Jonah Chapter 3: Nineveh Repents

Oct 28th, 2009 | By | Category: Jonah, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Jonah Chapter 3:  Nineveh Repents

Jonah 3:1 And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying,

Jonah 3:2 Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.

Jonah 2:10, the last verse of chapter 2, should really start chapter 3. Immediately after the great fish vomited out Jonah back in Israel, the “word of the LORD” came to him. God said, “Arise, go to Nineveh, and preach what I will then instruct you to say.” In other words, God would later give Jonah the message to deliver.

Jonah 3:3 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 obeyed, for he had learned the lesson well. The great city of Nineveh was a long way from Israel. Moreover, Nineveh was so large that it took a preacher three days to cover the whole city, that is, to go from one side to the other.

When we consider Jonah from the standpoint of representing The Christ, Head and body, the three days represent the fifth, sixth, and seventh “days” from Jesus’ baptism at Jordan to the completion of the Church. In the type, the Ninevites became converted, but in the antitype, the destruction of the nominal system will precede the conversion of the people. The ministry of the Church will be successful eventually, in due time. Nineveh pictures Christendom, to whom the feet members, the Elijah class, the John the Baptist class, will give a smiting message of reproof.

Jonah 3:4 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.

Jonah went a day’s journey into Nineveh and began to preach, shouting like a town crier: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown [destroyed].” This is the message God wanted Jonah to deliver. It took the prophet a long time to get to Nineveh, and when he arrived, he was instructed what to say. The fact that Jonah shouted out of conviction and was very positive in his warning shows there was a worthwhile quality in him despite his prejudices. His strong voice of authority would have impressed the people as truth.

Because Nineveh repented, the city was not destroyed in the literal 40-day time frame.

However, the “forty days” were important from another standpoint, for, using the principle of a day for a year, Nineveh was destroyed 40 years later (Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6). Thus the city got a temporary reprieve because of the repentance.

From the perspective of our interest in chronology and prophecy, the great cities of the Bible start with Babylon. Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, preceded Babylon, which was the next or succeeding empire. The point is that while only five universal empires were shown in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the great image, there were actually about eight universal empires. When Daniel prophesied, he started with, “Thou, O king [Nebuchadnezzar], art a king of kings [the head of gold]: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom” (Dan. 2:37,38).

Jonah 3:5 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.

Jonah 3:6 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.

Q: Word of Jonah’s being vomited out of the great fish somehow reached Nineveh. Wouldn’t the fact that the Ninevites worshipped the fish help to emphasize that the message was coming from the true God?

A: Yes. As an illustration, when John the Baptist came from the wilderness clothed with camel’s  skin and girt with a leather belt and preached, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” the Israelites associated him with Elijah because God had said, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5,6; Matt. 3:1,2,4). In other words, when John the Baptist appeared from the desert with the clothing of one in the wilderness like Elijah, that association helped to create an impact on Israel. In fact, the impact was so great that when Jesus, later in his ministry, asked the chief priests and elders, “Did John the Baptist lie?” the religious leaders feared to answer (Matt. 21:23-27). If they said “yes,” the people would realize they did not recognize John the Baptist as a prophet. If they said “no,” they would have to accept Jesus.

With regard to the account here in Jonah, the basic meaning of the word nin is “fish.” The design of the hats of Roman Catholic bishops, which are conical in shape and split with a “mouth,” goes back to Babylonian days to represent the fish. And with the Philistines, Dagon was the fish god. Therefore, the wearing of a headdress in either the Catholic or the Philistine religion came from the thought of the word “fish.” Evidently, news of Jonah’s having been swallowed by a great fish and then being vomited out on land reached Nineveh prior to the prophet’s arrival.

We suggested that the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land at Joppa, the point of origin of his flight. Perhaps someone actually saw Jonah being deposited there, and the citizens of Joppa would have witnessed Jonah’s miraculous survival. From there, the startling news would have spread, eventually getting to Nineveh one way or another.

The king of Nineveh would have instituted the fast. He arose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. All of the people of the city fasted, “from the greatest of them [the king] even to the least of them [the common people].” They all believed God. In other words, verses 5 and 6 are not sequential, for the king did not follow the lead of the people but, rather, the reverse was true. He initiated the fast.

Q: Were any other factors involved in the success of Jonah’s message? For him to go into a strange city and utter the message “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” was most unusual.

A: As some writers have suggested, the Ninevites apparently had a tradition that their messiah would be a messenger from the fish god, which they worshipped. Hearing of Jonah’s experience with the great fish, they connected the two events. Also, the very fact that the account states, “So the people of Nineveh believed God,” indicates they had had a previous premonition based upon what they felt was a message from their god.

If we had been in Jonah’s place, first being in the belly of the whale and then going, at the Lord’s instruction the second time, to preach to Nineveh, we would speak with power and emphasis. Trying to exonerate ourselves from our earlier disobedience, we would now speak in earnest. Thus Jonah must have delivered the message with great conviction.

Comment: Like John the Baptist, Jonah would have attracted attention by saying, “Repent!”

Comment: Jonah may have used his previous experience as part of his message. For example, “I thought not to come to you with a judgment message from God, but I was providentially swallowed by a great fish and vomited forth so that I would deliver the message.”

Reply: To present his message in that fashion would certainly have added conviction. When the people saw that John the Baptist had a simple, meager diet of locusts dipped in honey and that he wore rough clothing, they realized he was an ascetic—so devoted to God that he denied himself good clothing and rich food. John’s lifestyle gave credence to his message. Evidently, Jonah spoke with great conviction, which added power to his message.

Jonah 3:7 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:

Jonah 3:8 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.

Jonah 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

The Ninevites now believed in the supreme Deity, and the people, from the king on down, followed Jonah’s advice. Imagine, even the animals were clothed in sackcloth! Neither man nor beast was to eat or drink anything for the length of the fast. What an example! No wonder Jesus said that the men of Nineveh, who repented at the preaching of Jonah, would condemn the generation of Jews at the First Advent for failing to accept Jesus, “a greater than Jonas” (Matt. 12:41). With heathen Nineveh proclaiming a fast to God, it is hard to understand why

Israel today has not proclaimed a national day of fasting in connection with the Arab threat.

Not doing so shows the irreligious condition of the majority of the people.

The king of Nineveh meant business—he did not just give lip service. Not providing food or drink to man or beast during the fast manifested sincerity. The people recognized they had done wrong and deserved judgment, but they hoped that God would change His mind and extend mercy if their repentance was sincere and thorough. “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”

“Sackcloth” was like a burlap bag with holes cut out for the head and arms. The person was naked underneath so that the material would be scratchy. In addition, the people put dirt on their heads, making themselves unsightly, and sat in the dirt (ashes). There was much mourning in Nineveh. A counterpart for the Christian is a real prayer of supplication, strongly showing God the sincerity of the repentance.

Much commotion came from the hungry animals. The setting, with sights and sounds, has been photographically recorded for viewing in the Kingdom. The showing will be educational, inspiring, and TRUE. Incidentally, in the plague upon Egypt in which the firstborn of each family and the cattle died, the reason for involving the animals was so that every Egyptian house would mourn, including those families who had no son. Because of bigotry and the pride of man, events in history are sometimes erased in order to hide the facts. For example, no record of the ten plagues appears on any of the monuments in Egypt.

Q: How long did the Ninevites and their animals fast?

A: As far as we know, there is nothing in history to indicate the length of the fast, but it probably lasted at least three days and perhaps a week.

Jonah 3:10 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.

Jonah’s observation was that “God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them [the Ninevites]; and he did it not.” Jonah showed his sense of righteous indignation in feeling that the Ninevites were worthy of judgment and that they should not be excused. In some respects, this type of antipathy is in the nominal Church systems or in those who possess the nominal Church perspective. There is vindictiveness in their not seeing that God can deal with someone else. And there is opposition to the thought that the people will have a future opportunity in the Kingdom.

God does not change (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17), so how is this verse explained? Verse 10 does not mean that God is fickle or emotional but that the judgment was based on the heart condition of the people of Nineveh. Because the people turned from their evil ways, God extended mercy.

Verse 10 also shows that God would rather save and forgive than destroy. The purpose of judgment is to effect repentance or teach a lesson. God always forewarns in some way prior to a judgment being rendered. This verse exposes the smallness of character of many Jews as manifested in the hardness of their hearts toward Gentiles. A side lesson is that it is our duty as consecrated Christians to warn the professed people of God about the coming judgments.

Comment: Jonah had proclaimed that Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days and did not mention repentance (verse 4). There was a double test on (1) Nineveh and (2) Jonah. Jonah said that God “did it [the judgment] not.” We would counter by saying the Lord did bring judgment but not at that time. Thus the last half of verse 10 is Jonah’s perspective, for he did not see the judgment occur at the end of the literal 40 days.

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