Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, March 5th, 2024
the Third Week of Lent
There are 26 days til Easter!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Jonah 3

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-2


Jonah 3:2. Arise] J. might not imagine that God would send him again. But he appears to have some settled home, and an interval seems to have elapsed before the second commission, to give time for the report to spread. Preach] Lit. proclaim.


JONAH A SIGN TO THE NINEVITES.—Chap. Jonah 3:1, and Luke 11:30

Jonah would obey the second commission with renewed strength and Divine authority. He would appear in Nineveh as a sign, an outward proof of a Divine purpose in his life and work (cf. Luke 11:30).

I. A sign of God’s mercy towards men. As in a mirror, we see much of God and men, of sin and grace, in the history of Jonah. God proved that he was reconciled.

1. In forgiving sin.

2. In restoring a backslider.

3. In reinstating a runaway prophet. If we abuse the confidence of our fellow-creatures, they seldom forgive and employ us again. But God freely forgives, restores to favour after rebellion, and grants commission to unworthy servants. “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins; return unto me, for I have redeemed thee.”

II. A sign of God’s inflexible justice towards men. God’s servant must be punished and corrected. The sincerity of his penitence, and the honour of his God, must be vindicated. Nineveh must be threatened, and her sin forsaken. Pardon gives no licence to disobedience. Neither the righteous nor the wicked can sin with impunity. God will be glorified in the life of his people, and the law magnified in the destiny of nations.

III. A sign of God’s unchangeable purpose towards men. God’s plans are made in wisdom, and must be accomplished. He does not alter them to gratify the whims and caprice of man. “He is of one mind, and who can turn him?” Nineveh must be warned, and Jonah must go. All pleas and excuses are in vain. God gives to every one his work, and expects him to do it. If he runs away he must be fetched back. Treachery and cowardice God has determined to scourge. “He that knoweth his Master’s will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”

THE SECOND CALL.—Jonah 3:1-2

If Jonah doubted whether after sin like his he would ever be restored to favour and service again, he had not long to wait for an answer; for “The word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time.” This second call was—

I. Divinely given. The prophet might be ready, but he had need to be certain that God required him to go. If we are willing, we require instruction in duty. The spring of action is not mere religious feeling, but apprehension of God’s word. Emotion will not ensure consistent life, without faith in Divine truth. God had to speak again. “The first verse,” says Luther, “is therefore written that we may bear in mind that nothing is to be undertaken without God’s word and command. For the first command of God having been violated by disobedience, had not God renewed it, Jonah would not have known whether he should do it or not.”

II. Urgent to immediate service. “Arise, go,” are terms of incitement, and indicate that he was not girded for work, but resting in contentment and ease.

1. The duty was imperative. The more quickly we perform, the better for our souls. Delays are signs of distrust, and impeachment of Divine wisdom. We must prove the sincerity of our profession by prompt obedience. “Be ready to every good work.”

2. The communication was suspended. The exact message seems not to be given at first. Immediate departure to Nineveh was required, and further revelations were delayed. God thus cultivates the dependence and tries the faith of his servants. His own authority in prescribing duty must be sufficient. His simple word is entitled to respect and compliance. Present duty should be enough for us. God will give enlarged views, greater strength, and more consolation, if we practise what we already know. “If any man will do the will of God, he shall know,” &c.

III. Specific in directions.

1. The destination was still the same. “To Nineveh, that great city.” The trial is not abated, the dangers are not hidden. He is again reminded that it was a great, proud, and heathen city, to which he was sent. A city whose inhabitants were pre-eminently wicked and violent, and whom he was to threaten with speedy and complete ruin. But God had given Jonah proofs of his love, and Jonah should give not less evidence of his obedience.

2. The message would be given him. “The denunciation that I shall speak to thee.” He was not to concern himself about his message and its results. That would be given to him when he was ready for it. He is to add nothing, nor diminish nothing. The Christian minister is not left to his own discretion, nor must he study to gratify the taste of the people. He must preach the Word—the message from God to him—earnestly and faithfully. If he tries to explain away or soften down what is severe to the ungodly, “he takes upon himself a double responsibility—responsibility for the salvation of the souls entrusted to him, and responsibility for his own disobedience.” Many may speak to us smooth things, but we must not please men, for how can we then be servants of God? Jonah must be faithful:

(1) In the matter of his preaching. The unwelcome message must be delivered. Nineveh was to be denounced for sin.

(2) In the manner of his preaching. He was to “cry.” Cry in compassion for perishing men, as a proof of his own sincerity, to rouse a careless and sinful people. “Proclaim the preaching that I shall bid thee.”

