Jonah 3 has our prophet out of the fish’s belly and getting a word from God a second time. God hadn’t given up on him. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time”. God doesn’t always pursue us with the same intensity He did Jonah, but God will deal with our rebellion and disobedience one way or another. In this case, God’s heart was to have Jonah go into a city that Jonah personally hated and give them a message. “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you”.
God didn’t give him any details with the instruction to go to Nineveh – just to head there and wait to hear what the message would be. The first time, Jonah ran the other way and tried to flee God’s direction. Not this time. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord”. As much as he didn’t want to go, Jonah got the instruction and went, even without knowing the details. He learned a lesson about running from God the first time and wasn’t about trying that approach again.
Nineveh was a large city – scripture tells us “Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth”. This is a big assignment. The message God gave Jonah was pretty simple: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” There was likely more words, but the underlying theme was a need to repent and come to God. In spite of Jonah’s lack of desire to see it happen, “the people of Nineveh believed God”. This heathen city believed, all the way to the king who issued a decree to “call out mightily to God”. Talk about effective impact by a prophet – Jonah was a case study in how to do it.
The king calls on his people to fast and wear sackcloth and “turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands”. The Ninevites were known as a mean and violent people. But the king calls them to repentance, which always means doing something. In this case it was a change in how they lived – fasting, sackcloth, turning from evil and calling to God. The king wasn’t sure God would turn from destruction of the city, but he leads the people to repent and cry for God’s mercy. And it worked. “God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it”.
That was Jonah’s fear. He wanted God to destroy these evil people. But his preaching had caused them to confess and repent, and God’s love for them extended to hearing their pleas, seeing their repentance and changing His plan of destruction. God is always in the restoration business of bringing people back to Himself. God’s change of heart did not make Jonah’s message false. Destruction would have come, so Jonah’s word to them was a warning. History shows us that God did judge Nineveh 150 years later, but for now, because of their action of confession and repentance, they were spared.