Does God Repent in Nineveh?

(Jonah 3:1-10)

By Rev. Dr. Sergio Arevalo, Jr.

January 25, 2015 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany)


In chapter 1 of Jonah, we read that Jonah was enlisted to be the mouthpiece of God for the city of Nineveh. However, for unknown reason, Jonah did not comply and he ran away from God. Instead of going to Nineveh he decided to go to Tarshish by ship. But the God of sea and heaven sent a storm that shook the ship and about to break up. The mariners threw their belongings to the sea to execute the science of navigation, but still no effect. The mariners discerned that something was wrong and they needed to pray to their own gods. Still the storm did not pacify so they cast lots, and the lot indicated Jonah! Jonah confessed that he ran away from God and he asked them to thrown him to the sea.

In the sea he was swallowed by a big fish! Apostolic Bible translated the word ketos into “whale.” King James and Revised Standard used “great fish.” International Standard uses “huge creature.” Which is right? I don’t know, what I know is that when the huge fish swallowed Jonah, Jonah stayed the belly for three days and three nights—praying and repenting! He also promised to comply with his vow to the Lord. After three days and three nights, God spoke to the huge fish, and the huge fish vomited him out to the sea shore.

The Lord saved Jonah from the belly of the huge fish, and from the drowning of the flood water inside the belly of the fish.

I. The Re-Enlistment of Jonah to Mission (Jonah 3:1-3)

This message from the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh to do what the LORD had ordered. Now Nineveh was a very large city, requiring a three-day journey to cross through it.

We read in this passage that there’s second chance for the Prophet Jonah. Although he ran away from God, when he repented from his disobedience, the Lord still used him. This does not mean nobody could be sent to Nineveh. This shows only that our God is the Lord of the Second Chance. He gave second chance to the prophet, and he also gave second chance to the people of Nineveh.

We had run from God for longer time. We did not pursue his will for us, we did not pursue his will for our church, and we did not pursue his will for our community. Today, this passage is reminding us to come back to God. Our God gives second chance for those who are willing to be used by God again.

In our passage, it says that Nineveh was a very large city, requiring a three-day journey to cross through it. In that time there was no car, no train or no bicycle. Probably he just crossed the city by foot. Indeed, the Prophet Jonah suffered for sharing the words of the Lord.jonahwhale

How many of us have experienced to suffer for the gospel? Brethren, there is no easy way in sharing the gospel. We might need to suffer for the gospel.

Sometimes spending a lot of money for the sake of the preaching the gospel is necessary. It is because our priority is winning lost souls than money.  Winning one lost soul is important in the sight of God rather than millions in the bank!

II. The Revival Message of Jonah (Jonah 3:4-5)

As Jonah started into the city on the first day’s journey, he proclaimed the message, “40 days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!”  Consequently the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast, and from the greatest to the least important of them, they put on sackcloth.

Jonah followed the commandment of God to tell the words of God, “40 days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” When they heard that they were bothered, they mourned, and they believed God wholeheartedly! People fasted for 40 days, and they put on sackcloth as a symbol of their genuine repentance.

The words of God became the revival message for the people of Nineveh. The revival message was a message of stern warning, a message of ultimate hope, but most importantly it is the message coming from an angry God alone!

The revival message of Jonah revived the sleepy soul of Ninevites. Who could not wake up if you feel the burning fire, the destruction and the eradication of your city?

In the sermon prepared and delivered by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) in a church in Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741 entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” he narrated that the sinners are so easy to “slide in hell.” Edwards used one sentence text taken from Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”

He expounded it with the following words:

“I have chosen for my text, their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

“That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall. This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding. The same is expressed, Psalm 73:18. ‘Surely you did set them in slippery places; you cast them down into destruction.’

“It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction. As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:18,19. ‘Surely you did set them in slippery places; you cast them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!’

“Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

“That the reason why they are not fallen already and do not fall now is only that God’s appointed time is not come. For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide. Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight. God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost” (

Edwards’ sermon was much criticized, but survived for 274 years, and it sent a lot of lost souls to heaven. That revival sermon of Jonathan Edwards was anointed like the sermon of Jonah. May we feel and internalize the revival message of Jonah for our own sake, for our own souls.

III. The Repentance of the Ninevites (Jonah 3:6-8)

When the important message of God reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, removed his royal garments, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat down in ashes.

He also wrote and proclaimed a decree throughout Nineveh, here was the decree: “By decree of the king and his nobles: No man or animal, herd or flock, is to taste anything, graze (small portion of food), or drink water. Instead, let both man and animal clothe themselves with sackcloth and cry out to God forcefully. Let every person turn from his evil ways and from his tendency to do violence.

The repentance and fasting were national in scope and from the king to animals! Everybody repented and wore their sackcloth. The king commanded his people to turn from their evil ways and from their tendency to do violence.

As we read in Jonah 3, we see the real repentance of people. They cried to God, they showed their faith in God, and they changed their ways from evil ways and violence towards belief in God.

 IV. The Relent of God (Jonah 3:9-10)

When the Ninevites repented from their sins. Our texts says God relented. Some Bible versions used “repentance.” They are actually right, the word “nâcham” maybe translated into repentance, regret, change of mind, abandon the previous plan or relent.

Some Bible versions used “relent” instead of “repentance” in order to distinguish what the human beings did, and what God did, especially in this text.

We always study that repentance is for man to change from his evil ways towards godly ways, and that’s correct! Here “God’s repentance” does not mean like that, but simply change his mind or abandoning the previous plan.

Jonah 3:9-10 says, “Who knows but that God may relent, have compassion, and turn from his fierce anger, so that we are not exterminated?” God took note of what they did—that they turned from their evil ways. Because God relented concerning the trouble about which he had warned them, he did not carry it out.


Now you might wonder, it seems strange that a prophet would run away from the Lord. We might also wonder why at first Jonah did not like to save the people of Nineveh. Jonah knew that God wanted to save them and he could really save them.

Jonah 4:2 tells us why: “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

Jonah knew from the beginning that God was gracious and merciful. He realized that if the people of Nineveh repented, God would spare them. The prophet was angry at their repentance because he would rather see them destroyed. Why?

There are several possible reasons for Jonah’s desire to see Nineveh destroyed.

First (1), Nineveh was the Assyria’s capital city, a ruthless and warlike people who were enemies of Israel. Nineveh’s destruction would have been seen as a victory for Israel.

Second (2), Jonah probably wanted to see Nineveh’s downfall to satisfy his own sense of justice. After all, Nineveh deserved God’s judgment.

Third (3), God’s withholding of judgment from Nineveh could have made Jonah’s words appear illegitimate, since he had predicted the city’s destruction.

We can learn from Jonah’s negative example that we should praise God for His love, mercy and goodness. Our God is a merciful God, willing to forgive all those who repent (see 2 Peter 3:9). The people of Nineveh were Gentiles, yet God still extended His salvation to them. In His goodness, God warned the Assyrians before sending judgment, giving them a chance to repent (

Today, I want you to close your eyes, let us contemplate, and think of our sins: sin against ourselves, sin against our family, sin against our church, sin against our community, sin against other people, and let us ask God for forgiveness, and let us promise him that we are now repenting from all our sins, and we will walk onto straight path from now on.

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