Verse 11. "And should not I spare Nineveh" - In ver. 10 it is said, thou hast had pity on the gourd, tsj hta attah CHASTA; and here the Lord uses the same word, swja al ynaw veani lo ACHUS, "And shall not I have pity upon Nineveh?" How much is the city better than the shrub? But besides this there are in it one hundred and twenty thousand persons! And shall I destroy them, rather than thy shade should be withered or thy word apparently fail? And besides, these persons are young, and have not offended, (for they knew not the difference between their right hand and their left,) and should not I feel more pity for those innocents than thou dost for the fine flowering plant which is withered in a night, being itself exceedingly short-lived? Add to all this, they have now turned from those sins which induced me to denounce judgment against them. And should I destroy them who are now fasting and afflicting their souls; and, covered with sackcloth, are lying in the dust before me, bewailing their offenses and supplicating for mercy? Learn, then, from this, that it is the incorrigibly wicked on whom my judgments must fall and against whom they are threatened. And know, that to that man will I look who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word. Even the dumb beasts are objects of my compassion; I will spare them for the sake of their penitent owners; and remember with the rest, That the Lord careth for oxen.
The great number of cattle to which reference is here made were for the support of the inhabitants; and probably at this time the Ninevites gathered in their cattle from the champaign pasture, expecting that some foe coming to besiege them might seize upon them for their forage, while they within might suffer the lack of all things.
No doubt that ancient Nineveh was like ancient Babylon, of which Quintus Curtius says the buildings were not close to the walls, there being the space of an acre left between them; and in several parts there were within the walls portions of cultivated land, that, if besieged, they might have provisions to sustain the inhabitants.
And I suppose this to be true of all large ancient cities. They were rather cantons or districts than cities such as now are, only all the different inhabitants had joined together to wall in the districts for the sake of mutual defense.
This last expostulation of God, it is to be hoped, produced its proper effect on the mind of this irritable prophet; and that he was fully convinced that in this, as in all other cases, God had done all things well.
FROM this short prophecy many useful lessons may be derived. The Ninevites were on the verge of destruction, but on their repentance were respited. They did not, however, continue under the influence of good resolutions. They relapsed, and about one hundred and fifty years afterwards, the Prophet Nahum was sent to predict the miraculous discomfiture of the Assyrian king under Sennacherib, an event which took place about 710 B.C., and also the total destruction of Nineveh by Cyaxares and his allies which happened about 606 B.C. Several of the ancients, by allegorizing this book, have made Jonah declare the divinity, humanity, death, and resurrection of Christ. These points may be found in the Gospel history, their true repository; but fancy can find them any where it pleases to seek them; but he who seeks not for them will never find them here. Jonah was a type of the resurrection of Christ; nothing farther seems revealed in this prophet relative to the mysteries of Christianity.
In conclusion: while I have done the best I could to illustrate the very difficult prophet through whose work the reader has just passed, I do not pretend to say I have removed every difficulty. I am satisfied only of one thing, that I have conscientiously endeavoured to do it, and believe that I have generally succeeded; but am still fearful that several are left behind, which, though they fnay be accounted for from the briefness of the narrative of a great transaction, in which so many surprising particulars are included, yet, for general apprehension, might appear to have required a more distinct and circumstantial statement. I have only to add, that as several of the facts are evidently miraculous, and by the prophet stated as such, others may be probably of the same kind. On this ground all difficulty is removed; for God can do what he pleases. As his power is unlimited, it can meet with no impossibilities. He who gave the commission to Jonah to go and preach to the Ninevites, and prepared the great fish to swallow the disobedient prophet, could maintain his life for three days and three nights in the belly of this marine monster; and cause it to eject him at the termination of the appointed time, on any sea-coast he might choose; and afterwards the Divine power could carry the deeply contrite and now faithful prophet over the intervening distance between that and Nineveh, be that distance greater or less. Whatever, therefore, cannot be accounted for on mere natural principles in this book, may be referred to this supernatural agency; and this, on the ostensible principle of the prophecy itself, is at once a mode of interpretation as easy as it is rational. God gave the commission; he raised the storm, he prepared the fish which swallowed the prophet; he caused it to cast him forth on the dry land; he gave him a fresh commission, carried him to the place of his destination, and miraculously produced the sheltering gourd, that came to perfection in a night and withered in a night. This God therefore performed the other facts for which we cannot naturally account, as he did those already specified. This concession, for the admission of which both common sense and reason plead, at once solves all the real or seeming difficulties to be found in the Book of the Prophet Jonah.