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Eternity 40 - The Word That Touched The King

(Jonah 3:5-10 LITV And the men of Nineveh believed in God, and they called a fast and put on sackclothes, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. (6) And the word touched even to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he took his robe from him and covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. (7) And he cried and said in Nineveh by the decree of the king and of his great ones, saying, Do not let man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them feed nor let them drink water. (8) But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. And let them call with strength to God. And let them each one turn from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (9) Who knows? He may turn, and God may have pity and turn away from the glow of His anger, that we do not perish. (10) And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. And God was compassionate over the evil that He had spoken to do to them, and He did not do it.

There are times, after a dramatic tragedy, such as the death of Princess Diana, or after September 11, when a society stops in its tracks and thinks hard. At such moments commerce seems unimportant, the whole society feels the need to "work through" the issue. There is a unanimous collective hush.

Jonah's preaching did that to Nineveh, all through the great city consciences were pricked, the markets closed down, people went home, there was a deep sense of something dreadful and deserved, of the imminent wrath of God.

There was an awakening of the moral sense of the city and Jonah's preaching resonated with their own consciences and the awful message was that "Your sins have reached to Heaven and you are doomed."

The men, the King, the city - the revival swept quickly through Nineveh and "from the greatest to the least" they put on sackcloth and ashes and fasted and called out strongly to God and turned from their violence and evil ways.

This was a mighty revival and the revival was genuine - otherwise God would not have relented, for God knows the hearts of people. They felt the "glow of His anger", saw themselves in clear danger of perishing, acknowledged their helplessness, mourned their sin and threw themselves on God for mercy.

This was the preached word of God doing a dramatic work in the hearts of people. From the palace to the prison to the pig-pen, men and animals alike, were swept up in an appeal to God for salvation.

This was not a suburban revival in a preachers tent in the local park with good nice Baptist teenagers walking the sawdust trail. Nineveh was a truly wicked city full of very nasty people, a place that was feared across the ancient world, a place of unspeakable cruelty. A city so bad that, like Sodom and Gomorrah, God had heard of its wickedness and was about to destroy it.

Compare "Jonah 1:2 LITV Rise up, go to Nineveh, the great city, and cry out against it; for their evil has come up before Me." with the similar language in God's final judgments and absolute destruction of the Flood (Genesis 6:13) and Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20,21). Noah did not convert his generation and Abraham did not turn back Sodom and Gomorrah from their sin, but reluctant Jonah caused Nineveh to be saved.

God judges, and God spares, even today. The wicked pirate city of Port Royal slid entirely into the sea in the 1600's.

On a positive note, it was widely felt in London before the great revivals that the city was doomed as it was awash in crime, corruption and cheap gin. Those revivals are thought to have saved both the souls of the people and the fate of the city.

Only in Heaven will we know how many cities, like Nineveh and London have been spare through the faithful preaching of a few men of God and the mighty moves of the Holy Spirit in response to praying saints.

One last note - this passage tells us that God can be merciful to bad people, the very worst kind of people, if they listen to the Word and act on it. The gospel is not just for good people, it is also for the slave-traders, torturers and corrupt merchants of a pagan city.

The Word that touched the King reached him not because he was good, but because God was merciful and gracious.


John Edmiston


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