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The Obedient Prophet

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
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August 12, 2023 4:00 am

The Obedient Prophet

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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August 12, 2023 4:00 am

After Jonah’s unsuccessful attempts to run from God, he was given a second chance to proclaim God’s warning to the Ninevites. Hear what happened when the prophet obediently delivered the divine message. That’s our focus on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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After Jonah tried unsuccessfully to run and hide from God, he was given a second chance to go and proclaim God's warning to the Ninevites. Today on Truth for Life Weekend, we'll hear what happened when this fish-soaked prophet obediently delivered the divine message he was originally so reluctant to share.

Alistair Begg is teaching from Jonah chapter 3. The place is Nineveh. It was, if you like, a major metropolitan area, and it was pagan in the extreme. Indeed, if you allow your eye to go down to the third verse, you will realize that it was such an important city that a visit required three days.

The best that I can do with it is this, that in reading a little I discovered that eastern etiquette in cities of significance was as follows. Not only did ambassadors or diplomats have to observe a protocol upon entry to the city, but prophets who would have been regarded with esteem and with a measure of superstition were asked to do the same. And so there would be, for someone arriving in the city of Nineveh, a first day, which would be the day of settlement and arrival. There would be a second day, which was the day of formal presentation to the authorities of the city, with the indication given to them as to the reason for their coming to the city.

And then there would be a third day, which may be the conducting of business and may in fact be the day of departure. So the person is Jonah, the place is Nineveh, and the proclamation is this divine message of warning concerning its wickedness and concerning the judgment that is to come. And Jonah's proclamation in verse 4 was, Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned. In other words, the prophet had to convey the divine message and nothing else. Jonah was not at liberty to go into the city of Nineveh and simply say what he wanted to say.

Nor was he at liberty to go into the city of Nineveh and tell them what they wanted to hear. But rather, he was to go into the city and to declare what God desired for them to know. Now, this is, of course, important in every generation, and there is at least a passing lesson concerning the nature of the prophetic role in the preaching of the Bible in every generation. And sadly, this is so misrepresented on so many fronts, so disguised on the part of so many, that we may be forgiven for being inept at noticing the extent to which pulpits have become places in which men, and in some cases women, have determined that they have been given the prerogative to tell people what they want to tell them.

Or perhaps even more significantly and more sinisterly, to tell the people what they think the people want to hear from them, instead of recognizing that they are there by divine commission and they have nothing to say except the word which God has given to them. And of course, in every generation there are those who have missed their way. Spurgeon lecturing to his students, pointing out the solemn nature of being a preacher of the Bible, said this, that hundreds have missed their way and stumbled against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident from the fruitless ministries and decaying churches which surround us. And this is so surprising to me. So few are prepared to look here as to the potential source for the absence of any striking impact in a community. Why do they think for any moment that people are going to come in their hundreds to listen to someone simply pontificating, to listen to somebody simply tickling their ears and telling them what they want to hear? And yet they say, It's amazing to me, you know.

It seems such a dreadful cause, and there seem to be so few who are doing anything worthwhile. I think, loved ones, it is because Spurgeon is right that many have missed their way and banged up against a pulpit is sorrowfully evident in our day. The contrast between the third verse of chapter 1 and the third verse of chapter 3 is quite striking. Jonah ran away from the Lord, verse 3 of chapter 1, and in verse 3 of chapter 3, Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord, and he went to Nineveh. And in verse 4 there is no dragging of his feet, especially if what I've said is at all accurate concerning the protocol of going into a city.

If there was this protocol of the first day for settling, the second day for declaring your purpose, and then getting on with the business in the second part of the second day, notice what happens to him here. And Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord, and he went to Nineveh. And Nineveh was an important city, and a visit required three days. Notice, And on the first day Jonah started into the city, and he proclaimed, Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.

You almost get the impression of him saying, Look, I made such a hash of it in the last venture that as soon as I get there, the first opportunity I get to, the first cluster of people that I see, the first street corner I come to, I'm just gonna blurt it right out. Now, I know I'm supposed to go and report to the social services, and I know you're supposed to go in there, and I'll go in there tomorrow. But listen, folks!

Forty more days, and Nineveh will be overturned. You just need to know that. Who are you? I'm Jonah. Uh-huh?

Okay, well, thanks for sharing that. And off down the road he goes, and once again… Now, I wonder, are we supposed to conclude that this is all he said in Nineveh? I mean, I suppose we could conclude that all that he ever did was say, Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned. In other words, he just went through the city saying that all the time. Now, God could honor that, and that may be what he did. But I don't think so, and the reason I don't think so is because there are indications that he had expanded upon it.

I think this is his summary statement. When you see the king's response in urging people to give up their evil ways and to set aside their violence, there seems to be an indication there that Jonah had worked out the expressions of judgment that were to come and had called the people to a measure of repentance. I think it's more probable for us to conceive of him telling these people just why the judgment was coming, and also at the same time, I think, giving them a word of testimony. I think it would be very difficult for him not to say, Listen, folks, I have to tell you about the judgment of God, and I know firsthand about the divine consequences of disobedience. I mean, just in recent days I have been in a whale of a problem, I have to tell you. It's taken me weeks now to get the smell off me, and I want you to know that when God says, Go, you go, and when he says, Come, you come.

