Jonah 3

Last time we finished our examination of Jonah’s prayer of repentance from within the belly of the great fish, and with it saw the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan for Jonah in his rebellion against God’s commandment to go to Nineveh and prophesy against it. In this study, we saw that Jonah’s time inside the great fish was not God’s punishment, but rather God’s provision for Jonah to bring his heart to repentance in preparing him to fulfill his mission. This is a great encouragement to us when we face various trials…
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Now, as we delve into God’s redemption of Nineveh, we need to remember that the entire story reveals God’s multi-faceted plan which He conceived before the foundation of the world for the people of Nineveh, for Jonah, for Jonah’s shipmates, and indeed for all people. Jonah’s rebellion was no surprise to God. Neither was Adam’s, and neither is our own. As we take up the story, God has just commanded the great fish to deposit Jonah up onto the dry land…
Jonah 3
1Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
 
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Jonah 3:1-2
1Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.”
Recall from chapter 1 that God had initially told Jonah…
Jonah 1:2
“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”
God’s new command to Jonah now includes a reassurance that God Himself will provide the words that Jonah is to preach to the city. We, too, have this reassurance. We know that we will be persecuted if we stand up for the Gospel of Jesus. When Jesus’ disciples asked Him what would happen at the end of the age in which we find ourselves today, He answered…
Mark 13:9-11
9“But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.
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Jonah 3:3a
So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.
This time, we see that Jonah repented of his rebellion, and obeyed the command of the Lord. Whether or not Jonah’s heart was truly behind the mission remains to be seen, and has been the subject of much debate. Regardless of that, though, Jonah chose to obey. As we discussed a while ago, God’s desire is for us to not only obey, but to recognize His commandments and the burdens He gives us as His blessings, and to take joy in fulfilling them “as unto the Lord.”Nevertheless, our obedience itself honors God…
Exodus 19:5 (God’s direction to Moses at Sinai of what he was to tell the nation of Israel)
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
James reiterates this call to obedience…
James 1:22-25
22But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
As we will see in chapter 4, God did indeed bless Jonah for his obedience, even though God knew Jonah was not enthusiastic about the fulfillment God’s plan for Nineveh. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Jonah 3:3b-4
3bNow Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!
There is no way for us to know exactly how long “a three-day journey” for Jonah would be. Assuming that Jonah was on foot, and walked only during daylight hours, a three-day journey could be as much as 100 miles! But it’s unlikely Nineveh was that large. Even modern Los Angeles is somewhat less than 50 miles across. The statement here that Nineveh was “a three-day journey in extent” more likely means that it would have taken Jonah that long to meander throughout the streets of the city preaching the message of impending destruction God had given him.
 
As we see here, that message was quite specific – Nineveh would suffer destruction at the end of 40 days. Obviously, we have no way of knowing how much Jonah knew about God’s redemptive plan for Nineveh at this point. After all, if God intended to destroy Nineveh, why would he send a prophet to warn them? Jonah must have at least suspected that God would forgive the sins of the Ninevites if they repented, just as God had obviously forgiven Jonah himself when he repented. As we will see at the beginning of chapter 4, Jonah says as much to God, claiming this was why he rebelled against the command of God in the first place.
 
But whether or not Jonah actually believed God would overthrow Nineveh in forty days is beside the point. The fact is that Jonah preached the message that God gave him to preach in obedience to God. There is an important lesson here for us…
Romans 8:28
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Furthermore, we know that God uses His people for His own purposes in His own perfect time. We are called to obey God’s direction, trusting that His will and His plan are perfect, righteous, loving, and just, now and forevermore…
2 Corinthians 5:7
For we walk by faith, not by sight.
Faith is more than just belief. True and effective faith is obedience to God in the belief that His will is always perfect. The great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 is full of accounts of God’s people who acted in obedience to God’s direction, believing they could trust in God, without knowing the outcome. For example, when God gave Abram the promise that his aged and childless wife Sarai would bear him a son, Abram believed God’s promise…
Genesis 15:5-6
5Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
But the fulfillment and culmination of Abraham’s faith was found later in his obedience of God’s direction to sacrifice the very son – Isaac – that God had promised…
James 2:21-23
21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? 23And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
Just as Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice Isaac – his son of promise – not understanding God’s plan, but trusting that God would fulfill His original promise made years before, so Jonah obeyed God’s direction to preach repentance to Nineveh without knowing what the outcome would be,.
 