(3) A second call summoned him. Ingratitude and failure had disgraced his conduct. But God had chastised and forgiven him. His experience was a preparation for service. Before we can proclaim mercy to man we must receive it ourselves. Profound repentance and perfect restoration to Divine favour will qualify us for a proper discharge of duty. Repeated acts of grace to us are a ground of hope for others. Severe trials and deep sorrow are often forerunners of great trust and high distinction. “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”


Jonah 3:1. God does not utterly reject him who has failed once; but he rather gives him a new opportunity of correcting former faults [Lange].

The most prominent lesson in this verse is that God gives to men successive opportunities for the accomplishment of their life-work. We are not crushed by the weight of our first sin or failure. If so, few would have anything like hope for the future. Life would be a dreary foreboding, lest any message committed to our care should be neglected, and entail final condemnation. The world would be full of wretched mortals, upon whom would rest the woe of unfulfilled mission [Exell].

Jonah 3:2. Jonah would resume his work with a new obedience.

1. As a sinful man, whose sin had been eminently forgiven. He would accept his mission in a spirit of gratitude, reverence, and submission.

2. As a prayerful man, whose prayer had been eminently answered. Prayer answered was (a) a testimony to him of his sincerity and integrity; (b) It would inspire him with the assurance that he was not returning alone—that he had One who would carry him through all danger, and give him success in his work.

3. As an afflicted man, whose affliction had been eminently blessed. Like the Psalmist, before he was afflicted, he went astray, but was chastened and subdued. He knew the “goodness and severity of God,” and was fitted to teach them to others [H. Martin].

The preaching. Nothing should be more sacred to the preacher of God’s word than truth, and simplicity, and inviolable sanctity in delivering it [Pusey]. The grand doctrines of the New Testament are eternally fixed. We must preach them, all, faithfully and fully; should we alter, add, or diminish, we do not preach unto the people the preaching which the Lord bids us. If, instead of this, we preach another gospel, we shall bring down upon us a curse and not a blessing [Jones].


Jonah 3:1-3. This is substantially the same commission, and yet different. The “second” call to a man is never exactly the same as the first. The third is never a repetition of the second. Another tone is in the voice of the speaker, firmer or milder. Other shades of meaning are in the message. If it is “the second time,” still more if it is the seventh time, or the seventy-and-seventh time, there will be changes in the message corresponding with changes which time has brought in circumstances and in character. It may seem a refinement, but, properly understood, it is but a simple truth, that he never receives exactly the same command or invitation from God more than once. “If slighted once, the season fair can never be renewed” [Raleigh].

A great city. Nineveh covered a great extent of ground. Historians say that its walls were 480 stadia, or 60 miles, in circumference. It was great in population. Jonah mentions 120,000 who could not discern between their right hand and their left. It was great in splendour and power. “The researches in the mounds have astonished Europe with the barbaric grandeur of the statuary, and the full details of life and history sculptured on marble, or stamped in arrow-headed characters upon the bricks.” But it was morally great to God on account of the human souls, and their spiritual condition. In God’s sight, grandeur, territory, and architectural beauty, are nothing to immortal souls, and the influence which they exert. The material worlds, the sun with its satellites, are not so great as a man. Try to realize how great you are in the sight of God.

Verses 3-4


Jonah 3:3. Went] I am made wiser by correction. Great city] Lit. great to God. Some great through God, i.e. through his favour; others great before God. “It was most natural to refer the size of a city, of which the Hebrews could form no adequate conception, to the Divine estimation. I have accordingly rendered the words literally, as our preposition to is often used to note opinion, or estimate” [Henderson]. The Hebrews expressed superlative ideas by using the name of God, e.g. “mountains of God,” “cedars of God,” &c. Three days] in circumference, or the length of Jonah’s journey through it. Expositors differ.

Jonah 3:4. A day’s journey] commenced, when he found opportunity to preach. No time to loiter, nor gratify curiosity. Cried] as a herald. Forty days] The measure of delays in God’s visitations. A number of frequent use in Scripture. Overth.] Lit. overturned (evertere), turning upside down, total destruction, as Sodom (Genesis 19:25; Isaiah 1:7).



God’s chastisement brings forth fruit, and secures dutiful obedience. Weak parents correct their children, and leave them to please themselves afterwards. The results of discipline are lost. Chastisement is an evil unless it produces obedience. “Happy is the man whom God correcteth.”

I. Jonah’s obedience was prompt. The command was “arise,” and “Jonah arose.” He consulted not his own interests as before. Impressed with the mercies of God, and the obligation of his vows, he promptly obeys. He goes in no restless, turbulent spirit. He is hearty and enthusiastic. We are commonly reluctant, especially when danger threatens. We are too formal and time-serving. True, ready obedience to God is liberty and blessedness. “I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.”

