“Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jonah 3:2).
I have appreciated our recent study in the book of Jonah, both in our Adult Bible Fellowships as well as in our children’s Sunday School classes. While there are many important lessons we can learn from this book, the truth that has impacted me the most in recent days is the principle that God’s plans cannot be thwarted.
A Pathetic Prophecy
Jonah is pretty upfront about the fact that he does not want God to forgive the Ninevites. He would prefer to see Nineveh wiped off the map as victims of God’s wrath. Even after God dramatically rescues Jonah from the consequences of his own rebellion, Jonah’s willingness to aid the Ninevites could be described as tepid at best.
Just consider the way in which Jonah conveys God’s message of warning to them. Eight words – that’s all he speaks.
“Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).
Jonah doesn’t tell the Ninevites anything of the grace and mercy of God. He says nothing about the actions they ought to take in response to God’s warning. He provides the people of Nineveh with no hope whatsoever—only a weak prediction of their impending destruction.
An Amazing Response
Despite the anemic nature of Jonah’s prophecy, the Ninevites take his words to heart. Look at their reaction:
The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 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.
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. 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. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
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 3:5-10).
Though Jonah tries his best to sabotage the Ninevites, God produces an incredible response in their hearts. It’s the kind of repentance that could only be motivated by the work of the Lord. And as a result, thousands of lives are saved.
God’s plans cannot be thwarted.
I am Jonah
It strikes me that, often times, I’m a lot like Jonah.
I don’t mean that I actively seek to foil the revealed plan of God. Rather, I frequently behave as though future outcomes depend solely on my actions—as though the success or failure of a given endeavor rests completely on me.
I wonder how much time and energy I have wasted pursuing certain goals—whether in my personal life or in my ministry—because I have failed to bring my pursuits before the Lord. How much more effectively these goals could have been accomplished if I had recognized that the success of the task actually depended on the Lord? What kinds of things could God have accomplished through my life if I had been willing to truly trust in Him?
It occurs to me that I need to spend less time at my desk and more time on my knees. God’s plans cannot be thwarted—mine so easily can.
Are you like Jonah?
How about you? Do you live as though your success depends exclusively upon your efforts? Is this an area where you need to grow as well?
What kinds of things do you and I need to do in order to develop a greater trust and reliance upon the Lord? What actions and habits can help us cultivate this kind of mindset? I would suggest that the first step is prayer.
If God can use eight words from the mouth of a rebellious prophet to bring about the repentance of thousands, what might He be able to do through a willing and dependent servant?