Repentance in the book of Jonah
A Beautiful Story of Repentance
The book of Jonah the prophet is full of wonderful spiritual contemplation. How beautiful is the Church’s choice! She chose this book to be the prelude of the forty days of Lent.
A beautiful story of repentance and fasting precedes the Great Lent by two weeks that we may approach the holy forty days with a clean heart attached to the Lord.
The Chosen Weak Put to Shame the Mighty
In the book of Jonah, God wants us to know an important fact: that the prophets were not of a different nature, but were ordinary people “with nature like ours” (James 5:17), having weaknesses, shortcomings and faults, and it was possible for them to fall like us. It was not their power, but the power of the Holy Spirit working to aid them in their weaknesses, that the power may be of God not of us, according to the Apostle’s word (2 Cor.4: 7).
Jonah the Prophet was one of the weak persons of the world whom God chose to put shame into the mighty ones (1 Cor. 1:27). He had faults and had virtues, and the Lord chose him despite his faults, worked through him, in him and with him, and molded him to become a great saintly prophet. In so doing God also shows us that He can work with us and use our weakness as He did with Jonah.
Greatness by Repentance
God beheld Nineveh in its oncoming greatness by it’s repentance, being a gentile nation that reproached the Jews, as the Lord said of it: “The men of Nineveh will rise in the judgment day with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and indeed a greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41).
When God described Nineveh as being the great city, He was not considering its ignorance and sin but He was looking with great joy at its profound repentance. Applying the same concepts to our personal life we will find the same loving God is looking at us and waiting for our quick repentance, as Nineveh was swift in responding to God’s word.
When Lot warned the Sodomites of the Lord’s hot anger, they scorned him and “to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking” (Gen. 19:14), whereas the Ninevites listened with utter seriousness to Jonah and responded quickly to his word. The word of God was fast, bearing life, effective and sharper than a double-edged sword. By examining ourselves, receiving the same warning every day, probably every minute, do we resemble the Sodomites or the Ninevites?
In their immediate response, the Ninevites were much greater than the Jews who were contemporary to Christ the Lord, the incomparably greater than Jonah. The Jews saw the Lord’s numerous miracles and beheld His divinity, yet they did not believe and repent. The Lord reproved them by the Ninevites (Matt.12:41).
Bear Fruits Worthy of Repentance
The word of the Lord was a source of life; it yielded an abundance of amazing fruits. The first fruit was the sincere contrition of heart, humiliating themselves before the Lord. “Thus they put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). Sackcloth is a rough material made of goat’s hair. In our time sackcloth represents affliction, abstinence and rejection of worldly pleasure.
The Lord looked at that debased city and smelt a pleasing aroma, according to the words of the Psalmist, “the sacrifices of God are broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart--this O God, You will not despise” (Ps 51: 17). Truly how wonderful is this unique spectacle! A whole city is seen contrite in dust and ashes, debased in sackcloth, from the king to the infants. Even the livestock were covered with sackcloth.
The word of God also yielded fasting and prayer as people abstained from eating and drinking, and even the beasts, herds and flocks did not eat or drink. People did not want to be occupied with feeding their flocks so that they could spare their time for worship and supplication to God. Thus, they mingled their fasting with prayer and cried “mighty to God” (Jonah 3:7,8). That is exactly what God wants us to do, not to be consumed by the vanishing needs of this world, but to devote this holy time of Lent to offer Him pure, faithful worship and supplication.
The most important fruit of the Ninevites was the strong and fast repentance. Repentance led them to salvation because sin was an obstacle between them and God. The fruit of their repentance was their humiliation, fasting, wearing sackcloth and crying to God.
Their repentance was a sincere repentance in every meaning of the word, serious and from the heart, in which everyone turned “from his evil way and from the violence that was in hand” (Jonah3:8). It is a strong invitation to all of us to turn away from our sins and offer a sincere serious repentance.
By this repentance they deserved God’s mercy. He forgave them, received them and joined them to His own. In this respect the Holy Bible says: “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (John 3:10).
Obviously repentance supported with prayer, fasting and supplication are the ways to win God’s mercy and forgiveness of our sins. The Holy Bible did not say when the Lord saw their fasting, prayer and affliction, but said: “Then God saw their works that they turned from their way." Therefore repentance was the reason for God’s mercy on them. Their fasting, prayer and humiliation were fruits of repentance.
Good Soil for Sowing
Let us pause for a while at a verse said of the repentance of Nineveh that is “It repented at the preaching of Jonah.” (Matt 12:41) The Holy Bible record for us in this respect does not exceed one phrase in which was mentioned that Jonah entered the city on the first day walk and cried out saying “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).
Previously, Lot had said of Sodom: “The Lord will destroy this city” (Gen. 19:14), yet no one was affected and no one repented. The people heard of the flood that was going to destroy the whole earth, and they saw the Ark being built, yet no one repented and they were all destroyed.
How many times did the warning from death fail to change our ways? How many times do we experience this in our life when one of our beloved ones suddenly leaves this world?
What was the secret behind the repentance of Nineveh and its salvation? Was it Jonah’s preaching and its deep effect on the souls of the Ninevites?
Or was it due to the strong inner readiness of the heart so that every divine word brought about an effect because the heart was ready to hear and put into action, and the soil was good for sowing? We can say that the repentance of the people of Nineveh was mainly due to the readiness of their hearts.
It was this readiness that made God send His prophet to them, and as the apostle says: “For whom He foreknew He also predestined” (Rom 8:29).
Indeed readiness of our heart plays a major role in the act of repentance. God rejoiced, the angels rejoiced, congratulating one another, saying, “Nineveh has believed and repented, and one hundred and twenty thousand persons have joined the kingdom of God in one day.”
Dear beloved friends how many “Jonahs” have we met and heeded or ignored each day in our lives, warning us and asking us to repent and come back to our Savior Jesus Christ. Let us imitate those Ninevites, so we can hear all the angels in Heaven rejoicing and congratulating one another saying that one person has joined the kingdom of God.