Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Jonah 3:4-5, NASB
I just read the above passage and asked myself, why would these people just believe Jonah, just like that? The passage itself doesn’t give us any context as to what the Ninevites already knew about the God of the Hebrews. But a fascinating thought occurred to me.
Could it be that the story of what had happened on the boat three days earlier had already reached Nineveh? He had been thrown overboard into not just a sea, but a raging sea. Beyond that, he was missing for three days. We know the ship was nowhere near the shore because people on the boat tried desperately to get back to shore so they wouldn’t have to throw Jonah overboard. There’s no humanly possible way someone could survive something like that, especially considering the violence of the storm.
If his story had reached Nineveh, imagine the awe of the people when he strolled into town. Perhaps some of the men that worked on the ship had already returned to town. They had seen Jonah, watched him sink into the turbulent waves. They would’ve done a serious double-take when they saw that familiar face and heard the familiar tones of his voice pronounce their doom. Can you visualize the look of terror on their faces as they beheld the walking dead man? This could explain their quick acceptance of the authority of Jonah’s God. Though everyone on that ship called to their gods for help, Jehovah was not only the God who controlled the storm and sea, but life and death – He brought a man back from the depths of the earth safe and sound.
What an amazing foreshadowing of the appearances of the resurrected Christ that would take place so many years later!
I still think it’s a credit to the Ninevites that they accepted God’s message from Jonah. We’ve seen many biblical examples of people refusing to believe in God even after seeing marvelous displays of His existence and power.
It teaches us that we must be quick to believe God, and listen to His voice.