God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Jonah 3:10
In the book of Romans chapter 2, in the midst of discussing the wrath and condemnation of God that is due those who are hardened of heart and impenitently involved in and approving of sinful practices, Paul asks in verse 4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
While Jonah’s message of judgment jarred the Ninevites into rethinking their sinful actions and mourning over them, it was ultimately God’s goodness that leads the sinner to repentance. As a sinner becomes aware of the gravity of his sin, and the just consequence due him, he becomes equally struck by the mercy that God has extended toward him, in not taking his life.
The Ninevites believed God (Jonah 3:5); they were genuinely convicted and sorrowful for their sin (3:5-7), and they sought to change their behavior as a result (3:8). But all of this could no be the product of a people who only feared and sought to escape judgment. Ultimately those who truly repented did so, while entertaining a glimmer of hope that God might spare them (3:9).
Why would the Ninevites think they had any hope whatsoever? After all, Jonah’s message offered very little: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4). Yet obviously something in Jonah’s preaching or demeanor made it clear that there was yet some hope. Some find it quite unbelievable that Nineveh was converted to God as a result of such preaching. But Nineveh had hoped in God’s compassion – His prodigal mercy. The statement of the king of Nineveh – “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” (3:9) – demonstrates that he understood that it was ultimately in God’s hand to make the determination of whether to extend justice or mercy. David uses the same expression in 2 Sam 12:22, “Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” In that case however, God judged according to justice.
This week read the following passages, and see how God, though free to judge the rebellious with strict justice, chose instead to deal with His people in mercy.
Exodus 32:7-14, Jer 18:7-11, 26:2-3, Ez 33:11, Hos 11:8-9, Amos 7:1-6, Joel 2:12-14, Rom 3:23-26, 9:22-23, Eph 2:4-7, 2 Pet 3:9, James 2:10-13, Luke 23:32-34
Listen to this message here: