When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
Full and Free Forgiveness
The ancient city of Nineveh was known for its violence. As the capital of the Assyrian empire, Nineveh dominated the region, and its influence was felt in many directions. Many other nations fell under its power, including the Kingdom of Israel. Assyrian armies laid waste to almost everything in their path, subjugating and enslaving many people and cruelly torturing those who dared to resist. As a result, they earned God’s anger, and he sent his prophet Jonah with the message: “In forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed.”
But when Jonah hesitated to heed God’s call, it wasn’t for the reason we might have expected. It wasn’t that he feared for his life or thought that he might be in danger. Once he finally arrived, Jonah seemed to go fearlessly about the city proclaiming God’s message of impending punishment. What Jonah was afraid of was exactly what happened: the people listened to the message and repented of their wicked ways. They understood from the forty-day warning that the holy God of Israel was willing to relent and show them mercy. And that is what happened.
Jonah selfishly disapproved of God’s grace toward these enemies of God’s people. He would rather see them destroyed and punished without warning as their sins deserved. But God’s kingdom comes by grace in this world. In fact, there is no other way to enter it. The Ninevites could not lay claim to God’s kingdom by force, but neither could the Israelites claim it by merit.
Grace is God’s unmerited love for those who deserve his anger instead. Grace is found only in Jesus Christ, who took our many offenses against God upon himself and accepted the punishment that we all deserved. We enter into God’s kingdom, under his almighty protection and inside of his eternal love, only by recognizing that we shouldn’t be there at all. Repenting of our sins and renouncing our selfishness, we find that we have full and free forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father, I know that I have angered you and deserve your punishment. But ask for your mercy, and I cling to your gracious promises of forgiveness in Jesus. Amen.