When God described Nineveh as being the great city, He was not considering its ignorance and sin but He was looking with great joy at its profound repentance.
Nineveh was quick in responding to God's word.
When Lot warned the Sodomites of the Lord's hot displeasure, they scorned him, and "to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking" (Gen. 19:14), whereas the Ninevites listened with utter seriousness to Jonah and responded quickly to his word, despite the respite of forty days which could have been taken for slackness and slothfulness. The word of the Lord was fast, bearing life, efficacious and sharper than a double-edged sword.
In their immediate response, the Ninevites were much greater than the Jews who were contemporary to Christ the Lord, the incomparably greater than Jonah. Those Jews saw the Lord's numerous miracles and beheld His infinite spirituality, yet they did not believe and repent. The Lord reproved them by the Ninevites (Matt. 12:14).
The word of the Lord was prolific. It yielded an abundance of amazing fruits.
The first fruit of the Ninevites was faith: "So the people of Nineveh believed God."
The second fruit was the unfeigned contrition of heart; humiliating themselves before the Lord. Thus they put on sackcloth "From the greatest to the least of them". And sackcloth is a rough material made of goats' hair; a sign of affliction, abstinence and rejection of worldly pleasures. Even the king of Nineveh himself took off his royal robe and covered himself with sackcloth, arose from his throne and sat in ashes.
The Lord looked at that debased city and smelt a pleasing aroma; for "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart- these, O God, You will not despise" (Ps. 51:17). Truly how wonderful is this unique spectacle! A whole city is seen contrite in dust and ashes, debased in sackcloth, from the king to the infant. Even the livestock were covered with sackcloth!
The word of God also yielded fasting and prayer.
The city proclaimed a general fast for all. People abstained from eating and drinking, and even the beasts, herds and flocks did not eat or drink. People did not want to be occupied with feeding their flocks so that they could spare their time for worship and supplication to God. Thus they mingled their fasting with prayer and cried "mightily to God".
The most important fruit of the Ninevites was repentance.
Repentance led them to faith because sin was an obstacle between them and God, and we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other pages. The fruit of their repentance was their humiliation, fasting, wearing sackcloth and crying out to God. Their repentance was a sincere repentance in every meaning of the word: serious and from the heart, in which everyone turned 'from his evil way and from the violence that was in his hands."
By this repentance they deserved God's mercy. He pardoned and forgave them, received them and joined them to His own. In this respect the Holy Bible says: "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it" (Jon. 3:10).
The Holy Bible did not say: "When the Lord saw their fasting, prayer and affliction", but said: "Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way". Therefore repentance was the reason for God's mercy on them. Their fasting, prayer and humiliation were but fruits of repentance.
I would like here to pause for a while at a verse said of the repentance of Nineveh, that is: "It repented at the preaching of Jonah".What Was Jonah's Preaching?
Nineveh The Great City
H. H. Pope Shenouda III
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