But if he says, Go, don't say, No, because there is no end to which he may be prepared to go in order to lay hold upon you. And I also want you to know that God is a wonderful God, and he has power, and he can save from even the most extreme circumstances. So he brought a warning, and with it a personal testimony of the fact that God is both willing and able to save. The mercy that had been shown to Jonah must surely pervade his message. He had no right to complain about the mercy shown to others, as he does in the first verse of chapter 4, as we're going to see. And the reason he had no right to complain about mercy shown to others was in light of the mercy that God had shown to him. Listen, when I as a preacher sound brittle and cold and heartless and legalistic and metallic, then you can be sure that my heart has not been softened by the mercy and the grace and the love of God. But when you hear from the lips of the preacher not only words but, with them, a sense of the winning and wooing and wonder of the mercy of God, then you are safe to assume that, one, he has needed to know that mercy, and two, that that mercy has been so unfolded to him that he cannot wait for the opportunity not to tell people simply where they're all wrong but to tell them how it is that God can take those of us who are all wrong and, by his mercy, make us all right. That is not to stand back from the word of judgment any more than he did. He said, you know, forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned. It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this comes judgment.

But the sense of wonder at God's dealing with us will permeate the way in which we tell the story to others. You know, I am the prodigal, aren't you? Let me out of here. Let me do this my own way.

Let me have some fun for a while, huh? And what was it that brought the prodigal back up the road to his father? I don't think the prodigal went back to his father primarily because he was tormented by a guilty conscience but because he was driven by the hope of mercy. See, because a guilty conscience could have left him simply in the pigsty.

What was it got him out and up the road? The prospect that when he looked into his father's eyes, he would discover mercy and grace. That's, of course, what Paul is saying when he writes concerning the predicament of humanity in Romans as he begins to unfold things in his great theological treatise. And he says to the people, Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? And then here's the verse, Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? Now, don't we know that to be true? When first the Word of God comes and shows us the extent of our wickedness, shows us the rightful nature of the impending judgment as in the city of Nineveh, makes it clear to us that we're busted and that we have nothing to claim in our defense. And then the love of God shown to us in the Lord Jesus Christ comes and buffets over us and envelops us in the wonder of it all. It is then, you see, the tears smart to our eyes. Well, the remarkable thing in verse 4 is that Jonah gets to the business as directly as he does, and the equally remarkable thing is in verse 5 that the Ninevites respond as quickly as they do.

Now, I don't want to labor this. I want simply to point out to you that the Ninevites, as verse 5 says, believed God. They listened to the warning. Their response was pointed up by their wearing of the garments of penitence.

Here we understand just why it is that Jesus said to the people of his day, as we saw in Luke chapter 11, that the men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment and condemn you, because they listened to the preaching of another prophet called Jonah and responded, and you have listened to the preaching of one greater than Jonah, and you choose not to respond. And it was a widespread reaction. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

This was not some kind of proletariat response. This went right through the structure of the civilization. They were all going around in sackcloth. The news reaches the king, and the public response is more than matched by the royal response. And he changes his clothes, puts on sackcloth instead of royal robes. He changes his place.

He sits down in the dust, and he changes his tune. He issues a proclamation in Nineveh, and he says, We're all going to do this now, even beasts. We will all be covered with sackcloth. Let us all call urgently on God. Let us give up our evil ways.

Can you imagine this in our generation? You see, all the talk of revival, and revival is here, and revival is there, you know. And Mr. So-and-so said this, and I think he's leaning in that direction, and so on. Let me tell you, when we will have reason to believe that revival has come is when the people, from the youngest to the oldest and the least to the greatest, are joined with the very structures of government, and we declare ourselves to be urgently in need of God's mercy and truly deserving of His judgment. And someone stands up and makes a national broadcast and says, Let us then have genuinely a day of repentance, and let us see whether God will not in his mercy come and free us as we give up our violent deeds and as we turn away from the evil that we have embraced. Now, the amazing thing is that this king has got a real insight. He says, Let everyone call urgently on God and do this. And then he says, Who knows, question mark?

Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish. In other words, he recognizes that because they repent, it is not automatic that God will be forbearing in his reaction. There is no definite indication that their turning in repentance will be accompanied by a divine turning. He says, But you never know, God may actually respond in this way. It's a reminder to us of this, that the repentant have no case to argue for acceptance. And the future well-being of the repentant remains solely dependent on the grace of God. That's why I get so tired of people in America and in Britain trotting out to Chronicles 7.14, If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways and do this and do this and do this, and then I will hear from heaven and heal their sin and do their land. And the way that it comes out is this. If we press button A, he is duty-bound to press button B.

We have it completely upside down. Why is it, then, that God has not responded in this way? Does he make a liar of himself?

