Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2002 James Melough
“And the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying,”
“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
“... 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.
“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.”
“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
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.
“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.
“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
“... and covered himself with
sackcloth.” As noted already, this was the symbolic announcement of
“... 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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
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.