God's Ways in Training His Own for His Service and Testimony: 7

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CHAP. 7—JONAH IN NINEVEH.
Jonah's own will now is broken, and he is thus a fit instrument for delivering Jehovah's message to the inhabitants of Nineveh “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” God, in His great patience and grace, now repeats the same words of commandment which He had spoken to Jonah the first time. But the prophet had now learned obedience, that chief requisite for every servant. What a difference between the third verse of the third chapter of Jonah and the same verse of the first! In the latter we read, “But Jonah rose up to flee onto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down unto Joppa.” How different in the third chapter! “So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.” It was the same Jehovah, Who nine centuries later laid prostrate in the dust the high spirited Saul of Tarsus (when he, like a furious lion, breathing out threatenings and slaughter, was on his way to Damascus), and made him say, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” and said to him, “Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things, which are appointed for thee to do.”
Whatever might have been the infirmities of the prophet Jonah, cowardice was none of them, as observed already. He possessed great courage of faith, which we saw him manifesting during that terrible storm. The same courage of faith which he had shown at sea he now shows on the land. “Nineveh,” we read, “was an exceeding great city of three days' journey,” i.e., of three days in diameter. And when reading at the close of the book, that it contained no less than one hundred and twenty thousand infants, “that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand,” it will not be difficult to arrive at an estimate of the whole of the population of that “exceeding great city,” immense for those days.
But it was not only the size but the “wickedness” of that proud and mighty city, referred to by Jehovah Himself in the first chapter, which the prophet naturally had to dread. If now-a-days, in a civilized world, which calls itself Christian, the gospel messengers of Christ and the witnesses of His truth, according to their faithfulness in their testimony and walk, have to expect opposition, scorn and persecution, what could Jehovah's prophet expect from a city, the wickedness of which had come up before God, ripe for judgment? It was not the message of peace and salvation through the rich grace of God, for the greatest sinner who repents and believes in Jesus, together with the warning to flee from the wrath to come, which Jonah had to announce to the inhabitants of that ungodly city. His message was, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” What kind of reception had the bearer and pro-claimer of such a message to expect from such a people? Nothing but affront, and mockery, prison and death.
But the same courage of faith, which had characterized the prophet during the storm and even in his terrible prison at the bottom of the sea, whilst in the path of disobedience (though confessing and repenting of it), distinguished him now, when in the narrow and dangerous yet safe path of obedience. “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.” From house to house, from street to street, Jehovah's fearless prophet proceeds with his solemn message. Before the door of the poorest hovel, and before the gate of the rich, and at the portals of the palaces of the king and his great men, his warning voice is heard, announcing the approaching judgment. For “there is no difference, all have sinned.”
God's power and blessing accompanied the message of His obedient servant. The busy hum of the bazaars is interrupted by the warning call, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Buyers and sellers cease from their bargain. The workmen leave their workships to listen to those ever-repeated solemn notes of the prophet. The pleasure-seekers forsake their dances and games; the drunkards start up from their carousing, and the voluptuous from their conches; for like a trumpet of judgment the terrible words sound in their ears, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” And not in their ears only. They sank down into their hearts and consciences like barbed arrows, fixed there by the Spirit of God.
The thief, the robber and the murderer, leave the works of darkness, for judgment is at hand. The solemn voice of the prophet has reached even their hardened consciences. Even the idol-priests forsake the now empty temples and their false gods, which have ears and hear not, eyes and see not, feet and go not. The word sent by God enters as a two-edged sword into the consciences and hearts of the inhabitants of Nineveh. Before the prophet has reached the heart of the city, his solemn message has spread with the rapidity of lightning over the immense metropolis. “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.”
Their repentance was genuine. They did not say, “Forty days yet?” delaying their repentance till the last, nor did they wait for the decree of the king and his nobles to put on sackcloth. Everything was done spontaneously, because it was the work of God. The royal decree was only the seal and the proof that the work was general, extending from the highest to the least.
The solemn message sent by God found its entrance even into the king's palace. That invisible power, which wrote upon the walls of Belshazzar's festive hall those solemn words, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin,” and made “his knees smite one against another,” moved, by the words of the prophet, the heart of the king of Nineveh, and entered into his conscience. Like Belshazzar and his great men at Babylon, so trembled the king of Nineveh and his lords. But their fear, unlike that of Belshazzar and his great men, led to a repentance not to be repented of. It was the “fear of the Lord,” which “is the beginning of wisdom,” which makes wise unto salvation by taking heed to His word, and by which men “depart from evil.”
