Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Jonah 3:3-5 (NIV)
Read: Jonah 3
Consider: We do not know whether Jonah decided to follow God’s leading because he was afraid of God, or because of the mercy he had received by being saved from drowning. What we do know is that when God called him a second time, he obeyed and went to Nineveh.
Jonah went into the city, telling the people that in forty days they would be destroyed. What happened next came as a complete surprise to Jonah. The people of Nineveh, from the king down, put on sackcloth (a sign of sorrow and also a public sign of repentance and humility). The king issued a decree in which he said:
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 3:7-9)
If ever there was a sign of repentance it was displayed here in Nineveh. Not only did the people believe what Jonah said, they acted upon it as well. It would be very easy to read the words ‘Who knows?’ in the king’s decree as words of desperation. However, I think they expressed a genuine understanding by the king that the Assyrians’ actions deserved God’s judgement. The king knew they were undeserving of God’s mercy, yet he hoped that God would extend his mercy to them. In Jonah 3:10 we are told:
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Turning back to Jonah, it must be said that he was happy to preach God’s judgement on the people of Nineveh, but he forgot that God could also extend his mercy to them. We will see in the next post how negative Jonah was at the repentance of the Ninevites, and also how negatively he reacted to God extending his mercy to them.
Pray: Lord, we know you want us to tell people about your judgement of their sin. Help us not to forget that judgement carries with it the offer of mercy if a person is willing to repent. Amen