II. Jonah’s obedience was complete. He neither delayed nor stopped short of his destination. “He went to Nineveh.” When he got there he lingered not at the gates, nor gratified curiosity by surveying the lofty towers, the gorgeous temples, and the princely palaces. Neither did he modify his message, nor falter in its delivery. Before the mansion of the rich, and the doors of the poor, in the marts, and in the streets, he gave the alarm (Proverbs 1:20). Like Caleb, we must follow the Lord fully (Numbers 14:24), or wholly. This requires (a) decision of character, (b) unreserved obedience, (c) undaunted fortitude, (d) unwearied perseverance. “My foot hath held his steps, his ways have I kept and not declined.”

III. Jonah’s obedience was divinely directed. “According to the word of the Lord.” Fear, self-will, and prejudice had influenced him before; now God’s law is supreme in his heart and life. Religion is the same now; for no man can guide himself, nor be a law to another. We require a rule, (a) Divine in its sanctions, (b) practicable in its requirements, (c) plain in its directions, and (d) beneficial in its results. God’s “commands are not grievous.” but easy and delightful; “in keeping them there is a great reward.”

“His adorable will let us gladly fulfil,
And our talents improve,
By the patience of hope, and the labour of love.”


Jonah 3:3. According, &c. Did you ever pass through a painful crisis, a sore probation of patience, faith, or constancy, keeping in view all the while that your purpose and procedure, your temper and policy, should be “according to the word of the Lord”? And did you fail? No; and you never will fail while the desire of your heart, and the doing of your hand, are ruled and ordered thus. This is the essence of Christianity—the essence of faith [Martin].

Great city. Great cities have manifested the pride of man, in their erection, enlargement, strength, and splendour; the corruption of human nature, in the enormous mass of sin which they foster, having often proved moral pests; vortexes swallowing up the wealth of a nation, and vomiting out the crimes of mankind; and the power, justice, and holiness of God, in their total annihilation (Nahum 3:8; Isaiah 13:19; Ezekiel 27:32-36) [Sibthorp]. Nineveh, the city of God. God cares also for the heathen (2 Kings 5:1; Jeremiah 25:9) [Luther].

Jonah 3:4. Speak promptly, and delay not. In God’s kingdom every moment is precious. The time when he puts his word in thy mouth is the right time; not that which thou fanciest for thyself [Lange].

1. God is able to reach and overthrow the greatest persons or places when he has a controversy against them.
2. The Lord often sees it fit, in great wisdom, to conceal any thoughts of love to a people, and holds out only threatenings and severity to induce them more seriously to repent [Hutcheson].

If God had meant unconditionally to overthrow them, he would have overthrown them without notice. Yet, always denotes some longsuffering of God” [Pusey].


Jonah 3:1-3. This is substantially the same commission, and yet different. The “second” call to a man is never exactly the same as the first. The third is never a repetition of the second. Another tone is in the voice of the speaker, firmer or milder. Other shades of meaning are in the message. If it is “the second time,” still more if it is the seventh time, or the seventy-and-seventh time, there will be changes in the message corresponding with changes which time has brought in circumstances and in character. It may seem a refinement, but, properly understood, it is but a simple truth, that he never receives exactly the same command or invitation from God more than once. “If slighted once, the season fair can never be renewed” [Raleigh].

A great city. Nineveh covered a great extent of ground. Historians say that its walls were 480 stadia, or 60 miles, in circumference. It was great in population. Jonah mentions 120,000 who could not discern between their right hand and their left. It was great in splendour and power. “The researches in the mounds have astonished Europe with the barbaric grandeur of the statuary, and the full details of life and history sculptured on marble, or stamped in arrow-headed characters upon the bricks.” But it was morally great to God on account of the human souls, and their spiritual condition. In God’s sight, grandeur, territory, and architectural beauty, are nothing to immortal souls, and the influence which they exert. The material worlds, the sun with its satellites, are not so great as a man. Try to realize how great you are in the sight of God.

Jonah 3:4. Yet forty days. Delay in the execution of sentence is sometimes an encouragement to sin (Ecclesiastes 8:11); but gives space for repentance, and displays the long-suffering of God (see Exodus 34:5-6; Psalms 103:8; Joel 2:13-14; 1 Peter 3:20).

Verses 4-10


Jonah 3:5. Believed] Lit. in God, in his word; trusted in him. Sackcloth] The attire of deep mourning, irritating to the body. Fasting and sackcloth customary in humiliation (1 Kings 21:27; Joel 1:13). Penitence universal.

Jonah 3:6. Word] The matter; report of Jonah’s preaching, and its effects in the city. Nineveh never so moved and shaken. Laid aside] The king approved the proclaimed fast, disdained not to follow the example of the people, but humbled himself with them in common peril. Some think that Sardanapalus was the king, whose motto was—“Eat, drink, play: after death there is no pleasure.”

