Jonah Lesson 4

What Can Cause God to Change His Mind?

Jonah Chapter 3

1.  In the past, whenever I thought about the Book of Jonah, what came to mind was a big fish swallowing Jonah.  Perhaps this was what you remembered, as well.  In fact, we probably spend way too much time focusing on the fish, while failing to focus enough on the fish maker.

2. While there are many lessons we could focus on from this book, I would like to explore the circumstances which led God to change His mind about the Ninevites.

Q1.  Does it bother you that God changed His mind about destroying the wicked city of Nineveh?  If so, why do you think it bothers you?. 

3.  Jonah was an Old Testament prophet (and preacher) from the tribe of Zebulon in northern Israel.  In order for him to get to Nineveh, he would need to proceed (probably walking) in a northeasterly direction for approximately 300 miles, and cross the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to arrive in Nineveh, (which is now the large city of Mosul in Northern Iraq).  Thus, traveling an estimated 20 to 30 miles per day, the journey would have taken him 10 to 15 days.  Nineveh was a large city, so big that it took Jonah three days to walk through it.  (Jonah 3:3)  The city was approximately 30 to 40 miles wide from the west to the east side, and it was thought to be the home of approximately 600,000 people.   

4.  "The word of the Lord came to Jonah."  It is unknown whether the word that came to Jonah was audible, in a dream, by an angel, or by some other means.  However it was received, Jonah knew its source and the meaning of God's message.

Q2.  How does "the word of the Lord" come to each of us today?

5.The message, meaning, and intent of this word was clear to Jonah.  And the second time he received this message, the prophet complied.  There is a significant lesson for each of us to learn here.   God can use us even when we are unsure, reluctant, frightened, and perhaps feel poorly qualified.  Like Jonah, the process of our responding to God's call could go something like this:

a.  We reflect on the required action and decline to step forward.

b.  There is a time of honest reflection.

c.  We draw near to God and ask for His guidance and strength.

d.  He gives us another opportunity to respond to His calling to serve.

Q3.  Ask the group to relate a time when they have been prompted to serve, in an area that they were unsure of at first.

6.  Repentance of the Ninevites:

a.  Nineveh served as the capitol of Assyria for many years.  Assyria was home to the evil people, whom God would later enable to harass and then destroy most of Israel.  All but a remnant of the Israelites would be taken into captivity.  As a prophet of God and an Israelite, Jonah was no doubt aware of the contempt the Assyrians held for his people and their God.  Also, Israel's king, Jeroboam II, had recently taken land previously owned by Assyria.  The deep seated resentment and animosity on both sides might help to explain much of Jonah's contempt for the Assyrians and the city of Nineveh.  It also gives us much to ponder about similar long held feelings of our own, and how God feels about harboring these feelings towards others.

Q4.  How can we get rid of deep seated anger towards those who have hurt us or taken advantage of us in the past?

b.  The role of the Assyrian king in leading the Ninevites to repent demonstrates a model for us to follow:

(i)   First he repented, as the words spoken by Jonah penetrated his heart and mind.  His repentance set an example for others to follow.  (Jonah  3:5, 6)

(ii)  He led others in specific actions to demonstrate their repentance.  (Jonah 3: 7, 8)

(iii) He was clear in identifying the motive for his actions.  (Jonah 3:9)

7.  So what can cause God to change His mind?  Jonah 3:10 gives us the answer.  "Then God saw their  works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it."  

8.  Some other lessons we can learn from the repentance of the Ninevites:

a.  Nineveh had committed gross acts of cruelty for centuries.  According to an article by Cooper Adams in November, 2014, "They had been ravaging people for centuries and living off the spoils they took."  Their reputation preceded them.  But, even evil men, whom some see as beyond the possibility of responding to the call of God, may listen to the message of salvation if presented to them.

b.  The question is not, "How likely are they to repent", rather, "Who has the courage to take the message to them?"  The Bible is silent on the subject, but there is little doubt that they could easily have killed Jonah.  Something stopped them from doing so.

Q5.  What do you think it was that prevented the Ninevites from killing Jonah?

c.  Part of Jonah's reluctance may have been a real fear for his safety and his life.  However in the final analysis, I believe that his deep seated anger towards the Assyrians was the major reason for his reluctance to deliver God's message.

d.  Their salvation and repentance was real!  It was mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 12:41.

Q6.  Perhaps you can better understand why Jonah was so reluctant to take God's message to the Ninevites.  How would you feel if you were given an assignment to take the message of salvation to an enemy nation? 

 

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