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Jonah, sent again, preacheth to the Ninevites. Upon their repentance, God relenteth.
Before Christ 862.
Jonah 3:3. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city— The account here given of Nineveh is confirmed by the testimony of heathen authors. Strabo says, that Nineveh was much greater even than Babylon: and Diodorus Siculus affirms, that its builder, Ninus, proposed to build a city of such magnitude, that it should not only be the greatest of the cities which were then in the world; but that none of those who should be born after that time, attempting the like, should easily exceed it: and a little after he subjoins, that nobody afterwards built such a city, either as to the greatness of the compass, or the magnificence of the walls. It is here said, that it was of three days' journey; that is to say, of three days' journey in circuit. Diodorus asserts, that the whole circuit of Nineveh was four hundred and eighty furlongs, which make somewhat more than sixty miles; and sixty miles were three days' journey, twenty miles a day being the common computation for a foot-traveller in the eastern countries. See Bishop Newton, vol. 1: p. 254.
Jonah 3:4. Yet forty days, &c.— In most of the threats of God, there is always a condition expressed or understood. It is expressed Jeremiah 18:8. It is understood in the passage before us.
Jonah 3:5. So the people of Nineveh believed God— The fame of the wonderful works which God had wrought for the Jews, was spread over the eastern parts of the world. This might induce the Ninevites to hearken to a man of that nation, who came to them as sent from God; especially as he, doubtless, gave them an account of the miraculous circumstances which attended his mission. But certainly a sense of their own guilt, and of their deserving whatever punishment heaven could inflict, was a principal reason that moved them to have a regard for his message. Moreover, 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 blessed Saviour speaks of the Jews in his time. Houbigant reads the last clause of this verse, From the highest to the lowest of the people, or from the nobles to the commonalty.
Jonah 3:6. For word came unto the king of Nineveh— For word had come, or, For the thing had reached unto, &c. This king most probably was Pul, the father of Sardanapalus, who, dying about the year of the world 3237, might have been upon the throne at the time when Jonah went to Nineveh; for this happened under Jeroboam the second. See Calmet, and Usher.
Jonah 3:7. Let neither man nor beast—taste any thing— This was carrying their abstinence to a greater severity than what we find practised among the Jews; for though in times of public calamity, and on the day of solemn expiation, we find that they made their children fast, as we may gather from Joel 2:16.; yet we nowhere read of their extending that rigour to their cattle. Virgil indeed, in his fifth eclogue, brings in a shepherd telling his companion, that for the death of Julius Caesar the mourning was so general, that even the sheep and other creatures were not driven to water: but possibly this may be looked upon as a poetical exaggeration. From Homer and other ancient authors we learn, that when any hero or great warrior died, the custom was, to make his horses fast for some time, and to cut off part of their hair: and we are told by the historians, that the people inhabiting the Canaries and Peru, in times of great drought, shut up their sheep and goats, without giving them any thing to eat, upon a presumption that their loud cries and bleating would reach heaven, and prevail with the Supreme Being to give them rain.
Jonah 3:8. Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth— The covering of horses and mules with sackcloth adds to the solemnity of a funeral. In like manner, the mournful garb of the Ninevites was an affecting circumstance in this public sorrow and humiliation. See Houbigant.
Jonah 3:9. And repent— And revoke his sentence. Houbigant. And so in the next verse, God revoked his sentence, and brought not upon them the evil which he was about to do unto them. See the note on Genesis 6:6.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, No more disobedient to the heavenly vision, we now find Jonah ready to go; and God, though he might justly have dismissed him from his service, employs him again.
1. God sends him the second time to Nineveh, commanding him to preach what he had before ordered him; and herein he gave him a fresh token of his reconciliation and regard, and put him once more on the proof of his fidelity.
