We don’t see people today wearing burlap as a sign of cleansing and repentance. But in Jonah’s time, it would have been amazing to see, even the king, listening and responding to the warning from God. What Jonah proclaimed was destruction. He didn’t give them an “unless.” That is, Nineveh will be destroyed unless you repent! But the people showed their respect, and their tears of sorrow melted God’s heart.
It was quite unexpected to see the people of Nineveh believing God’s word. I think of the Israelites who went on and on living their idol worshipping lives despite the efforts of Jeremiah, for example. He told them to repent because their worship of other gods angered the one true God.
The life of the prophet Jeremiah has had some very unpleasant moments. Of course, we are privy to only a portion of what he experienced. But today’s circumstance was certainly the “pits.” I recall using that word regularly to describe all the unpleasant things a teenager might encounter. It’s been decades since I used that little phrase. Certainly, Jeremiah had to be glad that his time in the “pits” didn’t end in death!
This was an interesting interlude of the unfolding drama of Jeremiah’s imprisonment. Jeremiah has had a rough road. Now the king’s officials want him dead because his message hurts the morale of the fighting men and people left behind. Heaven forbid! It’s one thing if morale is being affected by negative talk, but Jeremiah’s prophecies, while not at all “pleasant,” sounded God’s warning and promise of hope for the redeemed.
Can you believe what the king did to the scroll? At least he had it read to him before he destroyed it. But the fact he was not moved to repent is serious business. I was surprised by this line: “Neither the king nor his attendants showed any signs of fear or repentance at what they heard.” How could they hear all of that and have no fear of the LORD? What a calloused heart King Jehoiakim must have had to simply burn up God’s word with no remorse. I picture him taking delight in the power he wielded. Sad. Very sad.
God desires our devotion and was hopeful his prophetic words on the scroll would pierce the king’s cold heart. God gave the king a chance to get it right, but the king failed. The king’s actions were brutal as he slashed the scroll and burned it up. How disappointed God must have been to see such a response! Can you think of a time when someone responded to you in a totally unexpected way that hurt you?
The king of Judah didn’t follow God’s advice, did he? If he did, Jerusalem would look a lot different today based on God’s promise here. “If you obey me, there will always be a descendant of David sitting on the throne here in Jerusalem.” The “here in Jerusalem” is what sets this apart from God’s promise to King David all those years ago.
For 300+ years, the people believed the royal house of David was their “special protection.” In 2 Samuel 7:16, God promises David, “Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.” Jesus sits on this throne now as the one who fulfills this promise. Remember the angel’s words to Mary about her son, Jesus, in Luke 2:31-33. “He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
Don’t you love when God uses “real life” items to make his point? Jeremiah often tells vivid stories given by God to illustrate Judah’s destiny. But I’m not sure how many loincloths I’ve seen being used in my lifetime in areas of the world where I’ve been. It would have made a lot more sense to people in Jeremiah’s day. Linen belts would be intimate pieces of clothing, like underwear. Linen was also used to make the priests’ robes, so it could be seen as “holy.” But the way God uses this illustration is stunning!
The message for us is not “be careful, linen doesn’t hold up too well if it’s buried in the ground.” What was the message you heard? God said to Jeremiah, “This shows how I will rot away the pride of Judah and Jerusalem.” Fun fact: linen gets stronger when wet, so when Jeremiah is told to not wash the garment, the linen is actually dry, its weakest state.