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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 3

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3142. B.C. 862.

We have here,

(1,) Jonah’s mission renewed and executed, Jonah 3:1-4 .

(2,) The humiliation and reformation of the Ninevites, Jonah 3:5-9 .

(3,) Their sentence revoked, Jonah 3:10 .

Verses 1-3

Jonah 3:1-3. And the word of the Lord, &c. After Jonah had been well chastised for his disobedience, and was set at liberty, as recorded in the preceding chapter, the divine call to him to prophesy was repeated. He had rebelled against God’s command the first time, but now, being humbled and better prepared, he is tried again. So Hebrew, And, Jonah arose and went into Nineveh He now obeys without reluctance. Such was the blessed fruit of the correction which he had received. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city The Hebrew reads, A great city to God: so the mountains of God are the same with great mountains, Psalms 36:6, and the cedars of God are translated goodly cedars, Psalms 80:10. Nineveh was the greatest city in the known world at that time; greater than Babylon, whose compass was then three hundred and eighty-five furlongs; but Nineveh was in compass four hundred and eighty furlongs, which makes something more than sixty of our miles. It is said that its walls were one hundred feet in height, and broad enough for three coaches to meet and pass safely by each other: that it had one thousand five hundred towers on its walls, each two hundred feet high. Diodorus Siculus represents it as an oblong figure, the two longer sides of which measured one hundred and fifty stadia, and the two shorter ninety. “Ninus,” says he, “hastened to build a city of such magnitude, that it should not only be the greatest which then existed in the whole world, but that none in succeeding ages, who undertook such a work, should easily surpass it; and his expectation has not been deceived. For no one has since built so great a city; both as to the extent of its circuit, and the magnificence of its wall.” According to a report recorded by Eustathius, fourteen myriads of men were employed for eight years in building this city. It is here said, that it was of three days’ journey; and Diodorus asserts the same; that is, of three days’ journey in circuit, allowing twenty miles to each day.

Verse 4

Jonah 3:4 . And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey That is, he proceeded into the city as far as he could go in a day. And he cried, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown The threat is express; but there was a reserve with God on condition of repentance. And it must be observed, that in most of the threatenings of God there is a condition expressed or understood. This is the general rule for interpreting all such denunciations, as has been observed in the note on Jeremiah 18:8, unless where God makes an express declaration that the iniquity of the people against whom he denounces his judgments is full, and that he will not spare them; or, as it is expressed by our Saviour, with regard to Jerusalem, that the things which belong unto their peace are then hid from their eyes.

Verses 5-6

Jonah 3:5-6. So the people of Nineveh believed God, &c. “The fame,” says Lowth, “of the wonderful works God had wrought for the Jews, was spread over the eastern parts of the world. This might make the Ninevites hearken to a man of that nation, that came to them as sent by God. And it is likely that he gave them an account of the miraculous circumstances which attended his own mission. But, without question, a sense of their own guilt, and their deserving whatever punishment Heaven could inflict, was a principal reason that moved them to have a regard to this message. And by the men of Nineveh’s repenting at the preaching of Jonah, God designed to upbraid the stubbornness of his own people, and shame them, as it were, into repentance; lest the men of Nineveh should rise up in judgment against them, as our Saviour speaks of the Jews in his own time, Matthew 12:41.” And proclaimed a fast The king and his nobles, or those in authority, ordered that every one should fast for three days, and put on habits of sorrow and humiliation. For word came unto the king of Nineveh Archbishop Usher, in his Annals ad A.M. 3233, supposes this prince to have been Pul, the king of Assyria, (Nineveh being then the capital city of that empire,) who afterward invaded the kingdom of Israel, in the days of Menahem, 2 Kings 15:19: it being very agreeable to the methods of Providence to make use of a heathen king, that was penitent, to punish the impenitence of God’s own people Israel. And he arose from his throne, &c. He laid aside all his state, and put on the habit of a penitent.

Verses 7-9

Jonah 3:7-9. Let neither man nor beast taste any thing This was ordered to add the greater solemnity to the humiliation, and that men might be affected by the mournful cries of the cattle under such restraints, and thereby be moved to greater sorrow and contrition. It was, however, carrying their abstinence to a greater severity than we find practised among the Jews; for though, in times of public calamity, and on the day of solemn expiation, they made their children fast, as we may gather from Joel 2:16, yet we nowhere read of their extending that rigour to cattle. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth Their horses and camels, both which they had been accustomed to adorn with rich and costly clothing, they must now clothe with sackcloth, in testimony of a hearty repentance; the clothing of the beasts must witness for the men. Thus, in funerals, the covering horses and mules with sackcloth adds to the solemnity of the occasion, and tends to increase the sorrow. And cry mightily That is, let the men cry; for though the men and beasts are spoken of promiscuously in this proclamation, yet there are some expressions which are to be applied peculiarly to the men. Yea, let every one turn from his evil way Let every one forsake his vicious practices. And from the violence that is in their hands Let him cease to defraud or oppress his fellow-creatures, and desist from all acts of violence; yea, and let him restore what he has gotten by such practices. Natural religion instructed them, that their earnest prayers, without true amendment, would not avail them before God; nor would their repentance be thought sincere, unless they restored to the true owners what they had gained by violence and injustice. Who can tell if God will turn and repent? That is, whether he will change his way toward us, and revoke the sentence gone forth against us. It was a great thing for these heathen to give such proofs of repentance, under an uncertain hope of pardon.

Verse 10

Jonah 3:10. And God saw their works He not only heard their good words, by which they professed repentance, but saw their good works, by which they brought forth fruits meet for repentance. He saw that they turned from their evil way And that was what he looked for and required. If he had not seen that, their fasting and sackcloth would have been as nothing in his account. Observe, reader, God takes notice of every instance of the reformation of sinners, even of those instances which fall not under the observation of the world. He sees who turn from their evil ways and who do not; and meets those with favour that meet him in a sincere conversion. When men repent of the evil of sin committed by them, he repents of the evil of judgment pronounced against them. Thus he spared Nineveh, and did not the evil which he said he would do against it. Here were no sacrifices offered to God, that we read of, to make atonement for sin; but the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, such as the Ninevites now had, is what he will not despise: on the contrary, it is what he will give encouragement to, and put honour upon.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jonah 3". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/jonah-3.html. 1857.
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