2. Jonah instantly proceeds on his journey, no longer deterred by any considerations: his afflictions had effectually wrought upon him, and his ready obedience shewed the truth of his repentance. Boldly, therefore, he delivered his message, going into the streets of that vast city, (which, by historians, is said to have been at least sixty miles in compass,) crying aloud, as God's herald, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown, by some immediate stroke of divine vengeance; and most probably he informed them, that their sins were the cause of this terrible judgment denounced against them: the time is short, yet it is infinite mercy that they have this space allotted them to repent: one day's journey he advanced with this awful warning, and waited the returning day to proceed farther through the city. Note; (1.) God's servants must apply themselves to his work according to his word, however dangerous or difficult the service may appear. (2.) God's messages to his prophets cannot alter; the impenitent sinner must perish, but those who return to him shall find mercy. (3.) They who carry God's warnings to a careless world must cry aloud, and, by their earnestness, shew how deeply they are affected with the dangers that they foretel. (4.) Great and wicked cities have need to tremble; an offended God can at his pleasure instantly swallow them up, or devour them as Sodom with fire from heaven. (5.) What sinner would not tremble, if assured that forty days should bring him to the grave? and yet he sits unconcerned, though uncertain whether so many hours or minutes are allotted him.
2nd, One day's preaching effectually wrought upon the Ninevites, and rendered it unnecessary for the prophet to proceed any farther. Astonishing to tell! they repented at the preaching of Jonah; whilst Israel, under so many prophets, so long rising up and speaking to them, repented not. Therefore shall these Ninevites rise up in the judgment, and condemn them with all others, who, enjoying richer means of grace, continue hardened and impenitent under them.
1. They believed God. Such divine power accompanied the prophet's word, that conviction seized their consciences; and they instantly began to consider how they might avert their impending doom, and obtain mercy with this offended God. Note; It is a blessed symptom for good, when the sinner attends to God's word, and receives it as true, bowing in deep conviction under the charge laid against him.
2. A general fast is immediately proclaimed and observed. Tidings of this dreadful sentence were quickly carried to the palace; and, far from representing the prophet as a madman, or disturber of the peace, the nobles and people received him as an ambassador from God, and reported his message with great solemnity to their king; whereupon he rose from his throne, deeply affected with the prophet's word; and, laying aside the ensigns of royalty, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes; a noble example for his people's imitation, and a becoming expression of his own unfeigned humiliation. And all the people at his command, from the greatest to the least, copied after their royal master, and lay in sackcloth, deprecating that vengeance which all had provoked, and which was ready to consume them together. According to the decree of the king and his nobles, a fast is kept most strict and solemn; nor man nor beast may taste ought, not so much as water; but, covered with sackcloth, they are enjoined to cry mightily to God; even the beasts for lack of food would lift up their inarticulate voices: and men, women, and children, must unite in their prayers for mercy, if yet mercy might be found. Nor are they merely to make profession of penitence, but must instantly amend their lives; without which their prayers would be but hypocrisy; let them turn every one from his evil way, whatever his peculiar sin has been, and especially from the violence that is in their hands, fraud and oppression being their reigning iniquities. And when this is done, Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? The wrath was great, their provocations aggravated, their judgment just; but God is not inexorable; there is yet hope; and that encourages and hastens their repentance. Note; (1.) The higher our station is, the more exemplary should be our conduct. (2.) The way not to break under the sword of God's judgments, is to bow under the rod of his admonitions. (3.) Fervent prayer is mightily effectual; as long as a sinner is stirred up to cry to God, there is yet hope. (4.) In times of national distress, all must unite to deprecate the wrath which is threatened. (5.) They who fast for sin, must turn from the practice and love of it; else the mere afflicting of the body availeth not. (6.) The great encouragement to the sinner to turn to God is, that there is not only a peradventure of mercy to the truly penitent, but an assurance of it confirmed by the unchangeable oath of the God who cannot lie.
3. God saw their works, and heard their prayers; he observed their faith in his word, and the change wrought among them; he compassionated their distress, he reversed his threatenings, and extended to them the mercy which they so earnestly besought. He delighteth not in the death of any sinner; it is only by their own wilful impenitence that they bring down his wrath upon them.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jonah 3". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25