After such a miraculous deliverance, when commanded by God the second time to go to preach in Nineveh, Jonah obeyed immediately.
In his proclamation, Jonah (3:1-4) used language reminiscent of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). But in the original Hebrew, the word for “overthrown” (see Gen. 19:21, 29, Jon. 3:4) from Jonah’s proclamation can also have the meaning “turned around” or “transformed” (Exod. 7:17, 20, 1 Sam. 10:6). Jonah’s preaching of the divine message was not in vain.
The greatest achievement of Jonah’s prophetic career was the repentance of the city. After the seamen, the Ninevites were the second group of non-Hebrews in the book to turn to God, and all because of interactions with God’s flawed messenger. The results were astounding. To humble themselves before God, the people of Nineveh wore sackcloth, put ashes on their heads, and fasted. All these were external signs of sorrow and repentance.
The remarkable picture of a strong Assyrian monarch humbling himself in ashes before God is a sharp rebuke to the many of Israel’s proud rulers and people, at least those who persistently rejected the prophetic calls to repentance. Because of the book of Jonah’s emphasis on God’s grace and forgiveness, the Jewish people read it every year at the climactic point of the Day of Atonement, which celebrates God’s forgiveness for their sins.
“Our God is a God of compassion. With long-sufferance and tender mercy he deals with the transgressors of his law. And yet, in this our day, when men and women have so many opportunities for becoming familiar with the divine law as revealed in Holy Writ, the great Ruler of the universe can not behold with any satisfaction the wicked cities, where reign violence and crime. If the people in these cities would repent, as did the inhabitants of Nineveh, many more such messages as Jonah’s would be given.”—Ellen G. White, The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, October 18, 1906.
Read Jonah 3:5-10. What do these verses reveal about the nature of true repentance? How can we apply these same principles to ourselves?