“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. 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 anything; let them not feed, nor drink water: 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.” It might, perhaps, appear strange to some, that even the cattle, herd and flock, should have been constrained to take part in the fasting. What had the poor dumb animals done to be forced to such an involuntary abstinence?
The reason appears to be simply this. Where God begins his work of repentance in the soul of a sinner, sin becomes known and judged not merely as to its fruits—i.e. sins or evil works—but as to its root and inward character. An instance of this we find in Psa. 51. There the penitent king of Israel, who had been more faithful when a shepherd than when he was a king (after the God-sent word of the prophet Nathan, “Thou art the man!” had, like a sharp arrow, pierced his heart and conscience, and placed him in God's holy presence), not only confesses his great transgressions and sins, i.e., what he had done, but what he is. He not only judges the bad fruits of the bad tree, but the bad tree itself. Not by way of a light excuse, but in thorough self-judgment, he says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He lays the ax to the root of the tree, to judge not his parents and progenitors, but himself.
So it was at Nineveh, only that there it was the effect rather than the root of sin. “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” Where God works repentance in a soul, He first shows to the sinner what sin is in His sight, and then the effects of the evil and its terrible extent, and afterward the root of it. In the first chapters of the Epistle to the Romans up to the middle of the fifth chapter, the bad fruits of the bad tree, sins, are dealt with. Thence, until chapter 8., the root of the tree, sin. In the eighth chapter, besides, the effect of sin (not merely of sins as to the sinner) upon a groaning creation, travailing in pain, and subject to vanity and to the bondage of corruption for man's sake, is re-called to our humbling notice.
And not only does creation groan ender the outward effects of sin, but the poisonous influence of it has affected its inmost parts. Sin has permeated the whole creation and corrupted everything. The passions of anger and strife, envy, greediness, vengeance and violence, we perceive throughout the whole animal world around us, from the ferocious lion down to the little angry bee, from the tame dog to the rapacious wolf. Through the microscope we perceive in a single drop of water thousands of tiny animalcule, invisible to the naked eye, pursuing and consuming each other. The “right of the stronger” exists not only amongst men, but amongst animals, from the eagle amid air and the mute tribes of the deep down to the animalcule in a drop of water. In the millennial kingdom, beneath the scepter of the “Prince of Peace” and “King of Righteousness,” at the time of the “liberty of the glory of the children of God,” the whole creation, now groaning and travailing together in pain, and “in earnest expectation waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God,” shall be “delivered from the bondage of corruption.” Then “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play at the holes of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den,” whilst Satan himself, “that old serpent,” shall be “shut up in the bottomless pit.”
The fruits of sin, i.e., sins, are easily perceived by men, and judged and punished too, as far as they become injurious to human society. But it is astonishing to see, how little, even amongst Christians, sin in its real nature and its in every way pernicious effect is being recognized and judged and condemned. The edict of the king of Nineveh and his nobles might serve us for an example in this respect. For that decree, extending even to the cattle in the city, showed at all events how deep and real was the feeling of repentance, wrought in them by God through His prophet, and how true the sense and judgment of sin in its nature and extensive effect.
But this was not all. The royal edict concluded with these words, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?” The same Spirit of grace and truth, Who produces in the sinner the recognition and confession of his sins against God, and makes him in his conscience feel the burden of them in God's holy presence, at the same time inspires the penitent heart of the sinner with confidence in God's mercy and grace. Whilst his burdened conscience would keep him at a distance from God, his heart, moved by the gentle and tender Spirit of grace, draws him towards God. Both the Old and the New Testaments furnish us with many instances of this wondrous operation of the Spirit of truth and of love. (Psa. 25:1111For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. (Psalm 25:11)., 51:1; Dan. 9; 8 Luke 5:88When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:8); comp. John 6:6868Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. (John 6:68), Luke 18:1313And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. (Luke 18:13), and many other passages.)
The same effect of the Spirit of God we perceive in the remarkable edict of the king of Nineveh. But at the same time its closing words, “Who can tell, whether God will turn,” &c., remind us of the words of a greater king than he, I mean king David, whose genuine deep repentance, expressed in the fifty-first Psalm, has just been alluded to. David's child, the fruit of his terrible sin, was about to die. The king, prostrate in the dust before God with fasting and praying, tearfully besought God for the life of the child, for he said, “Who can tell, whether Jehovah may be gracious to me, that the child may live?” But his prayer could not be granted; the fruit of sin must die.
