My Dad had a saying that I learned to reject at a young age. To set the context, my father grew up as the son of a Pennsylvania State prison guard. His family struggled mightily during the depression and its aftermath. Dad was the oldest of four and had to take responsibility for two very squirrley brothers and a much younger sister. There was trouble in the house most nights, and his father was a stern man.
And so when things would happen in the news that spoke of trouble somewhere, my father would sigh, lean back in his recliner, and say, “Well, that figures. People are basically rotten,” in his best Archie Bunker voice. I don’t know that he truly believed that, but as the son of a prison guard, I imagine he heard a lot of that growing up.
I don’t believe people are basically rotten, but I do think we are all basically weak in the face of temptation. Sometimes God raises up people to speak truth to that weakness, and it is never an easy task. Think of a time when you had to confront someone about a negative behavior or action. Most of us would rather run away than have a confrontation with someone, especially someone we love.
In our passage today, we see Jonah at the end of his trial. He has run away from God, been thrown overboard from a ship, and has suffered being regurgitated by a whale at this point. God gives him a second chance to speak truth to weakness, and this time, he is obedient to that uncomfortable task.
Jonah 3 (New Revised Standard Version)
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,
2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”
3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.
4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
What Jonah learned is that when God speaks, people listen. If the message is the true word of God, truth prevails. Where we go wrong is when we insert ourselves, our opinions, our preferences, and our interpretations into his message. There is very little “pure word of God” to be found these days. This is why it is critical for us to read directly from Scripture every day.
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
Where is God calling you to speak truth to weakness? Is someone in jeopardy of losing their soul or their life by practicing a destructive behavior? Is someone cheating, lying, or stealing right in front of you? What is God telling you to say?
Jonah reminds us that when God gives us a directive, he also gives us the proper way to deliver it. If you are in this situation, pray hard, walk softly, and keep discerning God’s will as you speak truth to weakness. If you are confronting an addict, you know how hard this is. At some point, God may tell you its OK for you to walk away for awhile. Be sure to walk straight to your prayer closet.
In any case, always make sure you pepper your message with love as you walk toward your Nineveh. In the fullness of time, God’s word will be heard.