Jonah 3 - Outline of Jonah (Book Notes menu page)
1. And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,
2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city,
and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.
Jonah was recommissioned to do the work which he had previously refused to do.
The LORD is compassionate and full of mercy. Who, but He, would give Jonah a second chance? The scriptures contain many examples of failed men, whom the LORD graciously restored to fruitful service (eg., Jacob, David, Peter, John Mark, the prodigal son...). His grace is sufficient for you and me, also.
The LORD gave His servant clear instructions:
  • He was to go to Nineveh, a city that was great both in size and wickeness (Jonah 1:2)... the capital of a nation that Jonah despised.
  • He was to proclaim the message which God commissioned him to proclaim.
    Can you see the parallel to our Lord's Great Commission to His Church, in Mat 28:18-20?
    We will be held accountable on both points.
3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh,
according to the word of the LORD.
Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.
This time, Jonah was quick to obey God's Word.
...Nineveh was an exceeding great city...-
Nineveh is also an ancient city, founded around the time of Nimrod (Gen 10:8-12, 'Assyria' takes its name from 'Asshur'). The city's name means 'abode of Ninus' (which is probably a variation of Nimrod's name). Great wickedness was well rooted in this city which existed prior to the tower of Babel. The city was located on the Tigris River about 250 miles north of Babylon.
     The central city of Nineveh was protected by an immense wall. The walled area was an irregular shape approximately one and a half miles by two and a half miles (1.5 x 2.5 miles). The walls were 100 feet high in places, and wide enough for four chariots to ride side by side around the eight mile circumference. The city's suburbs lay outside the walls, increasing the circumference of the greater city to about 60 miles. 'A day's journey {lit., walk}' was about 12 miles. Jonah estimated that it would take three days to walk through the length of the greater city.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said,
Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
The prophet, faithfully followed God's instructions to proclaim His message to the city.
Most likely, as he moved through the city, he stopped frequently, to shout out his message, wherever people were gathered, such as in the many street markets. He had no credentials by which to obtain an audience with the king. He did not wait for a permit from the authorities, who would not recognize the Authority who sent him.
'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.'
  • His message was not one by which to win friends.
    He proclaimed judgment, without recourse. According to the text, he neither called sinners to repentance, nor pointed to the loving kindness of the LORD, who had shown great mercy to him. No doubt, he would have given answer to any who asked, 'What shall we do to be saved?'
  • His message of unmitigated judgment was appropriate for the wickedness of the city (Jon 1:2).
    The city was known for its idolatry and violence. The 'worship,' in its temples dedicated to several false gods, included human sacrifice and sexual perversion. In v.8, the king of Nineveh acknowledges the evil and violence within the nation. The prophet Nahum (who wrote about 150 years after Jonah, and after the captivity of Israel by the Assyrians) identified some of their crimes (Nah 3:1,4-5,16). Zephaniah (about 250 years after Jonah) wrote of their blasphemous pride (Zeph 2:15).
  • The number 'forty' is associated with testing or probation, in scripture.
    For example: Moses spent forty years in the backside of the desert, before God called him to lead His people. The nation of Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. Jesus fasted for forty days, as He was tested by Satan. During the opening chapters of the book of Acts, the nation of Israel was given opportunity to repent and receive their rejected King. Approximately forty years elapsed between the cross of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
         Nineveh was given 40 days warning, not 40 years. Perhaps the time was short, because their sins were abominable in God's eyes, and He would not withhold wrath much longer.
But why should the Assyrians listen to this Jewish prophet, with his harsh message?
With such a proud and violent nature, this people should have chopped Jonah up and fed him to the dogs, before he had spoken two or three times. But they did not.
     Jesus said that Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh, in the same way that Jesus was a sign to His generation (Luk 11:29-32). Just as God raised Jonah out of certain death, so Jesus would be raised out of death to life (Mat 12:39-41).
     Something about Jonah convinced his hearers that his story was true. Perhaps, like the sailor that was swallowed by a whale (in the account mentioned at the end of the notes for chapter 1), Jonah's skin had been bleached by the digestive juices of the fish. If so, the evidence of his deliverance from death would give credence to the message he proclaimed. Consider this scenario...
     "Forty days until destruction of our invincible city? You and what army? We ought to remove your head! Who sent you anyway? ... Oh... and...What happened to you?"
