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God’s Word for You

Jonah 3:8-9 Let everyone urgently call on God

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, December 1, 2018

8 Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone urgently call on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  9 Who knows? God may yet relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

In the previous verses, we reminded ourselves that fasting by itself is worthless. However, in these verses we see some very important details. The king of Nineveh confesses faith in the true God. Either there was still a remnant of authentic faith left over from the days of Abraham in this place—through which Abraham only passed briefly if at all—or else Jonah’s preaching had stirred true fear of God and true faith in God.

The king urges prayer from the people. But he might be doing more than that. To “call on God” is not only to pray to God, but in many Old Testament passages it can also mean to proclaim or preach about God. In Genesis 4:26 we’re told that 235 years after the creation, the office of the public ministry was instituted (see also Genesis 5:6). In that verse, calling “on the name of the Lord” is the same as proclaiming God’s name in public worship. This is also what Abraham did (Genesis 12:8). So perhaps the king is not only urging the people to pray, but to preach; to share the message with one another so that the word travels more quickly to every citizen. This would make sense in the context.

The king also urges the people to truly repent, that is, to turn away from their sinful lives. He mentions evil ways and violence, and this shows us that the sins of Nineveh were not much different from the sins of our own culture and time. We all have much for which to repent. The king of Nineveh shows that he understands this much about repentance: It means turning to the Lord God for forgiveness, it involves an end to one’s sinfulness, and an outward act like fasting may help to remind oneself and one’s friends and neighbors of the need to repent. But ‘repentance’ without letting go of sin, without a change of heart, is like the difference between hay and straw. They’re different parts of the same plant. One is what is eaten, the other is just the stalk and doesn’t have a lot of real value.

Finally, the king of Nineveh does what we all must do when we pray. He leaves everything up to God. What God ordains is always good. If his will is that I have a tragedy or a disease, then I will face it with faith in him and give him glory. Job said: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Jesus Christ our Savior even left everything up to his Father when he prayed: “May your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

The king teaches us a valuable lesson here. He doesn’t dictate what God must do. Sometimes Christians give the impression that God must do what we demand of him or else… or else, what? Will I stop believing in God if Jesus doesn’t begin the Last Day on the moment I have set? Will I give up my faith if God doesn’t see fit to take away my cup of suffering when he gave Jesus the cup that contained my sins, the apostles’ sins, and the sins of the whole world, as well? Will I punish God in some way? I already punished Christ with my transgressions that served as the reason for his scourging, his insults, his agony, and his death. No. Like the king of Nineveh, I must allow God’s choices for me to be final. I will pray, but I will accept his answers. He is my Lord, my God, and my Savior. He will give me what is good.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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