Debra Isenbletter, PastorChristian AssemblySpringfield, Missouri
Jonah 3:8 “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
Here we see how fear can unite a people. They have a common fear, their destruction. They have a common goal, to try to stop their destruction. The king and nobles make three additional decrees that the people can do to try to avert the danger.
National Sorrow: “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth.” Following the fasting, the king adds something else, he asks them to do what he is doing. He asks every man, every woman, every child, everyone to show their sorrow visibly. Not so he can see it but so that Jonah’s God can see it. Not only is this visible expression of sorrow, and not only is this sackcloth to be worn by the people but also by all the animals. This is such a visible picture of man’s control over creation, how these animals are subject to man and suffer because of man. Whether they were cattle or sheep or goats or horses or any other domestic animals, man used them and often abused them. It must have been a sight to walk around the city and see not only people but animals covered with sackcloth, but also to hear the animals crying out because they were hungry and thirsty.
National Prayer: “and cry mightily unto God.” The word “mightily” means “with force, with vehemence.” This was not a weak cry, it was a strong cry, it was a loud cry, it was a desperate cry. It is an urgent cry. It was a cry that was heard throughout the city. They cried unto Jonah’s God, they did not cry unto their own gods. “God” (Elohim) is the “strong one,” the “supreme Deity.” They cried unto the True God not to false gods. The word “God” (Elohim) is plural and that shows that there is an abundance of power and strength available to draw from, and the source of God’s strength is inexhaustible. It is plural is a hint of the Trinity which will be revealed in the New Testament. But what is striking is that they cried out unto God just as Jonah had done when he was in desperate circumstances. Jonah had said: “I cried by reason of mind affliction unto the Lord.” (Jonah 2:2) If Jonah could cry out unto God, why could they not cry out also? They took a leap of faith when they did this.
National Repentance: “yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” Let “them” do this. Let “everyone” do this. The king must do this. The nobles must do this. The people must do this. All must examine their lives. All are guilty of evil and all must acknowledge that guilt and turn away from that evil. In their turning they are both turning away from something and turning toward Someone. This is not about returning to God because they never knew God but they can turn to God. What grace! Each individual must do this, each must examine their own life, not the lives of others. The king cannot do it for the people and the people cannot do it for the king. Each must see their own sin, acknowledge it, repent of it and turn away from it.
True repentance brings a changed behavior and a transformed life. True repentance brings forth fruit. The Lord Jesus says, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” (Mat.3:8). Another translation is: “So produce fruit that is consistent with repentance [demonstrating new behavior that proves a change of heart, and a conscious decision to turn away from sin.] (Amplified Bible). True repentance will produce works. Paul writes concerning the Gentiles, that after they hear the gospel, that they should “do works meet for repentance” (Act.26:20).
They needed to turn from their “evil way”, once they see that evil. That behavior was a way of life, until Jonah’s message, they may never have realized how evil their lives were. This is the testimony of the old creation. Paul tells us in Romans that they were already evil by nature because they had rejected God and that evil just grew. They had “changed the glory of the incorruptible God” (Rom.1:23). They had “changed the truth of God” (Rom.1:25). Because of that rejection of God who had revealed Himself to them through creation, God judged them in ways they did not even realize. He “gave them up” (Rom.1:24) and He “gave them over” (Rom.1:28) to those evil ways. They were already filled with all that was evil and it was revealed in all their actions (Rom.1:28-32).
The definition for evil can be very specific, as in specific acts or actions but that evil is also something else, it has consequences. The word evil can also mean “giving pain” or “causing misery.” That is something the Assyrians certainly did in their treatment of other nations. Jonah forces them to confront this evil behavior, he calls it “the violence of their hands.” This is the violence that they practiced and it can also mean that violence was their chief sin. Paul describes this behavior in his photograph of the old creation when he says “Their feet are swift to shed blood” and “Destruction and misery are in their ways” (Rom.3:15-16). When I researched the Assyrian culture and practices one of the statements that stood out was that “Cruelty was the instrument of Assyrian control.” It is how they controlled the nations they conquered. The details are horrific and the cruelty unbelievable and Jonah’s message must have reminded them of this and their conscience was convicted by the deeds done that hurt others.
This is such a powerful lesson on the response to the Word of God. It is a picture of the conviction of a sinner’s heart.