-46 ) as there will be one of individuals (cf. Revelation 20:11-15 ).
  2. The Unfathomable Mercy of God
    to nations that repent and to authorities that honor the God of heaven. If there is repentance, blessing follows immediately. Civil authorities who respect God in a country are in turn blessed, even if their representatives are not converted.
  3. The individual responsibility of believers
    with regard to the salvation of their nation by the proclamation of the Word of God. If there is a personal commitment, this does not exclude the collective task of the Church towards the country which shelters her. As long as the throne of grace is established in heaven, the Holy Spirit works in grace on earth, and God can delay the day of final judgment because of the lost, as he will shorten the time of judgment because of the elect. (cf. Matthew 24:22 ).

Some Christians are so preoccupied with the return of Christ that the very idea that God can yet awaken a nation does not reach their thoughts. They are so full of dogmas and patterns as to this return that they have no concept of the blessing that God can yet bestow upon his Church. Reading the book of Jonah, with the commentary of the Lord Jesus Christ, reveals to us three fundamental laws:

  • God can neither bless nor employ his servants except obedience.
  • There is no hope for men except repentance.
  • The manifestation of divine power comes through the preaching of the cross and resurrection of Christ.

No blessing apart from obedience

The more we read and meditate on this text, the more riches we discover in it. The four questions posed by the sailors to the fleeing prophet are inspiring:

What is your occupation? (cf Jonah 1:8 ). The question is simple and the answer also because it is in daily life that living faith manifests itself. At home, in the office, at the factory, in the factory or in the fields; in study, in the army or in the service of God. Our generation wants to see the sign of obedience in our activities because that is where God wants to grant repentance and save souls. This is why turning one’s back on all selfishness, one must testify to the power of the resurrection and announce the message of God!
Where do you come from ? (1:8). It is Scripture that answers: “Hear me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord! Look to the rock from which you were hewn, to the hollow of the pit from which you were taken” (Isaiah 51:1 ). “That’s what you were, some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 . Since that is where we come from , will he not save others also? It is up to you and me. Will we obey? It troubles us deeply when we think from whence the Lord has drawn us and saved us by grace, and with what nonchalance and indifference do we leave so many to wander without God. This inability to suffer proves that we are no better than Jonah, and that we are no better than him!
What is your country ? (1:8). Most of us enjoy freedom of speech and material prosperity. Our cities are not all destroyed and neither are our families, but we must not forget that others do not have these privileges. However, the society with its current wealth increasingly resembles the great city of Nineveh. And we there in the middle? Will we continue to have the same feelings as Jonas? Flee, sleep or show complete indifference?

What are your people? (cf. 1:8). What part of God’s people do we belong to? What is our Work and what is our Church? Let us think of their origin, the blessing of the beginning when God raised them up. Are we still worthy of it, are we maintaining the level? Are we truly reformed by the Word of God today? Or have we moved from strength to form, are we living on theories? I insist… do we show off what we have in Christ Jesus, do we give to others what we have or, sheltered behind a reputation, do we flee from the presence of God, selfish, clean righteous like Jonah ? Does it take the storm to wake us up, the miracle to stop us?

No hope except repentance

First a few words about Nineveh to better understand the great work that took place there. The first type of Antichrist, Nimrod is the origin of Nineveh (cf. Genesis 10:8-11 ). Called “valiant hunter before the Lord” (cf. v. 9), he was in fact only a rebel and a tyrant. The Bible uses the term great city five times in connection with Nineveh (cf. Genesis 10:12 ; Jonah 1:2 ; 3:2; 3:3; 4:11). It is interesting to read in the book of Daniel that Nebuchadnezzar saw a great tree where the birds of the sky had their nest (Daniel 4:12 ), and that in Matthew 13:31-32 we have the parable of the mustard seed becoming a tall tree where the birds of the sky used to nest. This tree and the birds symbolize the development of evil in the world of Christianity. The book of Revelation depicts wickedness reaching its peak in the expression: “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5 ). Nineveh, like Babylon, represents all that is corrupt, powerful, and opposed to God.

In Nineveh dwelt Sennacherib, the king of the Assyrians, an enemy of God and his people. The book of Jonah tells us that by this time the wickedness of the city had reached to the dwelling place of God (cf. 1:2). We find this expression three times in Scripture, in Genesis 18:20-21 for Sodom and Gomorrah, in Jonah 1:2 for Nineveh, and in Revelation 18:5 for Babylon. As we can see, it is not a question of simple wickedness, but of a state of revolt such that it accumulates up to the sky. Every time we read that in the Scripture, judgment immediately follows. Nineveh is one of three cities – along with Tire and Sidon (cf. Matthew 11:21 and Luke 11:32 ) – mentioned by the Lord Jesus as a warning to our generation.

