Jonah Goes to Nineveh (3:1–10)
1–2 The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time; the Lord gave Jonah a second chance. The Lord generally gives a second chance—even third and fourth chances—to those who repent; we can assume from Jonah’s prayer in the previous chapter that he had truly repented.4
But it’s also true that God may not choose to use us a second time in the same way He chose to use us the first time. God may call someone to a ministry, but through sin that person may permanently disqualify himself for that ministry (see Luke 9:61–62). We can never assume that the consequences of our sin will be totally erased in this life—even if we have repented. Let us not suppose that we will always end up like Jonah and get our ministry back as if nothing had happened.
3–5 Jonah obeyed (verse 3), though somewhat reluctantly; he still feared that Nineveh might be spared (see Jonah 4:1). However, Jonah went ahead and proclaimed God’s message to the people of Nineveh—namely, that judgment was coming soon (verse 4). And then an amazing thing happened: The Ninevites believed God, and all of them put on sackcloth5 (verse 5).
Surely it wasn’t the words of a mere man that caused this remarkable result—even if he did speak God’s words. No, it was God who produced this result; Jonah was only His instrument, His “mouthpiece.”6
We are tempted to ask: Why doesn’t God do this kind of thing more often? God has His own reasons for His actions. As it turned out, God eventually did bring about Nineveh’s destruction—150 years later, in 612 B.C. But in Jonah’s time God intended that Nineveh be spared—in part, no doubt, to teach Jonah, Israel and us that He cares for all people, and that He will spare even the wickedest of them if they will only repent.7 Sadly, Israel never learned the lesson, never repented, and ended up being conquered by descendants of the very Assyrians who had been saved by Jonah’s message.
6–10 The king of Nineveh (the king of Assyria) led in the city–wide fasting and REPENTANCE. His decree made official what the people had already started to do. This pagan king trusted in the compassion of Jonah’s God (verse 9). And God did show compassion to the Ninevites and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened (verse 10).
Did God “change His mind”? No, He gave the Ninevites the chance to repent and avert judgment. When they repented, the judgment was no longer necessary (see Jeremiah 18:7–8). Out of compassion God sent Jonah,and out of compassion God gave the Ninevites a heart to repent.8