For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough 

3:1.  “And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,”

3:2.  “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”

God graciously provided His formerly disobedient servant a second opportunity to be His messenger to Nineveh, when He could just as easily have conferred the privilege on another.  We who have been equally disobedient are being reminded in this that past failure doesn’t necessarily preclude the possibility of our returning to God in repentant submission as instruments to do His work of bringing blessing to others, and eternal reward to ourselves.

Relative to the great size of Nineveh, it is to be remembered that the city itself, like many others, included the towns and villages in its vicinity, they being viewed as part of Nineveh itself, hence its taking three days to walk either around it or through it, the circumference of the area being estimated as approximately sixty miles.

“... preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.”  Jonah was not left to deliver a message he might have considered appropriate to Nineveh’s condition, for as the sequel reveals, his thought was that God should destroy it.  Neither are we at liberty to deliver to others a message of our choosing.  God’s work is done by those who go forth in His time, as His messengers bearing His message.  The lack of power so evident in much of the busy activity of Christians today is that much of it is the activity of the flesh rather than the Spirit. 

3:3.  “So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.  Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.”

Relative to the size of Nineveh, see comments on verse two.  Inasmuch as it was in Assyria, of which it later became the capital, and Assyria was one of Israel’s bitterest foes, we are to remember that it represents the world to which we too are to carry the message of the Gospel.  That world is as bitterly antagonistic to God and those who are His, as was Nineveh to Him and to His earthly people Israel.  Nineveh nevertheless was the object of His love and compassion, and so is the world which it represents, as declared in Jn 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

3:4.  “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”

The prophet’s message began with an announcement of coming judgment, and in this we are being reminded that the gospel expunged of warning is no gospel at all.  The only gospel that will save is that which first makes the sinner afraid of dying in his sins.  Apart from that fear there may be profession, but there will be no genuine conversion, for the very word “saved” implies the necessity of being saved from some terrible danger, that danger being of dying unsaved and plunging into hell to await the judgment of the great white throne, from which the unsaved will be cast into the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire, see Re 20:11-15. 

Today’s gospel so-called has been expunged of warning, hence the large number of those professing to be Christians, but whose lives furnish no evidence that there has ever been a new birth.  He who would go forth as God’s messenger must include warning as part of his message, otherwise he is not only wasting his time, but proving that he has not been sent by God.

The number four, no matter how many times multiplied, is the biblical number of earth and testing (see notes at the end of Genesis chapter 1, also available on this web site), and ten is the biblical number of Divine government, so that the forty days are stamped with the character of probationary testing in connection with the judgment that must always follow disobedience.

Unwritten, but clearly implied in the words, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” is the clear announcement, not of the certainty of the judgment, but of the assurance that genuine repentance will avert the threatened doom.

It is not in keeping with God’s character to execute judgment without providing also a way to escape it.  Judgment is, “his strange work,” Isa 28:21, His last resort.

3:5.  “So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.”

Their belief of God’s word went beyond mere mental acceptance: they demonstrated the reality of their belief by their actions: their faith produced repentance.  Nor should we miss the significance of what they did.  First they fasted, their denying food to the body being the symbolic expression of not gratifying fleshly lust.  (This is what is always portrayed by fasting, and it is to be noted that fasting was for the Jews, and has no place in the life of the believer today.  The signs and symbols of Judaism have no place in the Church.  Reality is to replace symbol.  There is to be the actual refusal to gratify the lusts of the flesh).

This was the inward sign of repentance: it was known only to the one who fasted, and to God.  True repentance begins in the heart.

But next they put on sackcloth, which speaks of the change in the outward life which is the evidence of genuine repentance, and which the eye of man may see.

“... from the greatest ... to the least of them.”  This declares the universal need of repentance as a prerequisite of salvation.  There is no one who doesn’t need to repent, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” Ro 3:23.

3:6.  “For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.”

The king was the representative of all the people, and in the matter of escaping the judgment of God, all others must do as he did, and first “he arose (stepped down) from his throne.”  He who would be saved must abandon all thought of superiority to others, for, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.  They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” Ro 3:10-12.

