The prophet Jonah was sent to Israel’s enemy from the north: Nineveh. Jonah preached a message of judgment against the city. The Lord God gave the time period of forty days until judgment would come upon the city with no call of repentance. The response of the pagan people, who did not know the God of the Israelites, shows how they became poor in spirit because they took it upon themselves to change their character:
Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word came to the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said,
“In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we may not perish?”
When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. (NASB)
The steps the people of Nineveh took to become poor in spirit are as follows:
The people of Nineveh believed in God. It all begins with believing God’s Word and acting out in faith to the Word of the Most High. Our text for this whole study in becoming poor in spirit is Matthew 5:3. Do we believe Jesus’ word to his disciples? Are you His disciple? Then believe His Word to us.
A fast was called. Not only did the people hear from God and believed, they wanted to draw nearer and learn what they needed to do to hold off the coming judgment declared by the prophet of God. We have learned that prayer and fasting can help in the development of the character we are after: being poor in spirit.
They mourned over their sin. This is an overlap into the next Beatitude (Matthew 5:4), but the Beatitudes often work together in the development of Christian character. Mourning over sin is essential in character development. The nation mourned because of their sin in the attitude of being poor in spirit.
God validated their character by holding off judgment. Because the people of Nineveh changed their character and became poor in spirit the judgment that was pronounced against them by the prophet of God was not brought upon them.
Remember these four steps as essential for character development and refer to them often in your walk in becoming poor in spirit.