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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Jonah 3

 

 


Verse 1

‘And the word of YHWH came to Jonah the second time, saying,’

In the mercy of God Jonah was being given a second chance. God is gracious with His servants. And so ‘the word of YHWH’ came to Jonah a second time.


Verses 1-10

A Changed Jonah Obeys God And Goes To Nineveh Proclaiming Its Overthrow Within Forty Days, With The Result That (To Jonah’s Chagrin) Nineveh Repents (Jonah 3:1-10).

Jonah was no longer rebellious. He had learned his lesson. So when YHWH came to him again and told him to go to Nineveh to proclaim His word, Jonah did as he was bid. Unlike the seas and the fish he did it by free choice. And the consequence of his preaching was that the people of Nineveh repented deeply, and sought and found mercy from God.

Analysis of Jonah 3:1-10.

a And the word of YHWH came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you” (Jonah 3:1-2).

b So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of YHWH. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, of three days’ journey, and Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:3-4).

c And the people of Nineveh believed God, and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them (Jonah 3:5).

d And the news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes (Jonah 3:6).

c And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed, nor drink water, but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily to God, yes, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands” (Jonah 3:7-8).

b “Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?” (Jonah 3:9).

a And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them; and he did not do it (Jonah 3:10).

Note that in ‘a’ Jonah is to preach to Nineveh what YHWH tells him, and in the parallel the Ninevites have listened to what YHWH had said. In ‘b’ he proclaimed that in forty days Nineveh would be overthrown, and in the parallel the hope is that he will show mercy. In ‘c’ the people proclaim a fast and put on sackcloth, and in the parallel they are called on by their king to fast and be covered in sackcloth. Centrally in ‘d’ the king himself covered himself with sackcloth and mourned over his sin.


Verse 2

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you,”

It was the same word as before, that he should go to Nineveh and proclaim to it the words that YHWH gave to him. As we have seen earlier (Jonah 1:2) ‘the great city’ was a conurbation made up of four sister-cities in Assyria.


Verse 3

‘So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of YHWH. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, of three days’ journey.’

Jonah, now obedient to YHWH, arose and went to Nineveh in accordance with His word. If ‘three days journey is the correct translation we are then told of the size of Nineveh. It was a ‘three days journey’, presumably in width. ‘Three days journey’ is a set phrase that indicates a relatively short journey in contrast with a longer one of ‘seven days journey’ (compare the usage in Genesis). It theoretically represented the distance the average person could travel in a relatively short period (‘three days’ regularly means a short period). Some would take longer, others would do it in less. It is simply an approximate indicator of size. Taking into account the four sister-cities the description is quite reasonable, even if necessarily inexact.

It is, however possible that we should translate as ‘for a three day visit’, with the indication being that visiting Nineveh could not be done in a day. It required following the accepted protocol. In Nehemiah 2:6 the word used here certainly means ‘visit’ (the king was not interested in the literal length of his journey, but rather in the length of his visit).

‘An exceedingly great (or important) city.’ or more strictly, ‘a city great/important to God’. In other words even God saw it as a large one, or even God saw it as important (possibly because it contained a large number of people - Jonah 4:11).


Verse 4

‘And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” ’

Jonah entered the city, presumably Nineveh itself, and walked a short distance into it. ‘A day’s journey’ simply indicates a few miles in contrast with a ‘three days journey’. He would walk this while he was looking for a suitable place to preach. Or it may simply indicate ‘a quick visit’. And there he began to preach what YHWH had told him, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” It was a simple message of judgment.

The details of how he went about it are, however, not considered important and the emphasis is all on his message. We do not thus know whether he sought formal permission to preach, or whether he simply gathered a crowd as a result of his strange clothing and appearance, and the rumour spreading around that he was a Hebrew prophet.


Verse 5

‘And the people of Nineveh believed God, and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.’

