So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth…
The purpose of God unfolds itself gradually in the course of His providence; and when we see the end from the beginning, we see that it is a purpose of grace. He wished to save the men of Nineveh. and the only way of salvation with God was repentance unto life. The history of their repentance is therefore the revelation of God's purpose of grace in the salvation of sinners. God renewed His commission to Jonah, but He does not upbraid the prophet with his former refusal. All that is required is the doing of duty. That is the fruit meet for repentance. If there be any difference between this call and the former, it is that the terms of the second are more absolute and less definite. Jonah now yielded to the Spirit of the Lord. He went "according to the Word of the Lord." That was all the difference between Jonah a sinner and Jonah a saint, between the old man and the new. The old resists the Spirit and yields to the flesh; the new resists the flesh and yields to the Spirit. God's will, not his own nor man's, was now the law of Jonah's life. The Lord said "Go"; go therefore he must, go in spite of the world, go in spite of self, go whatever should be his fate or his reception at Nineveh. All the ancients speak of Nineveh as an exceeding great city. It must have been a sublime spectacle, to see this single man going from one end to another of this great heathen city, and at every step, or at every street, repeating the same awful message of God. The terms of the prophecy were most absolute. No proof was offered of the prophet's divine commission. No call to repentance was addressed to their consciences. No promise was made, or hope held out. The people believed God, and the immediate effect of their faith was repentance. They proclaimed a national and universal fast. They thus humbled themselves as sinners before God. In so doing they obeyed the voice of conscience. By the joint authority of the king and his government a proclamation was issued for public fasting, prayer, and penitence on the part of the people. While they cast themselves on God's mercy, they were to turn "every one from his evil way, and from the violence that was in their hands." Their faith was but a peradventure; their hope was in God's mercy. And God repented when they repented. He did not change His purpose, He only changed His method of outworking His purpose. His are purposes of grace, even when they seem to be nothing but proclamations of wrath to the uttermost. They are given for the very purpose of bringing the sinner to salvation by bringing him to repentance. Why is there no such humiliation before God on account of sin, personal and national, nowadays?
1. Because there are few like Jonah to preach repentance: if they are called to preach, to be God's witnesses, in whatever place or way or walk of life, they are called to testify against the world that has not come to repentance.
2. Because the message of God is not seen to be a matter of fact as personal, and to those who are sinners like the men of Nineveh as terrible as that of Jonah to Nineveh.
3. Because God's purpose of grace revealed in the Gospel is little realised in its fulness and freeness of grace. Two things in relation to salvation which this history sets in the clearest light.
(1) Repentance is the fruit of faith, not the root. The men of Nineveh "believed God," and therefore they repented. So must all sinners.
(2) Faith in God, when it is living and genuine, ever works by such repentance, where there is such sin, personal or national. Faith brings the sinner to God, as a man who must bear his own burden, and answer to God for his own personal guilt.
Parallel VersesKJV: So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.