Does he declare his word to be untrue? No, because the genuinely repentant heart says, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and I'm no longer worthy to be called your son, so make me as one of your hired servants. I deserve nothing. My repentance doesn't guarantee me anything. It doesn't guarantee me a place in the house.

It doesn't guarantee me your love and your affection. If you choose to do that, who knows what you may choose to do? So our part is, let us then humble ourselves and pray, recognizing that we do not manipulate the hand of God. We deserve nothing, for repentance is what we should do.

God does not commend us for our repentance. Give us prizes, as it were. There, there. Very good. Excellent response.

Go to the top of the glass. You see how man-centered our thinking is? And this pagan king is better off. He says, We need to do this. And who knows?

Who knows? And look at verse 10, and with this we stop. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.

How are we to understand this? If you have a King James Version that says that God repented, which is a really unfortunate translation, because we think of repentance in terms of turning away from something that we know to be wrong. And God never has to turn away from something that is wrong. The Old Testament affirms that God is unchanging, and yet at the same time it affirms that he can and does alter his attitude towards people and his way of dealing with them. Now, if you doubt that, let me give you one illustration, and I promise you I will draw this to a close.

I won't belabor it, but I have to do service to this. 1 Samuel chapter 15, and verse 11, it says—God speaks, and he says, I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions. I wish I hadn't made Saul king. Verse 29, he who is the glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind, for he is not a man that he should change his mind. Doesn't that sound to you like in verse 11 he just changed his mind, and then in verse 29 we're told that he doesn't change his mind? I'm grieved that I made Saul king.

I wish I hadn't made him king. Now, how, then, are you to understand that? Well, the fact is, loved ones, that there is no ultimate inconsistency between these two modes of expression. Because actually, when God is said to change his mind, it is really an accommodation to us. When God is said to change his mind, matters are being viewed from our human perspective. Because it appears to us that there has been a change in God. But what in fact has actually changed is our human conduct, not God. So in other words, Saul was no longer the man he had once been. He had now become persistently disobedient. The Ninevites, in reverse, had also changed their conduct, but in the opposite direction they had turned away from evil. And so God would have been inconsistent in his attitude towards them had he responded in the same way, despite the change in their behavior, right?

That would have been the inconsistency. Because God is consistently against sin. There's no variation in his loathing of it, or in his determination to punish it.

That is a constant feature of his character. But when God announces that his judgment is about to fall upon the sinful, it is a statement of what will inevitably happen if they continue on their present course. But it is a conditional statement. It is intended to alert the wayward, to bring them to repentance, and if that occurs, then God responds accordingly to the changed circumstances. Now, I said I wouldn't belabor it, but let me just give you one verse to go home and worry about overnight. Jeremiah chapter 18, and verse 7. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or a kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. So, though it may not be explicitly stated, the announcement of impending disaster is conditioned on continuing disobedience, just as the enjoyment of the blessings of God's covenant is conditioned on obedience. So the just judgment of God takes into account—and listen to this carefully—the just judgment of God takes into account the attitude and the situation of those to whom his demands are addressed. And it is only because God does respond in this way that the sinner who believes in Jesus can come to no divine acceptance. Otherwise, how could anybody be saved?

Why is it that one thief was banished from the presence of Christ and the other thief was today in paradise? God was absolutely settled in his response to sin. He never equivocated for a moment. He never changed his mind in relationship to it. He said, if you remain in your unbelief, if you remain impenitent, if you remain rebellious, then inevitably the judgment will fall on you.

And that's what'll happen to you. And the thief said, Lord, will you remember me when you come into your kingdom? He said, yeah, today you'll be with me in paradise.

What changed? The heart of the individual. Well, that such a response should result from one man's preaching in a pagan metropolis should surely provide a great encouragement to us whenever and wherever we are called upon to proclaim the gospel. And take your place and declare the Word of the Lord. And beware lest you go home with Jonah in verse 1 of chapter 4. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry, and he prayed to the Lord, O Lord, that's not what I said when I was still at home.

That's why I wanted to run away. I knew you were gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. God, why did you have to go ahead and save those people? How strange from the lips of a prophet.

How strange. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend. That is Alistair Begg with a powerful story of repentance and redemption. If Jonah's story of human rebellion and God's grace and second chances inspires you to want to tell a friend about God's mercy, feel free to pass along this message. All of Alistair's teaching can be downloaded, shared and streamed for free through our mobile app or on our website at

Today's message is titled The Obedient Prophet. It's part of our series titled A Study in Jonah. And this is the last weekend we'll be telling you about a book called Seasons of Sorrow by Tim Challies. It's an excellent book to help you learn how to trust God and even find joy even in the most difficult times. This is an important book to have if you're working through your own grief or if you're ministering to someone in their grief. Find out more about the book Seasons of Sorrow on our website

I'm Bob Lapine. Ever wonder why good things happen to seemingly undeserving people? That was Jonah's complaint. We'll examine God's response next weekend. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-12 04:12:53 / 2023-08-12 04:21:56 / 9

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