This is the third in a four part series on Jonah.
In chapter two, God’s greater purpose of sending a message to the people of Nineveh was put on hold. The story focused on the individual needs and rescue of Jonah. Finally in chapter three Jonah does what he was supposed to do back in chapter one.
The LORD came to Jonah a second time and again told him to rise up (“qum”) and go to Nineveh and proclaim (“qara”) the message God had for Nineveh. This time instead of fleeing, Jonah did what God commanded of him. He rose up and went.
When Jonah traveled a day’s worth into Nineveh he proclaimed, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Quite the message, wasn’t it? No mention of why they would be overthrown. No mention of a need for repentance. Even the LORD’s name was left unattached to the message.
Though Jonah didn’t include language that implies the work of the Holy Spirit, there was obviously a “Spirited” response on behalf of the residents of Nineveh. The people turned from their wicked and violent ways and fasted and cried out mightily to God hoping that God would relent upon his judgment. In verse 10, God did just that. Nineveh was not overthrown and the calamity was not brought on by God.
Lutheran theology upholds the idea that God has foreknowledge of events. In other words, God knew that the people of Nineveh would repent. But God’s desire was to accomplish his purposes through Jonah no matter what. In this sense, Jonah was saved from Sheol not only for his own good, but for the good of the people of Nineveh.
This notion that we (Christians) are saved to serve is reflected in Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.”
And again in Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”