About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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Jonah Goes To Nineveh (ch. 3:1 - 10)



Chapter 3 is interesting in light of the fact Jesus' words in Matthew 12:38 to 40.  Jesus compares His death and trip to Hades to Jonah's trip to the belly of the fish.  If we think about this, and carry this analogy from chapter 2 to chapter 3, it is clear then that the saving of a Gentile city is prophetic of the saving of Gentiles because of the cross of Christ. Therefore, this is the meaning behind chapter 3.


Verses 1and 2 tells us that God is now giving Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh. 


In verse 3 we see that Jonah obeyed the Lord this time and he went to Nineveh.  Since it was so large, it took him 3 days to go throughout the city to preach.  As I stated in chapter 1, Nineveh was the largest city up to this point in history.  The circumference was 60 miles around.  Its walls were 100 feet height and wide enough for 3 chariots.  The population was anywhere from 600,000 to 1,000,000. You can see why it would take  3 days to speak to all living in the city. 


We see the number 3 here, as we do throughout the Bible.  This is one reason why liberals don't believe that this is a historical event, rather a story with a moral meaning.  Since certain numbers are used a lot in the Bible and therefore have a clear and distinct meaning to each number, these liberals say that much of the Bible is  just stories with a moral meaning, link together with a narrative of numbers and symbols.


In verse 4 we see Jonah's simple message.  In 40 days the city "would be destroyed".  This is clearly a predictive prophecy.   We will see later that the residents of Nineveh repented, so I suggest that Jonah's preaching was well inspired by the Holy Spirit.  This simple message could not have been accepted by those living in Nineveh simply on Jonah's preaching.


Again, we see an important Biblical number, and that is 40, often seen as a number that represents testing.  So again, liberal theologians say this is not an historical event but a story with a moral meaning.  I would suggest that the 40 days were a test for those in Nineveh, and as we will see, they passed the test and were not judged.


There's one thing we need to understand about predictive prophecy of judgment.  Jonah predicted that the city "would be destroyed" in 40 days, but it wasn't.  What happened?  The population of Nineveh repented so God withdrew the judgment.  This tells us that there is always time to repent, that is, until the tipping point of sin is reached, and once God pronounces judgment, it is too late to repent.  Obviously the tipping point of sin had not been reached for Nineveh. 


The text in my opinion suggests that Jonah preached that judgment "would come" for certain.  That is why we will see later than when it didn't come, Jonah was upset, thinking he was made a fool of for a false prophecy.  Did Jonah misread God's message?  Should he have preached "repent or else judgment will come", instead of "judgment will come"?  It's hard to say for sure.  Jonah preached for 3 whole days and we only have one brief statement of what he preached.  He might well have preached "repent or else" and not "you'll be destroyed in 40 days".  What we do know is that in verse 10, from God's perspective, Jonah's message was meant to be a "threat", or, a warning.  So, this might shed light on Jonah's message being more of a "repent or else" message.          


Verse 5 says that those in Nineveh "believed God".  Note the text says that they "believed God".  It doesn't say that they "believed Jonah".  Clearly, the Holy Spirit's involvement in Jonah's preaching caused these people to believe.   


Around this time in Assyria there was a move towards monotheism.  Some Bible teachers suggest that this might be part of the reason why those in Nineveh  accepted Jonah's message so readily. 


Verse 5 states two things these people did that proved that they believed God.  One was that they called a fast.  We need to understand that fasting in the Bible is mostly associated with repentance.  We tend to think in modern times of fasting being associated with asking and receiving what we ask from God.  That's not the case here and it's not the case in most Biblical instances.


Along with the fast was the act of wearing sackcloth.  Basically, this was a symbolic act of humility.  Humility is the basis of repentance.  One recognizes his sin, recognizes he is in the wrong, and therefore one needs to be humble in order to recognize his unholy position before the Lord.


Note in verse 6 the progression of repentance.  It was instituted and promoted by the king.  I suggest that without national leaders repenting, there is no national repentance and there is no safety from God's judgment. 


Concerning the "king of Nineveh".  We don't think of cities having kings.  In ancient times nations were city states, that is, cities were nations with kings.  Now at this point in time Assyria was the nation and Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria.  The word "king" here might simply be in reference to the head of the city.  There is much speculation among Bible teachers to what the word "king" is really in reference to here.  The king might well have been what we would call the mayor, or, he might well have been the king of all of Assyria.  


Verse 7 is a proclamation from the once wicked, but now repentant king.  Proclamations from national leaders are important.  They state the direction the nation is going, and how the nation goes will determine how God deals with that nation.  This proclamation was very important to the immediate future of Nineveh.


The king's proclamation is found in verse 7 through 9.  He first calls a major fast no eating and no drinking.  This fast would include animals.  This is one major fast.  People would war sackcloth.  Everyone must repent and show their repentance with outward actions.  Then, "everyone must call urgently on God".  The word "call" here means "to cry out".  This is heart felt repentance, heart felt cries to God.  In order for the people to make such a heart felt cry to God, they must believe who Jonah's God claims to be. 


You might wonder why the animals would be involved in this repentance.  I think the main reason is to show God that the people of Nineveh were serious about this repentance.   Some people suggest that there might well have been bestiality taking place in Nineveh, thus the reason for animals in the repentant process. 


We're not sure exactly when Jonah preached to Nineveh, but there was a brief time in the history of this city that a move toward monotheism was taking place. This might well be that time, or this might be one reason why Jonah's message was accepted.


Once calling out to the Lord the king says that the people must "give up their evil ways and their violence".  Again, this is repentance in action.


The last part of the proclamation shows true humility.  They aren't demanding God's favour.  He says, "who knows?  God may yet relent "  They're hoping for mercy.  They're not demanding mercy.  This is the attitude of true repentance.  This should be the attitude of all true Christians today, but it's not always.  We demand from God way to often, especially those who teach the "Prosperity Gospel".


What we see in the king's proclamation is the response that we all need, whether Jew or Gentile, whether and individual or a nation. 


Note that this proclamation was spoken to each and every person in Nineveh and each and every person had to participate in repenting in order to obtain God's favour.


Concerning the word "relent" in verse 9.  The Hebrew word that is translated as "relent" comes from a word that means "to sigh, to breathe out in relief". Simply put, the king was hoping that God would take a deep breath, release His breath in relief since Nineveh repented.  That is what did happen. 


Verse 10 shows the clear response by God to a repentant people.  He had compassion on the city and He did not destroy them.  The message of this chapter, that is, the message of repentance, is the message for all nations of the world today, but it's a message that is seldom preached in our churches, let alone preached to the nations in our day, and therefore not accepted.   


We need to understand that God deals with humanity on two levels. He deals with us individually and nationally.  Therefore, to escape judgment, both the individual and the nation must repent.  The nation's leaders in my thinking reflect those in the nations.  Thus the reason for national leaders to repent.  The statements and the legislation that government makes is very important in how God deals with a nation, more important than most of us realize.    


As I said earlier in this chapter, the word "threatened" is important here.  It shows us that from God's perspective, Jonah's message was to be a message of repentance to avoid judgment.  Nineveh did repent and the city was spared. 



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