Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4 ESV)
Nineveh was known for its wickedness. The capital of Assyria, Nineveh boasted of expansive walls, insurmountable boundaries and extensive victories. Here is what Nahum said about Nineveh:
Woe to the bloody city, all full of lies and plunder— no end to the prey! The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel, galloping horse and bounding chariot! Horsemen charging, flashing sword and glittering spear, hosts of slain, heaps of corpses, dead bodies without end— they stumble over the bodies! And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. (Nahum 3:1-4 ESV)
This begs the question. Why didn’t God immediately destroy such wicked people? Why didn’t Jonah preach, “Yet forty minutes and Nineveh will be overthrown?” Why did God give them forty days?
Forty is a significant number in the Bible. Moses was on the mountain forty days (on two occasions) receiving God’s laws. Because of their rebellion against God, Israel wandered in the wilderness forty years. Jesus spent forty days and nights in the wilderness being tested. And here God gives the Ninevites forty days.
Forty days of grace. Forty days for Nineveh to get the message and repent. Forty days for the bloody, lying, plundering, murderous, heinous, horrific, corpse-laden city to repent. Forty days for the prostitute of Mesopotamia to turn from “her whorings.”
Some of you are in your forty days. God has called. Will you answer?
Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:13 ESV)
Others of you won’t give someone 40 seconds to make things right, let alone 40 years.