From Misunderstanding to Understanding (3) 2.0

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1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 

2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” 

3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. 

4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 

5And the people of Nineveh believed God. 

6The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 

7And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, 

8but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 

9Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” 

10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:1–10 ESV) 

Misunderstanding causes a lot of problems. Misunderstanding causes relationship breakdowns. Misunderstanding the Bible would produce followers with strange behaviours. Similarly, when human beings misunderstand God, the outcome would be distorted beliefs and actions. 

By and large, Jonah’s actions are indications of his misunderstanding of God. One of the misunderstandings is God’s salvation plan for the Gentiles. 

1) Misunderstand God’s Salvation Plan for The Gentiles (Jonah 3:1–2)

Immediate Response

When the word of the Lord first came to Jonah, he responded immediately by running away from Yahweh. For some particular reason, Jonah rebels against God. Jonah simply doesn’t want the Ninevites to respond to God’s word positively. In chapter one, Jonah has already postponed God’s mission by running away to Tarshish.

Second Time

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time. Not only Yahweh gives Jonah a second chance of making the right choice, but He also really wants to connect with the Ninevites through the ministry of Jonah.

Jewish Nationalism

It is true that Jonah disobeyed God and there is a possible reason behind it. Jewish people highly treasure their identity as the Chosen People of Yahweh. According to a rabbi’s view of Jews and Gentiles: “Gentile souls are of a completely different and inferior order. They are totally evil, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.… All Jews were innately good, all Gentiles innately evil.” Due to Jewish nationalism, Jonah cannot feel God’s heart for the lost Ninevites. In a simple sentence, Jonah has misunderstood God’s salvation plan for the Gentiles. As Christians, we know God has a salvation plan for all human beings, but we react to it indifferently and incorrectly.

William Carey

William Carey is known as the father of modern missions. When he was a young believer, he shared his passion of spreading the gospel to all nations. But, one minister lectured him with the following words: “When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.” Unlike Jonah, William Carey has a heart for all people.

Nationalism Can Be Evil

We should love and honor our country, but extreme nationalism is evil and dangerous. The following quote is attributed to Albert Einstein: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” I think he is speaking of extreme nationalism.

Our Priority

The 1960s is an era of rising nationalism. In Africa, believers would identify themselves as nationalists first and Christians second. As Christians, we should have the right perspective. We should identify ourselves as Christians first and patriots second. We should love our country of origin and residence, but building God’s Kingdom should be our first priority.

The Gospel

Let me sum it up with the following words: there is no extreme nationalism in the gospel of Jesus Christ and the gospel message strongly condemns racism.

2) Misunderstand God’s Omnipotence (Jonah 3:3–4)

Important City

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. (NIV) Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. (NIV 2011) According to the older version of NIV, Nineveh was seen as a very important city. It was vital because it was once a capital city and it had a large population. In the ancient world, Nineveh had a large population. In short, it was populated with a vast number of unsaved people. Nineveh is a great city. Perhaps, it is great in size. According to some Bible scholars, it might have a double meaning: not only Nineveh is a big city, but is also important to God.

Important Cities

Frankfurt, London and New York are seen as major financial centers. Big cities have great economic values to corporations and entrepreneurs. 

Important to God

Nineveh is important to God. Every village, town and city are important to God. The size of population doesn’t matter to God. Wealth and prosperity aren’t His concerns. Their political and religious standpoints don’t bother Him too much. As every single person is important to God, He wants everyone to experience His saving grace. 

Misunderstand the Omnipotence of God

4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Definitely, Jonah doesn’t fully understand God’s heart. He doesn’t want the Ninevites to repent and receive God’s mercy. Therefore, Jonah did it halfheartedly, he finished the preaching in just one day. He doesn’t understand too well of God’s omnipotence that God can touch and change lives powerfully. Nevertheless, God uses Jonah’s halfhearted ministry to touch and change lives. Although he preached halfheartedly, God did great things to the Ninevites far more than Jonah expected. In conclusive terms, Jonah doesn’t fully comprehend the omnipotence of God.

Half-hearted Ministry

As followers and servants of Christ, we should serve Him wholeheartedly, but due to our flaws, we serve Him half-hearted at times. Strangely, although we don’t serve God to our fullest ability on some occasions, the Lord still does great things for the benefit of others. 

Software’s Power

I am not a computer geek but just a computer user. Some computer software are really useful and powerful. With the help of a particular software, I successfully repaired a precious photo of my grandfather. Mind you, back in the days without digital photography, photographs are really treasured belongings. God’s power is like the power of software, you have to experience it on a first-hand basis. After completing the preaching trip, Jonah experienced God’s power working among the Ninevites. Definitely, Jonah preached half-heartedly, but God still manifested His awesome power.

3) Misunderstand the Omnibenevolence of God (Jonah 3:4)

God’s Attributes

One of the many attributes of God is omnibenevolence. It speaks of His unlimited goodness. 