“... and he laid aside his (royal) robe.”  In Scripture, garments represent righteousness, either “the filthy rags” of self-righteousness, or the spotless righteousness of Christ which clothes every believer; and relative to righteousness other than that of Christ, it is written, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” Isa 64:6.

He who would be saved must “take off his robe,” that is, he must recognize that in God’s sight he has not one shred of righteousness.  The thought that I’m not totally bad, or not as bad as some others, automatically disqualifies me from heaven.  This is the lesson taught symbolically in the peculiar custom in Israel relative to the cleansing of the leper as recorded in Le 13:12-13.  If the man had even one spot of leprosy he was a leper, and must live outside the camp: he was unclean; but if the leprosy covered him “from his head even to his foot,” the priest was to pronounce him clean.  The man with several, or even one spot of leprosy represents the man who thinks he isn’t altogether sinful: the one completely covered represents the man who is willing to admit that he has absolutely no righteousness.  That victim was pronounced clean, and so is the man he represents, that is, the sinner who admits that he has no righteousness.

“... and covered himself with sackcloth.”   As noted already, this was the symbolic announcement of repentant contrition.

“... and sat in ashes.”  Ashes are what remains after the fire has spent itself: there is nothing more for it to kindle upon.  The king’s sitting in ashes therefore is symbolic of his having been justified (having passed for ever beyond condemnation) by his repentant faith in God’s word, as it is written of every believer, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” Ro 8:1.  It speaks also of his renunciation of all personal glory, the true attitude of the genuine convert, for only the true believer acknowledges that he has nothing to glory in except the cross, as Paul has written, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world,” Ga 6:14.

3:7.  “And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:”

This public announcement speaks of the confession that ought to accompany conversion, as it is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” Ro 10:9-10.

Their denying themselves, and their animals, food and water, continues to emphasize their refusal to gratify the lusts of the flesh in their own lives, or in anything within their control.  Where it is within his power the believer is not to permit in his own life, or in his household or business anything dishonoring to God.

3:8.  “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.”

Crying mightily is literally with groaning, the king’s command stressing the need for sorrowful repentance, and not just the uttering of empty words, the evidence of genuine contrition being evidenced by everyone’s changing his lifestyle, which until then had been characterized by violence and robbery. 

The profession that isn’t accompanied by righteous living is very likely to be false.

3:9.  “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?”

When God is spoken of as repenting or changing His mind, it is to be realized that the language is anthropopathic, that is it ascribes human passions or feelings to someone or something not human: God or angels, for example.  As Scofield puts it, “When applied to God the word is used phenomenally ... God seems to change His mind.  The phenomena are such as, in the case of a man, would indicate a change of mind.”  God, of course, never changes His mind.  He has no need to, for a change of mind indicates a previous erroneous judgment, something of which God could never be guilty since He is omniscient.

God had sent Jonah with a message of judgment, without saying that in response to the repentant contrition which would be indicated by their changed ways, He would withhold the judgment.  They had first to be made acutely aware of their very great wickedness, and for God to have offered hope of reprieve together with the threatened punishment would have very obviously diminished their consciousness of the enormity of their sins.  They had to be brought to an end of their own resources, without any hope, so that God could come in in grace, and not as One Who can be bargained with.  There was no change of mind when He did withhold the judgment.  By His foreknowledge he knew that his message of judgment would bring about the genuine contrition, to which as a matter of Divine principle, He always responds in pardoning grace, but with one imperative condition: the repentance must come in God’s time, not man’s.  The absolute necessity of repenting in His time is declared repeatedly in Scripture, e.g., “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3; “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1; “... behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” 2 Cor 6:2. 

The time limit for Nineveh is indicated in the forty days.

3:10.  “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.”

Their changed conduct declared the reality of their repentant contrition, and furnished the basis upon which God could righteously pardon, and deliver them from the judgment their wickedness rightly deserved.

It is clear that apart from genuine repentance they must have perished, as must all who refuse to repent.  Sadly, future generations didn’t profit by the experience of the men of Jonah’s day, for just about 40 years later they appear to have reverted to their wicked ways, as is evidenced by their destruction of Israel, the ten northern tribes, in 722 BC, Assyria itself being destroyed about 150 years later in 612 BC.

[Jonah 4]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough