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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 3

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-10

Chapter 3

So the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh ( Jonah 3:1-3 ),

God brings us back so many times to the place of failure, and that is where we start again. I call it oftentimes back to zero. I wonder how many times God has brought me back to zero, back to that place of failure and then He says, "Okay." And there is where we start again. I can't really go on until I conquer in this area of my failure. I can't continue on in the progress of God in my life until God has worked out this particular area. And when He brings me back to it, then I'm facing the same issues again, but this time with obedience to the Lord and then I move on.

So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey ( Jonah 3:3 ).

That is, it would take you three days to walk from one end to the other.

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. So the people of Nineveh believed God ( Jonah 3:4-5 ),

What a remarkable thing! Jonah, no doubt, in his heart was not happy with what he was doing. This is something that is revealed further on in the text. Jonah's anger at God for not destroying Nineveh. He still hated these people. He still didn't want God to work in their lives. He was only there because it was preferable to dissolving in the gastric juices of the whale. Notice there was no hope laid out in his message at all, no call to repentance, no loving exhortations, just a message of judgment. "Forty days, and Nineveh is going to be overthrown." But the people believed God much to Jonah's chagrin.

they proclaimed a fast, they put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word had come to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid off his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and he sat in ashes. 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 ( Jonah 3:5-8 ).

What a tremendous call to the people to repentance, even to the animals, "Don't feed them. And as the cattle are lowing for hunger, let it be as a cry unto God for mercy." So the cattle as they are getting hungry, you can hear them through the streets-mooo. Let that be a cry unto God for mercy. The general, total repentance of the people as they were there in sackcloth and crying out to God, repenting and crying out unto God for mercy.

Now the second reference that Jesus made to Nineveh was as He was talking to the scribes and the Pharisees and He said, "The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment with this generation and they will condemn it. For they repented at the preaching of Jonah and behold a greater than Jonah is here" ( Matthew 12:41 ). The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of this angry prophet who only preached the judgment of God. Here Jesus, the Son of God, had come declaring to the people the love of God, encouraging people to experience God's love and to come to God's love, but yet, they did not repent. So the men of Nineveh in the day of judgment will be standing, and they will be pointing a finger at this generation, those who have not repented, those who have not sought God, and they will be condemning this generation for they repented at the preaching of Jonah. Repent they did, complete sackcloth, even to the king laying aside his robes and putting on this itchy sackcloth, putting it over their animals, everybody joining in this citywide repentance.

On what basis did they repent? Jonah didn't say, "Repent or destruction comes." He didn't preach repentance at all. In fact, he didn't want them to repent. He became angry when they did repent. One of the only preachers in history who was hoping that he would not have a successful ministry. But they repented on the slim basis of,

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

Who can tell? Maybe if we repent God will have mercy. We don't know. No promise of mercy. No promise of grace to these people, only a message of judgment, and yet, on just the slimmest of threads they were willing to hang their hope. Who can tell? Maybe. Hey, you don't have to hang your faith or your hope on that slim thread. I can tell you tonight that if you will repent God is gracious, God is merciful, God will forgive. You don't have to hang your hope on a maybe. I can assure you from the Word of God tonight that God will forgive if you will repent and turn from your wicked ways and turn from your sinful path. God will be gracious and merciful unto you and you will be washed and cleansed of your sin and be made a child of God. I declare that unto you on the basis of God's unchanging Word.

These people did not have that kind of a hope. They did not have that kind of a message. All they had was a maybe. Who knows? Maybe. And on that slimmest of threads they hung their hope as they turned and repented.

And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil ( Jonah 3:10 ),

Now, again, this is the problem we have of describing the action of God. All we have is human terms. God is the infinite eternal God, but we are the finite man. And as we talk to each other we have to use terms that are dealing in the finite realm of man because we don't have the infinite terms, and there are things of which we cannot even speak, because there are not words or languages that even relate to these things that we could understand.

Jesus was trying to speak to Nicodemus concerning spiritual things and He finally said, "Look, Nicodemus, you're a teacher of the Jews and all and if I speak to you of earthly things and you cannot understand them, how in the world can I ever speak to you of heavenly things?"

Paul the apostle after his trip to heaven when he came back he said, "Hey, whether in the body or out of the body, I don't know, but I know I was caught up to the third heaven and I heard things that are impossible to describe. In fact, it would be a crime if I tried to describe them. It would be an injustice, because there aren't any words that can describe the ecstasy, the things that I felt, the things that I heard, the things that were there. It's impossible. Words have not been created or formed."

So that we are limited in talking about God to the finite terminology of man, so that when judgment did not come, the promised judgment, we have to use terms that apply to man, but are not truly applicable to God, because God does not change. "Behold God is not a man that He should lie, nor the Son of man that He should repent: hath He not spoken and shall He not make it good?" ( Numbers 23:19 ) "Behold I am the Lord God, I change not" ( Malachi 3:6 ), He has declared.

So here was an obvious change. The prophet had said, "Forty days and then comes destruction." The people all repented. The destruction did not come. So we in using our finite terms to describe it say, "Well, it repented God," or, "God changed and He did not destroy them." No, God knew all the time that they were going to repent, that's why He sent Jonah to them. God knew all the time that the judgment would not come. But yet, had they not repented, the judgment would have come. But God knows the end from the beginning. And you say, "Oh, but I can't understand it." Of course you can't, because you have only finite, limited understanding and God is infinite. God says, "My ways are not your ways: My ways are beyond your finding out." And so it's only an exercise of frustration to try to understand the full aspects of the character and nature of God. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Jonah 3". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/jonah-3.html. 2014.
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