This wasn’t supposed to happen. Jonah was supposed to go to Ninevah, proclaim God’s message, and be murdered for it. That’s the biggest reason why Jonah ran in the first place. In Jonah’s mind, this was the biggest hurdle God had to cross in proving that He was mightier than Jonah’s fears. The Ninevites were supposed to be ticked off, royally ticked off to the point that God would send two angels to destroy the place the way He did with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Instead, the Ninevites believed God. Stop here and re-read those first four words of today’s verse. The Ninevites believed God. In a book full of miracles, perhaps this actually is the greatest of all. Just like the pagan men on the boat, the people of Ninevah stopped what they were doing and took Jonah’s bold message to heart.
We know that’s what they did because, in the days of the Bible, if you wanted to show that you were repenting of your sins, you fasted and put on sackcloth. You dressed in the most humble clothing possible, and you gave up what your body required to satisfy its most basic needs. People did this to humble themselves before God and show each other that they were in earnest.
Last time, we speculated how Jonah might have thought, “I wonder if I’ll make it out of here alive.” Seeing Ninevah repent, I wonder what Jonah thought about that. We won’t skip ahead to the next chapter; save that for later. Instead, focus on the verse right now. Do you think Jonah would have been shocked? Sure, he understood the power of God; his whole journey had been a doctoral thesis in the power of God. But I think he still would have been shocked to have actually seen the people of this most wicked city truly start to change their ways.
Perhaps he also felt skeptical. “Is it genuine? Are they for real?” Anyone, even Jonah, could be forgiven for the natural thought that Ninevah would rage against the words of this stranger, this foreign interloper telling them they had only until next month to change. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the Ninevites immediately listened and began to change. Maybe they were tired of their sins; obviously, the compared God to themselves and chose God. They didn’t want to die, and they understood this God was God. According to Jonah’s thinking, none of this was supposed to happen.
Now, if the people of Ninevah could change on a dime, what’s stopping us?
For further reading: Daniel 9:3, Matthew 11:21, Matthew 12:41, Luke 11:32, Jonah 3:6
Merciful Lord, forgive me of my sins as You convict me of them. Have mercy on us.
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