“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Mark Twain

Not Just Another Fish Story - Sorry

My daughter is crying.My son is laughing--and he has a Scooby Doo punching bag/bop in his hand. But not for long.

"Do you like it when your sister cries?" I wriggle the bop bag out of his hand, rubbing my daughter's back in the process.

"No." He reaches toward me. "Give it back."

I shake my head. "Then why did you hit her with this?"


"What do you say?"

"I'm sorry," he half-whines flippantly.

My daughter sniffles and looks up at her big brother. "It's okay."

And the two head off to play.


Now, on the surface, it may look like this little scene was a masterful technique for teaching my son. (Or maybe you are wiser than I was and have already figured out where I'm going with this.)

But you'd never guess what I saw in front of me not ten minutes later.
Andrew standing over Annika with that silly bop bag inches from her head--again.
No matter what Andrew said ten minutes previous, you can't convince me that he actually meant it, because his actions didn't back it up. He may have said he was sorry, but he wasn't--though he may have been sorry for getting caught.

My son's words were just that--words. If he had truly been sorry, his actions (or in this case, lack of actions) would have been evident. His heart would have changed, and Annika's head would have been safe from the crushing blow of Scooby Doo.

Like my son, the Ninevites of Jonah's time were disobedient to man and to the Lord. Like my son, they were told (by a clearly imperfect messenger) that they needed to stop.

But this is where the parallel ends. Unlike Andrew, the Ninevites took action.
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. Jonah 3:5 NIV
They showed their regret for their actions through the standard mourning signs of their times. These people, who were not God's people (did you happen to catch that?), are showing a lot more regret for their deeds than Andrew did (or Jonah, for that matter--but I'm getting ahead of myself). This repentance even went as high as the monarchy.
"By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." Jonah 3:7b-9 NIV
Think about what the leader of this grand empire demanded of his subjects. This is serious business--the serious business of true repentance. Fasting is one thing, but having your livestock fast as well can have serious consequences after the humans start eating again. Having your food supply stop taking in nourishment is quite a sacrifice. The people also, we should note, stopped their sinning and mourned over it. That doesn't sound like a superficial "I'm sorry."

And it wasn't. How do we know, you ask? Well, for one, their actions show it. Remember, James tells us in the second chapter of his letter that faith without works is dead. Most importantly, however, the Lord, who knew the heart of every one of them, accepted it as true repentance.
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:10 NIV
This is not to say, of course, that the Ninevites never disappointed the Lord again. In fact, they were later the subject of total destruction as prophesied by the later OT prophet Nahum. But, at this time, they honored God, and turned from their own ways to His. I can guarantee that the king of Ninevah wasn't hitting his younger sibling upside the head ten minutes after declaring this proclamation.

Saying "sorry" isn't enough. That is clear, not only from the book of Jonah, but from my own living room as well. We need the actions, and the heart, behind the words.

Heavenly Father, help me to raise my children to seek true repentance, and to have their hearts changed away from their own way and to Yours. Help me too, Lord, to desire to follow God's path in all things, and to quickly repent--to turn Your way--when I disobey and put my own selfish desires before Yours. Help me to not only show the signs of true repentance, but to have a heart change, and be willing to make whatever sacrifice you wish of me to display my sorrow at my deeds. In the name of Your precious Son Jesus I pray. Amen


  1. Most people end the story of Jonah when he was spewed on the beach. There's a LOT more to this story, isn't there?

    Thank you for reminding us to obey with actions, not just with words.

  2. True repentence is life changing. Great truth here wrapped in an example I can definitely relate to.

  3. Yes, I absolutely hate that sarcastic, "S-o-r-r-e-e" that the kids give me because they hope it will get them out of trouble. I wonder what my "tone of voice" sounds like to God sometimes...

  4. I JUST read this story to my daughter yesterday, and the thought struck me about the end...how often we miss Jonah's other lesson. Wow, to have it hit me twice in the same week, Wow, I'm wondering if God has a message for me in it. I do not want to miss out on the joy of obeying Him.


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