Jonah 3:7. Nobles] The government of Nineveh was not an absolute monarchy. The nobles probably originated the decree, and the king confirmed it (cf. Daniel 6:0). Beast] “It was no arbitrary, nor wanton, nor careless act of the king of Nineveh to make the dumb animals share in the common fast. It proceeded probably from an indistinct consciousness that God cared for them also and that they were not guilty” [Elzaz].

Jonah 3:8.] Two remedies suggested. Cry] to God in prayer. Turn] Reform; for prayer, without amendment of life, is a mockery (Psalms 56:8; Isaiah 58:6). Violence] Nineveh’s chief sin (Nahum 3:1). The Assyrian records are nothing but a register of military campaigns, spoliations, and cruelties [Layard]. “Nineveh and Babylon.”

Jonah 3:9. Tell] (cf. Joel 2:14): to act on a mere possibility of mercy, an instance of strong faith in idolaters. We have better hope of pardon (Job 33:27; Jeremiah 31:18).

Jonah 3:10.] God saw and removed judgment threatened; but there was no change in him (Numbers 23:19; James 1:17). This repentance showed a susceptibility in the Ninevites for the word of God, and a willingness to forsake ungodly ways. They reprove and condemn many more highly privileged (Luke 11:32).



We linger not on the stir and excitement which the preaching of Jonah would create. Business would be suspended, and crowds would gather round him. The brief and alarming cry would toll forth, yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown. Here we have a description of Jonah’s ministry.

I. It was divinely suggested in its matter. “The preaching that I bid thee.” He carried no philosophy or scientific theories, no inventions of his own; but uttered the denunciation given him. The minister may not be specially guided like the prophet and the apostles, but a revelation is given from God. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” The mind of God is discovered in the Scriptures. Here “God speaks much, and man little,” says Chrysostom. We must preach not morality, but the gospel.

II. It was intensely earnest in its spirit. Jonah was no statue in the streets, but a living man. “The spirit and manner of a minister often affect more than the matter,” says Cecil. “To feel is the readiest way to the hearts of others.” “All men are orators when they feel; the language of the heart has an unction and an energy which no eloquence or sublimity can reach,” says Bishop Hopkins. The words of Channing are weighty—“Earnestness should characterize the ministry; and by this I mean, not a louder voice or a more vehement gesture; I mean no tricks of oratory; but a solemn conviction that religion is a great concern, and a solemn purpose that its claims shall be felt by others. The life and sensibility which we would spread should be strong in our own breasts. This is the only genuine, unfailing spring of an earnest ministry.” There must be no weakness of heart, no feebleness of effort. “Cry against it.”

III. It was wisely practical in its aim. Jonah intended and earnestly desired to produce a reformation of life. If the preacher is to be a man of power he must arrange his thoughts, point his language, and embue his spirit with unction. He must get at the consciences of men. An ancient father wept at the applause given to his sermons, felt that his words had not gone deep enough, and exclaimed, “Would to God they had rather gone away silent and thoughtful.” Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man.” The truth must be driven home, the heart searched, and men roused to repentance. The word must strike and stick. One remarks that “every action is done by the touch.” In preaching, this doctrine is true. Massillon’s hearers carried away the arrows fastened in their consciences, thought themselves to be singled out, and never regarded others. Peter’s audience “were pricked to the heart” by his earnest practical appeal.

IV. It was wonderfully successful in its results. Nineveh penitent is not only a splendid specimen of the power of the Divine word, but a wonderful achievement of an earnest man in proclaiming it. What Demosthenes did in the Athenian Senate, what Augustine, Chrysostom, and Luther achieved in days of old, may be done yet by the right men. The revivals of Pentecost, of Whitfield and Wesley, are not to be regarded as isolated facts beyond accomplishment now. The moral need is the same, and the word of God can satisfy it. Multitudes remain untouched by the most successful preacher. In our largest cities are people living in idleness and vice. The preacher must go forth to warn and urge men to repentance, lest while they “cry peace and safety, sudden destruction come upon them.”

“The great proclaimer, with a voice
More awful than the sound, of trumpet, cry’d
Repentance, and heaven’s kingdom nigh at hand
To all baptized” [Milton].


Jonah’s message was like a thunderbolt in the guilty city. It was a short, most impressive, and successful sermon. It produced results which the preaching of Noah for 120 years did not produce, and which have never been equalled since.

I. Nineveh warned. Jonah had no long address to give, nor many persuasions to offer. He had only to repeat one terrible denunciation. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh overthrown.”

1. The judgment was great. “Overthrown.” Overthrown by neighbouring nations whom they had made enemies by oppression? by conspiracy, revolt, and massacre within? by floods, fire, or brimstone from heaven? by earthquake shivering its defences, overturning its proud palaces, and burying everything in ruins? None can tell. God has evils to let loose, arrows in his quiver, which men know nothing of. A guilty conscience forebodes the worst of judgments. No plan can defend, and no city escape, when he determines to punish.

2. The judgment was imminent. Only “forty days.” It may begin before they are over, but destruction will be complete at the end of them. It is a fact that great cities and kingdoms have been unexpectedly and suddenly overthrown. Sodom and Gomorrah, Nineveh and Babylon, are solemn warnings in history. Shortness of time between threatening and execution should give weight to the message, and motives to repentance.

3. The judgment was morally necessary. Nineveh was reaping what she had sown. This death suspended over the heads of nearly a million people was not a physical nor political necessity. It was God’s righteous act and vindication of moral law. “The violence” of Nineveh demanded a moral check, a Divine judgment. “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”

“Justice, like lightning, ever should appear
To few men’s ruin, but to all men’s fear” [Swenam].

II. Nineveh reformed. Sometimes searching appeals, solemn warnings, and striking events, leave no influence behind them. But, in Nineveh, a revolution happened without bloodshed and strife, memorable in its history.

1. It was repentance springing from a right principle. They “believed God.” Believed in his existence and government over the universe; believed in his purpose and power to carry it out. They believed in his justice and mercy towards men. They believed Jonah’s word to be a message from God to them. The approaching judgment was real, and though no promise of mercy was expressed, yet they looked to God in faith. If men would believe in God, social corruption would be checked; selfishness and ambition would cease to rule; hatred, violence, and murder would be cured.

2. It was repentance encouraged by the royal court. Alarm and sorrow may fill the city, and the king and courtiers be exempt. But mighty potentates cannot always be secure. In the greatest despotism, a popular movement cannot be altogether disregarded. The word must come to the king. Truth will besiege the palace-gates, and the monarch who defies it will lose his kingdom and crown. This king was the most powerful and despotic of the day. But he is subdued by a greater power than his own. He joins the people in confession and prayer, sets an example in reformation, and robes himself in “the king-becoming graces.”

3. It was repentance prevalent in all ranks. “From the greatest of them even to the least;” “both man and beast” were influenced by the messenger. Kings and common people, serfs and priests, were moved, and bowed in humiliation before their offended God. The city was one in sin, and one in sorrow. Individual opinion and acts must be restrained for the common good. The earnest cries of the people, and the lowing of the hungry cattle, adds solemnity to the scene (Esther 4:1-4; 2 Chronicles 20:13). “Say unto the king and to the queen, Humble yourselves, sit down: for your principalities shall come down, even to the crown of your glory.”

4. It was repentance marked by signs of sincerity. Faith will produce works, true penitence will evidence itself in amendment of life.

(1) It was accompanied by fasting. Man and beast were to abstain from food. The irrational creatures which share the effects of sin, and minister to the wants of man, were to excite him to mourning, and add to the general depression. Nineveh was to learn, as we should, not to sin by ill-treatment of them, nor to forget that in their present condition we find a memorial of guilt, and a reason for humiliation. This fast (a) was universal, (b) and publicly proclaimed. If fasts are not specially enjoined by God, yet cities and nations may find it helpful to set apart days of fasting and prayer.

(2) It was accompanied by putting on sackcloth and ashes. All classes united in religious duties, confessed guilt, laid aside their ornaments, and prayed to God for deliverance. There was a visible expression of sorrow in the rough, dark, coarse garb which reproves mourning apparel fashionable in cut, elaborate in ornament, and unsuitable in colour.

(3) It was accompanied by outward reformation. They did not think of mocking God by merely abstaining from food, and changing their dress. Outward forms convict of hypocrisy if not followed by change of heart and conduct. “Let them turn every one from his evil way,” &c. Every one had an evil way, and the proclamation was a general acknowledgment of it. The king and the court specify one notorious sin. “The violence that is in their hand” (cf. Nahum 2:11-12; Nahum 3:19). Special iniquity, “besetting sins,” must be given up. All are exhorted to individual repentance and amendment of life. “Cease to do evil, and learn to do well.”

(4) It was accompanied by earnest prayer. (a) They were to cry. Feeling, not form, was required, (b) To cry vehemently with all their strength and soul. (c) To God, not to idols, which they worshipped; to the true God who alone can help them. Sloth and indifference are unbecoming in fasting and prayer. Some professed Christians depend upon punctual attendance, formal ceremonies, and ecstatic feelings. “Rend your hearts, and not your garments.” Religious duties should be serious and earnest, sincere, and acceptable.


