Jonah 3:1-10

Submitted by admin on Fri, 2013-10-04 10:06.

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After the huge “fish” had disgorged Jonah on dry land, the “word of YHWH” came to him a second time. The manner in which he received this “word” or message is not revealed. (3:1)

YHWH’s word to Jonah was basically the same as that which had been directed to him the first time. He was told to “arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and proclaim to it the message” that YHWH would make known to him. The Septuagint rendering indicates that Jonah’s proclamation was to be according to what God had spoken to him previously or the first time. (3:2)

Jonah did get up and headed for Nineveh “according to the word of YHWH.” To reach his destination by walking from the Mediterranean coast or, based on the comments of Josephus (Antiquities, IX, x, 2), from the coast of the Black Sea, Jonah would have been on the road for about one month. (3:3)

Nineveh is spoken of as a “city great to God.” This description is idiomatic and designates Nineveh as a very large city. With the words a “journey of three days,” the city is further identified as a sizable metropolis. It appears that the reference to a “journey of three days” applies to more than just the site of ancient Nineveh. Likely it means that it required three days to walk from one end to the other end of what has been called the “Assyrian triangle,” including the cities of Nineveh, Khorsabad and Nimrud. (3:3)

Jonah went into the city, completing the journey of “one day,” and cried out and said, “Yet forty days [three days (LXX)] and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The account does not reveal how it happened that the Ninevites were able to understand the proclamation of a Hebrew prophet. Nothing is said about whether Jonah was miraculously endowed with the ability to speak in the language of the Assyrians or whether he knew enough of the language to proclaim his brief message. The kingdom of Israel did have dealings with Assyria. Therefore, as was the case with officials in the court of Hezekiah the king of Judah decades later (2 Kings 18:26), Jonah may have been able to make known his message in the native tongue of the Assyrians. His role was like that of a herald and would not have required much interaction with the people. Another possibility is that Jonah spoke in Hebrew, which could have created considerable curiosity until someone was located who was able to translate his words. In view of the extensive contact the Assyrians had with other peoples, there would have been translators in Nineveh just as there were in ancient Egypt. (3:4; compare Genesis 42:23.)

“And the men of Nineveh believed in God.” They accepted as a message from God the words Jonah proclaimed. Whereas this may seem unbelievable to many today, it is not a development that was contrary to the prevailing views of the people. They attached great weight to the significance of omens. For a foreigner who had no apparent interest in them to make such a proclamation with unhesitating assurance would have made a powerful impression. Moreover, the people of Nineveh were fully aware that their conduct had not been meritorious, and the proclamation of a message of doom would have forced them to reflect on their lawless ways. Their consciences would have condemned them. (3:5)

In the hope that they might be spared, the Ninevites then followed the usual custom when faced with impending calamity. “They proclaimed a fast,” removed their attire and, in keeping with the usual practice, would have covered their bare loins with sackcloth, a coarse cloth usually made from goat’s hair. All the people did this, “from the greatest of them” or the most prominent ones to the “least of them” or the lowliest ones among them. (3:5)

When word about Jonah’s proclamation reached the king of Nineveh, “he rose from his throne,” “removed his garment, and covered himself with sackcloth.” As was customary, he would have put sackcloth around his bare loins and then seated himself on the ground where ashes had been strewn. (3:6; see the Notes section.)

The Assyrian monarch directed that a public proclamation be made in Nineveh, decreeing along with his “great ones” or high officials that man and beast and animals of the herd (cattle) and flock (sheep and goats) should not eat anything nor drink water. According to the Septuagint rendering, this was the extent of the decree, but the Hebrew text completes its contents at the end of verse 9. (3:7)

The official decree commanded man and beast to be covered with sackcloth and that the people let God hear their mighty outcry. This would have been a cry to be shown pity so as to be spared from destruction. Besides being told to make outward expressions of grief and regret about having acted contrary to their innate sense of right and wrong, the Ninevites were called upon to abandon their wrong ways. Each “man” or person was to “turn from his evil way and from the violence that [was] in his hands.” The reference to “violence” being in the “hands” could apply to any oppressive, ruthless, or hateful actions, including deeds that did not involve the use of the hands to inflict injury. (3:8)

According to the Septuagint, the “men” or people and the animals put on sackcloth, whereas the Hebrew text (as part of the royal decree) commanded the people and animals to do so. This elliptical expression must be understood to mean that, besides covering their bare loins with sackcloth, the Ninevites were to put (or did put [LXX]) sackcloth on their animals. The Septuagint concludes with the words, “They cried out fervently to God,” and each one of them “turned from his evil way and from the injustice in his hands.” (3:8)

According to the decree in the Hebrew text, the Ninevites were to fast, refrain from drinking, put on sackcloth, and turn from their corrupt ways in the hope that God might possibly “repent” or refrain from acting against them, turning from the “burning” or fierceness of “his anger” so that they would not perish. In the Septuagint, the people are represented as saying in response to the actions they had taken, “Who knows if God will repent and turn from the wrath of his fury and we will by no means be destroyed?” (3:9; see the Notes section.)

When God saw the “works” of the Ninevites, which included their outward expressions of grief and turning from “their evil ways,” he “repented of the evil” or calamity that he had threatened to bring upon them. In keeping with his manner of dealing with nations (as later expressed through the prophet Jeremiah [18:7, 8]), he did not cause the Ninevites to experience the punitive judgment after they repented and turned away from their corrupt practices. They then ceased to be the kind of people they had been before Jonah proclaimed the message of judgment. In this context, God’s repenting refers to his choosing not to execute the severe judgment because the people had turned from their evil ways. (3:10)


There is no way to identify the king (verse 6) with any known Assyrian monarch. For additional comments, see the introduction for the book of Jonah.

The expression “by no means” (in verse 9) translates two Greek words for “not” and serves to preserve the emphatic sense.