Repentance is a spiritual treasure and we can see some of its riches in this chapter.
In Jonah’s case, we should note, first, the value of a penitent preacher. Only a repenting man can preach a message of repentance. Why did God not stop Jonah getting on the boat in Joppa? The answer is that he was not in a fit state to preach in Nineveh. Instead of letting Jonah be swallowed by a fish, why did the Lord not catch Jonah in a whirlwind from the boat and deposit him into the palace of the king of Nineveh? It would be a dramatic entrance, but not very effective because Jonah had to become a penitent believer before the Lord could use him in a particular way. There are certain qualifications that are essential for preaching, and one of them is ongoing repentance for disobedience. It has often been said that it needs a crucified man to preach a message of crucifixion; it is also the case that it needs a penitent man to preach about repentance.
Of course, what is true for Jonah the prophet is also necessary for the implementation of all other spiritual gifts. When a person does anything for the Lord, he or she should have a sense of unworthiness of such a high calling, of regret at previous failures, and of sensitivity to lack of ability in our own resources. It is not enough to exercise a gift, it has to be exercised in the right spirit.
Further, we should note another value of a penitent believer, which is that spiritual restoration shows the effectiveness of the intercession of Christ. John Bunyan in his book on the intercession of Christ writes that ‘a returning backslider is a great blessing’. He is a blessing to the world because he says to it a second time that the ways of Christ are better than what it has to offer. He is also a blessing to the church because they see in his restoration the wisdom, power and grace of Christ.
Of course, Jonah is an example of the principle that what is of most importance is what we are before God in private. A fellow-traveller on the boat might have imagined that Jonah was a faithful witness when he spoke to the sailors; he certainly spoke the truth but he did not speak with power. In his heart he was rebelling against God. It was only when he was repenting that he was what he should be.