The repentance of Nineveh is one of the most singular events in history. A great and proud city suddenly smitten into the most profound humiliation, from the greatest of its inhabitants to the least—from the king on the throne to the meanest citizen,—is a spectacle to which history affords no parallel. Cities, countries, and communities have oftentimes, with not a little unanimity, given themselves to humiliation and fasting. But there is no event on record that can at all be compared with the fast and repentance of Nineveh. The repentance of Nineveh may be considered—first, in its essentials; and secondly, in its circumstantials. We confine our attention to the essentials. Here the origin and nature of this repentance calls for consideration.

I. The origin of Nineveh’s repentance.

1. First, This repentance was prompted by faith. They believed Jonah to be a messenger from God; and they believed his message. The hand of God is seen in this, and his power and gracious influence on their hearts. Observe how their faith wrought in a manner suitable to the position in which they were placed. “They proclaimed a fast.” Generally, faith worketh according to the nature of the thing believed. If that which is believed be something dreadful and alarming, it worketh by fear; and if any possibility of escape seem left, it prompts to the embracing of whatever means may realize it. This element of fear was the leading element in the repentance of Nineveh. “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”

2. Secondly, an element of hope mingled to bestir them to exertion. Absence of hope excludes possibility of repentance. Had they viewed their doom as inevitable they would have been paralysed, infuriated, or still more estranged from God. Some faint hope remained. “Who can tell if God will turn?” &c. The Ninevites might gather hope,—

(1) From the general consideration that all threatenings are warnings; uttered, in order, if possible, not to be executed.
(2) From the history of Jonah himself. They knew of his original commission, disobedience, pursuit, punishment, and forgiveness. He was a sign to them. They saw in his deliverance hope of forgiveness through penitence and prayer. II. The nature of their repentance. The city underwent a sudden and striking reformation. Their haughtiness and pride were abased; their contempt of God abandoned; their luxury, cruelty, violence, and unrighteousness were given up. And God looked on with approbation. Such is the fast that the Lord calls for; not a formal, ceremonious, outward solemnity; but a spiritual and moral reformation, outwardly evidenced and certified by new obedience. This affords a proof of God’s unspeakable goodness, and an encouragement to sinners to repent and turn to God [Martin].


Jonah 3:6. The humbled court. The rich and the great are not often penitent before God. Those who enjoy the good things of this life feel no need of religion. Not many mighty, not many noble, are called (1 Corinthians 1:26). It is said that the Countess of Huntingdon thanked God for the letter “m” in this text. I. A court influenced by the preaching of the Word. The Word has strange effects in places, and upon men, that are most unlikely. Where we look for little, God can create much. The successor of a proud race of tyrants feels the truth proclaimed by a forlorn man, trembles in spite of walls and guards, in the presence of courtiers and nobles (Psalms 76:12; Jeremiah 13:18). II. A court setting the example in self-reformation. In all kinds of governments the court has a mighty influence. Its fashions and etiquette prevail, its laws and religion are the standard of the people. Here the court was in harmony with the spirit of the people. Rank, station, and wealth were nothing to the safety of the city. The authority of God was supreme in the palace; and in the fast and the prayers the king and princes took the lead in its acknowledgment. Rank is truly kingly when ennobled by Divine grace.

This great king could not but know himself to be a great sinner; and that his sins had done much hurt:—

1. By imputation: for the people oft pray for their rulers’ follies, as in David’s days (2 Samuel 24:0).

2. By imitation: for magnates are magnets, they draw many by their example; and as bad humours flow from the head to the body, so do bad rulers corrupt the rest [Trapp].

Jonah 3:8. Man in his luxury and pride would have everything reflect his glory, and minister to pomp. Self-humiliation would have everything reflect its lowliness. Sorrow would have everything answer to its sorrow. Men think it strange that the horses at Nineveh were covered with sackcloth, and forget how, at the funerals of the rich, black horses are chosen, and are clothed with black velvet [Pusey].

The mighty cry. The Easterns are given to expressions of feeling in anger, sorrow, or devotion. But this cry denotes—

1. Intense earnestness: not merely asking or seeking, but a cry. An agony, as one in deep distress, or intently engaged in solemn pursuit (Genesis 32:24-26).

2. Deep fervour. It was not only a cry, but a mighty cry. There was deep contrition for sin, and strong desire for pardon. Faintheartedness and feeble prayers gain no blessing. The effectual fervent prayer avails much. The prayer that stirs and labours for its ends (James 5:16; Hebrews 5:7).

3. Great confidence. They believed that God could and would help them. They turn away from idols, and look to the God of mercy.

4. Great perseverance. Not once, but continually, did they cry, and felt the necessity of Divine protection day by day. We must always come to God humbly, fervently, and incessantly. “O Lord, to Thee will I cry.”

Nineveh’ s repentance. Its nationality. Its expressions. Its efficacy [Martin].

The repentance of the Ninevites a model of a genuine national repentance.

