So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth…
With a quick and marvellous success was Jonah's ministry crowned. Doubtless the Ninevites knew how he had sought to escape his mission to them, and all the perilous and miraculous consequences of his flight. This seems clearly implied in our Lord's words, who says that Jonah was "a sign unto the Ninevites." And he only could be this in so far as they were acquainted with his history. He was "a sign" that Jehovah was not to be trifled with. If he, a friend of Jehovah, had been punished, what might the enemies expect? "A sign "also of Jehovah's mercy as well as justice. If he had been saved, might not they? If their case had been utterly hopeless, why had he come at all? So, though they had seen no miracle, they "believed God." That doom was at hand; doom that might - who could tell? - be averted, if they "battered the gates of heaven with storms of prayer." They proclaimed a fast; "the people;" for then, as always, national repentance and reformation worked its way upward. Here, from the people, at length reaching the nobles and the king. He, too, was a man and in peril, and, like his subjects, must repent. And, by royal proclamation, all were bidden fast, be clad in sackcloth; the creatures, too, dependent on them, by their mute misery were to share in the national humiliation. Above all, let the people "cease to do evil," and show a changed heart by an altered life. The humiliation of the Ninevites was -
I. ROOTED IN FAITH. "They believed God." What were Asshur and their many gods to them now? Jehovah was the living God. All else were dead. They believed in his power to punish; and also (though doubt may have mingled with their faith) that if they turned from their evil way, he would turn from the fierceness of his anger, and they should perish not. Not "idle words" were Jonah's. Not heard with critic ear. Not questioned, much less opposed. Jonah - who was he? God's messenger. They believed God. Hence their repentance. Had they not believed, they had been unrepentant. How they rebuke many among us today! Those who have heard many of God's messengers: why turn they not from their evil way? Because they believe not God. This is the capital count in the Divine indictment against man. He makes God a liar. He believes not the testimony God has given in his Son. The terrible testimony against sin as the dark, dreadful evil it is. The gracious testimony to his unutterable love, that only could be truly vocal as it spoke in the sorrow, sufferings, and death agonies of his Son. Did man believe with the heart this, it would be to repentance - to righteousness. "Believe God." Rooted in faith, the conduct of the Ninevites was -
II. FRUITFUL IN REPENTANCE. True belief and true repentance are ever connected as root and fruit.
"If faith produce no works, I see
That faith is not a living tree." The Ninevites fasted, put on sackcloth, cried mightily to God. And is the expression of our repentance to be the same as theirs? Are we to fast? If given to the pleasures of the table, to fulness of bread, abstinence will be welL. Whatever hinders the soul must be avoided. If gay clothing is a temptation to us, we must watch against that peril. The soul must be supreme. Let it "cry mightily." Cry that it may be truly repentant. For "godly sorrow" is the gift of God. The doom coming on the Ninevites was averted. By what? Not the fasting; not the sackcloth; not even the mighty crying, though a whole city was at prayer. God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way" (ver. 10). That plucked them from the peril. There was repentance - a change of mind; reformation - a change of life. All is nothing without that. Turn from all evil. Have you wronged another .9 Confess it; make restitution. Be the changed mind seen in the changed life. The way of sin is an evil way and ends in evil. Turn from it. "Lord, make me pure and holy, but not now," prayed the unconverted Augustine. It must be now. Turn from sin, and "who can tell if God will turn?" "Tell?" You know - as did not the Ninevites - the glorious gospel, that God waits to be gracious; that for Christ's sake he will forgive you. Be not shamed and condemned by the repentant Ninevites. "They repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here." - G.T.C.
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.