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Jon 3:1-10. JONAH'S SECOND COMMISSION TO NINEVEH: THE NINEVITES REPENT OF THEIR EVIL WAY: SO GOD REPENTS OF THE EVIL THREATENED.
2. preach . . . the preaching--literally, "proclaim the proclamation." On the former occasion the specific object of his commission to Nineveh was declared; here it is indeterminate. This is to show how freely he yields himself, in the spirit of unconditional obedience, to speak whatever God may please.
3. arose and went--like the son who was at first disobedient to the
father's command, "Go work in my vineyard," but who afterwards "repented
(Mt 21:28, 29).
Jonah was thus the fittest instrument for proclaiming judgment, and yet
hope of mercy on repentance to Nineveh, being himself a living
exemplification of both--judgment in his entombment in the fish, mercy
on repentance in his deliverance. Israel professing to obey, but not
obeying, and so doomed to exile in the same Nineveh, answers to the son
who said, "I go, sir, and went not." In
it is said that Jonas was not only a sign to the men in Christ's time,
but also "unto the Ninevites." On the latter occasion
when the Pharisees and Sadducees tempted Him, asking a sign from
heaven, He answered, "No sign shall be given, but the sign of the
Thus the sign had a twofold aspect, a direct bearing on the
Ninevites, an indirect bearing on the Jews in Christ's time. To the
Ninevites he was not merely a prophet, but himself a wonder in the
earth, as one who had tasted of death, and yet had not seen corruption,
but had now returned to witness among them for God. If the Ninevites
had indulged in a captious spirit, they never would have inquired and
so known Jonah's wonderful history; but being humbled by God's awful
message, they learned from Jonah himself that it was the previous
concealing in his bosom of the same message of their own doom that
caused him to be entombed as an outcast from the living. Thus he was a
"sign" to them of wrath on the one hand, and, on the other, of mercy.
Guilty Jonah saved from the jaws of death gives a ray of hope to guilty
Nineveh. Thus God, who brings good from evil, made Jonah in his fall,
punishment, and restoration, a sign (an embodied lesson or
living symbol) through which the Ninevites were roused to hear
and repent, as they would not have been likely to do, had he gone on
the first commission before his living entombment and resurrection. To
do evil that good may come, is a policy which can only come from Satan;
but from evil already done to extract an instrument against the kingdom
of darkness, is a triumphant display of the grace and wisdom of God. To
the Pharisees in Christ's time, who, not content with the many signs
exhibited by Him, still demanded a sign from heaven, He gave a
sign in the opposite quarter, namely, Jonah, who came "out of the belly
of hell" (the unseen region). They looked for a Messiah
gloriously coming in the clouds of heaven; the Messiah, on the
contrary, is to pass through a like, though a deeper, humiliation than
Jonah; He is to lie "in the heart of the earth." Jonah and his
Antitype alike appeared low and friendless among their hearers; both
victims to death for God's wrath against sin, both preaching
repentance. Repentance derives all its efficacy from the death of
Christ, just as Jonah's message derived its weight with the Ninevites
from his entombment. The Jews stumbled at Christ's death, the very fact
which ought to have led them to Him, as Jonah's entombment attracted
the Ninevites to his message. As Jonah's restoration gave hope of God's
placability to Nineveh, so Christ's resurrection assures us God is
fully reconciled to man by Christ's death. But Jonah's entombment only
had the effect of a moral suasive; Christ's death is an
efficacious instrument of reconciliation between God and man
4. a day's journey--not going straight forward without stopping: for
the city was but eighteen miles in length; but stopping in his progress
from time to time to announce his message to the crowds gathering about
5. believed God--gave credit to Jonah's message from God; thus
recognizing Jehovah as the true God.
6. in ashes--emblem of the deepest humiliation (Job 2:8; Eze 27:30).
7. neither . . . beast . . . taste any thing--The brute creatures share in the evil effects of man's sin (Jon 4:11; Ro 8:20, 22); so they here according to Eastern custom, are made to share in man's outward indications of humiliation. "When the Persian general Masistias was slain, the horses and mules of the Persians were shorn, as well as themselves" [NEWCOME from PLUTARCH; also HERODOTUS, 9.24].
8. cry . . . turn--Prayer without reformation is a mockery of God (Ps 66:18; Isa 58:6). Prayer, on the other hand, must precede true reformation, as we cannot turn to God from our evil way unless God first turns us (Jer 31:18, 19).
9. Who can tell--(Compare Joe 2:14). Their acting on a vague possibility of God's mercy, without any special ground of encouragement, is the more remarkable instance of faith, as they had to break through long-rooted prejudices in giving up idols to seek Jehovah at all. The only ground which their ready faith rested on, was the fact of God sending one to warn them, instead of destroying them at once; this suggested the thought of a possibility of pardon. Hence they are cited by Christ as about to condemn in the judgment those who, with much greater light and privileges, yet repent not (Mt 12:41).
10. God repented of the evil--When the message was sent to them, they were so ripe for judgment that a purpose of destruction to take effect in forty days was the only word God's righteous abhorrence of sin admitted of as to them. But when they repented, the position in which they stood towards God's righteousness was altered. So God's mode of dealing with them must alter accordingly, if God is not to be inconsistent with His own immutable character of dealing with men according to their works and state of heart, taking vengeance at last on the hardened impenitent, and delighting to show mercy on the penitent. Compare Abraham's reasoning, Ge 18:25; Eze 18:21-25; Jer 18:7-10. What was really a change in them and in God's corresponding dealings is, in condescension to human conceptions, represented as a change in God (compare Ex 32:14), who, in His essential righteousness and mercy, changeth not (Nu 23:19; 1Sa 15:29; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17). The reason why the announcement of destruction was made absolute, and not dependent on Nineveh's continued impenitence, was that this form was the only one calculated to rouse them; and at the same time it was a truthful representation of God's purpose towards Nineveh under its existing state, and of Nineveh's due. When that state ceased, a new relation of Nineveh to God, not contemplated in the message, came in, and room was made for the word to take effect, "the curse causeless shall not come" [FAIRBAIRN]. Prophecy is not merely for the sake of proving God's omniscience by the verification of predictions of the future, but is mainly designed to vindicate God's justice and mercy in dealing with the impenitent and penitent respectively (Ro 11:22). The Bible ever assigns the first place to the eternal principles of righteousness, rooted in the character of God, subordinating to them all divine arrangements. God's sparing Nineveh, when in the jaws of destruction, on the first dawn of repentance encourages the timid penitent, and shows beforehand that Israel's doom, soon after accomplished, is to be ascribed, not to unwillingness to forgive on God's part, but to their own obstinate impenitence.