When the king of Nineveh heard what Jonah was saying, he stepped down from his throne and took off his royal robes. He dressed himself in burlap and sat on a heap of ashes. Then the king and his nobles sent this decree throughout the city: “No one, not even the animals from your herds and flocks, may eat or drink anything at all. People and animals alike must wear garments of mourning, and everyone must pray earnestly to God. They must turn from their evil ways and stop all their violence. Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.”
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
The people of Nineveh believed Jonah’s message and repented. What a miraculous effect God’s words had on them! Their repentance stood in stark contrast to Israel’s stubbornness. The people of Israel had heard many messages from the prophets, but they had refused to repent. The people of Nineveh only needed to hear God’s message once. That’s why Jesus later said that at the judgment, the men of Nineveh will stand up to condemn the Israelites for their failure to repent (Matthew 12:39-41).
God responded in mercy by canceling his threatened punishment. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God had said that any nation on which he had pronounced judgment would be saved if they repented (Jeremiah 18:7-8). So, God forgave Nineveh, just as he had forgiven Jonah.
The purpose of God’s judgment is correction, not revenge. He is always ready to show compassion to anyone willing to seek him.
Jonah had run away from God, but was given a second chance to participate in God’s work. You may feel as though you are disqualified from serving God because of past mistakes. But serving God is not an earned position—no one qualifies for God’s service. But God still asks us to carry out his work. You may yet have another chance. It is not our hearing God’s word that pleases him, but our responding obediently to it.