Oftentimes, faithfully obeying God appears dangerous, and even contrary to what we might think God would consider right. Consider the story of Ananias, as Saul was lying in Damascus, having been blinded by his encounter on the road with the glorified Lord Jesus…
Acts 9:10-17
10Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.”
And he said, “Here I am, Lord.”
11So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. 12And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.”
13Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. 14And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
15But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. 16For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
17And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The introduction to the “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews defines for us very succinctly what the nature of faith is…
Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
We exercise this faith in obedience without ever fully understanding God’s plan…
1 Corinthians 13:9-12
9For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
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Jonah 3:5-9
5So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
Regardless of Jonah’s personal feelings about the message he preached, the response to it was quick and complete. We see here that allof the Ninevites, from the greatest to the least of them, were convicted by the message of the prophet, and drawn into a spirit of true and complete repentance. So much so, that even their animals were required to bear the burden of repentance. The outward symbols of repentance we see here – wearing sackcloth, sitting in ashes, and fasting – are found throughout the Word of God in conjunction with mourning, despair, and repentance.
 
The wearing of sackcloth (Hebrew – שַׂק saq) is first mentioned when Jacob learned about the supposed death of his son Joseph reported (falsely) by his brothers…
Genesis 37:34
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.
Sackcloth was probably made of goats’ hair, so – like the proverbial hair shirt – it would have itched and chafed terribly (particularly when worn as a loincloth), thereby continually reminding the wearer of the reason for mourning, or the need for repentance. Just imagine how wearing it must have tortured Job, whose whole body was covered with painful running sores…
Job 16:15
I have sewn sackcloth over my skin,
And laid my head in the dust.
Sitting in ashes, rubbing them on the body, and pouring them over the head are also seen throughout the Word, in conjunction with sackcloth and fasting (as they are here in Jonah) as an outward indication of inward mourning or repentance. Interestingly, ashes were also used in ritual purification…
Numbers 19:1-10
1Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2“This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. 3You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; 4and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. 5Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. 6And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. 7Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 9Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 10And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.
Even today, orthodox Jews may not go up onto the Temple Mount – not because the Muslim authorities who control the Mount forbid them, but because there are no ashes of a red heifer with which to purify themselves before approaching the Holy Place. Of course, the Temple itself isn’t there either, but that’s beside the point.
 
The first reference to ashes in the context of mourning, despair, or repentance is the response of David’s daughter, Tamar, immediately after she had been raped by her half-brother Amnon…
2 Samuel 13:19
Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly.
The third aspect of the Ninevites’ outward show of repentance was the proclaimed fast for both people and animals. Interestingly, fasting was never commanded by God in the Law. Indeed God says…
Isaiah 58:5-7
5Is it a fast that I have chosen,
A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush,
And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast,
And an acceptable day to the LORD?
6“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover him,
And not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Nevertheless, we see fasting throughout the Word as a sign of contrition. The first mention of fasting in this context is when Nathan the prophet was sent to King David to proclaim God’s judgment against him for his adultery with Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah. Nathan had told David that God would spare his own life, but that the son he had by Bathsheba would die…
2 Samual 12:15-16
15Then Nathan departed to his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. 16David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.
The first reference we see to a ruler proclaiming and directing a fast for all the people is ironically found in Jezebel’s wicked scheme to murder the owner of the vineyard her evil, sulking husband Ahab coveted…
1 Kings 21:7-10
7Then Jezebel his wife said to him, “You now exercise authority over Israel! Arise, eat food, and let your heart be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”
8And she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who were dwelling in the city with Naboth. 9She wrote in the letters, saying,
Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth with high honor among the people; 10and seat two men, scoundrels, before him to bear witness against him, saying, “You have blasphemed God and the king.” Then take him out, and stone him, that he may die.
Fasting can nevertheless be an effective means of drawing close to the Lord, and a useful means of focusing our minds toward Him more fully in prayer. There are several examples in the Old Testament where God is seen to honor fasts that a ruler or leader proclaimed…
2 Chronicles 20:1-4, 13 & 22
1It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. 2Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, “A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar” (which is En Gedi). 3And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.

