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Jonah in Nineveh -- Running with God (Jonah 3:1-10)
Sermon Notes
Sunday, 07 April 2013 00:00

In our study of Jonah 3, we saw what happened when Jonah told a lower-level official that 40 days from now Nineveh was going to be destroyed. This message spread through the grapevine like wildfire!

The reason it did so was that the people of Nineveh were particularly ripe for this message in this particular time in history. It must have been especially effective upon hearing it from someone who looked like death warmed over, whose skin had been exposed, burned and stained by the stomach acids of the great fish! At any rate, Jonah’s message spread like wildfire!

The people of Nineveh believed Jonah’s warning in 3:5 ~ 5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.

And even as the message is making its way through the proper channels and red tape to the higher officials and eventually to the king himself, meanwhile we see that the people of Nineveh believed the message Jonah delivered from God.

Maybe someone heard Jonah’s cry as he informed the lower official of God’s message to Nineveh and he jumped on speed dial, and sends it out to all his friends on Facebook. Soon the message gets sent on email and then is downloaded to YouTube and goes viral!

Why? Why would the message of some lone Jewish prophet have such an impact in Nineveh??
(1) On June 15, 763 BC, astronomical calculations date Nineveh’s solar eclipse – a solar eclipse is when the moon comes between the earth and the sun, blocking the sun and therefore darkening an area at a certain point on the earth.

Assyrian records mention the name of the year that there was a solar eclipse, and lo and behold! Astronomers are able to date it down to exactly when it happened!

Interestingly, in the Assyrian records when this eclipse is mentioned, there are all kinds of comments in the record, such as “The King will be deposed!” “The gods are warning us that we are coming under judgment!” Then, lo and behold! Here comes a guy looking like no other traipsing into town and proclaiming, 4b“Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

The Ninevites had experienced the frightening solar eclipse; they had thought from this that their king was going to be deposed; they’d heard that the gods were warning them that their nation was going to come under judgment. These people are beside themselves!

(2) There was a huge earthquake that hit Nineveh during a king named, Assur-Dan’s rule. While there were a few Assyrian kings with this name, scholars are comfortable saying that it was the one who reigned at the time of Jonah. The likely date for this earthquake was 760 BC.

(3) The seven years leading up to 759 BC were a time when plagues and famines were recorded for the area surrounding Nineveh.

(4) There was bad news on the political and military front! The kingdom of Urartu, to the north, was threatening Assyria and they were both having problems with these northern neighbors as well as having to put down revolts.

Basically, what is happening is that this is a city that is thinking that ‘everything is falling apart!’
People are wondering, “What do we do? How are we going to deliver ourselves?”
They are ready for someone to tell them about some horrendous thing happening.
And interestingly enough, the year after all these events happened, King Assur-Dan moved out of Nineveh in 758 BC and made Gozan his de facto capital. He regarded Nineveh as a cursed location and after he moved out things became quiet again.

So these people were petrified, and here comes Jonah with this message that God would destroy Nineveh in 40 days!

The people of Nineveh are repenting even before word makes its way through the red tape to the king. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.

It is important to note that verse 6 follows verse 5 chronologically in the Hebrew construction of the sentence (“Then …”).
The text is telling us that AFTER the word had spread, the king also mourned.
What happened in v. 5? The people (not the king) … the people … 5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
Then, v. 6, . 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.

In other words, things haven’t gone through the official channels!
It was supposed to be at least a ‘three-day visit.”
But what happens? The message gets to the populace before it even gets to the king!
The word got out so the king was “leading from behind” on this one! He may have been thinking, “Looks a little dangerous! People have been saying that I’m going to be deposed, we’ve got those threats coming from our northern neighbors, we’ve had that solar eclipse, we’ve had famine, and earthquake and plague. I think it would be good if we proclaimed a fast, so lo and behold! The king takes off his royal robes and he puts on sackcloth; he sat in ashes … 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

Notice, the evil he is speaking about is the violence in the people’s hands. Their military actions, their normal foreign policy, were noted for their brutality and cruelty to its conquered subjects, carried out against other countries in order to raise revenue.

In the seven years before Jonah’s arrival, God had stopped Assyria from its foreign aggression against other nations. That time made them ripe to receive a warning against their expansionist ways. Israel was no doubt on their “hit list,” but God intervened, because in His mercy He preferred to warn rather than immediately judge. This, of course, was exactly what Jonah had feared would happen (Jonah 3:10-4:2)!
It wasn’t until 744 BC that Assyria resumed their old aggressive foreign policy. Twenty two years later (722 BC), they crushed the northern kingdom of Israel.

In turn, God judged Assyria when Nineveh was conquered by Babylon in 612 BC.
Through all of this, we see how God is at work in the lives (and deaths) of nations! May the people of our nation respond to God’s warnings and may we turn from our evil ways at a grassroots level that will “trickle up” to the leaders of our government! May our whole nation be transformed because so many individuals respond to the message of eternal life through simple faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord!






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