Everyone Gets a Second Chance
Yael Eckstein | September 22, 2023
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” — Jonah 1:1–2
At sundown on Sunday, Sept. 24, my family and I will join Jews across the world in observing the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. My devotions focus on this very holy day, a time when our attention is on receiving and giving forgiveness.
The Jewish sages teach that seven things were created before God created the world. Without these seven things, the sages teach, the world could not exist. One of them is repentance. Repentance is as essential to our existence as water or air.
As the psalmist wrote: “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). In other words, if there were no such thing as repentance, and God held us accountable for all our wrongdoings, who among us would still be standing? Thankfully, God created repentance: “But with you there is forgiveness” (Psalm 130:4). We are human, and we will err, but thankfully, there is forgiveness.
This message is critical on Yom Kippur as we take an entire day to focus on the gift of repentance and gain forgiveness from God. We need encouragement and affirmation that repentance is worthwhile and forgiveness possible. This is why we read the book of Jonah aloud in synagogue during the afternoon service of Yom Kippur—a story that demonstrates God’s mercy and our ability to turn everything around.
Everyone Gets a Second Chance
Ironically, when the prophet Jonah was given the mission of getting the wicked people of Nineveh to repent, he ran away. He did not want the people of Nineveh to repent, because in his mind, they were not deserving of another chance.
Interestingly, Jonah was called “Jonah son of Amittai.” The name Amittai is related to the Hebrew word emett, which means “truth.” Jonah was the “son of truth.” According to truth and justice, the people of Nineveh were deserving of destruction. However, God does not run the world according to the strict laws of truth. God runs the world with mercy, and He created a world in which even the undeserving get another chance.
Jonah should have known this. Remember the story of Elijah the prophet when he stayed at the home of a widow? Her son died, but Elijah was able to bring him back to life. According to Jewish tradition, this young boy was none other than Jonah from our story. As much as Jonah was “the son of truth,” he was also the product of mercy. It is God’s great mercy that can reverse a bad decree—even bringing the dead back to the living.
As we read the story of Jonah we are encouraged and inspired to repent and be forgiven. During these days, let us all remember that everyone gets a second chance. Let’s take advantage of this great gift and repent.
Explore how the Jewish concept of atonement is manifested during Yom Kippur and its connection to atonement in the Christian faith with our complimentary Bible study, Atonement: At One With God.