v. 9-10 "'Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.' When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened."
I LOVE THIS! People who the world considers "especially wicked" turning to God with hope and faith and because of this they were saved from being destroyed. I can imagine during this time period that many thought there was no hope for the people of Assyria, yet they came to know God.
The king's hope (I love looking up the meaning of words to gain knowledge of what I'm studying):
Who - of what character, origin, position, importance
knows - to perceive fact or truth, to establish or fix in memory, be acquainted with by sight or experience
yet - at the present time or particular time, in the time remaining
relent - soften in feeling, compassionate, forgiving
compassion - deep sympathy, feeling to alleviate suffering
turn - move on an axis, reverse position, to bring lower layers to the surface (as in plowing)
In 1956 five missionaries were killed by some men in a jungle tribe in Ecuador. Later these same men who had killed the missionaries became Christians. When they heard about what happened in Columbine, CO in the United States, where two teens killed many people at their school their response was "We use to be savages like that too before we came to know Jesus." We think people can't change, but God does not hold to our logic nor is He bound by our rules.
"You've not outrun the grasp of His grace or overstepped the boundaries of His mercy." Priscilla Shirer
The king said that maybe God would have compassion on them, such amazing insight for someone who didn't even know God, yet could still hope for a loving God to show compassion on his people. When you give control over to God, He can do mighty things in your life. Jonah's message was scary, but there was also an element of hope mixed in. God was giving the people forty days to repent, plenty of time for the word to spread to the entire city and the outlying villages. For many of us God has gone past the forty day mark, waiting for us to make a move back to Him.
"The people of Israel had heard many messages from the prophets, but they had refused to repent. The people of Nineveh only needed to hear God's message once. Jesus said that at the judgement, the men of Nineveh will stand up to condemn the Israelites for their failure to repent (Matthew 12:39-41). It is not our hearing God's word that pleases him, but our responding obediently to it." NIV notes
Some believe that God changed His mind as if He were wrong. Jeremiah 18:7-8 says "If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned." He has already written the end so how could He not know what happens up to that time? He knows when we will turn from Him, when we will come back and those who will never come to Him at all. Some think that God was repenting, but He does not sin so this would not apply to what He did. A word used for God in this case is nacham which means 'to be moved to pity'. So to say that God was mistaken does not make sense to me. God knows the outcome of every event that unfolds before us. God is never caught off guard for even one moment. The Bible is our instruction manual for our lives so I think this shows His vast compassion for those the world thinks of as lost forever.
God didn't change, it was the people in Nineveh who changed. In Hebrew a word frequently used for repentance is shub which means 'to turn' from sin to God. It is God's nature to extend love and compassion to us, although we often don't accept it. The book of Jonah is read by Jewish Rabbi's every year during Yom Kippur to show no one is beyond God's reach and to show His unending mercy for us so that even after we mess up He is willing to forgive us.
Christians should read this book at least once a year to check our hearts for any Jonah qualities that need to be uprooted and restored back to being obedient to God.