It was electrifying. The weird figure stood in the city centre, his skin strangely coloured, his clothes worn and dusty, and began to shout, ‘Nineveh, hear me! In forty days you’ll be overturned!’ No explanation, no credentials presented, no alternatives offered. Why should the people heed him at all? Yet they did.
A magnificent response
The impact of Jonah’s words was astounding. Hearing the news of impending doom, the ordinary citizens were first to respond. The entire population declared a fast and put on sackcloth. Then the king learned there was something happening among his people and he too humbled himself. This large-scale repentance wasn’t just outwardly impressive, it was genuine. The Ninevites weren’t merely observing religious practices, they were actually turning from their evil ways (Jonah 3:10) and completely changing their lifestyle.
Here’s a classic example of a genuine spiritual revival that eventually changes society itself. Bills passed in Parliament won’t ultimately change society. You can’t legislate a nation into righteousness. Only a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival can change the moral climate of a nation.
When that change takes place, those in authority become aware of a new morality emerging, and in the wake of such a visitation genuine reformers are raised up. Holiness begins to be seen in our schools, shops, factories and offices. And as moral standards begin to rise at the grass-roots level, so the government will adjust the laws of the land to reflect new national attitudes.
We must still pray for our rulers and write to our MPs about specific issues, but note that in Nineveh, the national transformation started among the people. Wesley saw a similar pattern in England in his day. Genuine revival is a sovereign intervention of God. Meanwhile, we must preach the gospel where we are – among ordinary people in our neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools. As individuals repent, they will, in turn, influence the nation.
So it was that all of Nineveh repented, from the least to the greatest. Three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost was amazing, but look at this. In all church history I have never heard of such a sweeping revival as there was in Nineveh. What a glorious climax to an extraordinary story. Jonah had learned his lessons and a mighty revival took place.
The end – or is it?
At this point, we would expect the curtain to fall and thunderous applause to break out among God’s people. ‘That must be the final scene,’ we would think as we glanced quickly down the programme:
Scene 1: God speaks to Jonah
Scene 2: Jonah runs away
Scene 1: Jonah is chastised
Scene 2: Jonah repents
Scene 3: Jonah is restored
Scene 1: Jonah obeys
Scene 2: Jonah is overwhelmingly successful
‘Terrific,’ we think. ‘What a magnificent story! Now, where’s my coat?’ The applause subsides and we get up to leave, when suddenly the curtain rises. ‘What’s this?’ we say, startled. We look again at the programme, turn over to the back page and read:
Scene 1: God speaks to Jonah again
On the stage sits a solitary figure. The Ninevites have all gone and Jonah is left alone with his God. The curtain has fallen on the story but has risen again to reveal the heart of the prophet.
So the book of Jonah ends not with the triumphant climax of chapter three, but with chapter four. This chapter will appear at the end of every one of our life stories. It begins when the final curtain has dropped on your earthly life, when people have held your funeral service and applauded you for your great contribution to the world. Then the curtain will rise again and you’ll be alone before God and he’ll look into your heart.
‘When Holy God draws near in true revival, people come under terrible conviction of sin. The outstanding feature of spiritual awakening has been the profound consciousness of the Presence and holiness of God.’
Henry T. Blackaby, Revival Scenes, Revival Commentary