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Jonah Preached - And the People of Nineveh Believed God

by Stephen Davey

While there is no audio recording of Jonathan Edward’s famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” message, we do have the printed transcript, which employed more than 7,000 words. That would have taken well over an hour to deliver.

I read recently of a pastor who preached one long sermon— covering the highlights from Genesis to Revelation—for over 50 hours. And he did it without stopping! I’m not sure who suffered more: the pastor or his congregation!

Centuries earlier, the prophet Jonah received a message from God. It was his “second chance” to obey the Lord and he obediently went and proclaimed God’s warning to the sinful city of Nineveh. You would think all those hours in the belly of the fish would have given him plenty of time to prepare his sermon, but God gave him the message, and it was only eight words—the shortest, most successful sermon ever recorded. 

In fact, in the Hebrew language, his sermon was only five words!

His sermon transcript is contained in one verse: “Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” (Jonah 3:4)

That’s it. That’s all he says. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

While Jonah’s words were simple and short, I believe Jonah’s reputation preceded his entrance into this capital city.

History informs us that one of the chief gods of the Ninevites was Dagon. Dagon was half-man and half-fish and supposedly ruled the sea. A Phoenician inscription from around the time of Jonah informs us that one of the chief centers of worship to Dagon was Joppa—the city where Jonah boarded the ship. Joppa was quite possibly the same city where the great fish spat Jonah out on dry land.

It’s easy to imagine a messenger or a tradesman from Joppa rushing into the city of Nineveh ahead of Jonah, grabbing everyone in sight and telling them about this man who was swallowed by Dagon’s fish and lived to tell the tale.

God truly does work all things— even the disobedience of His prodigal prophet—together for His glory. Frankly, God probably had these fish-worshipping Ninevites in mind when he chose Jonah’s fish-mobile for transportation.

We aren’t given many details about the Great Awakening of Nineveh. After Jonah’s short sermon, we’re simply told: “And the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5).

The truth remains: Jonah was just one man—sent by God with a message from God. And to this day, God still uses every-day, ordinary people to spark revivals all around the world.

Reformation comes when the people of God submit to the will of God and communicate the Word of God, and then leave the results up to God.

Still, it would have been difficult in Jonah’s day to imagine the Ninevites repenting and turning to God. But the evidence was clear. Genuine repentance occurred. In the next few verses, we see the personal and public confession of the Ninevites, as well as their pursuit of holy living. Even the king of Nineveh commanded his people, “Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands” (Jonah 3:8).

When you see the moral decay all around you, when you deal with an unusually difficult coworker or family member, remember the revival of Nineveh. Take heart in the fact that no person, no family, and no society is beyond saving.

Who might God send you to reach today?

If you want to explore Jonah in more detail, Stephen's book is available here.

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