“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 3:10
What would you do if someone cruelly killed some of your family, took all your possessions away, and then made you into their slave? Would you hope and pray for their repentance? Would you look forward to the judgment they would face before God? How would you react if God forgave them?
Nineveh was not a part of God’s chosen people of Israel; they were Israel’s enemies. As the capital city of the Assyrian nation, Nineveh represented the beliefs of the Assyrians as a whole, and the Ninevite culture was rampant with sexual immorality, gross idolatry, and the worst imaginable injustices. Well-known for their cruelty towards those conquered in battle, the Assyrians had battled against the kingdom of Israel several times by the time Jonah was called to deliver God’s message.
The Assyrians were used as God’s judgment against Israel. The more Israel turned away from God, the more God allowed Assyria to inflict pain on his people and conquer their land in an effort to turn their hearts back to him. So, when Jonah was called to preach against Nineveh, he was called to preach against his sworn enemy.
But here in our passage today, despite all that Assyria had done, when they repented of their evil ways, God did the unthinkable: he relented. God chose to have mercy, to forgive the undeserving, and to refrain from bringing disaster upon them. If you read the verses before our passage, you’ll see that even the king of Nineveh repented (Jonah 3:6-9), and if you read through the end of the book, you’ll find that Jonah is both angry and disappointed that God chose to act in accordance with his own merciful character (Jonah 4). In fact, Jonah believed it was so unfair that he asked God to kill him because he couldn’t accept that God would forgive and be gracious towards his enemies.
The story of God’s mercy toward Nineveh is the Gospel. It’s unfair. Jesus didn’t die to save nice, perfect people; Jesus died for cruel, idolatrous sinners. Who God is has never changed. His longing for relationship and his choice to forgive and embrace those who repent have forever been his desires. Our God is just, but he is also merciful. May the story of Nineveh serve to remind us that no one is ever “too far gone” to be redeemed by him, and may Jonah serve to remind us that the same compassion God shows towards us will be shown towards others, even our worst enemies. No one has sinned too much for God’s mercy if they repent and humbly turn to him.
Is there someone you’ve given up praying for? Find a moment to pray and/or journal about this and ask God for wisdom to move forward.