CLAIM: Jonah states, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). Does this mean that people could be forgiven apart from the Temple sacrifices commanded in Leviticus? Of course, the Ninevites didn’t offer a blood sacrifice, but they were spared from judgment. Orthodox Jewish interpreters extrapolate this to the present day, saying that blood sacrifice in the Temple is not necessary for the Jewish people (because the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70).
RESPONSE: God told the people that they were “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). In other words, the work of the Hebrews benefited the nations—even if the nations were unaware of it. The Feast of Tabernacles was for the nations, as well as for Israel (Num. 29). Even though the Ninevites weren’t aware of this sacrifice, they were placed under it. See our earlier article “Common Jewish Questions” (see “Are blood sacrifices important for atonement and forgiveness?”).