The book of Jonah provides a wonderfully rich case history of the God who believes in man. It begins with God commissioning Jonah to “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me,” (Jonah 1:2). God’s purpose in sending Jonah was not to condemn but to convict the Ninevites in order that they might repent and turn to Him (see Jeremiah 18:1-10 and Jonah 3:5-10). At the conclusion of the book He tells Jonah, “Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:11). This is in keeping with what God told Ezekiel, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? . . . Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (18:23). Because He believed in the Ninevites, He sent Jonah on a mission to rescue them.
It was through Jonah that God pursued them. As a prophet, Jonah knew enough about God to know that He believed in the Ninevites. There was absolutely no doubt in his mind that if he went and preached to them and they repented—God would forgive them (see 4:2). The problem for Jonah was that Nineveh was not just a Gentile city located in a neighboring part of the world, it was the capital of Assyria. Assyria was a predatory empire that had risen to world dominion through the usual pillaging, raping, and plundering. Its brutality and savagery were a matter of public record (captives were often impaled, beheaded, or flayed), and some of it had been experienced by Israel. During Jonah’s time, Assyria was on low battery in regard to their power, but giving the enemy a hand when they were down made no sense to Jonah. Maybe it makes no sense to us today. But it made sense to God because He believed in them.
There is a gracious reciprocity throughout the book; God believed in the Ninevites, He believed in Jonah. He pursued the Ninevites through Jonah; He pursued Jonah through the Ninevites. God not only believes in man when man doesn’t believe in Him; He believes in man when he doesn’t believe in what God believes in. Here we have both: Nineveh didn’t believe in God and Jonah didn’t believe in Nineveh. God used each to pursue the other. Of the two, Jonah was much higher maintenance. God had to use a storm, the casting of lots, a boatload of Gentiles, a fish, a vine, a worm, and a scorching east wind to reach him. But He did. He did because “if we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself,” (2 Timothy 2:13).
The God who believes in man is a God we can believe in!