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Bible Commentaries
Jonah 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verses 1-4

1-4. The preaching of Jonah. Jonah 3:1, is almost identical with Jonah 1:1, the only difference being the addition of “the second time” and the omission of “the son of Amittai”; Jonah 3:2 a, is identical with Jonah 1:2 a; but Jonah 3:2 b is different.

Preach The same word as in Jonah 1:2, “cry”; “preaching,” derived from the same root, occurs only here in the Old Testament. The message is to be determined by Jehovah.

Jonah has learned a lesson; and, though still rebellious in heart (Jonah 4:2), he proceeds immediately to carry out the divine commission. The narrative of Jonah’s preaching is interrupted by a brief description of Nineveh’s greatness (Jonah 3:3; compare Jonah 4:11).

Was Definitely expressed in Hebrew; may indicate that Nineveh was no longer a “great city,” when the description was written (see p. 335).

An exceeding great city Literally, a city great unto God, that is, great even in the estimation of God (compare Genesis 10:9); Kautzsch renders in German “unmenschlich gross” (superhumanly great). Probably an anticipation of Jonah 4:11, where the size of the city and the number of the inhabitants are given as a reason for God’s desire to save it.

Three days’ journey It seems more natural to interpret this of the diameter than of the circumference. True, some of the classical writers make it appear that the diameter was only one day’s journey, while the circumference was approximately three days’ journey. But, as Marti suggests, there is no reason why Herodotus and the Book of Jonah should agree on this point; besides, if we should interpret “three days’ journey” of the circumference, and make the diameter only one day’s journey, Jonah must have passed through the entire city before delivering his message, while Jonah 3:4 declares that he “began to enter into the city a day’s journey,” which expression certainly presupposes that there was considerable distance to traverse before he could reach the other end (see further on Jonah 3:4). It seems best, therefore, to interpret “three days” of the diameter. The extent of the city walls is given by C.H.W. Johns as follows: “The city on the river side of the Tigris extended about two and one half miles; its north wall measured about seven thousand feet, the eastern wall was nearly three miles long, and the southern about one thousand feet.… The actual extent of Nineveh proper is about eighteen hundred acres.… Outside this citadel city lay the ‘outskirts.’… Farther afield, and apparently close to Khorsabad, lay Rebit Ninua.” The latter is perhaps the Rehoboth-Ir of Genesis 10:11. In order to get a city three days in diameter or three days long, it is necessary to include all the cities mentioned in Genesis 10:11-12, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen, which, though not all identified, must have been in the immediate neighborhood of Nineveh proper. Koenig insists that even this combination would fail to give the required size (see p. 317).

Began to enter into the city a day’s journey A day’s journey is still called a beginning, because two more were beyond. The natural interpretation seems to be that he journeyed one day; then, having found a suitable place, he delivered his message. Others give a different interpretation. “He began to perambulate the city, going hither and thither, as far as was possible in the first day.” While thus going from street to street, and market place to market place, he is thought to have delivered his message again and again. While the former is the more natural interpretation of the Hebrew, the latter has this advantage, that, with it, Jonah 3:4 throws no light on the meaning of “three days’ journey” in Jonah 3:3. It would be possible, then, to understand the extent indicated of the circumference, which would reduce the size of the city, and thus remove a geographical difficulty.

Yet forty days… A very simple message, but one destined to create consternation. Apparently the words of Jonah contained an unconditional announcement of judgment; but later developments showed that it was conditional, that the execution depended upon the people’s attitude toward the prophetic message.

Several modern commentators insert Jonah 4:5, after Jonah 3:4. Jonah, after having delivered his message, is thought to have left the city to await further developments. Jonah 4:5, would make a good continuation of Jonah 3:4, but the transposition is not necessary.

Marti’s statement, “Undoubtedly Jonah did not await the coming of the fortieth day in the city, but left the same previously,” is not conclusive.

Verses 1-10


Jehovah repeats the command to Jonah, to preach to Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-2). This time Jonah obeys and delivers the message, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:3-4). The preaching results in the conversion of king and people, who give every evidence of heartfelt repentance (Jonah 3:5-9); whereupon Jehovah withholds the judgment (Jonah 3:10).

Verses 5-9

5-9. The effect of the preaching. The effects were immediate. The Ninevites believed God and humbled themselves before him in sincere repentance.

Believed God Or, believed in God (Genesis 15:6). They regarded him as the supreme God, to whom they owed allegiance. This recognition made them conscious of their past transgressions, and immediately they set about to secure divine forgiveness. How Jonah, a Hebrew, made himself understood in Nineveh is not stated; some refer, in explanation, to Isaiah 36:11, as if he had used the Aramaic language, but the passage does not prove that in Jonah’s days the common people, either among the Hebrews or among the Assyrians, spoke or understood that language.

Proclaimed a fast,… put on sackcloth See on Joel 1:8; Joel 1:13-14.

Greatest… least In rank as well as in age; all without exception.

For word came This translation seems to imply that the acts of mourning mentioned in Jonah 3:5 were instituted at the royal command, which does not seem to be the thought of the author. The Hebrew is simply, “And the word came”; R.V., “And the tidings reached”; which marks a new step in the proceedings. When the report of Jonah’s preaching and of its effect reaches the king he also immediately humbles himself before Jehovah.

King of Nineveh For the more common “king of Assyria”; see Introduction, p. 335.

Arose from his throne In order to descend from it. His acts are recorded in detail, so as to portray more forcibly the humility and sincerity of the king’s repentance.

His robe The splendid garment of royalty. What a contrast between it and the garment of mourning!

Sackcloth See references on Jonah 3:5 (compare Jeremiah 6:26; Ezekiel 27:30-31).

Sat in ashes Another sign of deepest mourning (Job 2:8). A.B. Davidson, commenting on the latter passage, says, “By the ‘ashes’ is probably meant the Mazbalah, the place outside the Arabic towns where the zibl, that is, dung and other rubbish of the place, is thrown.”

In addition to this personal renunciation the king proclaimed, by royal decree, a day of fasting and supplication, and exhorted all to bring forth “fruits worthy of repentance,” in the hope that God may yet be merciful.

7a, the introduction to the decree itself, may be rendered more accurately, “And he made proclamation and published through Nineveh. By the decree of the king and his nobles, thus:… .” The first clause contains the words of the narrator; the second those of the heralds by whom the proclamation was made, indicating the authority for the command about to be given.

Decree The Hebrew word occurs only here in this sense; it is found quite frequently in the Aramaic portions of Ezra and Daniel; evidently it was a technical term for royal edicts, at least for those of Babylonian and Persian kings.

Nobles The ministers associated with the king in the government.

Man and beast are to join in the fast.

Beast The domestic animals; defined more closely in “herd nor flock,” that is, cattle and sheep. They are not to taste anything; the beasts are not to be driven to pasture, nor are they to drink water. Both man and beast are to be clothed in sackcloth and “cry mightily” unto God in penitent supplication.

God The proclamation does not use the name Jehovah.

Turn The repentance is to be real; a godly sorrow that impels men to turn from their evil ways. Even the Assyrian idolater is represented as realizing the essential requirements of the God of the Hebrews (Micah 6:8; compare Joel 2:13). R.V. presents a more accurate rendering of Jonah 3:8 a, “But let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily.” Some modern commentators consider “both man and beast” in this passage a later interpolation. If this view is correct, Jonah 3:8 speaks of men only, while Jonah 3:7 joins the beasts with the men. With reference to the participation of animals in the mourning G.A. Smith says, “The beasts are made to share in its observance, as in the Orient they always shared and still share in funeral pomp and trappings.” Herodotus (Jonah 9:24) records that the Persians, after the fall of their commander, allowed horses and beasts of burden to participate in the mourning.

Jonah 3:9 is the concluding portion of the royal edict. The king expresses the hope that the evidences of grief and repentance may move God to stay the judgment.

Who can tell Perhaps. He does not want to presume too much.

Turn and repent The same words as in Joel 2:14 (see on Joel 2:13).

His fierce anger The holiness of God manifests itself in hatred for everything that is impure. The fierceness of the divine wrath is due to the greatness of the wickedness of the Ninevites (Jonah 1:2), which the king seems ready to acknowledge.

Verse 10

10. When God beheld their sincere repentance he stayed the judgment (see on Jonah 3:4, and Amos 9:15).

God repented See on Joel 2:13 (compare Amos 7:3).

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jonah 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/jonah-3.html. 1874-1909.
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