from the Lent 2016 reading plan

Jonah 3:1-10, Joel 2:13, Nahum 3:1-7, Jeremiah 18:7-10

BY Rebecca Faires

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.


Post Comments (62)

62 thoughts on "Nineveh"

  1. Kaite says:

    9″And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10 and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent
    of the good that I had intended to do to it.”
    Oh Lord, grant our nation your great mercy as you did for the Ninevehites!
    Mercy by Matt Redman:

  2. Rebeka says:

    I have to admit these verses confuse me a bit. Not their meaning so much, but I have grown up in church hearing how we can rely on God 100% because he is steadfast and unchanging, and yet all of these verses show his mind can be changed.

    1. AmyQ says:

      I appreciate your comments. I think He at times changes His mind, but only to our benefit. Every time I read of Him changing His mind, he is showing greater mercy to us instead of inflicting punishment.

    2. Ciara says:

      Rebeka, thanks for being real about your confusion. Hopefully this might help…

      God in his entirety and everything he stands for is unchanging and steadfast. A major, unchanging descriptor of God is merciful. Before Jesus, God showed mercy to those who displayed obedience and sacrifice, and he forgave them. Mercy, forgiveness, justice and sovereignty are all at the core of God’s unchanging personality, so to speak, but it requires a God who can change his mind if we prove to be better or worse than when he first made a decision.

    3. Meg says:

      When I read this passage, it seemed to me that the people of Nineveh (or any other kingdom God was dealing with at the time) were the ones changing. God’s love of His people is steadfast, as is His hatred of sin. I read it more as God being consistent with His commandments.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m convicted by these verses to pray for our nation. The King of Nineveh influenced his city to repent and turn back to God. We need to be praying earnestly for our nation’s next leader.

    1. Sharon says:

      I too feel this scripture has 100% application in our country today. After the spectacle called a debate last night, we can only trust in God and His plan. Thankful for His forgiveness and mercy today.

    2. JennyBC says:

      I thought the same thing as I read the verse from Joel. Lord, we plead mercy. Hear our prayers for our nation to hear Your voice

    3. Alicia E. says:

      That is exactly what was on my mind with this devotional. I have already been praying this way and I feel even more now that I am praying the right way about this issue.

      1. Lindsey says:

        I too have the same thoughts. I’m saddened by the way our nation’s poor choices have led us to where we are today. I’m praying for a turning of hearts and for we as Americans to trust God and His plan.

    4. Jill says:

      Jennifer, our country has been so heavy on my heart. I pray everyday for God’s mercy over our nation. That we would return to the Lord. And as I cry out to him each day, He is gracious to remind me that HE ALONE is my hope, steadfast and immovable, even, especially in our increasingly changing world. I’m so grateful that no matter who is elected, He will ALWAYS reign as King!! My hope is secure in Him, and yet He still calls for me to pray for others to come into repentance, and that is what I’m praying for our nation.

  4. Charlotte Buckle says:

    I am eternally thankful for God’s love, patience, and willing to forgive!
    C |

  5. So so thankful for God’s patience, mercy, and forgiveness.

    1. She Reads Truth says:

      Me too, Kasey! Thanks for joining us today.


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