When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).
The book of Jonah doesn’t specifically recount which sins of the Ninevites caused the Lord to send a word of impending destruction. We do know they were serious—the kinds of transgressions that warranted such judgment were idolatry, sexual immorality, and the shedding innocent blood. The book of Nahum, which scholars think was written long after Jonah, calls Nineveh “the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder—no end to the prey,” and charges it with “countless whorings of the prostitute” (Nah 3:1, 4). I suspect these were the sins for which the Lord sent Jonah with a word of judgment—“Yet forty days Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (3:4). Yet it was not overthrown, because the king of Nineveh repented, issuing a decree to his people: “[L]et man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil ways and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (3:8-9).
Our nation quite effectively paved the way for legal abortion by embracing the sexual immorality that lies behind it. Politically and culturally, we have determined that God will have no voice in the public square, passing laws to protect abortion which consequently encourage the sexual license that usually gives rise to the “need” for it. Even the Supreme Court, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, ruled that the U.S. must permit abortion so that people can have sex without suffering the burden of the children who may naturally follow. (If you are skeptical that our high court would reason in such a manner, read the ruling.) As with Nineveh, we walk in evil ways, and there is violence in our hands.
In our day, the Church remembers two things. First, that we must never forget our prophetic calling. Yes, we are called to walk alongside women in crisis pregnancy, to make their burdens our burdens (insofar as that is possible), to care for “unwanted” children. In other words, to do all that is involved in seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ for those in need. That, in itself, is a prophetic calling. But we must not forget the prophetic calling of the church to speak plainly about God, particularly of how he will not allow the shedding of innocent blood to persist indefinitely. Isaiah 10:1-4 remains a word for our day.
And why must we not forget this? In the words of the King of Nineveh—“Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Thanks be to God, we do have politicians and leaders who see that abortion will destroy our country. But not very many. While we have leaders who claim to be pro-life, very few actually extend themselves to help ensure the well-being of unborn children and their mothers. But perhaps it won’t take very many. In Nineveh, repentance began with one man, the king, who heard the word of the prophet and believed. And the whole nation followed.
Secondly, we remember to pray. The Scriptures give us great encouragement here: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1), “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2). The Lord does not delight to bring judgment, but delights in repentance, as the book of Jonah makes plain. After all, the Lord may again relent.