Scripture Reading: Jonah 3:1-10, Jeremiah 18:7-10, Nahum 1:2-11
Nineveh was the worst.
A chief city in the already brutal and wicked Assyrian empire, Nineveh removed the noses and ears of their prisoners to mark and maim them for life. And like most Mesopotamian civilizations, their culture was immoral and generally terrifying—temple prostitution, child sacrifice, and infanticide.
I love my ears and nose, so I understand why Jonah didn’t want to go.
These are the people who heard God’s call to repentance. They listened to Jonah and to God. And they repented. They stopped, tore their clothes, rubbed ashes on their faces, and gave up eating. They were desperate to get God’s attention.
God had mercy on even these most wicked people. They didn’t know they were that wicked until God arrested them in their sin. But this story is only marginally about the repentant Ninevite hearts. Primarily, this is a story about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
God calls them to repent, and they respond by fasting.
Fasting hurts. It is tangible and practical repentance, and repentance must change how we live our lives. We turn from the things that give us false comfort, and only have God.
For the Ninevites, fasting meant giving up their means of power and energy, and depending only on God for power in a very real way. They humbled themselves publicly and didn’t hold back for pride or fear of what others would think. Even the king—who held an almost god-like status in the culture and had everything to lose—humbled himself, bowing before the one true God. It was a culture-wide repentance, extending from the greatest to the least.
Their repentance was not chiefly about how sorry they felt, but about casting themselves wholly upon God’s mercy. It wasn’t about what they could bring to the table. Rather, they said, “Who knows? God may turn and relent” (Jonah 3:9). They recognized that repentance is about what God is doing, not what we can do to gain any kind of merit.
Mercy is not a matter of merit; it is God’s gift. When we call out earnestly to Him in repentance (Jonah 3:8), He “is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Even though Nineveh was awful by any standard, God had mercy on them. This is good news, because the truth is we are all more like the Ninevites than we are like God. I know I am. I don’t gouge eyes out, yet pride, envy, and wrath are always within arm’s reach for me.
“But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.”
- 1 Timothy 1:16
The story of Nineveh’s repentance is about God’s perfect patience, His deep mercy, and His profound forgiveness. Call out earnestly to Him.