God showed the people of Nineveh grace when He sent Jonah to call them to repentance. The people responded to the call with a great fast. Even the animals fasted. The king covered himself with sackcloth and ashes. Sackcloth is an expression of sorrow, repentance. It is symbolic of God’s judgment. Ashes are symbolic of repentance. The king called for the people to :
- cover themselves and the animals with sackcloth
- cry mightily to God
- turn from their evil ways and from the violence that was in their hands
The king believed (hoped) that God would turn and relent and turn away from His fierce anger so that would not perish. He too, like Jonah knew that the Lord was gracious and merciful.
When God saw the people’s works and that they had turned from their evil ways (repented), He did not bring disaster (judgment) on them. Instead of judgment (destruction) the people received His salvation.
Of course, Jonah was very displeased. In fact, he became exceedingly angry and prayed to God, in almost accusatory manner, “O Lord! Is this not what I said while I was still in my own land? This is the reason that I fled before to Tarshish, because I knew that You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in faithfulness, and ready to relent from punishment. Therefore, Lord, take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah’s attitude to God’s mercy to the Ninevites was as a result of his knowledge of them. The Ninevites were Assyrians and Assyrians were reputedly a cruel and aggressive people. They were known for showing little mercy to their captives and stone carvings show that the soldiers tortured children, blinded warriors, chopped off hands, impaled victims on stakes and beheaded their enemies. So, it is no wonder that Jonah as well as the Hebrew harbored deep seated resentment towards this cruel and idolatrous nation. This is why he resisted going to Nineveh to warn the people when God instructed him to do so the first time.
Finally, he had no choice to go and warn them and was bitterly disappointed with God for sparing them. Now, he wanted to die. God rightly asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
Jonah didn’t answer. Instead, he went out of the city and made himself leafy shelter to shade him as he waited there to see if anything would happen to the city. God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there which soon spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the heat of the sun. This eased his discomfort and so, Jonah was very grateful for the plant. Then, God arranged for a worm to eat through the stem of the plant so that it withered away, exposing Jonah to the heat so that he grew faint making his wish again for death. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
God asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then God said to him, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
That’s where the story ends but I wonder what Jonah’s response was. He had more pity on that plant than he did for the people of Nineveh even though they repented. How could he expect God to destroy these people who didn’t know any better? They couldn’t discern right from wrong. They had no concept of what was wrong in God’s eyes. They had been living in spiritual darkness so God sent his prophet to warn them. If they had perished in their sins, Jonah would have been held accountable because he didn’t warn them (Ezekiel 33:6-9).
The salvation of the Ninevites meant a lot to God because He is not willing that anyone should perish. He had great pity for them and relented when they repented. Unlike Jonah, we should not allow our prejudices to cloud our judgment. God’s grace is for everyone. It’s not for us to decide who should receive it. Salvation is for everyone. God offers it and it’s up to people to accept or refuse it. Let us be thankful that we have a God who is slow to anger, gracious, merciful and abundant in lovingkindness (Jonah 4:2). What an awesome God we serve!
Source: Bible Gateway