3 Repentance of Nineveh

<< Jonah 3: The Repentance of Nineveh >>

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city—a visit required three days. 4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. JONAH III.

THE fundamental error which the book of Jonah is designed to correct, is that God was concerned with the Jews only, and His mercies and His laws had no relation to the world at large. Nineveh, the magnificent capital of the proud empire of Assyria, then in its greatest glory and extent, represented the world outside of Judea. The world of Assyria, as seen in its metropolis, loaded with wealth and glittering with splendour, was giving itself to wild indulgence, giddy mirth, forgetful of the great aims of life; was flitting from one gay scene to another, until all serious purpose was lost in sensuous profusion and unprincipled extravagance. Let us eat and drink, dress and pamper ourselves, lead dainty lives, and disdain all useful pursuits, esteeming those who follow them as the meaner herd, whose business in life it is to minister to our pleasures and passions. Such were the thoughts of the gay crowds of Nineveh in olden times, even as of those of many a modern capital.

All this may go on for a time, for man is a wonderful being, not easily spoiled; but when principle has been dethroned, and lawless luxury is the passion of the hour, the wheels of the chariot of judgment will be. heard in the distance by the ear of the wise; and if repentance-real repentance-come not, the day of chastisement will arise. “Know, O man, that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment,” By Divine mercy and forbearance it may seem that judgment is long deferred, but it will surely come. For men and nations the law is precisely the same : “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Gen. iv. 7).

Because Jonah conceived that God had no concern with Ninevites, or others than Jews, he avoided the duty which the Divine command had given him to perform. To teach him and us that the law is universal, God enforced his going, and manifested that He was good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works, Jonah, however, not only exhibited repugnance to go on the mission Divine Providence had allotted to him, but manifested his narrowness of character in the lamentation he made when the threatened overthrow of Nineveh was averted by the repentance of the people, high and low, from the king to his meanest subject.

Jonah was more concerned for his message than for the safety and wellbeing of that vast multitude of people. ” And he prayed unto the Lord and said, I pray Thee, O Lord, was not this my saying “Then I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil. Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.” What a strange complaint, and what a perverse conclusion! Surely the object of his mission was warning and repentance, not merely to announce destruction. The end was most successfully accomplished, and yet here is this poor prophet filled with a sense of his own importance, and bewailing the fact that, from the goodness of God, penitent Nineveh was not to be destroyed. That was just cause for gratitude and thanksgiving, not for lamentation.

The prophet Jonah, however, was the type of the Jewish Church in their narrowness and bigotry. He valued the means more than the end; he wanted to have his consistency and importance secured, although men, women, and children should perish in myriads. Not so, however, with Divine mercy. It is the goodness of God which leads man to repentance. The Sabbath was made for man, the Church was made for man, the Word was given for man, the ministry exists for man, the world itself and heaven exist that men may become angels, and ever-increasing multitudes become everlastingly happy. The pharisaic system, which cared more for the sect than for the people, more for the ceremony than for regeneration, more for the Church than for man, was never any part of the Divine government. Through varied means ever to operate to attain the end in view, and that end to rescue as many as possible from the dominion of sin, such has ever been the design of the Most High, who is the Most Merciful. Such will ever be the aim of those whose hearts beat in harmony with Him Who desires not the death of a sinner, but that all should turn to Him and live.

Jonah complained that his warning,·” Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” was not fulfilled to the letter. But as a prophet, and as an Israelite, he should have known that all warnings and all promises are conditional. Whether expressed or not, there underlay the warning that Nineveh should be overthrown the condition, unless it repented. How plainly this is stated in the prophecy of Jeremiah: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom to build and to plant it: if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.” It was simply in harmony with this well-known principle that penitent Nineveh was spared, and most unreasonable as well as pitiless was it of the prophet to seek that his consistency should be maintained even if a whole repentant people perished.

At the same time we have a lesson for all time of the efficacy of repentance, and its indispensable character. Repent and live; repent not, and you will assuredly perish. This doctrine of repentance is often evaded at the present day, but in the nature of things it is the only way to happiness. Prophets, Apostles, and the Divine Saviour himself declare, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”, The universal necessity for repentance arises from the fact that all men are born with tendencies to evil, and all suffer themselves, more or less, to go into actual sin. ” All we like lost sheep have gone astray.” “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” All do wrong–one in one way, and another in another; but all feel within them capacities for still greater wrong. If the law and usages of society did not restrain men generally, we should be appalled at the infernal nature which would manifest itself where now things appear tolerably smooth and decorous. In a seditious riot, or the sack of a city after a siege, when authority is briefly suspended, the wild lusts which rush forth for insane gratification tell of the smouldering fires of horrid passion which are usually hidden under a decent exterior.

Thus it is that society presents so strange a mixture of virtue and vice, order and disorder, beauty and deformity, joy and sorrow. Minds are mixed. There is something from heaven — the remains of man’s once-glorious nature, the ground of conscience–still within, and giving to everyone the capacity to receive truth, to reform, become regenerate, and eventually be an angel in heaven. But equally, it must be confessed, there is in everyone a nature which is carnal, sensual and devilish. In this part of man’s compound being SELF reigns king, a very MOLOCH. The trail of the serpent is over it all. A dreadful hierarchy surrounds the throne of King Self: ambition, pride, envy, hate, greed, lust, anarchy, pollution, falsity, revenge, remorse, with thousands of subordinates, occupy this portion of the territory of Man soul. From these rebellion and opposition arise from time to time; and until this lower region of the nature of man is subdued, reformed, and regenerated, there can be no true and lasting peace in the soul, no lasting order or happiness at home or in the world.

After the knowledge of God and His Divine will as embodied in His blessed commandments, exists with us, responded to as it is by the impulses of conscience within, the first decisive step in the way to heaven is repentance. We examine ourselves, and see, by the light of the Divine law, in what we do wrong. D0 we set pride where the Saviour should be, fashion for faith ? Do we neglect the Word of God or the worship of God ? Do we prefer the world to heaven? Do we injure others in mind, body, or estate? Are we unjust to the claims of duty and hypocrisy? Are we careless of truth when we think lies or prevarications would better serve our purpose? Are we envious covetous of what is possessed by others? These are the inquiries to be made honestly by one who desires genuine repentance, and he will not fail to find wherein he has done amiss. By the law is the knowledge of sin. With the knowledge of sin, will come the knowledge of the consequences of sin–depravity of the soul, the wreck of peace, being shut out of heaven, everlasting ruin. The more we ponder over these, the more shall we be filled with sorrow, even to anguish and despair, while we are led to “the Saviour, the Living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and specially of those that believe.”

We must not confound sorrow with repentance. Genuine sorrow leads to repentance, but it is not itself repentance. Repentance is CHANGE OF MIND, manifested by change of conduct. It is willing not to do the evil things we have done, because they are sins against God, proved by actual change. Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Genuine repentance will be attended, by severe struggles in proportion as the evil has been long rooted and much practised; yet with faithfulness to truth and perseverance there is no evil, however inveterate, but can be fully subdued, and the soul be saved alive.

To acquire spiritual victories over ourselves–the most real and true victories that are achieved in the world–there must be no illusions, no substitutions, no hiding our sinful propensities from ourselves, but honest confession and honest change. We must really do as they did at Nineveh, TURN FROM OUR EVIL WAY. If wehave cherished pride or vanity, we must do so no more, If we have blasphemed, we must swear no more. If we have lied, we must be true and frank; we must prevaricate no more. If we have been peevish and violent, we must become gentle, courteous, and considerate. If we have sought dishonest advantages, we must become fair, upright, and true to every engagement, in every office, duty, and employment. Only thus will genuine repentance proceed. Everything less than this is only imposing upon ourselves. ” When the ‘wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, HE SHALL SAVE HIS SOUL ALIVE. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, HE SHALL SURELY LIVE, HE SHALL NOT DIE” (Ezek. xviii. 27-28).

These lessons are so plainly and so palpably the dictates of common sense, as welt as the direct teachings or Scripture, that we are amazed at objections being made to them, yet objections are widespread and frequent. The selfish, natural man will strive to change anything but himself to avoid this he will turn, and argue, and wrangle to the last hour, and then expect to be changed by a prayer or a belief at his last gasp. His secret belief is that what is wanted is to change God and make Him favourable, and then he will be allowed to enter heaven; and, then he proceeds to devise how it can be done. Some imagine delinquencies in the week can be made up for by attendances at meetings, and what are called the means of religion, while their native greed, covered by a plan of religion, grows on during life, and they become hard gripping masses of selfishness, miserable in themselves, and close and bitter enemies of all who are not subservient to their gains. Others suppose that certain ceremonies of religion and the verbal assurance or forgiveness by a priest will make them all right; and when they have made what they call a clean breast of it, they have done what religion requires, and go and indulge their appetites and their passions again, thus staving off that inward change of heart, mind, and life which introduces heaven at home, and thus prepares for heaven hereafter.

A third class, and that a very demonstrative one at the present day, for real repentance, substitute what they call faith-a very small faith—a belief of the one fact that the Lord Jesus died to save sinners, and to save them individually, and this belief only secures the favour of God, and brings forth of necessity all manner of good works, It is perfectly true that the Lord Jesus died to save sinners, and everyone may add with devout gratitude, to save every man, and to SAVE ME; but it was to enable me to repent, and to win my heart that I might be induced to repent. If, unhappily, I substitute this condescension of Infinite Mercy for my duty of repentance, I am destroying myself by the very means of help. The Lord Jesus, after the resurrection, sent forth His disciples, “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name, among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke xxiv. 47). He exalted Himself “to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts v.31). The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that ALL SHOULD COME TO REPENTANCE (2 Peter iii. 9). “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent” (Rev, iii. 19). “Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will light against them with the sword of My mouth.” “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works: or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place.”

Indeed, the indispensable character of repentance is insisted upon by every part of the Word—Law, Prophets, and Gospel. The Lord Jesus constantly preached repentance, and exhorted men to bring forth fruits meet for REPENTANCE. It is said, however, that this particular faith will of itself produce the rejection of all evil, and perfect obedience to the Divine commandments, and yet we are often told, and the burden of half the sermons in thousands of pulpits is, that no one can keep God’s commandments either with or without this faith. It is said that God’s commandments are something so hard, and so extensive, and so difficult, that no one has kept them, or can keep them. But how contrary this is from the representations of the Divine Word, and from the very nature of things, a very little consideration will clearly show, God’s commandments are the laws of right. Is right really so much harder than wrong? Is speaking the truth so much harder than speaking lies? Is a career of honesty harder than a career of crime? Is a life of pollution, with broken health broken character and a depraved mind, really easier than a course of virtue purity and chaste feeling? Has it ceased to be true “that the way of transgressors is hard”? Does the Almighty no longer say to the wicked man, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee: know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God, and that My fear is not in thee”? Have our Lord’s words really ceased to be true—” My yoke is easy, and My burden is light?” Indeed, all the talk of many preachers, who are very zealous but very unwise, is really a libel upon the Divine Majesty they desire to serve, as if He had made a universe that will not work by the laws upon which he constructed it, that evil beats Him in His own field of operations, and He can only get men into heaven on another plan.

But it is not true that the way of righteousness is hard or that repentance is difficult to the person who is genuine andsincere. Let a person pray before the Lord Jesus for help against his sins, and avoid the temptation to commit it, and help will be given, He must not let his mind hanker after it, though his feet may be turned in another direction. He must turn his mind away, and shun his old associates, and the scenes of inner prejudices, praying the Lord to give a new heart and a right spirit, and after a little perseverance he will find he loathes what he once loved, and loves what he once loathed. The Divine aid will be given him and the Divine benediction will make him happy. The slain lion of his sin will soon be found full of honey. His wilderness will smile like Eden, and his desert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. The heart of the true penitent will soon be filled with love, his mind with light, and his life with virtue. He must not however suppose that these things will come of themselves. Faith will not produce good works of itself. Faith alone will produce nothing; it is itself dead. Faith, warmed with love will show the Lord the fountain of goodness, will teach what to shun, and what to do, and throw light over every motive to virtue, and then we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We must work, because it is right to work. We must work until we delight to work in the service of Him who is always working for us. We must work until it is our very heaven to do our Heavenly Father’s will. And this will come, for in doing His commandments there is great reward. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, Who is in heaven.”

If in the early clays of your repentance you slip and fall, try again. The child seldom learns to walk without a fall or two. Try again. Look in hope and confidence to the Saviour God, and keep as far as possible from temptation, praying earnestly for Divine assistance, and you will conquer again and again, until you come not only walk in the path to heaven, but run. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” Let the repentant sinner look to his compassionate Saviour, and his very nature “will become transformed. He will eat the Saviour’s flesh, and drink His blood. His Divine goodness and wisdom will be imparted to him, and he will realize His image and likeness. He will become a little heaven, and thus prepare for the greater. He will receive heaven into him, and thus learn by sure experience that heaven will receive him into it. Of the Ninevites it is said that God repented of the evil that He had said He would do unto them. This is, however, only the language of appearance. God never does evil to any. God never repents (Num. xxiii. 19; 1 Sam. xv. 29). Because God maintains the wise and righteous laws by violation of which the wicked endure punishment, He is said to punish them. The real truth is, they punish themselves. The sun is said to torture the inflamed eye. Remove the disease, and the same sun delights and cheers. So when Nineveh repented, the evils passed away, and God, whom their sins had hidden behind a lurid cloud, now came forth in brightness and in blessing. To them it seemed that God had repented. The reality was that God, who had been waiting to be gracious, could now shed abroad upon them His grace and peace. Let the sinner turn from his evil way, from faith in His Saviour, who is a Father of love, and to him the Sun of Righteousness will arise with healing in His wings.

Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Wisdom of the Word of God (1892)