A man surviving in a large fish’s gut is easy to believe compared to this part of the story! Jonah, on the second attempt, responds faithfully to God’s call and proclaims his message of judgement in the heart of Nineveh, the archetypal ‘Sin City’. And guess what? Everyone believes and changes. Perhaps it is easier to imagine in a world where videos can ‘go viral’ and ideas – good and bad alike – can spread like wildfire across the internet.
Of course the main focus of the story is not on the people of Nineveh, but on Jonah, the prophet. His first failed attempt to respond to God’s call is the story we know so well -he runs away and ends up nearly drowned. So ‘Once again’ God speaks to him. (I wonder how many times does the phrase ‘once again God…’ need to be used in the telling of our own story of discipleship?) This second attempt is hardly more successful than the first from Jonah’s point of view because, as you see if you read on, he becomes thoroughly disillusioned by God’s overwhelming grace toward Nineveh and its people.
The sin of the world is hard to deal with. But sometimes the grace of God can be even more challenging for the people of God.
Once again the LORD spoke to Jonah. 2 He said, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to the people the message I have given you.” 3 So Jonah obeyed the LORD and went to Nineveh, a city so large that it took three days to walk through it. 4 Jonah started through the city, and after walking a whole day, he proclaimed, “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!” 5 The people of Nineveh believed God’s message. So they decided that everyone should fast, and all the people, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth to show that they had repented.
10 God saw what they did; he saw that they had given up their wicked behaviour. So he changed his mind and did not punish them as he had said he would.