 13Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD.

 22Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.

Ezra 8:21-23 (Ezra seeking God’s will in leading the exiles back from Mesopotamia to Jerusalem)
21Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions. 22For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.” 23So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.
Esther 4:16 (Esther preparing to go in to King Ahasuerus to plead for her people)
“Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
Indeed, we know that the Lord Jesus understood the value of fasting, and modeled righteous fasting – honored by God – for us following His own baptism…
Matthew 4:1-11
1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”
5Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
7Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”
8Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
11Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.
With regard to fasting, Jesus tells us…
Matthew 6:16-18
16“Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
The outward signs of repentance we see exhibited by the Ninevites were all well and good. But, just as we saw when God honored Jonah’s own prayer of contrition and repentance, it isn’t the outward actions that please God, but the heart of humility and contrition that drives true repentance. The Ninevites’ response to Jonah’s sermon showed not only the outward signs we’ve been speaking of, but an inward heart of true repentance, as their king commanded…
Jonah 3:7b-9
…Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
This call to repentance by the king of Nineveh echoes Joel’s call to repentance for all people in his prophecy of the coming Day of the Lord
Joel 2:12-14
12“Now, therefore,” says the LORD,
“Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”
13So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the LORD your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.
14Who knows if He will turn and relent,
And leave a blessing behind Him—
A grain offering and a drink offering
For the LORD your God?
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Jonah 3:10
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Of course, the repentance of Nineveh was God’s plan all along. Their turning away from their evil way was no more a surprise to God than Jonah’s rebellion. Jesus also affirms His honoring the repentance of Nineveh as a warning to His own people – Israel – and by extension to us…
Matthew 12:41
The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.
Before we leave this chapter, we need to point out that the reprieve God granted to Nineveh through their repentance in the face of Jonah’s testimony was only temporary. As we discussed when we first took up our study of this book, we can’t determine with any precision the exact time God sent Jonah to Nineveh, but through careful examination of the scriptural histories in comparison with archeological discoveries, and the surviving records of the Assyrians themselves, we can make an educated guess that Jonah’s trip to Nineveh most likely took place sometime between about 775 and 700BC.
 
As we just saw, in Matthew 12:41, Jesus affirms the record of Nineveh’s repentance and Gods forbearance we see here in Jonah 3. Nevertheless, we know from the Word, and from secular history that the city of Nineveh was utterly destroyed by the Babylonians in 612BC. The city was so completely devastated, that it was abandoned entirely, and its location was forgotten until the site was excavated by modern archeologists beginning in the latter half of the 18th century.
 
The ultimate destruction of Nineveh is the subject of the book of Nahum. As with Jonah, the exact date of Nahum’s prophecy against Nineveh is unknown. But the certainty of its prediction Nineveh’s eventual ruin is clear…
Nahum 1:14
The LORD has given a command concerning you:
 “Your name shall be perpetuated no longer.
 Out of the house of your gods
 I will cut off the carved image and the molded image.
 I will dig your grave,
 For you are vile.”
Nahum 3:7
It shall come to pass that all who look upon you
Will flee from you, and say,
‘Nineveh is laid waste!
Who will bemoan her?’
Where shall I seek comforters for you?”
Why? Obviously, the repentance of Nineveh at the preaching of Jonah, was only temporary. We can surmise from Nahum 1:14 that the Ninevites eventually returned to their idolatrous worship of the fertility goddess – Ishtar, and the fish god – Dagon. Who knows what caused this backsliding? The fact of it, though, is a cautionary tale for us…
Revelation 2:1-5
1To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” ’
So we’ve now seen the fulfillment of all three phases of God’s plan for the mission of the prophet Jonah. Nevertheless, as we’ll soon see, God still had to put some finishing touches on Jonah’s attitude. The completion of the story also holds some important applications for us whenever God calls us to minister to “the unlovable.”
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