“When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.” (Jonah 3:10)
What a contrast between this story of Jonah and the previous story of Jeremiah! They were both prophets, given God’s word to proclaim: “Listen, or be destroyed”.
Jeremiah obeyed; he preached, pleaded and persuaded for years. Jonah headed in the opposite direction. But God changed Jonah’s mind with the help of a big fish, and then Jonah preached the single statement of doom for one day.
Jeremiah spoke to God’s own people, but they rejected him and threatened his life. Jonah talked to the heathen Ninevites, and they all repented. Even the king — a cruel, brutal man — rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust (verse 6).
The king sent out a proclamation, “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence” (verse 8). They were a people who didn’t know the Lord! But Jonah did. Afterwards, he complained angrily, “That is why I ran away! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people” (Jonah 4:2).
Jonah didn’t say any of this to Nineveh! The king of Nineveh believed in the threatened destruction, and he threw himself and his people on the possible mercy of this God of justice, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (verse 9).
God did relent, and they didn’t perish.
God is compassionate, and he loves all people. He doesn’t want to destroy but to forgive. He is even willing to accept those who come in fear of his just punishment — as long as they come! Then they can learn of his love and his life-giving sacrifice for them, freeing them to be his loved children.
Thank you, Lord, that you seek every lost person so you can bring them home and rejoice with heaven over each sinner who repents. Amen.