Who deserves mercy? - Part 1
Updated: Oct 23, 2021
Description: Are we merciful? Prophet Jonah certainly wasn’t. When God asked him to warn the wicked people of Nineveh, he needed two sharp lessons.
The Old Testament prophet Jonah tried to escape from God. He’d been told to go into the city of Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. Back then, the city was the capital of the Assyrian Empire - the heart of enemy territory. Worse, the Assyrians were infamous for their cruelty, especially to defeated nations. They made no secret of it and displayed their barbaric acts in countless reliefs (wall-mounted sculptures).
Jonah not only reckoned that the Ninevites deserved to be wiped out, he was probably scared at the thought of delivering his message of destruction. If the inhabitants ran true to form, they could easily torture him before eventually ending his life. Whatever his mental muddle, his solution was simple. He ran away, intending to put as much distance as possible between himself and Nineveh.
Jonah's First Lesson
Of course, Jonah soon learned that there was nowhere he could hide from God, but not before he’d boarded a ship and attempted to flee. God sent a powerful storm that terrified the sailors and forced them to lighten the ship by throwing valuable cargo over the side. They all prayed to their own gods and were a bit upset to find Jonah asleep below decks. He too should have been praying. In the end they cast lots to find out who among them was responsible and – no surprise – Jonah was picked.
When they questioned him and discovered that he worshipped the Lord God Almighty, they were even more scared and asked Jonah what they should do. Realising the game was up, he asked to be thrown overboard, conscious that the storm was his fault and that it would end if he was no longer onboard. Although reluctant, the worsening storm forced the sailors’ hand and they did as Jonah asked.
Doubtlessly Jonah expected to die, but God had other ideas. He sent a big fish to swallow him and Jonah remained inside for three days. During this time, he offered up a heartfelt prayer. He must have been astounded when the fish delivered him onto dry land.
Yet if he believed that God had let him off the hook, he was seriously mistaken. Once more God told him that he was to go to Nineveh and preach against its wickedness. This time Jonah did as he was told and went into this very large city – apparently it took three days to cross it. Jonah began preaching after a day’s journey and told the Ninevites that God would overthrow their city in forty days.
It must have come as a shock when they so readily believed God’s message. Even the king threw off his fine clothes, began wearing sackcloth, and decreed that everyone should give up their evil ways and call urgently upon God. His hope was that Jonah’s God might show mercy, turn away his anger, and spare the city. And this is exactly what happened. God saw the way the Ninevites had repented and was moved to compassion. He didn’t bring down the threatened destruction.
Given the extent of Nineveh's wickedness, God’s gracious mercy is astounding. What counted was the people’s full-hearted repentance. Had they been lukewarm about it the ending could have been very different.
I guess that’s the thing about repentance. It doesn’t simply mean saying sorry and carrying on. It goes deeper and calls us to recognise that God’s way is best.
Unfortunately, Jonah didn’t see things this way. God’s mercy really upset him. He thought God was wrong. Find out what God did next in Part 2.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Picture attribution: Sweet Publishing and FreeBibleimages.org