Jonah Chapter Three

 

Read Jonah 3:1-4 – Jonah Preaches to Nineveh

 

v.1-2 “AND THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME UNTO JONAH THE SECOND TIME, SAYING, ARISE, GO UNTO NINEVEH, THAT GREAT CITY, AND PREACH UNTO IT THE PREACHING THAT I BID THEE.”

 

God goes back to Jonah after his deliverance to reinforce the mission that he had given him before.  He is to go to the city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria and preach there what God directed him to preach, specifically repentance from their evil.

The city of Nineveh was located in the far north eastern part of the country of Assyria in what is today northern Iraq near the modern city of Mosul.  Much of the country of Assyria then stretched south and west of the capital all the way to the Mediterranean Sea including most of modern Syria, parts of Lebanon and northern Israel.  The city was located on the Khosr River just north of it’s junction with the Tigris River.  By ancient standards it was a long journey from Samaria, the capital of Israel.

 

v.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.”

 

So Jonah gets himself up and travels to Nineveh to carry out God’s command.  Scripture tells us that this was “AN EXCEEDING GREAT CITY” and that it was literally “THREE DAYS’ JOURNEY” across it.  The following is from my Dickson Study Bible concerning Nineveh:

 

“According to the description of Diodorus Siculus, a pagan historian, the circumference of Nineveh was sixty miles.  It was surrounded by walls one hundred feet high, and so broad that three chariots might drive abreast upon them, having 1500 towers 200 feet in height.  This writer, knowing nothing of what Nahum and Zephaniah had predicted concerning Nineveh, wrote a historical account of its destruction which confirmed all that the prophets had said.  In its treatment of captives Assyria practiced every form of cruelty, and Nineveh was as famous for its wickedness as for its magnificence.”

 

So it was a great city indeed and as a result of Jonah’s preaching was preserved for a period of time, approximately another 150 years.  The country of Assyria was used by God numerous times to punish both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah and eventually to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel.  Ultimately it was also destroyed as we will study in the prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah.

 

v.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.”

 

God’s message is that this tremendous city; the capital of a powerful nation must repent of its evil or be destroyed.  Jonah walks into the city a “DAY’S JOURNEY”; probably about 20 miles and starts proclaiming God’s message.  Just as God brought destruction on the earth for forty days during the great flood, he gives Nineveh a period of forty days to repent.

 

Read Jonah 3:5-10Nineveh Repents

 

v.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.”

 

Though pagan in nature, though we have no record of God’s interaction with most of the peoples of this earth after Israel came into existence, Nineveh knew what to do about their sin.  First of all we see the power of the Word of God, just as the apostle tells us:

 

Romans 1:16 “FOR I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST: FOR IT IS THE POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION TO EVERY ONE THAT BELIEVETH; TO THE JEW FIRST, AND ALSO TO THE GREEK.”

 

The people of Nineveh, though a cruel and evil people, though worshippers of idols and gods other than Almighty God; they still believed also in God, the Creator and Ruler of the universe.  So when his messenger comes to them with a message from Almighty God, they hear and heed as all men should.  Their repentance was such that even Jesus used them as an example to the Jews of his day:

 

Matthew 12:41 “THE MEN OF NINEVEH SHALL RISE IN JUDGMENT WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SHALL CONDEMN IT: BECAUSE THEY REPENTED AT THE PREACHING OF JONAS; AND, BEHOLD, A GREATER THAN JONAS is HERE.”

 

v.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.”

 

Even the king of Assyria joined in the repentance and prayer lending his example to the people as he should as their leader.  He put aside his royal robes and dressed himself in sackcloth, a material that any of us that ever had contact with a toe sack knows about.  We can imagine the discomfort of dressing ourselves in this rough, scratchy burlap material.  They did so as a sign of humility before God. They did as Jeremiah told Judah to do in one of his sermons:

 

Jeremiah 6:26 “O DAUGHTER OF MY PEOPLE, GIRD thee WITH SACKCLOTH, AND WALLOW THYSELF IN ASHES: MAKE THEE MOURNING, as for AN ONLY SON, MOST BITTER LAMENTATION: FOR THE SPOILER SHALL SUDDENLY COME UPON US.”

 

v.7-8 “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: 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.”

 

Not only does the king repent himself in sackcloth and ashes but using the power of his office he decrees that all of the people do so as well.  When Judah was set upon by the Moabites and Ammonites, Jehoshaphat did the same thing:

 

II Chronicles 20:3-4 “AND JEHOSHAPHAT FEARED, AND SET HIMSELF TO SEEK THE LORD, AND PROCLAIMED A FAST THROUGHOUT ALL JUDAH.  AND JUDAH GATHERED THEMSELVES TOGETHER, TO ASK help OF THE LORD: EVEN OUT OF ALL THE CITIES OF JUDAH THEY CAME TO SEEK THE LORD.”

 

Their king is like the ships master in Jonah 1:6; he wants everyone to join in the petitions to God to remove them from their danger.

Not only are the people to be dressed in sackcloth and fast without food or water but all of the animals as well. Then all of the people were to call upon God just as the prophet Isaiah in his preaching to Judah and Jerusalem told them to do:

 

Isaiah 1:16-20 “WASH YOU, MAKE YOU CLEAN; PUT AWAY THE EVIL OF YOUR DOINGS FROM BEFORE MINE EYES; CEASE TO DO EVIL; LEARN TO DO WELL; SEEK JUDGMENT, RELIEVE THE OPPRESSED, JUDGE THE FATHERLESS, PLEAD FOR THE WIDOW.  COME NOW, AND LET US REASON TOGETHER, SAITH THE LORD: THOUGH YOUR SINS BE AS SCARLET, THEY SHALL BE AS WHITE AS SNOW; THOUGH THEY BE RED LIKE CRIMSON, THEY SHALL BE AS WOOL.  IF YE BE WILLING AND OBEDIENT, YE SHALL EAT THE GOOD OF THE LAND: BUT IF YE REFUSE AND REBEL, YE SHALL BE DEVOURED WITH THE SWORD: FOR THE MOUTH OF THE LORD HATH SPOKEN it.

 

v.9 “WHO CAN TELL if GOD WILL TURN AND REPENT, AND TURN AWAY FROM HIS FIERCE ANGER, THAT WE PERISH NOT?”

 

Their purpose was to persuade God to turn and repent from the destruction that he promised to bring upon them.  The message of Jonah in verse 4 is that Nineveh will be destroyed, nothing is recorded there about repentance; but the Ninevites know that if they repent, if they petition God he just might remove this curse, this punishment from them.  David begged God for the life of the son born as a result of his adultery with Bathsheba saying:

 

“... Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” II Samuel 12:22

 

Nineveh begs God for their very existence, hoping and praying that God would not destroy them.

 

v.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 will forgive even the most evil of men if they will but turn to him in repentance and obedience.  He promised Judah:

 

Jeremiah 18:8 “IF THAT NATION, AGAINST WHOM I HAVE PRONOUNCED, TURN FROM THEIR EVIL, I WILL REPENT OF THE EVIL THAT I THOUGHT TO DO UNTO THEM.”

 

God even forgave Ahab, the weak and evil king of Israel for a time:

 

I Kings 21:27-29 “AND IT CAME TO PASS, WHEN AHAB HEARD THOSE WORDS, THAT HE RENT HIS CLOTHES, AND PUT SACKCLOTH UPON HIS FLESH, AND FASTED, AND LAY IN SACKCLOTH, AND WENT SOFTLY. AND THE WORD OF THE LORD CAME TO ELIJAH THE TISHBITE, SAYING, SEEST THOU HOW AHAB HUMBLETH HIMSELF BEFORE ME?  BECAUSE HE HUMBLETH HIMSELF BEFORE ME, I WILL NOT BRING THE EVIL IN HIS DAYS: but IN HIS SON’S DAYS WILL I BRING THE EVIL UPON HIS HOUSE.”

 

Just as he forgave the sins of those in Corinth that turned at Paul’s preaching and repented; forgave them sins that caused Him to destroy other people who refused to hear his words:

 

I Corinthians 6:11 “AND SUCH WERE SOME OF YOU: BUT YE ARE WASHED, BUT YE ARE SANCTIFIED, BUT YE ARE JUSTIFIED IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, AND BY THE SPIRIT OF OUR GOD.”

 

So Nineveh was spared.  Scripture tells us that God later used them to punish the disobedient of the northern kingdom of Israel and ultimately to destroy them.  Secular history tells us that Nineveh continued for about another 150 years before God destroyed Nineveh and the Assyrian nation also.