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Everybody is pre-wired with a throne addiction. It is why we must be born a second time (John 3:7). The bad news is that becoming born again does not insulate you from this addiction. Salvation is a good start, but not a total solution for a life on earth that wants to spread God’s fame.
We are tenaciously loyal to ourselves and will fight vigorously, though mostly in subtle ways, to retain ownership of our thrones. One of the ways you will see the game of thrones acted out is when sin entangles you. And as odd as it may sound, being caught in or confronted for sin is not always enough to motivate a person to relinquish his perceived right to the throne of his life.
Paul conveyed this tension when he wrote to the Corinthians. Though he was calling them on the carpet for their sin, he was fully aware of the Corinthian’s tenacious loyalty to themselves. He said it this way:
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10
Jonah was such a man who struggled with the tension of godly and worldly repentance. The Corinthians, Jonah, and I are all the same. God gave Jonah a clear directive, but he refused to obey (Jonah 1:1-3). The Lord mercifully sent a storm into his life to get his attention (Jonah 1:4-16). To further punctuate the need for Jonah to come to his senses (Luke 15:17), the Lord prepared a big fish to swallow him (Jonah 1:17). After these three appointed events from the Lord, it seems like Jonah would have repented.
After these three appointed events from the Lord, it seems like Jonah would have repented. And it does appear he did turn to the Father (Jonah 2:1-10) as you press further into the story, you see Jonah being spit out of a fish and booking it toward Nineveh. But the questions are,
When he finally gets to where God wanted him to go, he utters one of the shortest calls to repentance in the Bible (Jonah 3:4). If you read the passage in context, while factoring in how the other prophets typically blared out God’s call to repentance, Jonah did a poor job.
He was broken, but not broken. He repented but did not repent, which raises two critical questions for you to ponder as you reflect on your acts of repentance.
Jonah did change his behavior, but he did not change his mind. We know this because of what happened in chapter four. As you read this later passage, you sense the feeling that these are not the words of a man who was successfully broken by God, to the point where he had a heart for a pagan city.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” – Jonah 4:1-4
This is not a time to bash Jonah. How could I do that? I see myself in him. There have been many times in my life where God got my attention, but as the crisis abated, I reverted to my previous habits.
Repentance has to go much deeper than personal awareness of sin and your desire to be extricated from your problems. Perhaps you have heard an illustration regarding this concept. It goes like this: the airplane was going down, and everyone onboard cried out to God. After the tragedy was averted, the people went back to their old ways.
I am not bashing the “airplane confessing people” either because I am like them too. The truth is, I can be a player. In times of anguish and disappointment, I reach out to God, but when the crisis is over, I climb back on my throne again.
There is an “art to helplessness” that we all can play. This technique is not repentance, but a mind game. It is a method of repenting to get what you want, without a real heart change. Deception is even possible when you think your repentance is genuine repentance.
If you have children, you more than likely have seen the “art of helplessness” in action. When children perceive the threat of personal suffering–dad threatens to spank them if they do not change—they can appear to be helpless and show a willingness to change.
They give you their most effective mopey face. This response is the child’s learned behavior, hoping you relent from your thought to discipline. Once the crisis is over, the children cautiously revert back to what they were doing before the storm appeared.
The stakes are higher as we become older, and the consequences are more severe. It is no longer about manipulating your parents to get more play time or to get out of taking a bath. Adult throne games can have generational and even eternal consequences.
Miraculously, though Jonah did not have a heart change, God accomplished His purposes. Jonah arrived in Nineveh, gave an eight-word message (Jonah 3:4), and some of the most brutal people on the face of the earth repented.
So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey.
And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. – Jonah 3:3-5
This passage is phenomenal. It would take three days for a person to cover the entire city of Nineveh. Jonah only went a day’s journey and preached a short message. But his half-hearted efforts did not stop God.
With a message shorter than a full tweet on Twitter, Jonah reached the king of Nineveh. The conviction from the Lord was so profound and compelling that the king was motivated to repent.
The contrast between what the Lord brought into Jonah’s life and what He brought into the king’s life is striking. Neither the wind, the waves, nor a whale could bring genuine repentance to Jonah, but the king barely caught a half-hearted, half-baked message and was devastated by the Sovereign Lord.
Without as much adversity or trouble, the king broke down and biblically repented, which should bring you hope. It is not true that you have to be devastated by a catastrophe to change. Jonah did meet destruction, but he did not turn. The king heard the equivalent of a whisper, and he was a broken man.
The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. – Jonah 3:6
If you want to understand how repentance works, it would be instructive to have clarity on what the king of Nineveh did. He was the king. He had a throne. A king sits on his throne. It is rare for a king to get off his throne in public. It is even more extraordinary he would take off his robe in society.
If that were not enough, it is shocking he would descend from his throne and sit in an ash heap. That is mind-boggling. It is impressive humility; it’s biblical repentance. It is an echo of what we see in the story of the prodigal son.
I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. – Luke 15:19
The king went further than personal repentance. He decreed that all the people and all the animals should repent too. Though animals cannot repent, the point is clear: the king was serious about repentance, as seen in the most extreme caricature of repentance in the Bible.
Personal repentance should not be questionable. Everyone should perceive it in you. If your husband comes home in sackcloth and sits in an ash heap, and decrees that the dog, the cat, and the goldfish must repent too, you are probably looking at a broken man.
Unfortunately, too many times we do not see radical repentance. We experience lukewarm apologies. Radical repentance will compel you to relinquish your throne by standing up from your throne, stepping off your pedestal, and sitting in ashes.
Like the prodigal after him, the king did not want to stay on his throne any longer. He was for real. If he had refused to hear the Word from the Lord and not repented, his life would have continued down a path of destruction. Staying on your throne is the path to ruin.
The first thing Jonah needed to do was repent of his repentance. Semi-repentance or half-hearted repentance is not repentance. This kind of repentance is damage control or image preservation, but not biblical repentance.
One of the most common ways you will experience half-hearted repentance is in the expression, “I’m sorry.” When repentance is watered down to an apology, the wicked king is still on the throne. Let me illustrate.
Biff sins against his wife, Mable. He gets angry. Mable is upset and, after an extended argument, Biff tells Mable he is sorry. Mable accepts his apology, and there is “peace” in the home.
The problem with this scenario is there was no repentance. Biff did not step down from his throne. He indeed did not disrobe or sit in an ash heap. He smoothed things over. In these types of repentance scenarios, rarely does the person ask God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). At best, it is watered down, horizontal peace-making.
Biff navigated his marriage back to its pre-existing condition. There is a temporary peace, but Biff does not change, and his marriage does not experience restoration. Mable is glad Biff is not yelling any longer, and she is willing to accept the peace treaty over godly repentance.
Biff will not step off his throne because he is addicted to his ego and his desires. He also loves his image and reputation. The first thing he needs to do is repent of his repentance. If Biff does this, maybe God will change His mind.
Biff’s story is not how the king thought about repentance. He took it seriously and pulled out all of the stops. He believed if he genuinely repented, maybe God would repent too. Just perhaps God would turn His wrath away from him and his city.
Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish. – Jonah 3:9
This text is interesting. The king is saying God may turn, relent, turn. The Hebrew words are shuv, naham, shuv. Shuv is the picture word for repentance, but naham is the actual word for repentance.
As we know, God’s repentance is different from ours. God is holy. He does not sin to where He needs to repent of wrong actions, but He can change His mind. He does this all the time. It works like this:
The text says God may turn, repent, and turn. The hope we see in this passage is the interaction between what people do and what God will do. When people turn from their evil way, God will repent of the evil He said He would bring them.
When it comes to God’s eternal decrees–His promise to keep His covenant–He will not relent or repent, but there are some situations where God will change His mind. You see this clearly in Jeremiah.
If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.
And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. – Jeremiah 18:7-10
This concept is amazingly hopeful for us. God will not make us pay for our sins if we will genuinely repent. Though He is Sovereign and in total control of all things, He responds to the choices people make, which can determine the direction history will take.
An illustration of this was God’s covenant promise to His people, the Israelites. He promised Abraham the land of Canaan. However, some of the people did not see that promise fulfilled because of the choices they made.
God kept His sovereign promise, but human responsibility was allowed to factor into the course of history. God is the author of His own sovereignty, meaning He is free to respond and interact with the choices people make, but that does not alter the predetermined ends that He has decreed.
The point of Jonah 3 is we serve an amazing God, and we should be impressed by Him. We live with the Sovereign God of the universe, who will bring all things to a predetermined end, yet He will change His mind if you repent.
He is responsive to His people, and He always works in ways that are for our good and His glory. He will be receptive to you too. It is your choice. You can play the game of thrones, or you can repent of your half-hearted repentance and do legitimate business with God.
If you play a game, God will not change His mind. You will incur His disfavor. If you will get up, step down, disrobe, and sit in ashes, God will change His mind, and you will experience His amazing grace.