Studying Jonah: Part XIII
iv. God shows mercy to Nineveh, 3:10
3:10. When God saw what they had done. God, who is always present and watching, witnessed the citywide repentance, sincere grief, and earnest humility of the once-wicked Ninevites. God observed that they turned from their evil ways. These people had decided to abandon the evil that had been so potent that it had stacked itself up to reach the face of God (1:2). “While man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Such, apparently, was the case with the Ninevites. God looks at the heart behind their actions and recognizes it as sincere and that they truly had turned from their sinfulness.
Then God relented concerning the calamity he had said he would bring upon them and he did not do it. This is not to say that God’s threat of destruction was not real. It was, indeed. If it was not that would make God untruthful. This is not to say that God did not know that Nineveh would repent. He did, indeed. If he did not, that would make God less than all-knowing. In instances like this, students of the Scriptures need to be disciplined in not straying outside what the text itself communicates. In this case, God, who was truly going to destroy Nineveh because of their wickedness, instead extended them mercy because of their genuine repentance (1).
For both biblical and theological reasons that are beyond the scope of this paper to discuss, the repentance, i.e., relenting, of God is not the same as the repentance of the Ninevites. For a helpful overview of this distinction, as well as the possible erroneous conclusions we must carefully avoid, see Estelle, Salvation Through Judgement and Mercy, 113–121.
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