With the king of Nineveh it was otherwise. For however great his and his people's sins had been, David's sin was incomparably greater according to the measure of the truth revealed to him, and of the divine favor and privileges and blessings bestowed upon him. Nineveh's repentance was real. It was a general awakening to such an immense extent and reality, as is without parallel in the Old Testament, except, perhaps, on the occasion of Israel's return to Jehovah on the mount of Carmel (1 Kings 18), and, though in a smaller measure, in the days of the apostles at Saron and Lydda, and thirty years ago in Ireland.
What a sight! Thousands and thousands of penitent sinners, in sackcloth and ashes lying in the dust before God, deploring their sins, from the king and his great men down to the lowest criminal and to the poorest beggar. From that immense scene of general corruption and violence, vast and numberless sounds of mourning and weeping now ascend to heaven, mingled with the lowing, moaning, and groaning of the fasting and suffering beasts. And as to men, those sounds were not mere signs of an outward repentance. They were accompanied by “fruits meet for repentance.” God, who searcheth the hearts and reins, saw that Nineveh's repentance was genuine.
“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.” In cases of repentance, God deals with nations as He does with individuals. Where He sees real repentance in departing from evil, He also repents of the evil,1 that is, of His threatened judgment upon the evil, and punishment being no longer necessary, He does not carry it out.
At the time when cholera first appeared in England, spreading death and consternation, a great mortality took place in one of the emporiums of commerce. Thousands fell a prey to the plague. The magistrate of the city then appointed a certain day for general humiliation and prayer. The same day the last case of death by cholera took place, and soon the plague ceased. Not many years afterward England was visited with the murrain or cattle-plague. Whole districts were almost denuded of cattle. With every day the distress increased. The government then appointed a day for national humiliation and prayer before God. From that day the cattle-plague decreased and soon disappeared.
As a sad counterpart of the facts referred to, but all the more solemn confirmation of the principle of truth just mentioned with regard to God's righteous government, we refer to the short, but terrible war between two great European powers not many years ago. The issue of that war, in its remarkable incidents without parallel in the annals of history, may be ascribed by the strategists and politicians of this world to the great strategic superiority of the leaders, or the greater physical strength of the soldiers and the national enthusiasm, or the superior commissariat, &c., of the victorious army. But the eye, enlightened by faith and the word of God, sees farther and deeper than natural ken, recognizing the true reason for the unexampled success of that war in two simple facts, which enabled one at the beginning of the war to foretell its expected result. Those two facts were, that at the very outset the ruler of the victorious nation, alike with the people, recognized God and their dependence upon Him as to every success, whilst on the part of their opponents scarcely any mention was made of Him; and secondly, because the cause, for which the victorious army fought, was a just one.2 God, the leader of battles, was with those who recognized Him and whose cause was a just one, and gave them victory upon victory, till at last the victorious army appeared before the gates of the capital of the conquered enemy—the “Nineveh” of this age. But unlike Nineveh of old, there was no repentance nor penitence, nor fruits meet for repentance, no sign of national humiliation before God. Prayers there were many, but they were offered up before idol-shrines. The heavier the blows of; divine judgment fell upon them, the more closely they clung to their idols. (Of course, this refers to the nation in general, for the prayers of real Christians in that country could not avert the judgment of the impenitent nation as such). It happened to them again, what the prophet Isaiah had prophesied of Egypt, “Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at His presence, and the heart of the people shall melt in the. midst of it. And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor;......and the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof, and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards” (Isa. 19:1-31The burden of Egypt. Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. 2And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbor; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom. 3And the spirit of Egypt shall fail in the midst thereof; and I will destroy the counsel thereof: and they shall seek to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that have familiar spirits, and to the wizards. (Isaiah 19:1‑3)).
At last a spectacle, unheard of in history, presented itself. The capital, having been surrendered and afterward vacated by the victorious army, was besieged by its own citizens and compatriots, entrenched within the camp of their common enemy. As in the camp of the Midianites of old they slew one another, the victorious people of God witnessing the unnatural spectacle from the heights of the surrounding forts occupied by him.
God's ways in His sovereignty and government are the same with nations as with individuals. He Who once spoke, “Hast thou seen how Ahab hath humbled himself?” dealt in mercy with penitent Nineveh as He did in judgment with the modern impenitent one. He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.
And what of Jonah? Obedient to the will of God he had discharged his solemn duty. His conscience had been reached, and his will broken, but not his heart. Not a single tear, when he announced to young and old in that great city the terrible judgment of God; not a single trace of pity and sympathy with the imminent awful doom of those numberless fellow-creatures of his. But more of this in the next chapter when “Jesus, weeping over Jerusalem,” will be the subject of our meditation.