Today: [Jonah 3] Nineveh Repents. In chapter 3 of Jonah, the prophet declares the city will be destroyed in 40 days. The people believe his message and after a time of fasting and repentance, the city is spared. From this example, we can learn when and how we should fast when we are facing dire consequences in our lives. Most fasts in scripture were not long, protracted fasts, yet great deliverances were occasioned by those who were willing to humble themselves through this practice and to cry out to God in this way.
[Jon 3:1-10 KJV] 1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, 2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. 3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey. 4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. 6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered [him] with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused [it] to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that [is] in their hands. 9 Who can tell [if] God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? 10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did [it] not.
Jonah is delivered from the belly of the whale and now, for a second time commanded to go to Nineveh. In fact, it reads “arise, go…” In other words, Jonah had not yet pulled himself to his feet and gathered his senses about him when this command came. Apparently, the Father didn’t give Jonah time to reflect or marshal his strength from his ordeal before being told to proceed to fulfill the task he was so reluctant to obey. Walking with God is all about prompt obedience. Always remember that God’s response time to you is measured by your response time to Him. If Jonah had hesitated, or objected, it is very likely this narrative would be missing from our canon.
Jonah’s job is to go and preach, not just to a group of people but to an entire city. His job was to preach, not what he wanted to preach to them but specifically in verse 2 he is told to only preach what he is bidden to preach by God Himself. This suggests to us that Jonah’s message might have been different than what God intended for him to say, therefore Jonah is put under constraint as to the content of his message. One could wonder if Jesus, being conversant with all of scripture, had this passage in mind when He said in John 7:16 “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent Me…”
Nineveh was such a great city that (v. 3) it would take three days to traverse its boundaries. Jonah enters the city a day’s journey and begins to preach publically that in 40 days Nineveh would be overthrown. We don’t know what the initial reception of the people was, but v. 5 tells us that the people believed God, proclaiming a universal fast from the greatest to the least of them. The fast was extended as well to both young and old and even livestock were not allowed to have food or water. The king’s prayer was (v. 9) that hopefully God would change His mind and allow the city to continue on.
This provokes thought on the subject of fasting. In Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, much is made of lengthy fasting, etc., but this fast was probably no more than one day, and 10’s of 1000’s were saved. Why did they fast? Because of a sudden threat to their borders. We can learn several things from this example of a successful fast and consequence deliverance: 1.) Fasting need not be protracted or lengthy. 2.) Fasting should be as absolute as possible unless you are led otherwise, or have medical conditions that prohibit so doing. 3.) Fasting is most efficacious when dealing with a time sensitive issue.
In other words, when you are face with sudden difficulties and pressures, that is the time to fast. You don’t go into a fast at your leisure, for an esoteric purpose necessarily, but because something is happening in your life with looming consequences, then you would fast. While protracted fasting will not destroy your health, it is important to note that most fasts in the bible were either 1 or 3 days in length. As a young man my father taught me that when you are not hungry, don’t eat. If that lack of hunger persists, allow it to lead you into fasting for a time. This is quite natural, for when difficult and sudden circumstances come, appetite lifts. It is the perfect time to fast, and not only fast alone but to fast and pray. The greatest examples of radical deliverance in the scriptures connected with fasting did not involve long days of fasting.
Verse 10 concludes the chapter very simply, that God saw their works and that they not only fasting but turned from evil, and spared the city. So, the people not only fasted, but examined themselves and repented over various sins. Here is another criterion for successful fasting – self-examination. Isa. 58:7 says that in the fast God has chosen you must make a commitment to “hide not thyself from thine own flesh…” The self-nature is pervasive, even in the most devoted Christian, and for fasting to work its work in us, with the hope of an expected end there must be humility and contrition. In fact, verse 10 does say that God responded to their fasting, but rather that He saw the repentance that accompanied their fasting and spared the city.
It is important to note that upon sparing the city, the result was that Jonah’s prophecy then fails to come to pass. Jonah prophesied the city would be destroyed in 40 days. It didn’t happen. By today’s standard that makes Jonah a false prophet. We need to grow up in this area of judging prophesy and responding to prophesy. Most, if not all prophesy is conditional and provisional in nature. Prophets are not psychics or clairvoyants. Jonah today would be laughed to scorn even by those who claim to support the prophetic movement today, but Jonah was obedient. Likewise when we hear from God and share what we here, we must not allow the skepticism of men to dampen our willingness to obey God.
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