But the impact of the message was huge, for the people responded to ‘God’ with all their hearts. Note the change from ‘YHWH to ‘God’. They were responding to Jonah’s God. They knew nothing of the covenant with YHWH. We do not know what humanly speaking had prepared their hearts for this message. Perhaps it was the recent plagues (which certainly occurred around this time). Perhaps it was bad news with respect to their war with Urartu, their northern neighbour, causing great fear among the populace. But whatever it was it was kick-started by Jonah’s preaching, taking him totally by surprise. It would not have taken God by surprise. He had known what the situation was.

The impact may have been made all the greater by Jonah’s ‘unearthly’ appearance caused by his sojourn in the large fish, and have been backed up by rumours which were going around of how this strange prophet had come out of a large fish. In a superstitious age such factors would be very telling, and if war was looming it would have had an even greater impact. But, of course, in the end it was all due to YHWH. ‘Salvation is of YHWH.’

The result was that the people proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, both of which were common evidences of mourning in the area. And it is stressed that this was done by the whole people. They were convicted of sin, and were seeking mercy.


Verse 6

‘And the news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.’

The news of their response reached the king of Nineveh. The fact that the news had taken some time to reach him may suggest that he was in one of the other sister-cities at the time. And on hearing what had happened, and no doubt Jonah’s message, he too responded, rose from his throne, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. If the forces of Urartu were at present in the ascendancy we can appreciate why such a message as Jonah’s might cause such a stir. The idea that Nineveh might be overthrown could well have been seen as a real possibility. An appeal to the gods would then be seen as their only hope. But we are not given the reason, only the result.

The description ‘king of Nineveh’ does not conflict with the fact that he was also king of Assyria. To speak of a king in terms of a principal city was common practise (see e.g. 1 Kings 21:1; Deuteronomy 4:2; Deuteronomy 4:23, with Deuteronomy 1:4; Deuteronomy 3:2; Deuteronomy 4:46; Judges 4:17 with Judges 4:2; Judges 4:23). In this case it emphasised his close relationship with Nineveh.


Verse 7-8

‘And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed, nor drink water, but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily to God, yes, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands.”

The king issued an official proclamation calling on the people, along with their domestic animals, to fast and cover themselves with sackcloth. Both man and beast would suffer if the city was overthrown and so both man and beast were called on to take part in the ritual acts. This inclusion of animals in a ritual of mourning is mentioned among others by Herodotus.

And they were then to ‘call mightily on God (Elohim)’ and ‘turn from their evil ways’, and especially from violent behaviour. There was a recognition in this, no doubt resulting from Jonah’s preaching, that Jonah’s God was a moral God Who was concerned about man’s moral behaviour. Thus the call was both for them to turn to God and for them to genuinely repent of their sins.


Verse 9

“Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”

The hope then was that God (Elohim) would also ‘turn and repent’ in His attitude towards them, in other words would view them in a totally different way because of their change of heart. Note the emphasis all the way through on ‘God’ rather than ‘YHWH’. There is no thought that they had come to a full knowledge of YHWH. Only that they had been faced with the reality of the living God, and had therefore been given the opportunity to seek further into the truth. Sadly most probably later slipped back into a state of contentment with their idols. But it was real while it lasted.


Verse 10

‘And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them; and he did not do it.’

And when God saw their change in behaviour, in that they turned from their evil ways, He ‘repented’ (altered His approach because they were now changed people) of the evil things that He had intended to bring on them, and did not allow them to happen. In other words He showed mercy towards them because of their repentance.

It is, of course, impossible to say how long their repentance lasted. For some perhaps it was permanent. For others it would be comparatively short-lived (compare the parable of the sower). But there was no doubt that for a period at least they had experienced a real change of heart that Jesus said might well stand them in good stead when they appeared before God for judgment (Matthew 12:41). What, however, was more important was that the seed had been sown in their hearts of the need to seek to the God of Israel. It would be up to them how they responded.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jonah 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/jonah-3.html. 2013.

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Sunday, November 29th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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