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Jonah 3:1-10, Joel 2:13, Nahum 3:1-7, Jeremiah 18:7-10
Text: Jonah 3:1-10, Joel 2:13, Nahum 3:1-7, Jeremiah 18:7-10
This is part of a 7-day series on Jonah in the Lent 2016 reading plan.
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, abortion, 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. These brutal eye-gougers! The Ninevites listened to Jonah and to God. And they repented. They stopped, stripped off their clothes, rubbed their faces in the fireplace, and gave up eating. They were desperate to get God’s attention.
And they did get His attention. God had mercy on even these most wicked people. They didn’t know how wrong they were until God arrested them in their sin. But this is a story only marginally about about the repentant Ninevite hearts, and centrally about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
God knew the depth of their sin, and used Jonah to deliver a call to repentance. Astonishingly, the Ninevites listened, repented, and began fasting.
Fasting hurts: that painful ache in the stomach is hard to ignore. It’s 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 on God alone 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 their emotions, 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.
Mercy is not a matter of merit; it is gift from God.
Genuine repentance is a tangible 180-degree turn of the heart. In Jonah’s case, he made a literal about-face—repenting, turning, and traveling on in the opposite direction. God said, “‘Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s command” (Jonah 3:2-3).
Even though Nineveh was awful by any standard, God had mercy on them. I would’ve stubbornly agreed with Jonah that they were just too far-gone. But God’s grace and mercy reach even the blackest hearts.
I’m with Paul, who claimed himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). 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. Thanks be to God.