1. It hears God’s proclamation, and asks not why? (Jonah 3:1-4).

2. It springs from faith, and is accompanied by faith (Jonah 3:5-9).

3. It bows itself under the curse of the common guilt, and not a single person asks, “How much have I deserved?” (Jonah 3:6).

4. It is united with the purpose of amendment [Lange].


WHO CAN TELL?.—Jonah 3:9

This was the forlorn hope of Nineveh. I shall notice three things.

I. The miserable plight in which the men of Nineveh found themselves. They were like those in the days of Noah; ate and drank, builded and planted. They fell into abominable sins, and their vices probably rivalled those of Sodom. But their boasting was cut off, and the sound of their mirth ceased. They discovered their great sin. Added to this, they had information as to the shortness of their days. “Forty days.” The shortness of time should rouse us from slumber. The third thing was the terrible character of the judgment.

II. The scanty reasons they had for their hope. Notice in Jonah’s message, there was no proclamation of mercy. It was one short sentence of doom. Another thing would cut off their hope—they knew nothing of God except, it may be, some dreadful legends they had heard of his terrible acts. They lacked another encouragement which you and I have. They had never heard of the Cross. Jonah’s preaching was very powerful, but there was no Christ in it.

III. We have stronger reasons to compel us to pray, and more comfortable arguments to urge us to trust. Refer to the Scriptures. Remember David, Manasseh, and Saul of Tarsus. Your only hope lies in the mercy of God. Cling to it tenaciously. Remember, for your encouragement, God delights to save. Men object not to an expensive thing if it bring them honour; but if honour goes with a thing they are ready enough to do it. If God saves you, it will honour him. In prayer you ask for that which glorifies God and benefits yourself. Come, humble sinner, and cry to Christ, and he will have mercy upon thee [Spurgeon].


Hope is the gift of God, and a powerful principle in the human mind. It is the ground of support in trouble, and the mainspring of all effort. Fill the earth with hope, you fill it with light, life, and exertion. Where hope dies a man is buried in gloom; where it lives he looks forward, and strives for better things. “I do hope good days,” says Shakespeare.

I. Nineveh’s hope. “Who can tell?” are words which express some faint nope. But hope rests on some foundation. If not, it is rather presumption, and will disappoint. What were the grounds of Nineveh’s hope?

1. The light of nature would prompt them to hope. It is something not to despair. Nil desperandum we cry. There is hope in a peradventure. But there are human feelings from which to judge of the feelings of God towards us. The tender parent is reluctant to punish the penitent child. We argue from the knowledge of God within us that he may be merciful.

“The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope.” [Shakespeare.]

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” [Pope.]

2. Jonah’s message might encourage hope. Why forty days? If God had been determined to destroy us, would he have given any time, any respite at all? There must be some secret thoughts of mercy, though not revealed to us. If God’s messenger speaks of only judgment, God’s conduct indicates forbearance. Let us indulge hope, improve our time, and seek deliverance by fasting and prayer. “Who can tell?”

3. Jonah’s history would encourage hope. Here is a man whom they knew to have been disobedient, punished and saved. If God had mercy upon him, why not upon us? The forgiveness of some is a ground of hope to others. Paul was a pattern of God’s mercy to men. Jonah was a sign, an outward symbol of hope, to Nineveh. At any rate, if they must perish, it could be no worse to perish in repentance than in wickedness. Who knows? was the anxious question. God only knew. If they acted thus in the darkness of heathen idolatry, what will become of many living in the light of gospel day? You have better hope than Nineveh. “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

II. Nineveh’s reprieve. The night begins to wear away, and the day to dawn on the city. They repent, and God repents of the evil which he had threatened. Nineveh guilty was destroyed by the penitence of its inhabitants, and Nineveh reformed was preserved by the mercy of God. “God repented of the evil,” &c. This is not the place for the discussion of different questions concerning the character and the government of God. There is no change in his purpose, and no contradiction in his word. We are repeatedly assured that if we turn to him, he will be gracious to us (Job 33:27; Jeremiah 31:18; Ezekiel 18:27). Luther says: “I stick to this rule, to avoid such questions as entangle us with the throne of the Divine majesty as much as I can. It is much better and safer for me to stay down by the cradle of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has become man, than to puzzle one’s self with the Deity.”

1. God observed the conduct of the Ninevites. “God saw their works.” He discerned their feelings, and noticed their acting. Their repentance, prayer, and fasting were approved by him. Though the amendment might be temporary and external with many, yet this showed some faith in his word, fear of his name, and desire for his mercy. He honoured, accepted, and rewarded it. There is no imposing upon God. He knows the heart, and observes the life. The finest profession without practice provokes him to anger; but the penitent suppliant moves him to mercy. “Return unto me, and I will return to you.”

