When God saw what they (the Ninevites) did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:10
This so-called pagan city repented of their evil ways and responded to Jonah’s message in a way that God’s people rarely did. The Israelites didn’t generally listen to the prophets God sent. Occasionally a king would come to power that followed God’s ways and he would destroy the foreign idols. Yet often God’s people merely followed the king’s directive rather than change their attitude. Mostly, it wasn’t until they were being oppressed by their enemies that they turned from their evil ways.
Jesus indicates this as he wept over Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you …” (Matthew 23:37). God’s people didn’t respond to the prophets’ message, yet the Ninevites did. No wonder God relented!
This raises many questions. Why don’t God’s people respond to his messages? Why does it take a crisis before God’s people call to him? Why is it that non-churched people often respond with greater enthusiasm when they understand the gospel?
Many who have grown up in a Christian culture take God for granted. They presume upon his grace. R. C. Sproul writes about an event which took place during his time as a university lecturer. After he gave his students two extensions of extra time on different assignments, the students came to expect that they would always be given more time to complete work. Not only that, they considered it unfair if he refused to give them extra time!
The Ninevites hoped for mercy, they didn’t presume (3:9). Let’s remember the extent of God’s mercy and grace so we don’t take it for granted.