At Nineveh, Jonah preached divine mercy amid the harshest warnings. We read it in Jonah 4:2 : “I knew that you are a compassionate and merciful God, slow to anger and rich in goodness, and who repents of evil”. A century later, when Nahum announced the destruction of Nineveh, judgment did indeed fall. Nevertheless, the prophet suddenly cut off his message with this word of hope: “Behold on the mountains the feet of the messenger who announces peace!” (Nahum 2:1 ). There was still room for repentance!

At Nineveh we have the demonstration of God’s mercy. Let us not forget the words of Ezekiel: “I am alive! saith the Lord GOD, what I desire is not that the wicked die, but that he change his ways and live” (33:11). The Ninevites repented and God granted mercy, if only because of the one hundred and twenty thousand men who no longer had a point of reference as to good and evil (cf. Jonah 4:11 ).

In Nineveh, there was a servant of God, a repentant and obedient Jonah to announce the Word of God. Thus, when the Word is announced with power, it creates a great need which it answers. This is why the inhabitants of Nineveh repented. If we are silent, this miracle will not happen. Let us leave Nineveh for a moment to judge ourselves: where is the spirit of repentance in our Church, in our Work? Where are the Christians who beat their chests, who stop in their life and their service to seek the face of God? Where are the hearts touched, the consciences exercised by the Holy Spirit, and where are those who begin to suffer for the lost world instead of condemning it? The Church cannot repent if its members do not repent, and the nation cannot repent if the Church does not repent. But if believers are sensitive to the voice of the Spirit and change their attitude, no boundary can hold back the blessing. The power of God is always greater than the deepest evil, so much so that revival can break out unexpectedly. May God deliver us from all fatal pessimism and heavy indecision.

I come back to the prophet whose story concerns us directly.

Jonah had a specific calling (cf. Jonah 1:1-2 ); he was of the tribe of Zebulun to which was attached this promise: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your races, and you Issachar, in your tents! They will call the peoples on the mountain; there they will offer sacrifices of righteousness, for they will suck the abundance of the sea and the treasures hidden in the sand” (Deuteronomy 33:18-19 ).

Jonah was called a second time (cf. Jonah 3:1 ); let us read this account carefully and recognize how sobering the case of Jonah truly is . God called us once, but have we responded fully, are we taking action? There are Christians who go through storms and shipwrecks, they flee before the Eternal, but God who called Jonah a second time also wants to call them back. Will we answer today? It is frightening how accustomed we can get to the words of commitment in a hymn or prayer and remain stationary.

Jonah prays to the Lord his God when he is in the belly of the big fish: “For me, I will offer you sacrifices with a cry of thanksgiving, I will accomplish the wishes I have made: Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:10 ). In the trial and punishment due to his disobedience, he awakens to reality and, thrown back on the sand, he finds communion with his Lord, the privilege of being his messenger. Transformed by this strange experience which somehow represents death and resurrection with Christ (cf. Romans 6: 1-11 ), he left to accomplish the urgent mission with this multitude ready to benefit from the mercy of God.

3 No divine power apart from the cross

This short book is extremely rich. If God wants to spare the city of Nineveh, he does not spare his disobedient child. Three times in this book it is said that Jonah “fled from the face of the Lord” (cf. Jonah 1:3 and 10).

If he flees, it is because of his selfishness and his nationalism. It is at the beginning of chapter 4 that the prophet reveals himself as his own righteous man and shows the bottom of his heart. He is very angry because God has shown mercy to the pagans. He recalls that he preferred to flee rather than proclaim the judgment. At the very moment when God gives grace to Nineveh, he asks to die! The message that God entrusted to him does not at all agree with his theological conceptions, however exact and orthodox they may be? Nor does God’s attitude correspond to his religious ideas. Harsh for repentant Ninevites, he shows sentimentality for a shrub. He manifests joy only for personal and physical relief. God rebukes him severely. What a warning for us! The world is ready for revival, but believers are not. They hinder the work of God by their narrow conceptions, their cherished dogmas, their ingrained habits.

If he flees, the world wonders: “Why did you do this?” (Jonah 1:10 ). Unbelievers perceive the disobedience of Christians more than is believed. We are so much like Jonah: deserters, sleepers, and oblivious, while judgment is at the door and hangs over the world.

If he flees, God bars his way and his plans fail. He is the cause of the storm that threatens the lives of others as well as his own misfortunes. How many runaways in the Church of God where it is easy to be zealous for all kinds of activities instead of being and doing what God requires! How many storms among the Christians caused by a “Jonah on the run”. How many divisions produced by disobedience to God.
If he flees, God finds him in an extraordinary circumstance, in the belly of the fish! The revival of Jonah preceded the revival of the Ninevites. Identified with Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection, he was a blessing to men.

In conclusion, the Spirit of God showed us first a sleeping Jonah, then a shaken Jonah and finally an awake Jonah. Following his encounter with God under the waters and in the night, Jonah could be a sign for a great pagan metropolis with the following result: …Let them cry out to God with strength, and let them all turn back from their wrong way and from the acts of violence of which their hands are guilty… God saw that they did so and came back from their wrong way. And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:5-10 ).

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