Jonah’s Intent

The word “overthrown” can be translated as “demolished”; it has a secondary meaning of “changed”. Obviously, Jonah doesn’t want to see the conversion of the Ninevites, but to witness the destruction of the city.

God’s Intent

4And Jonah beginneth to go in to the city a journey of one day, and proclaimeth, and saith, ‘Yet forty days—and Nineveh is overturned.’ (Young’s Literal Translation) God’s intent for the Ninevites is completely different to Jonah’s. The Lord wants to overturn Nineveh so that they would turn to Him for repentance.

Jonah Lashed Out at the Ninevites

4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (ESV) In the very beginning, Jonah didn’t want to take up the mission of preaching to the Ninevites. After the incident in the fish’s belly, he reluctantly obeyed God’s command in a halfhearted fashion. Instead of preaching to the inhabitants in three days, Jonah finished it in one day. It is a way to express his reservation about this mission.  All Jonah did was lashed out God’s judgement on the Ninevites. The third point I would like to point out is that Jonah has a misconception of God’s goodness.

Condemning Attitude

When I was a young Christian, I was very serious with my Christian faith. But when I look back now, occasionally I had a condemning attitude toward others. It is easy to condemn people.  

Condemning Words

By using God’s Word, Jonah lashed out at the Ninevites. Christians are like this at times. With the Bible knowledge that we have, it is easy for us to condemn nonbelievers by using God’s truths.

4) Misunderstand the Mercy of God (Jonah 3:5–10) 

The Responses of the Ninevites

When hearing the message, the Ninevites believed God (Jonah 3:5). They recognized Jonah as God’s messenger and Yahweh had the power to punish them. Also, they had hopes in God’s mercy if they repented (Jonah 3:9). The Ninevites called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. As for the Assyrians, they usually appeased deities by the performance of sacrifices, libations and incantations. It is very likely that the Ninevites were using an Israelite approach to appease the anger of Yahweh.

The Responses of the King

Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.” (NLT)Although the king indirectly heard the alarming message of Jonah, he was willing to humble himself to fast and mourn as well. As the ruler of Nineveh, he even sat on ashes; it speaks of his determination of repentance. Moreover, the king even issued a proclamation commanding all citizens and animals to fast without food and water for an unspecified period of time. Also, all people and animals must wear garments of mourning. Most important of all, they should pray earnestly to God, and they should turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Although asking animals to fast is futile, it speaks of the remorse and sincerity of the king.

The Responses of the King and the Ninevites

The king and the Ninevites were engaged in fasting and mourning for their sinful past. The Ninevites understand immediate repentance would lead to God’s forgiveness. It’s some kind of national revival.

My Wish

Revival stories always fascinate me. Ever since I have become a follower of Christ, I often wish and pray that I can witness worldwide revival in my lifetime.

Worldwide Revival

Wales was famous for its coal mining. Coal miners are rugged people. As you may know, coal miners swear a lot. There was a revival in Wales in the early 1900s. A strange phenomenon is that the ponies of the coal miners cannot understand the instructions of their owners anymore. For the coal miners had become followers of Christ, they didn’t use foul language to communicate with their animals any longer. The impact of the Welsh revival was so great that it lasted for two years. Many people turned to Christ for His saving grace. Church leaders from Asia, Africa, North and South America came to witness the revival and brought the revival flame to their homelands. The Welsh revival has its humble beginning. It was started by a Welsh miner called Evan Roberts. He started to study for the ministry when he was twenty-five years old. At the very beginning, he asked his pastor for permission to hold some evening meetings. People began to respond to his preaching and the rest is history. The most amazing thing is that his public ministry only lasted for a few months but the impact was so great that it goes down in history books forever.

Your Existence

If you are a non-believer, have you ever thought about the reason of your existence on earth? Some people don’t know why and haven’t thought about it at all. Let me tell you why you are here. With the revelation of the Bible, God would like us to experience His infinite mercy in our temporal existence on earth. As Christians, we should understand God’s mercy is related to our mission in three ways: first, the message of our mission; second, the motivation of our mission; third, the approach of our mission. Let me elaborate a little bit.

The Message of Our Mission

Paul says, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5 NLT) Christians often speak of the fiery punishment of hell and numerous nonbelievers are offended because of this. The Gospel message isn’t just about God’s fury but His mercy.

The Motivation of Our Mission

The apostle Paul often speaks of God’s mercy in his letters to the churches (Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 4:1). God’s mercy provides motivation for our service. As recipients of God’s mercy, we want others to experience it as well. If you like, God’s mercy is the driving force of our service.

The Approach of Our Mission

Christians should extend God’s mercy by means of our preaching and actions. If you like, we breathe in and out God’s mercy. Initially Jonah wants to communicate God’s wrath to the Ninevites, but I think he has realized that Yahweh wants them to experience His infinite mercy instead. The world needs God’s mercy and we are the ones who can channel His merciful love to them. Friends and believers, the world is full of hatred, so be merciful to one another.

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