WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday March 7, 2010
AN OBEDIENT WITNESS
(Our obedience to GOD is a witness to others)
In the Book of Jonah, in chapter one, the prophet Jonah is commissioned by GOD to travel 550 miles northeast from the city of Samaria, to the great double-walled city of Nineveh, which is located in the middle of the Assyrian Empire. The purpose of this commission was to preach a message, urging the repentance of the Assyrians, who, at that time, were the greatest enemies of Israel.
However, because they were Israel’s enemies, Jonah was disobedient to GOD and decided instead, to run away from the command of our LORD, as far as he could in the opposite direction. Jonah, who was apparently not quite as compassionate towards the Assyrians as GOD was, jumped on a ship that was headed to Tarshish, a Phoenician colony located some 2500 miles west of Joppa, which was the farthest end of the world, as they knew it at that time.
Bible history tells us, however, that GOD, through HIS sovereignty, miraculously altered the plans on Jonah’s itinerary, by causing him to be swallowed up by a great fish during a divinely provoked storm at sea. After three days, and much prayer, in the belly of the fish, GOD, in HIS OWN unique way, persuades Jonah to repent of his disobedience, and to re-incorporate the travel plans that HE had originally given him in Samaria. Here in chapter three, Jonah is re-commissioned by GOD to go to Nineveh to fulfill HIS original orders.
In those days, Nineveh was a large city of around 120,000 inhabitants. In fact, it was so large that it would take a person three days, just to see the whole city. It had the unique characteristic of being surrounded by, not one, but two walls, an inner wall, and, an outer wall. The inner wall, which was 100 feet high and 50 feet thick, directly surrounded the central city of Nineveh, while the outer wall surrounded the smaller towns, villages, and fields that were situated outside of the city. Jonah’s task was to go there and deliver GOD’s message of judgment on the people, that, if they did not repent within 40 days, they would be destroyed.
A now obedient Jonah, travels to Nineveh to deliver GOD’s message to the Assyrian populace, still hoping in his heart that they would not heed HIS warning of imminent judgment. To the contrary, the people of Nineveh believed GOD’s message, and from the greatest to the least, they decided to fast and dress themselves in sackcloth to show GOD their sorrow for their sins.
Even the Assyrian king, when he heard Jonah’s message, stepped down from his throne, took off his royal robes, humbled himself and repented as he sat on a pile of ashes, demonstrating his own sorrow for his sins, and the sins of the people. He even issued an edict to the entire city of Nineveh commanding everyone (and also their animals) to go without food and water. Every person was to wear sackcloth, and pray earnestly to the GOD of the Israelites that HE might not destroy them. And when GOD saw their demonstration of earnest repent and obedience to HIM, HE had mercy on them and did not carry out HIS alternate plan of destruction.
When we obey GOD, as Jonah ultimately decided to do, our actions witness to others, and, as in this case, can have a positive effect, even on unbelievers. The use of the Hebrew term “Elohim” for “GOD” in verses 8 and 10, shows that the Assyrians lacked having a personal, revelatory relationship with GOD, and perhaps in this story, we do not actually see a true “conversion” by them, to the ways of GOD. What we do see here, rather, is an emotional stirring of the heart, through fear of their desperate situation, which is not at all unlike what we see at the alters of our modern-day Christian churches, when people come up during “Altar Call”, because of emotional, or physical reasons.
Throughout Old Testament biblical literature, whenever true believers who have undergone a genuine transformation of the heart, and thereby, are experiencing a personal, revelatory relationship with GOD, they always refer to GOD by HIS personal, revelatory name, which is “YAHWEH”.
However, GOD has compassion even on those who do not know him, for HE allows it to rain on the “just” and the “unjust” at the same time, and perhaps, this is why; There are many people in this world who don’t believe in GOD, yet are still capable of doing “a right thing”. And there are many Christians in this world, who often know the “right thing” to do, but yet, we yield to our “sin nature” and don’t do it.
Jonah erred with his attitude and behavior toward the Assyrians, for he did not desire that GOD’s “Will” be done in the lives of other human beings, who are, like Christians, also made in the image of GOD. GOD embodies us all with the same seven “Communicable Attributes”, which are Life, Personality, Truth, Wisdom, Love, Justice, and holiness. These elements are the “Nature of GOD”, and they render all human beings, no matter who they are, or, where they come from, capable of having a “Personal Relationship” with HIM. It is GOD’s earnest desire that all mankind accept CHRIST and be saved. And an “obedient witness”, through their speech and behavior, can still be effective in fulfilling the desires of GOD for mankind, in this world.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander