“On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.’ The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 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. 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. 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. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.'” (Jonah 3:4–9, NIV84)
It would take three days for Jonah to go through the city of Nineveh preaching the message God gave Him. It was a simple message. “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Ninevites were given 40-43 days to contemplate their fate. Would the most powerful city, in the most powerful country of that time (Assyria), heed the warning Jonah brought from God? Well, it didn’t take long! The arrogant and vicious city of Nineveh began its repentance on the first day. It didn’t begin with a few citizens from the streets but from the top down. The king and his nobles “believed God” and declared a fast. “All of them from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth.” Even the king got off his throne, took off his royal robes, and sat in the dust of repentance. What a remarkable response! What a remarkable God, who uses the power of His Word to crack the hearts of sinful men and move them to repentance.
Note the proclamation that went out from the king and his nobles to the people of Nineveh. They called the people to begin an immediate fast and prayer. They demanded fruits of repentance by telling the people to stop their evil and violent ways. These were not a people trying to buy time or negotiate with God over the terms and conditions. These were a people showing true spiritual repentance. Look at the end of their decree, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Their hope was that God would be as gracious to them as He had been to the nation of Israel. They had heard the stories. They knew the history. But now they were experiencing Israel’s God themselves. And they sought compassion! “God has been compassionate to Israel and Judah, maybe He’ll be compassionate to us.”
Friends, this is what our lives are all about. Do we understand the brokenness of our hearts and the graciousness of God’s? Do we desire to shed ourselves of all that separates us from God so that we might unite our hearts with His? It is at this point that true repentance and faith begin. It is here that the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to bring the dead to life and make them born again. The Ninevites were reborn and so are we!