The Lord Spares Nineveh

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (v. 10).

- Jonah 3

Fortunately, for both Jonah’s sake and ours, the Lord is truly the God of second chances. So often we fail to obey our Creator when He first calls us, but in His grace He does not give up on us. David got a second chance after his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:1–12:15a). Peter got a second chance after he denied Christ (John 18:15–27; 21:15–19). Jonah got a second chance to preach to Nineveh after he first fled from God’s calling (Jonah 3:1–3a). We could list many more (including ourselves) who have received second chances to serve the Lord when they have not been deserved. Every second chance we get, of course, is not what we deserve. God never owes us a second chance, and we have no right to presume upon the Lord’s grace. Nevertheless, God does on many occasions give us further opportunities to follow Him when we fail.

Today’s passage records what happened the second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah regarding Nineveh. Having been rescued from death in the sea and returned to dry land, (Jonah 2:10), Jonah went straight to the capital of Assyria, the city of Nineveh, the second time God called him to announce judgment on the Assyrians (3:1–4). And when Jonah preached, something incredible happened—the “people of Nineveh believed God” and they repented (v. 5). This was not mere belief in God’s existence, which means nothing before His judgment seat (James 2:19); rather, the Ninevites affirmed the truth of God’s words and acted accordingly. That is what believing God looks like. Moreover, the repentance of the people was so thorough that even the king himself joined in repentance, calling for all of his citizens—even the animals—to repent as well (Jonah 3:6–9).

When the Lord saw the response of Nineveh to His word, He relented from the disaster He had announced (v. 10). This illustrates the point we made a few weeks ago, namely, that God’s prophecies often have implicit conditions built into them, for He is willing to relent from destruction when people respond in faith (Jer. 18:1–11). Of course, given that the Lord knows all things and has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11), the repentance of Nineveh did not take Him by surprise. He knew that Nineveh would believe His word and that its citizens would respond appropriately. In fact, He announced judgment through Jonah in order to put the fear of God in their hearts and lead them to repent so that He would not have to destroy the city.

Coram Deo

God’s Word always achieves the purpose for which it is ultimately intended (Isa. 55:10–11). Sometimes His promise of judgment prompts people to repent, as it did when Jonah preached it to Nineveh. Sometimes it makes people harden their hearts against the Lord, as it did when Moses spoke to Pharaoh (Ex. 8:19). In both cases, however, it did what it was supposed to do. We can likewise be confident that His Word will achieve His purposes when we faithfully preach His gospel.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 6:8–10
Joel 2:11
Hebrews 4:12–13
Revelation 19:11–16

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