Jonah Preaches to Nineveh
After Jonah’s deliverance from the great fish, God called him a second time. Jonah 3:1, 2 says,
1 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”
This begins the prophecy about the second work of Christ, which was to take place after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. It relates directly to the second dove in Lev. 14:4 and the second goat in Lev. 16:7, the first to bring healing to our death-ridden (mortal) souls, and the second to remove sin.
Yet this also prophesies of the gospel going forth to convert the nations—the very nations that were considered to be God’s enemies, those that put Israel into captivity. The story helps define the love of God, as Paul defined it in Rom. 5:8 and 10,
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us… 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
This type of love is the foundation of the restoration of all things and the salvation of all men that Paul sets forth later in the same chapter (Rom. 5:15-20).
Jonah 3:3, 4 says,
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city, a three days’ walk. 4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
This does not say that it took Jonah three days to go from Israel to Nineveh (modern Mosul). It actually would have taken him some weeks to walk that far. It says that Nineveh was so large that it took three days to encompass it, that is, to walk around its perimeter.
On July 26, 2014, after ISIS took control of the city of Mosul, they destroyed the tombs of Jonah and Daniel. Three years later, the Iraqi government took back Mosul amidst much destructive street fighting. In a sense, we might say that Mosul-Nineveh was destroyed, as Jonah had predicted. But in 2017 it was retaken, and its rebuilding could be seen as a resurrection of sorts.
It is possible that the death and resurrection of Mosul is a modern sign of a soon-coming worldwide repentance and revival as the Spirit of God is poured out on the nations.
The Repentance of Nineveh
Jonah 3:5 says,
5 Then the people of Nineveh believed [aman] in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
The people had faith in God, as demonstrated by the fact that they believed the word of the prophet. The word aman is the same word used in Gen. 15:6 to describe Abraham’s faith in the promise of God:
6 Then he believed [aman] in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
The manner of repentance in Nineveh is explained in greater detail in the next verses. Jonah 3:6-9 says,
6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes. 7 And he issued a proclamation and it said,
“In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. 8 But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. 9 Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?”
This official decree from the king of Assyria in his capital city of Nineveh prophesies of what will yet happen in the earth during the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit that turns all nations to Jesus Christ.
ISIS tried to fight against Jonah, who is a prophetic type of Jesus, but their defeat was certain. The most they could do was to destroy an empty tomb and thereby prophesy of the end of death itself. The next step, when they turn from “the violence” which is in their hands, will be to see the living Christ in His second manifestation.
The proclamation for repentance came from the top down. Even the king clothed himself with sackcloth and sat in the “ashes.” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says of this,
“Sackcloth was regarded as a symbol of humility and utter dependence upon God. It was a coarse ugly cloth not fit for normal wear.”
Clothing also represents one’s nature. This goes back to the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve were given clothes of skins (Gen. 3:21) to signify their fleshly nature. But sackcloth was their way of admitting that their nature was coarse and ugly in the sight of God and all men, and by extension that they were repenting of this condition.
It was also common to sit in “dust and ashes” (aphar and ephar) to indicate repentance. It was well known that man was made of the dust of the ground and that all men would return to dust at death. Dust was associated with death, so Psalm 22:15 says, “Thou dost lay me in the dust of death.”
Abraham himself said in Gen. 18:27, “I am but dust and ashes.” Job 42:6 says “I repent in dust and ashes.” Because the two Hebrew words, aphar and ephar, sounded similar, the terms were often linked together.
No one can know the hearts of the individual people of Nineveh, of course, but from a prophetic standpoint, the actions of Nineveh and Assyria as a whole represent the enemies of God repenting when they hear the word of Christ in His second work. It is important to understand this in times when it appears as if the whole world is in danger of destruction. The danger is real, but because the book of Jonah prophesies of a worldwide repentance, we are assured that the world will not be destroyed. Instead, the Spirit will be poured out, the world will repent, and in the end, all things will be put under the feet of Christ (Psalm 8:6; Heb. 2:8; 1 Cor. 15:27, 28).
