The people of Nineveh were amazing in their ability to accept a genuine faith and make an “earnest cry” 3:8. Which must be a better response to God’s mercy, than how Jonah responded. Their cry included fasting & sackcloth! Have we ever felt so moved by God’s mercy, that we would change our appearance and voluntarily give up food & drink as an expression of our repentance?
Some people are troubled by the fact that the Lord changed his mind from disaster in the case of Jonah’s message to Nineveh because the prophet gave no clear sign to the Ninevites that God would back off, if the people repented. Does this mean the Lord changed His mind like we do? Like as if God learned some new information that caused Him to rethink His plan of action? Some people would answer, “yes”, but this just shows our need to read Scripture carefully. Given that prophecies often include conditions and that the Lord is not a “man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19) the idea that He did not know what Nineveh’s response would be is nonsense. He did know what would happen, for He is omniscient, including Jonah’s preaching and the Ninevites’ response, see Ephesians 1:11. The Lord just chose not to reveal to Jonah explicitly the full scope of the future impact of Jonah’s ministry until it came to pass. Why? Because He knew it would result in giving Jonah a living life lesson. Simply telling him, would obviously just result in confirming Jonah’s suspicions.
Jonah could not see the future with certainty, but he could know what would happen if the Ninevites were to repent in response to his preaching. So could anyone else who knew God’s character. The Lord is holy, yes, but He is also slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and eager to forgive our sins (Exodus 34:6-7 & Micah 7:18). Jonah never wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place because he did not want to see the Ninevites turn from their sin. He ran not because he was afraid of preaching in a foreign land but because he was afraid God’s Word might change the hearts and minds of Israel’s hated enemies. So, when the people did open their hearts. Jonah grew angry at the Lord for being merciful and acting according to what He had revealed about His character (4:1-3). Jonah’s anger was irrational—he was mad at God for being God.
Don’t be too quick to judge Jonah and not ourselves, let us consider how often we expect the Lord to forgive us but then do not want to see our enemies pardoned. We are too much like Jonah, hoping God will crush our enemies instead of saving them. But as the Lord takes no delight in the death of the wicked, Ezekiel 18:32, neither should we. May our hearts desire and prayer always be for the repentance and restoration of God’s foes and our own if we catch ourselves even thinking like Jonah, much less acting like him. It is good to remember that when Jesus took our punishment on the cross, he also took on everyone else’s punishment. Please memorize Ephesians 4:32.