Debra Isenbletter, PastorChristian AssemblySpringfield, Missouri
Jonah 3:10 “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.”
In this final verse of chapter 3 we see three things concerning God’s response to Nineveh and the mercy He showed to them. It is striking that each of the chapters has ended with a visible sign of God’s mercy.
1. At the end of chapter 1 - Jonah was spared when the Lord prepared the great fish to swallow him.
2. At the end of chapter 2 – Jonah was spared when the Lord delivered him from the great fish.
3. At the end of chapter 3 Nineveh was spared when God did not destroy them. It is interesting that with Nineveh it is God that is emphasized not the Lord.
His Scrutiny: “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way;” The first thing that God saw was their actions: “their works”, the second thing that God saw was their attitude: “they turned from their evil way.” Both were essential, both needed to be in harmony with what God expected. God “saw” everything, He “looked” at everything, that He “inspected” everything carefully, and what He saw, He “approved” of. What I find interesting is that in the previous chapters, it is the Lord that sees what Jonah does and responds to Jonah, but in this chapter, it is God that sees what Nineveh does and responds. Both are the same but the Lord is seen in connection with His people and His covenant with them and God is seen in His connection with the Gentiles. Israel had a closer more personal relationship. The Gentiles knew very little of God and when He revealed Himself it was as the God of Creation and the God greater than all their gods.
Their Actions: “And God saw their works.” The first thing God saw was their works. The word “works” speaks of “any action, good or bad.” Here the works are good in contrast to their past works which were bad. The word “works” also speaks of an “activity that produces a result.” They did not start and then stop, what they began to do they did, and they did not stop until they saw a result. Their “works” were “deeds” that would be talked about long after judgment had passed and Jonah had left. What they did must have left a lasting impression on those in the city and people that heard stories about what happened. The works have already been mentioned, they include their fasting, their mourning, their praying. They are works of repentance that were clearly seen. The entire city participated, from the least to the greatest, from the king to the lowest servant.
In Jonah’s account of what happened, and he gives an honest account, there is the visible truth that God sees everything, nothing is hidden. His eyes “run to and fro through the whole earth” (2Chr.16:9). Job says, “Doth not he see my ways and count all my steps?” Job also reveals that not just his life was examined but the lives of all men: “For his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings” (Job 34:31). We find that throughout the Old Testament and Paul reminds us in the New Testament that nothing can be hidden form God (Heb.4:13). This is what the people of Nineveh realized when Jonah preached to them the message of judgment. Either Jonah listed their sins or the Spirit of God brought to each heart their deeds and actions and they were convicted.
Their Attitude: “that they turned from their evil way.” When they “turned” this shows a change of heart. When they turned “from their evil ways” this shows a change of direction. They turned away from those evil things that they had been doing. Jonah only summarizes their evil as “wickedness” (1:2) and “the violence of their hands” (3:8), but historians record horrific atrocities they committed. God sums everything up under the word “evil.” Whatever each individual’s evil was, God accepted their repentance, He accepted their works, He accepted their intentions. History shows that this did not last but God looked at that moment and accepted what they did. I thought about Ahab, who was such an evil king, one of many is Israel. When he repented and fasted and put on sackcloth the Lord saw that he humbled himself and said that the judgment would not occur in his days but in his sons. (2Ki.21:27-29). Nineveh is similar in their attitude, it was temporary and judgment was stopped, set aside and would occur much later. Even though we may not understand why God did this, and Jonah certainly did not, God gives these people a glimpse of His grace and His mercy. What they do with that revelation after that is up to them. It could be that there were some who went on and turned to the Lord. What we do know is God was satisfied with their response.
His Satisfaction: “and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them;” Here we see God’s grace but also His justice because He was justified by their actions and attitude. God “repented,” one translation is “relented” (NAS) and another is “revoked His sentence” (Amplified). He could change His mind because the city had repented and when they repented the reason for judgment was no longer justified. God does not change but He can change His mind. He is always righteous. He judges because He is righteous and He holds back judgment because He is righteous. This is what Jonah could not see or understand. It does not matter who the wicked are or what the wicked have done, if the wicked will repent God will also (Jer.18:7-8).
His Sovereignty: “and he did it not.”— Finally we come to a crucial point. It is that God can change His mind and he did. He can do this because He is God, because He is sovereign. He “did it not”. That is what Jonah could not understand. God did not do it, did not pour out judgment, did not do what He said He would do. What Jonah failed to see is that He is still Just, He is still Righteous, even when He is Merciful. What Jonah failed to see is that He is Sovereign. Sometimes we lose sight of that aspect of God, we take Him for granted and forget that He is God, that He has a right to do what He wants, when He wants and we may not understand the reason why. Jonah still has a lesson to learn and in his lesson we see again the grace and patience of the God that Jonah serves.