Studies in Prophets and Writings

Jonah 3: Contrasting contriteness of Nineveh and Israel

Studies in Prophets and WritingsJonah 3 is a short chapter, but there is a lot in there. We are shown how the individual Ninevites responded to the message of Jonah. The repentance of the people grabbed the attention of the king of Nineveh who encouraged their repentance. The people of Nineveh believed God, and “it was credited to them as righteousness” (cf. Gen. 15:6), just as it was for Abraham. 

Jonah was a reluctant prophet. Assyrians were a cruel people, an enemy of Israel. It was not in the nation of Israel’s interest for the people of Nineveh to repent. 

“Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.'” (Jonah 3:1–2 NASB)

God does not correct Jonah’s previous behavior any further. He doesn’t hold it against him. This is a do-over of Jonah’s call to mission to Nineveh.

Nineveh is a large city with several smaller suburbs that are collectively referred to as the “Great City of Nineveh.” It took about 3 days to walk through the entire city. 

“Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4 NASB)

Jonah’s three days journey included a message of death. Yeshua’s message included His death.

Yeshua gave warnings of repentance to the generation of His day. Jonah gives a message of repentance. 

Jonah did not go to the king, he went to the people. Most of the prophets were sent to speak with the king. There’s no indication that Jonah ever met the king of Nineveh. His message was to the people, just as Yeshua’s mission was to the people. 

It was the people who believed Jonah first and it worked up to the king. The people repented first, then the king. 

In Nineveh, change came from the bottom up, while in Israel, the prophets spoke to the kings because in Israel, the kings were appointed by God. The people and the kings of Israel had some of idea of what was right and wrong and purposefully chose to ignore God’s rules. 

The people and king of Nineveh had no clue about what was right and wrong in God’s eyes. They were ignorant of His rules. 

After one days journey, Jonah begins preaching his message and he warned the people that judgement would happen in 40 days. The 40 day time frame is a traditional time of trial. The people of Nineveh are being offered 40 days to hear the message, and respond with repentance. 

“Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.” (Jonah 3:5 NASB)

The people of Nineveh believed in God, not Jonah. It was the people who initially responded and proclaimed a fast. Everyone is fasting, they are all equally miserable from the highest to the lowest. God is not a respecter of persons.

Ash is used for cleaning, it’s a traditional ingredient in soap. It’s a symbolic way of saying that “I need cleaning.” 

The king of Nineveh became aware of Jonah’s message and he followed the course that his people were following. God used the people to change the leadership’s course. 

“He issued a proclamation and it said, ‘In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing.'” (Jonah 3:7 NASB)

Why did the king of Nineveh care about the animals? What do animals know? Can they sin? What is the king trying to say? All of God’s creation know Him. 

Including animals in fasts is not uncommon in the Ancient Near East, it was common in Persia during times of national fasting that man and beasts were to fast. Animals will be miserable without food and water and will cause misery to those responsible for their care. Imagine cattle being deprived of water for a day or so. They will trample over other animals in their herd, even their human caregivers to get to water. 

When you are responsible for animals and you have to deprive them of food and water for a time, it’s a sorry feeling to see their suffering. 

A king’s job is to care for their citizens, they are to respond to their needs. The king is supposed to have compassion on their citizens. If they suffer, the king is supposed to alleviate. 

When the king calls a fast for citizens and animals, it’s to teach the people that just as their depravation of food and water to the animals hurts them, the suffering of the people hurts the king. 

What does the king call on the people to give up? 

“But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.” (Jonah 3:8 NASB)

The king is asking the people to look at themselves and how their actions are causing their fellow citizens to suffer and the nation to incur judgement.

The sackcloth and ashes are not repentance. Fasting is not repentance. When they saw their animals and their children suffering, it turned their hearts to compassion and repentance.

“Yet even now,”declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God?” (Joel 2:12–14 NASB)

Their repentance was to stop their culture of violence. When they repented, and stopped acting in violence, the hearts of the people of Nineveh were stirred with compassion, not only for their animals but for each other, too.

“When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10 NASB)

By day 41, enough of the people of Nineveh had repented of their violence that God did not destroy them. 

This is different from what the people of Judah did in Joel’s day. The people of Judah went through the outward show but their hearts never repented. It’s God’s job to draw the heart, not the Messiah’s. It was not Jonah’s job to change the hearts of the people, it was his God-given job to tell the people of Nineveh what they needed to do to repent and the consequence of ignoring the message. 

Speaker: Daniel Agee. Summary: Tammy. 


Recent posts in Appointments With God


Recent posts in Atonement


Recent posts in Discussions


Recent posts in Prophets and Writings

What do you think about this?