If you are a parent you will understand that at times you need to “lay the law down” to your children. They might be disobedient and continue to rebel against your prior instructions with reference to the morality of the family values you set in place. Then suddenly you put your foot down and issue an instruction that should they pursue in their rebellious ways you will punish them in some way that will hurt them … such as removing cellphones, banning them from access to the internet, computer, television and friends. Once you get to this point they “believe you”. That is, they take you at your word and know the consequences for continued disobedience will be painful … and then … produce behavior far better than you expected. The passionate persuasive preaching of Jonah was so used by the Holy Spirit to convince and convict the Ninevites of the reality of doom that they “believed God”. They understood exactly what God was saying. They believed God! They believed God was serious! They got it that they had reached the end of the line of their persistent, wicked rebellion against a Holy God. They believed God!
Jnh 3:5 The Ninevites believed God.
Now we turn to the next passage
Jnh 3:5 They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
1) Once they believe God, their response was repentance. There are many aspects to repentance, but the thrust is turning away from sin and turning in obedience to God. Simply put, it is a one hundred and eighty degree turn. In 1967 I was one who was conscripted to the army. I suppose discipline and following orders was what I learnt. We were 1100 men divided into groups. I don’t recall how many troops were in a group but I remember learning to follow orders. In January in the then Voortrekkerhoogte, it can be boiling hot and the non-commissioned officers knew this. They would march us until we dropped. The first time they march us towards the boundary barbed wire fence was scary. We thought we would march right into the fence but at the last moment, the corporal gave the command … “about turn” … leaving about three or four pacers before the fence as we turned one hundred and eighty degrees and marched the other way to safety. That is the main meaning of repentance. Living in sin and turning around one hundred and eighty degrees, away from sin and going in the other direction towards Jesus, living the way He requires. Paul reminds us that when we are genuine in repentance, we don’t regret what we leave behind!
2 Cor 7:10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret.
Look at the ingredients of their repentance …
(1) Fasting is mainly seen as abstinence from food and liquids. This was the people of Nineveh though in Christianity, fasting could include abstinence from any pleasures such as intimacy or recreation. Our Son-in-law and daughter, with their sons would have an “electronic fast” for one weekend a month. No cellphones, tablets, laptops, television … apart from our son-in-law’s cellphone for work purposes.
(2) Sackcloth was a rather crude garment made from goat’s hair. It was thick, heavy and coarse against the sin … intended to be uncomfortable. There are people who fast who would dress modestly but not attractively. Ladies might forgo the use of makeup. Having said this … Jesus taught that where there is individual fasting, no one should know you are fasting.
Mt 6:16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
The fasting and sackcloth in Nineveh symbolized personal grief for personal and national sin.
(3) National fasting.
Jnh 3:5 They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Even before the king did anything, the people declared the fast. It was not just a few citizens … it was “all of them, from the greatest to the least”. Nineveh was a nation in mourning! Should any country desire blessings and refreshment from God, a national fast where all people separate themselves from sin and wickedness, turning to God in repentance and faith will certainly bring healing to that nation!
2) Once the king heard what Jonah preached, he repented and commanded all to repent. He came under the same conviction as his people … possibly more so because he came down to their level … removing his royal garments, putting on sackcloth … and taking it to another level … sitting down in the dust. People who saw him would see a horrible picture of a decrepit soul wallowing in grime. But then he was the king. These were his people. Unlike today, he took full responsibility for the morality of himself and his people. He even instructs all citizens, together with all animals to hold a fast! Even the animals fell into the disobedient category and needed to repent. We ought not to be too harsh with him … remember they were pagans who had just come under conviction of sin before the True God. Even you and I started our Christian journey as weak, uninformed, unschooled and stained with many sins that took time to overcome. We need to get into the two main issues associated with repentance but we will leave that for tomorrow. We live within a country that knew pockets of spiritual blessings in years gone past. Schools and universities were founded on Biblical principles. Government would have Bible Reading and Prayer when parliament opened. Where are we today? Financially almost bankrupt. Spiritually destitute. Morally lacking. There is corruption all over. There is immorality all over. Many Churches have lost their God intended vocation. Our country needs to come under Nineveh’s conviction!
Father, bring us to our knees to raise us up in Jesus in repentance. Amen.