I once took part in an orienteering competition—a cross-country race that requires navigating through forest tracks with a map and a compass, stopping at check-in points along the way.
I was terrible at reading maps and using a compass, but I signed up anyway, certain that my running strengths would offset my navigational weaknesses.
Unsurprisingly, I did not do very well. I would go right when I should’ve gone left, and uphill when I should have gone downhill. Many wrong turns led to me getting lost along the way. It was only when a race marshal came my way and told me to turn around that I saw how lost I was, and which path led to the right direction.
During the times we go astray, it’s when the consequences of our actions become clear that we realise we’ve come to a turning point, where we then have to decide to change course and head toward the right path.
Today’s instalment of the book of Jonah presents an example of this turning point and how remarkable God’s grace is in changing the trajectories of people’s lives.
Jonah 3:1-3 shows us how, after a brutal wake-up call from God, this prophet of God gets a “re-do”—a second chance to carry out the same assignment. This time, Jonah obeys and delivers a one-line sermon: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4b).
While Jonah clearly delivers bad news, the response of the Ninevites is even more shocking. Jonah 3:5 tells us that these people—known for their brutality and evil atrocities—hear the bad news and respond by repenting because they “believed God”. This is a sobering reminder to us that anyone can respond to God, even if we don’t expect it.
Throughout the Scriptures, whenever someone is recorded as “believing”, it’s far more than just an intellectual thought or recognition of truth. Believing was always accompanied by a response—a fundamental commitment to do something as a result of coming to believe in something or someone.
In short, believing in God requires a response (1 John 2:3-6).
In the Old Testament, fasting was often a means of seeking God’s mercy in the face of judgement, and wearing sackcloth was a powerful visual symbol of repentance. Aside from these rites, the King of Nineveh issued a decree calling all people to “give up their evil ways and their violence” (Jonah 3:8).
Here, to “give up” is a demonstration of repentance. In the original Hebrew, it uses the same root word that means “turn” or “turn back”, describing someone coming to a moment where a change of direction is required (c.f. Ezekiel 14:6; Joel 2:12-13; Isaiah 55:7). So when the king called the people to repent, their repentance in action is giving up evil ways and violence, which is a change in direction for their lives.
The remarkable news is, when people repent and turn towards God, they encounter a God of compassion, grace, and mercy. Notice how quick God was to forgive the Ninevites, relenting from the judgement that had been prophesied and giving them a re-do opportunity to live by His ways (Jonah 3:10).
This offer continues to exist for us today. Regardless of the mistakes we’ve made or the sin that has steered us off-course, God is far more patient than we might think in giving us the opportunity to repent, and more than willing and ready to forgive when we do so.
The question is, will we heed His call to turn around? Will we let His forgiveness cover our guilt and shame, so that we can turn towards Him again and do what pleases Him?
— Mike Riddell, Australia
Questions for reflection
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