The Beasts Repent
In the king’s decree, even the beasts, herds, and flocks were to be covered in sackcloth and ashes and were to repent. This may seem like a strange decree, but it is another prophecy that even the beast systems will be subdued and will be turned from their wicked ways.
The lion, bear, leopard, and iron-toothed beast of Daniel 7 will all be tamed, as it were, subdued under the feet of Jesus Christ, and will become part of His Kingdom, for they will be given new natures. Isaiah 11:6-9 says,
6 And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. 7 Also the cow and the bear will graze; their young will lie down together; and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 And the nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
The beast nations of Daniel 7 were identified as beasts in order to show their predatory nature. Any nation that desires to “eat” other nations to increase the size of its empire is a beast nation. A nation that puts self-interest (“patriotism”) above the interests of God—Who rules all nations with equal justice for all—is a beast nation.
In the end, the Stone Kingdom will grow until it fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:35). That nation (prophetic “mountain”) will become the light of the world, and people from many nations will come to its light to learn the law of the Lord (Isaiah 2:2-4). Thus, they will learn how to take on the nature of Christ and put off the sackcloth of human nature, which is the usual cause of war. In that day, “nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:4).
Conquest by war will be a thing of the past. The Kingdom of God conquers by love, not by war. War is waged only to enforce justice. This is prophesied inadvertently by the king of Nineveh.
Jonah 3:10 says,
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.
Many people believe that the world will end in a horrible catastrophe. Even Christians have a difficult time believing that God’s wrath can and will be averted. They see only the rise in wickedness and have no confidence that God will send forth His Holy Spirit to avert calamity. They think the Holy Spirit can only save a few.
However, the story of Jonah is the story of the second work of Christ as depicted in his second calling to go to Nineveh. The simple truth is this: The world will be saved in the second work of Christ by the coming of Jonah (Christ). Like Jonah, the church has been reluctant to preach the word to God’s enemies, thinking that those enemies are destined for destruction. But God has a different plan, one that is in accordance with His love for all of His creation.
This does not mean that the threat of destruction is unreal. It is certainly real. The rising level of wickedness in the world demands the justice of the divine law. Only true repentance can (and will) turn aside destructive judgment. Yet they will indeed repent in the end.
The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit
The real question is whether God will indeed send forth His Spirit, and whether or not it will result in the repentance of the wicked. In my view, this will indeed happen, for God has vowed that He will make this happen by the power of His own will.
Joel 2:28 says,
28 And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.
This occurred on a small scale on the day of Pentecost, as Peter tells us in Acts 2:16-21. It has a greater fulfillment today, for if the “last days” began at Pentecost, then today we are living in the last of the last days. Joel’s prophecy has not yet been exhausted, for His Spirit has yet to be poured out “on all mankind.”
In fact, it is not until the Great White Throne judgment that the Spirit of God will be poured out upon all mankind. Only then will every knee bow and every tongue “swear allegiance to Him” (Isaiah 45:23). Only then, Paul says, will every tongue “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 3:11).
In 1 Cor. 12:3 Paul says, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Hence, when every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, they do so “by the Holy Spirit.” That is when Joel’s prophecy is truly fulfilled. When the Spirit is poured out upon all mankind, then every knee will bow and every tongue will confess and declare allegiance to Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.
This is the restoration of all things, which the holy prophets have foretold from the beginning (Acts 3:21). It comes through the One Moses foresaw, for Acts 3:22 says,
22 Moses said, “The Lord God shall raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed in everything He says to you.”
Under Old Covenant obligations, this statement was a command for all to give heed to Him. But under New Covenant promise, this is a prophecy that all “shall give heed in everything He says to you.”
This is the good news of the New Covenant promise that God has given us by an oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He has vowed to make it happen, and if any man does not receive the Holy Spirit at some time, then God has failed to fulfill His vow. Heb. 2:8 says that “we do not yet see all things subjected to Him,” but we know that it is only a matter of time before all the promises of God will be fulfilled.
What is the Promise of God?
The promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is that He will bless all nations (Gen. 12:3). Peter interprets this in Acts 3:25, 26 to mean that God will cause all men to repent, so that they can be reconciled to Him.
25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.
He does not say that God will merely give everyone the opportunity to turn by their own free will. No, it is written that God Himself will turn them all from their wicked ways. He has obligated Himself to do this through the New Covenant, as He promised in Deut. 29:12-15.
12 that you may enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into HIS OATH, which the Lord your God is making with you today, 13 in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
God’s oath to Israel in the time of Moses merely affirmed His earlier oath that He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would bless all the families of the earth. Hence, the oath included not only those who were present in the days of Moses, but also to those who were not present.
That includes everyone: present and not present. No one is left out. God was not vowing to give all men opportunity to repent. In fact, we know that throughout history, only a small portion of mankind has been given opportunity to repent in their lifetime. Until recent years, very few even heard the name of Jesus. If God had vowed to give all men opportunity, then we might question His failure to fulfill that vow.
Most men have not turned to Jesus in their lifetime. For them, God’s oath has not been fulfilled this side of the grave. So it must be fulfilled at the Great White Throne, when all men are summoned, and where every knee bows before Him. When every tongue swears allegiance to Him and confesses that He is Lord by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then and only then will God’s oath be fulfilled.
While relatively few Christians today believe that God is able to accomplish this, due to the resistance of man’s will, I believe the promises of God. It was Abraham’s belief in the promise of God that was counted to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:20-22).
Is God Able?
The promise of God is to save all mankind, to restore all nations, and to put all things under the feet of Jesus. Do we really believe that? Or do we believe that He is capable only of saving a tiny portion of mankind, whom He will take to heaven, and then burn up the earth which He created?
The gospel is the good news of God’s success, not the bad news of His failure to deliver on His promise. Sending Jesus Christ to the earth was only part of the promise. Primarily, Jesus was the One sent to implement the promise of the salvation of all men (1 Tim. 4:10). But if Jesus does not actually save all men, then He failed in His mission.
But I do not believe that His mission will fail. Jonah proves this. Even though the prophet was reluctant to preach the word, God saw to it that his “free will” was overruled. The wisdom of God found a way to finish the job, so that we would be blessed with this prophecy.
Hence, we know the end of the story. It does not matter how improbable it appears on the surface. It does not even depend upon the church’s will—or lack of will—in regard to the Great Commission. It does not depend upon man’s Old Covenant vows of obedience, however sincere and well-intentioned. It depends only upon God’s ability to keep His word, and if His will were less powerful than man’s opposing will, then He should not have made a vow that He could not possibly keep.
But we are assured that He is able, for when it appeared that God was unable to keep His promise to bring Israel into the Promised Land, Moses challenged God on this very point. Moses told God in Num. 14:15, 16,
15 Now if Thou dost slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Thy fame will say, 16 Because the Lord could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.
What was God’s answer? Num. 14:21 says,
21 But indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord.
In other words, if anyone thinks that God was unable to bring Israel into the Promised Land on account of the strength of their opposing will, think again! Not only will God fulfill His promise to Israel, but He will also fill the whole earth with His glory!
If God could fulfill His oath to a rebellious people called Israel, can He not fulfill His oath to make all men His people and to be their God? Is God truly capable of this? Or will we see Him at the Great White Throne wringing His hands, saying, “I really tried. I gave them every opportunity, but they would not listen to Me. My intentions were good, but I was unable to turn their hearts. Their free will was too strong for Me. I am a gentleman, but the devil is not; so he made them sin, and I could not stop it.”
No, God is not so weak. Though He gave authority to mankind, He never gave them His sovereignty. Man’s authority has never been a match for the power of God. For this reason, God has not hesitated to make vows, for He knows that He has the power to keep them in spite of the opposition.
For this reason, He has spoken through the prophets since the beginning of time, telling us how history will end. I recall a local minister writing in one of his books that God does not know all things, because events depend upon the actions of men which have not yet been determined. But God is not so limited, nor was He so unwise as to devise a plan that would allow history to run out of control. If He had done so, this world would indeed be a fearful place to live.