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Jonah 3 Study Guide: The God of Second Chances

Community Group Study Guide — The God of Second Chances
Jonah 3:1-10

Study Information:
Are there people who have gone so far that they cannot be redeemed? In the Jonah story we saw how Jonah fled from God’s presence and had a hard heart towards what God was calling him to do because of his hatred of the people God had sent him to. He was the prophet of God and he ran from God; the irony was that everyone around him was listening to God and following the word of the Lord. Jonah ended up in the belly of the boat, through a raging storm, into the heart of the sea and the belly of a fish. Chapter 2 documents the downward journey of Jonah until he hit the bottom of the ocean entangled in sea weed (Jonah 2:5). From the depths Jonah looked to God and was brought back up from the pit (Jonah 2:6). The fish vomited him up and Jonah got a second chance as “the LORD came to Jonah a second time.” God is the God of second chances (Jonah 3:1). Jonah chapter 3 demonstrates to us the depths of repentance and that people are not too far gone for God to reach them. To repent is to turn from sin and turn towards God, and this chapter shows us three people “turning” Jonah, the people of Nineveh and finally God as he relents from the judgement he had planned for Assyria.

Jonah Turns
Jonah 3:1-4
After hitting the depths of his rebellion against God, Jonah heard the word and obeyed and went to Nineveh. The message was still the same as when God first called Jonah, he was to “call out against it.” If we remember back to chapter 1, Jonah had an issue with the people of Nineveh because of their brutality and injustice. Many Jews were fearful of Nineveh and would want to see them blotted out by God, but Jonah knew God’s compassionate mercy and that if a message was going to be declared in Nineveh, even a message of judgement, then there was a chance they'd repent and turn to God. Jonah’s heart was still bent towards anger and bitterness, but he turned in this moment and followed the Lord. We learn that Nineveh was a large city and that Jonah went about halfway into the city (a single day’s journey) and began to call out against it “in forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!” 

Repentance for Jonah, in this circumstance, began with right action even though his heart was slow to follow. We learn in chapter 4 that he still wrestled with anger and bitterness and struggled with why God would do what Jonah hated. Yet Jonah still obeyed even when he did not really want to or understand. Ideally our heart and actions will be in alignment, but there are times where we first need to obey God even when we do not want to or do not understand. 

The People Turn
Jonah 3:5-9
The people of Assyria were idol worshippers and brutally violent people. They had been conquering the Ancient Near East and did so in a brutal way. Surely they’d be too hard hearted to hear the word of God and repent and change their actions. We can easily feel that way about our culture today, as if the world is too far gone to hear the gospel and to confront their sin and to turn to God. It is easy to give up praying big prayers for culture to change and not because of external pressures or conformity but for culture to change because of a love for God. Yet, the people of Nineveh should give us hope that nothing is too small for God. 

Word spread as the people heard Jonah’s message and believed that it was true. Jonah 3:5 tells us that they believed and started to fast and demonstrated repentance and sorrow for their actions including putting on sackcloth which was a scratchy fabric used to demonstrate that they were uncomfortable with the state of their lives and in need of change. Word spread from the common folks in the city and throughout the city to the point where it reached the king (Jonah 3:6). The word “arise” continues to be a thematic word in Jonah because the king “arose” and also demonstrated belief and repentance with sackcloth and ashes and he proclaimed throughout the city a fast. Specifically they were called by their king to turn away from their violence and to turn towards God in hopes that he would relent and they’d be saved.

Repentance involves turning away from concrete and real sins. The people of Assyria were pursuing evil and violence and they could not just say “Im sorry” without forsaking those practices. Likewise if you follow Christ you cannot just say that you’re repentant without actually turning from what is sinful and turning towards God. Obedience is an outflow of genuine faith and repentance. 

God Turns
Jonah 3:10
God responded to their repentance and relented from the disaster he had planned for them. Simply put, God demonstrated mercy. We learn in Jonah 4 that Jonah suspected this would happen which is why he did not want to go. To show mercy is to not give someone what they deserved and to extend compassion. It is interesting that we do not get a lot of detail about the state of the hearts of the Ninevites, we’re not told that they sacrificed to God or became God-fearers like the sailors in chapter 1. Our text says they “believed God,” but his message or did they believe “in the Lord?” Either scenario is possible, but we’re not sure. Yet what is clear is they turned away from their evil actions and cried out for mercy and God responded to them in a way that was gracious and more than they deserved. 

God saw their belief, contrition and actions of repentance and withheld the judgment he had planned. 

Passages like this one should cause followers of Jesus to consider how God has been gracious to them. If God responded to the Ninevites when they cried out for mercy, how much more does he respond to those who cry out in repentance and in saving faith? We know that God did not spare his only son but graciously gave him up for us to be saved from wrath and judgement. And the Christian life is one of ongoing repentance as we walk with Jesus. Followers of Jesus do not need to earn God’s gracious favor with every repentant action, but rather get to experience God’s grace and mercy in Christ in that we’ve been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved son (Colossians 1:13-14). No one is too far gone for God to save, no one is too far gone to cry out for help and if you’re holding onto sin, you have access to God and can approach his throne and find mercy and help through Jesus, even in this very moment.

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read Jonah 3:1-10

Why would God call someone like Jonah to do something that he did not yet feel like doing?  

What did the Ninevites specifically repent of and how did they demonstrate it?

Read Jonah 1:15-16 and Jonah 3:5-9. What are the similarities and differences? Do you think the Ninevites repented of their bad actions alone, do you think they converted? What kind of mercy does God show the Ninevites? What kind of mercy does God show followers of Jesus today?

What are some reasons people are tempted to think that people or even our culture can be too far gone for God to reach? How does a passage like Joan 3 encourage you to share about God and how can it encourage your prayer for the world?