Nineveh Had No Bible
Robert Wurtz II
Greek scholars over the centuries have tried to define mετανοεῖτε (repent) and similar terms. There is simply no English equivalent. Yet, what may be helpful is to understand our Lord’s use of the word. He states, The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. (Matthew 12:41) To understand our Lord’s concept of repentance we would need to go back and read the book of Jonah. He used the word in a sentence so as to color our understanding. In fact, He is expecting that the Jews would have done something similar as John the Baptist had came telling the people, “Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come.” But what did He find? did they react like pagan Nineveh? No, he found business as usual. The people that were entrusted with the oracles of God would not repent, but a pagan city known for its brutality did. God help the ones that follow Nineveh in the judgment.
Works Meet For Repentance
The people of Nineveh did works meet for repentance. As we will learn later, they didn’t have sense enough to know their right hand from their left, but they had enough sense to repent. (Jonah 4:11) How did it happen? First, And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4) This message offered no hope. It was simply a declaration; Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. This is instructional. The result? So the people of Nineveh believed God. (Jonah 3:5a) This is essential to any persons’ repentance; they have to believe what God has said. That sounds simple enough because the word ‘believe’ gets thrown around so much and it has no real bearing on reality. The people of Nineveh believed so as to proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. This is fruits worthy of repentance.
You will notice that they were not given a checklist of things to repent of. They were left to themselves to sort it out. This tells me that God knows that we know what is offending Him. There is no need for ministers to stand in a pulpit and start listing off possibilities. Folks will sometimes pretend they don’t know what they need to repent of, etc.; but apparently God is not buying it and Nineveh is the example. They were a pagan society and exceedingly brutal. No Bible. No Sunday Schools. No churches on every corner. This is exceedingly sobering to consider.
The King Vacates the Throne
We have another facet to Nineveh’s example when we read, For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:6)
If you or I are ever going to repent in the biblical sense, according to the definition of Jesus, then the ‘king’ that is in my and your heart is going to have to arise from his throne and lay his robe from him. The king that has been inside you calling the shots ever since you first told your mom (mum) or dad, NO! We have to come off of the throne of our own life and utterly humble ourselves before the true King. This is the key. This is more than outward things, it is an inward change of attitude. What else did they do? Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (Jonah 3:9)
Turning From the Evil
We all have to TURN from our evil way. ‘Evil’ here is our own human independence, no matter how ‘good’ we may esteem our behavior. A person can do works that appear good and yet be in total rebellion against God. Notice that this king and his people did not need a list of things to repent of. Sometimes folk act like they have no idea what you are talking about. These people knew in their own hearts what they were doing wrong and they turned from it in all humility. The results? God believed them and He spared their city. (Jonah 3:1-10)