Jonah 3 − Commentary

1 Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time. 2 'Get up and go to the great city of Nineveh. Tell them the message that I shall give to you'.

Verses 1-2 Jonah knew that he deserved to die. He had not obeyed God. But God had saved him from death by the fish.

The whole book is about God's great love and great patience. He loved Jonah. He did not even mention Jonah's first failure to obey him. He loved the people of Nineveh. He did not want them to die. Now God repeated his original command to Jonah to go to Nineveh. God wanted him to warn the people of Nineveh. He wanted Jonah to tell the people to turn back from their evil ways. They must turn away from their evil ways and turn back to God. Jonah must speak the words that God gave him to say, and not use his own words.

3 Jonah obeyed the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now, Nineveh was a very big city. It took a person three days to walk across it.

Verse 3 This time Jonah obeyed God. It was a long way to Nineveh, about 500 miles (800 kilometres). It would take Jonah a long time to walk there. When Jonah reached the district around Nineveh, it would still take him three days to walk across it. We now know that the city itself was only 8 miles across. But the officials of Nineveh also governed the large district around the city. This was about 50 miles across. That would certainly take Jonah three days to walk across. (The people of Assyria had two words for 'city'. One word meant the city itself. The other word included the much larger area around the city that the city officials governed.)

4 After Jonah had walked for a day, he warned the people: 'After 40 days, God will destroy Nineveh'.

5 The people of Nineveh accepted God's message. They fasted (stopped eating food) for a time, and dressed themselves in sackcloth. This was to show that they were sorry for their sins. Everybody in the city did this. From the most important people to the least important people, they all did so.

Verse 4 Jonah was tired and dusty after his very long walk. He was a foreigner to the people of Nineveh. And he would have looked strange. But they did not laugh at him as he shouted out his warning.

Verse 5 Jonah's message from God was a shock to the people. They surprised Jonah because they listened to his warning. His message frightened them. They realized that they were really in serious danger. At once, they did things that showed that they were very sorry for the way that they had been living. To show that they were sincere, they put on sackcloth (a very rough dress) and stopped eating for several days. Everybody did the same, from rich and important officials to the poorest people.

6 The king of Nineveh heard about these things. He got up from his royal seat and exchanged his royal clothes for sackcloth and sat in ashes.

Verse 6 The news of Jonah's warning came to the king of Nineveh. At once, he acted in the same way as his people. He was the king. But he realized that God was much greater than any king.

The king of Nineveh was much wiser than an evil Jewish king, Jehoiakim (he was king of Judah, 609-597 BC). When Jeremiah warned Jehoiakim from God to change his evil ways, Jehoiakim only laughed (Jeremiah 36). Soon afterwards, God punished Jehoiakim. A powerful enemy captured Judah. Jehoiakim died. Judah was never again a free country (2 Chronicles 36:6-16).

7 Then the king declared to all the people of Nineveh:

'By command of the king and his noble officials: Nobody is to eat anything. All people and their animals must not eat or drink. 8 Everybody must cover themselves, and even their animals, with sackcloth. All must cry out to God. All must stop their evil and cruel ways.

9 Who knows? Perhaps God may change his mind and stop being angry with us. Perhaps he will not do what he said he would do. Then we shall not die'.

Verse 7 The king of Nineveh hurried to call his important officials. They immediately advised the king to make a royal declaration. Everybody must show that they were really sorry for their bad lives.

Verse 8 They must put on sackcloth instead of their ordinary clothes. They must not eat or drink. They must cry with loud voices to God to forgive them. They must stop all cruel actions. They must put sackcloth even on their animals. The animals could not understand the reason. But they soon added their loud cries. They were hungry!

Verse 9 God's warning through Jonah had frightened the king and his officials and all the people. Perhaps God would notice that they had really changed the way they lived. Then he might decide not to destroy them.

10 When God saw that the people turned from their evil ways, he pitied them. He changed his mind and decided not to destroy them.

Verse 10 God saw what the people of Nineveh were doing. They were showing that they were really sorry for their sins. God saw that they meant what they had said. Although they did not deserve God's love, he was generous. He forgave them their sins, and did not destroy their city.

God intends his love to be for everybody. He loves even evil and cruel people. God has great patience. He pities and loves all who sin. God does not want anybody to die because of their sins. He wants everybody to turn to him (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus said that the people of Nineveh were an example to everybody (Luke 11:32).