2. God granted a reprieve to the Ninevites. The whole city was preserved, and not one was put to death. “It was not his repentance altering their predicted fate, but their repentance accomplishing his compassionate purpose.” For God to destroy a penitent, reformed people, would have been apparently as inconsistent as to save the wicked city in its impenitence. “That the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” When Nineveh afterwards filled up the cup of its iniquity, the threatened destruction came, and so complete was the overthrow that we are only now learning that the shapeless mounds of the desert covered the palaces of mighty kings. In its repentance Nineveh is an encouragement to seek God’s mercy; in its overthrow a warning to all those who provoke his wrath. “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom to pluck up, and to pull down, to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do them.”


Jonah 3:9. Who can tell? In the development of this hope within the heart of Nineveh we behold the truest exercise of faith in God. It was not speculation, but a true confidence in the Supreme Being, as arbiter of the moral destiny of men, that inspired and retained this hope. In the development of this hope we behold the first dawn of a new life. The Ninevites are true to their better nature, humble and expectant. They work out in their conduct convictions placed by God in their hearts. Their characters rise into new light, and receive the beauty of a heavenly life. In the development of this hope we behold a due recognition of the anger of God. Had they not credited the Divine wrath, their faith would have been untrue to fact, and their reformation of character not according to the circumstances of the case. They believed in a Deity capable of anger and destruction; the former of which they had excited, and the latter of which they had narrowly escaped [Exell].

As soon as prayer took possession of them, it both made them righteous, and forthwith corrected the city which had been habituated to live with profligacy, and wickedness, and lawlessness. More powerful was prayer than the long usage of sin. It filled that city with heavenly laws, and brought along with it temperance, loving-kindness, gentleness, and care of the poor [Chrysostom].

Jonah 3:10. The repentance of God is included in his gracious decree. It is the harmonizing of wrath and forgiveness, justice and love. Wrath is not the final end; but it has for its end and object, love. Woe to him who makes light of the wrath of God: he can never taste of love [Lange].


1. God looks not at outward performance. “Bring forth fruits meet for repentances.”

2. To be acceptable to God we must renounce all sins. The sins of the city and the sins of individuals. If we regard iniquity in our hearts, God will disregard us (Psalms 66:18).

3. God will bless feeble efforts to forsake sin and reform life. Temporal favours are a type of spiritual blessings, and temporary repentance an image of true penitence. If men through fear of judgment depart from evil and avert temporal evils, what will repentance unto life gain?


1. That God may intend mercy amid darkness and judgment.
2. But men, sensible of their sins and desert, are often uncertain whether he will have mercy or not. The Christian in affliction and the penitent sinner seeking mercy, put the question, “Who can tell?”
3. By keeping the mind in suspense between hope and fear, judgment and mercy, God stirs up to greater diligence. Be not disheartened nor deterred from duty in trouble. God will hear prayer. The answer will be (a) certain, (b) seasonable, and (c) compassionate.

“Repentant tears.” [Shakespeare.]


Jonah 3:5. Fast. They did not wait for supreme authority. Time was urgent, and they would lose none of it. In this imminent peril of God’s displeasure, they acted as men would in a conflagration. Men do not wait for orders to put out a fire, or to prevent it from spreading. Whoever proclaimed a fast, it seems to have been done by acclamation; one common cry out of the one common terror [Pusey].

Jonah 3:5-6. The message first kindles in the humbler hearts. Poor men, and humble men, do not think what immense compensation they thus have for poverty, straits, and toils, in being kept, as to natural condition, so much nearer God and the powers of his gracious kingdom. God’s messengers reach them easily. Rich men, and those standing on the elevated places of society, do not think how the earthly advancement is apt to be counterbalanced by the spiritual disadvantage [Raleigh].

“The pride of kingly sway.” [Shakespeare.]

Jonah 3:7-8. We double the greater part of our faults by the excuses which we make use of to justify them—excuses which are a kind of patches when a rent is made, far more unseemly and misbecoming than the rent itself [Seed].

“If hearty sorrow

Be a sufficient ransom for offence,
I tender it here; I do as truly suffer
As e’er I did commit.” [Shakespeare.]


“Grieved at his heart when, looking down, he saw
The whole earth filled with violence.” [Milton.]

Jonah 3:9. Who can tell?

“They have more in them than mortal knowledge.” [Shakespeare.]

Jonah 3:10. Doom changed. This is ever God’s manner, when men change their deeds to change his doom; when they renounce their sins, to recall his sentence; when they repent of the evil they have done against him, to repent of the evil he had said he would do against them. Never was a man truly and inwardly humbled, but God in the riches of his special mercy (in Christ) truly pardoned him [Bp. Sanderson].

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Jonah 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/jonah-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile