“Can you count the stars of evening that are shining in the sky?
Can you count the clouds that daily over all the world go by?
God the Lord, who doth not slumber, keepeth all the boundless number;
But He careth more for thee, but He careth more for thee.”
-verse 1 of “Can You Count the Stars?” by Johann W. Hey
“He counts the stars and names each one.” Psalm 147:4 (ICB)
The story of Jonah begins with God speaking to His prophet. “Go and preach against the great city of Nineveh, for it is an evil place” was his call. But Jonah knew the evil that was at Nineveh, and he decided to flee God’s call for him. He wanted to go in the opposite direction, as far away from God’s call as he could. So he headed to Tarshish instead.
God knew what Jonah was doing. So he sent a storm to intercept the ship. Jonah could not flee from His call. God had a plan for him.
But God used Jonah’s decision to flee for His glory. As the storm was raging, the men questioned Jonah about his God, and Jonah answered them truthfully, saying “I am a Hebrew; and I fear Jehovah, the God of heaven, who hath made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9, ASV) This caused the sailors to fear God and they offered sacrifices and vows to Him. God allowed Jonah to flee because He cares not only about His people the Hebrews, but also about the sailors who didn’t know Him. God is the God of first chances. He gives all people the chance to know Him personally.
“Can you count the birds that warble in the sunshine all the day?
Can you count the little fishes that in sparkling waters play?
God the Lord their number knoweth, for each one His care He showeth;
Shall He not remember thee? Shall He not remember thee?”
-verse 2 of “Can You Count the Stars?” by Johann W. Hey
“Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns. But your heavenly Father feeds the birds. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds.” Matthew 6:26 (ICB)
Jonah told the sailors to throw him into the water, and they did. The storm ceased, and Jonah 1:17 tells us that “…Jehovah prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (ASV)
Jonah prayed to God while he was in the fish’s belly, and then God heard him, and then spoke to the fish, and the fish spit Jonah out on dry land.
God gave Jonah a second chance, because Jonah was His prophet whom He cares about. God is a God of second chances. He is eager to encourage His people to do the right thing, even after a rebuke is given.
So God called for Jonah to go to Nineveh again, and this time Jonah went and did as he was told.
“…Nineveh was a big city, very big-it took three days to walk across it. Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, ‘In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.’” (Jonah 3:3-4, MSG)
The people of Nineveh heard Jonah’s warning, and they listened to him. They mourned for their sins and fasted, proving to God that they were repenting of all the evil they had done. Even the king did it when he heard Jonah’s proclamation. He ordered everyone: “Not one drop of water, not one bite of food for man, woman, or animal, including your herds and flocks! Dress them all, both people and animals, in burlap, and send up a cry for help to God. Everyone must turn around, turn back from an evil life and violent ways that stain their hands. Who knows? Maybe God will turn around and change His mind about us, quit being angry with us and let us live!” (Jonah 3:7-9 ,MSG)
“Can you count the many children in their little beds at night,
Who without a thought of sorrow rise again at morning light?
God the Lord, who dwells in heaven, loving care to each has given;
He has not forgotten thee, He has not forgotten thee.”
-verse 3 of “Can You Count the Stars?” by Johann W. Hey
“Be careful. Don’t think these little children are worth nothing. I tell you that they have angels in heaven who are always with my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10, ICB)
It was a glad day in Nineveh, when God heard the repentance of the king and people of Nineveh and forgave them. Just as He gave the sailors a chance, and He gave Jonah a second chance, God gave the people of Nineveh another chance, too, because God is a God of many chances. He is always ready to forgive.
It wasn’t a happy day for Jonah, though. “I knew this would happen.” He says in Jonah 4:2 (ICB). “I knew it when I was still in my own country. It is why I quickly ran away to Tarshish. I knew that you are a God who is kind and shows mercy. You don’t become angry quickly. You have great love. I knew you would rather forgive than punish them. So now I ask you, Lord, please kill me. It is better for me to die than to live.”
Can you imagine? Jonah ran away because he knew that God would forgive the people whom he was sent to preach to, if they cried out to God in repentance. That was the reason for the storm at sea and the great fish; all because Jonah didn’t want God to forgive the people of Nineveh! Even after God forgave him for running away.
God asked Jonah why he was angry, but Jonah had no answer for him. Instead, he left the city and sat outside to see what would happen to the people there, as if their judgement was a spectacle to be seen. While he was waiting, God let a plant grow up to shade Jonah from the sun. This made Jonah very happy. But when God allowed the plant to die the very next day, and Jonah felt the hot sun on his head again, he grew angry and prayed to die.
“God said, ‘What’s this? How is it that you can change your feelings from pleasure to anger overnight about a mere shade tree that you did nothing to get? You neither planted nor watered it. It grew up one night and died the next night. So, why can’t I likewise change what I feel about Nineveh from anger to pleasure, this big city of more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong, to say nothing of all the innocent animals?’ ” (Jonah 4:10-11, MSG)