The Ninevites’ Prayer

God May Relent

Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:9

God is sovereign. Many Scriptures tell us that God doesn’t change his mind (see Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, and Ezekiel 24:14). Because God does what he wills, we may think, Why should he listen to me? What difference does my puny prayer make?

But God has promised to hear us when we pray, and he does sometimes soften in answer to our prayers. When you think of Jonah, you may immediately think of a whale or big fish. I think of a reluctant prophet fleeing from God, going the other direction. But God brings him back by way of a fish that spits him out onto the beach where Jonah was supposed to be.

However, it’s not Jonah’s great prayer that I want you to consider—in fact, Jonah didn’t pray for Nineveh at all. He hated these people who had instilled terror in their enemies with dreadful, cruel acts of savagery. Jonah gave the prophecy that God told him to give—to only about one-third of the city on the first day (Jonah 3:3-4). Those who heard, including the king, responded to Jonah’s message.

In spite of Jonah’s reluctance, the people of Nineveh prayed, and God delayed his judgment. “The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” (Jonah 3:5). The sackcloth was a sign of repentance and humility.

The king issued a royal decree: “Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.” He commanded them to pray earnestly and turn from their wicked ways and from violence (Jonah 3:7-9).

Amazingly, God heard their prayers and accepted their repentance. “Then God relented concerning the calamity which he had declared he would bring upon them.” (Jonah 3:10) The dictionary defines relent as “to become softened or gentler in attitude, temper or determination.” The Hebrew word translated here as relent most often is translated as to have “comfort or compassion.”

Can our prayers influence God? Repent, pray, believe, fast—wait to see what he will do!


Read Jonah 4. How did God give Jonah a lesson in compassion? The story is open-ended. Do you think Jonah repented? Who do you think recorded the story?

Read 1 Chronicles 21:1-27. What caused God’s anger to burn and what in David’s prayer and attitude softened God’s anger?

Read Nahum 1:1-3, 2:8, and 3:7. Although 120,000 people repented during Jonah’s time, later generations of Ninevites returned to their evil ways. They were conquered by the Medes and Babylonians in 612 BC. Nahum, another prophet, records the details of God’s judgment on that generation of Ninevites.

Nancy J. Baker


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