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*Does Jonah’s message of Nineveh being destroyed in 40 days not taking place make Jonah a false prophet?

Some use Jonah as an example that prophets can be wrong. The word of God tells us if they speak and it does not come to pass- they are a false prophet (Deut.18). Why? Because a prophet speaks the word that God tells them to speak. God first told Jonah “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it.” It should be obvious that what Jonah spoke was a conditional proclamation to give them a chance to repent. (Jonah 1:2). Instead of going to Nineveh, Jonah was disobedient, going as far away in the opposite direction he could. “Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you” (Jonah 3:1-2). When Jonah finally arrived in Nineveh Scripture says he spoke what God told him to (3:2). He cried out and said: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” So the people of Nineveh believed God” (3:4-5).

Jonah really wanted to see Nineveh’s destruction; he was anticipating judgment not their repentance. God didn’t tell Jonah everyone would be saved, and he doesn’t tell  this to people today, despite their prophesying that cities and nations will come to Christ.

His message was simple– “yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The anticipation of Nineveh’s destruction delighted Jonah when he proclaimed the message God gave him. The people did not know if God would be merciful to them so they did the right thing anyway. Jonah 3:5 states, “And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” God honored their repentance, (Matthew 12:41, Jesus tells us they repented).

Before Jonah went to Nineveh He knew God is merciful, one who relents from doing harm (4:2), the Ninevites did not. Jonah knew that if he preached to the Ninevites they would have a chance to survive. This was why he was being disobedient in the first place, not because he was chicken.

The Bible is clear that God told Jonah to preach to it the message that I tell you. If one were to find fault in the mesage not coming to pass, it would have to be with God. So it is not Jonah who would be wrong, but God. The message- Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown!” destroyed!

The fact is that their repentance was God’s desired result, He gave them 40 days. We already know God’s heart in these matters, through the prophet Jeremiah 18:7-10: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.” This principle is based on God’s character of mercy to the repentant. Judgment was sure to come unless Nineveh repented. God gave them a chance to repent by sending Jonah with a message of judgment a second time. It was God’s plan for Nineveh. We cannot turn to God from our evil way unless God first turns to us, He initiates and we are to respond. God had a purpose for saving the entire city of Nineveh. He did this to spare Israel and also give them time to repent as well. Isaiah (and Amos) prophesied that because of their disobedience they would be taken captive. Jonah knew it would probably be through these people if they survived.

This was a conditional prophecy. If they repent God will relent.   This is a remarkable display of faith, as they had to immediately give up their idols to seek the Lord. The only ground which their faith rested on, was the fact of God sending the prophet to warn them, instead of destroying them at once; this suggested the thought of a possibility of pardon. Jonah 3:9-10: “Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? 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.

 The fulfillment of the threat of judgment was contingent on the Ninevites response. Again we must remember- Scripture says Jonah spoke what God told him to (3:2). What this shows us is that God loves to give mercy instead of judgment. Repentance appeals to God’s mercy.

In Mt.16 Jesus tells his generation that rejected Him “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah”  


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