Chapter 3:6-10 (ESV) The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Question to think about: Do you think the repentance of the people of Nineveh was genuine? Why or why not?
I would say that the repentance of Nineveh was definitely true because God saw that they turned from their evil way and relented from his judgment. God knows our hearts, and there is nothing we can do to hide the truth from Him. The outward sign of their repentance was their willingness to present themselves in sackcloth and ashes.
Every reference I can find to the practice of wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes says that it finds its origin in the Bible. If someone knows of an extra-biblical reference to its origins, please let me know. One thing I did find is that sackcloth was made from the hair of a goat or of a camel and not burlap like we’d think of it today.
Personally, I wonder if the ash was a reference to Adam being formed from the dust, and the sackcloth was a reference to the original garments that God made to cover Adam’s sin. So in wearing it, people would be making the appeal for God to remember his covenant promise to Adam and Eve to crush the serpent’s head. However, I have not been able to verify this.
Regardless of its original meaning, its worth noting that someone who wishes to genuinely worship God, does so on His terms. When someone tells me that they worship God in their “own way,” I have to question whether it is true worship. I usually respond that this is a good idea only if God isn’t real. The living God would have an opinion about what constitutes true worship.
Father God, please forgive our arrogance in thinking we are important enough to try and dictate the terms of our surrender to you. For those who do not see their need for surrender, please dash their pride to pieces so that they may see you for who you are. If the sin of the Ninevites was not too great for your mercy, help us to realize that we also are not beyond the reach of the cross. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.