“And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. […] 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.” (Jonah 3:5, 10)
Jonah’s message to the Ninevites was crystal clear: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” The Ninevites took his message very seriously, but they did not yet give up hope. All the people put on sackcloth as a sign of repentance and humility, and the king decreed that all should fast and “call out mightily to God”. For, he said: “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” And God did.
The Ninevites were not God’s people. They did not know much about Him. But apparently, they had understood that the Lord is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7).
Both the behavior of the Ninevites and God’s response to their repentance were a great example for Jonah and for the Israelites. And this timeless truth is important for present day Christians as well: no matter how badly people behave,
if they wholeheartedly repent, God is willing to forgive them. This does not only apply to the Israelites as God’s special
people, but also to their enemies. And it applies to us, present day sinners. Praise God for His endless love!
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