     "I am a man who has undergone judgment, at the hand of the true and living God, because, at first, I refused to deliver His message to you. As I fled from Him by sea, He found me, and sent a great storm, and caused me to be swallowed by a great fish. I was in the creature's belly for three terrible days (see the damage to my skin). I should be dead, but He brought me up from my watery grave... and then, for the second time, He commanded me to come to you, with His message of judgment."
Christian, there should be such a difference in our lives that lends credence to the Gospel message. There will be, if we are gripped with the reality of our salvation. We, too, have come back from the dead (Rom 6:3-6; Titus 2:11-14).
5. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast,
and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne,
and he laid his robe from him, and covered [him] with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 And he caused [it] to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh
by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing:
let them not feed, nor drink water:
8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God:
yea, let them turn every one from his evil way,
and from the violence that [is] in their hands.
9 Who can tell [if] God will turn and repent,
and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
...the people of Nineveh believed God...-
They demonstrated their belief in His message of judgment, by fasting and wearing sackcloth. Both acts are expressions of mourning, grief and repentance.
...from the greatest of them even to the least of them.-
It is estimated that the population of Nineveh was about 1 million, at that time. If all of them believed and repented, this is the greatest recorded revival in history. When Peter preached his first sermon, at Pentecost, 3,000 souls were saved. That was a great number. But it certainly was not all of the people who were in Jerusalem.
...the king of Nineveh... (certainly among the 'greatest' in the city)
  • took personal action: ...arose from his throne...covered him with sackcloth and sat in ashes...
    The king humbled himself, and acknowledged that the message from God was true, and that His judgment was right.
  • made national proclamation: decree... (not only of the king but also of the nobles)...
    • let neither man nor beast... feed nor drink water...-
      They engaged in severe fasting, completely setting aside the necessities of life, in acknowledgement of a greater existential threat (the declared judgment of God).
    • let man and beast be covered with sackcloth...-
      They gave themselves to unmistakable mourning and humbling, in acknowledgement that judgment was due.
    • ...and cry mightily unto God...- The city joined in concerted prayer to God, for mercy.
    • ...let them turn everyone from... evil... violence...-
      They demonstrated sincere repentance by forsaking acknowledged sin.
    • Who can tell if God will turn and repent... that we perish not?
      'Salvation is of the LORD,' not from any other source (Jon 2:8,9). But salvation is not deserved by sinners, and cannot be taken for granted. The LORD is sovereign. Salvation is granted on His terms, according to His mercy, to those whose hearts have truly turned to Him (see 1:6,14; Joel 2:13,14; Amos 5:14,15). The LORD sees through the external appearances of repentance and good works, to the inward thoughts and desires.
           According to His sovereign will, the LORD has provided one all-sufficient sacrifice, to purge sinful hearts, through the death and resurrection of Christ. Therefore, in the NT, there is no uncertainty in the salvation which is by faith in Him, for those who believe (eg., John 1:11-13; 1:29; 3:36; Rom 1:16; 8:1; Heb 10:7-10).
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way;
and God repented of the evil,
that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did [it] not.
...God saw their works...
Salvation is not granted on the basis of our works, but on the basis of our heart attitude toward Him. Do I believe His Word? Does my heart respond to His Word, by disavowing my sin and yielding to His will? As mentioned above, in the NT, salvation is by faith. But saving faith (within the heart) is demonstrated by an outward change of life (Eph 2:8-10; Titus 3:3-8; Jam 2:18).
...God repented of the evil {HB=ra', trouble, calamity}...
The LORD does not change (Mal 3:6). He is absolutely faithful to His Word. His Word tells us that He hates sin, but it also tells us that He does not desire that men should perish. He deals one way with those who believe His Word and submit to His righteousness, and another way with those who reject His Word and continue in their sinful rebellion against Him (Eze 18:20-24). The LORD does not change His mind. But when a sinful man changes his mind and turns to follow God's way, the LORD is free to deal with him accordingly. The same principle applies to sinful nations that humble themselves in repentance before the LORD (Jer 18:7-10).
     When the Ninevites repented of their wickedness, the LORD withheld the destruction of which they had been warned (v.4). However, Nineveh would soon forget and go back to their old ways. A hundred fifty years after Jonah, Assyria would exercise the cruelties for which they were infamous, when they carried the northern kingdom of Israel captive. Around that time, the prophet Nahum foretold the destruction of Nineveh (Nah 1:1-3; 3:7). Nineveh was destroyed by Babylon, about 100 years after Nahum wrote.

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