Nineveh’s “Impossible” Repentance -- By: Paul Ferguson

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 27:2 (Spring 2014)
Article: Nineveh’s “Impossible” Repentance
Author: Paul Ferguson

Nineveh’s “Impossible” Repentance

Paul Ferguson

“With God all things are possible!” (Mt 19:26)

Who Thought The Repentance Of The Ninevites Was Impossible?1

Perhaps Those Who First Read The Book?

The repentance described in Jon 3:5-9 must have shocked ultra-orthodox Israelites at the time this prophet ministered. They might have considered it impossible that unclean Gentiles could have had a more intense and fervent repentance to their God than Israel had ever put forth. It would be hard for them to imagine there might be people in this most hated empire who could have believed God (Jon 3:6) and broken down before him in this way. They may have wondered if it were even possible for Gentiles to have any kind of piety at all. This may be a prelude to Ac 10:35 where Peter said that God “accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right!”

It is, however, important to note that the Ninevites do not become Jewish proselytes keeping Sabbath and food laws. They do not accept Israel’s covenant view of God and call him Yahweh. They knew nothing about the Law of Moses or any other part of the Hebrew Bible. Some critics leave an impression that they had accepted, at least partially, the Jewish religion in order to make this episode more unbelievable.

The repentance in Jon 3:6-9 is described as follows:

6When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so we will not perish.”

Negative critics have posed several questions about this behavior by a great Assyrian monarch, each of them casting doubt on the veracity of the Bible’s account. It will be seen in this article that research in the 20th century has cast doubts on this skepticism. It is now the critics who have become questionable.2

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