The Story of Jonah

Chapter 3

Jonah, sent again, preaches to the Ninevites, 1-4. Upon their repentance, 5-9, God repents, 10.

1 And the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you." 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city of three days' journey. 4 And Jonah began to enter into the city for a day's journey and he cried, and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown."

5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest even to the least of them. 6 For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, took off his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 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 anything. Do not let them feed, nor drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth and cry mightily to God. Indeed, let them each turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in their hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and repent and turn away from his fierce anger so that we do not perish?"

10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. And God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do to them, and he did not do it.


Matthew Henry Commentary - Jonah, Chapter 3


John Gill's Chapter Summary:

This chapter gives an account of the renewal of Jonah's message to Nineveh, and of his faithful execution of it (verses 1-4); and of the fruit and effect of it, the conversion of the Ninevites, their faith in God, repentance of their sins, and reformation from them (verses 5-9); and of God's approbation thereof, by revoking the sentence he had pronounced upon them (verse 10).

[v.1-2] - In these verses, God shows his favor by restoring to Jonah the title and office of prophet. God easily, and rightly so, could have left Jonah in the sea and found someone else. However, God maintained Jonah for this very purpose, namely, to warn the Ninevites of God's wrath and lead them to repentance. God did this, not for Jonah's merits or any good thing to be found in him, but as an act of grace alone.

[v.2] - "We hence see, that faith, when once it gains the ascendancy in our hearts, surmounts all obstacles, and despises all the greatness of the world." —John Calvin

[v.3a] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "Jonah, by saying that he went to Nineveh according to God's command, proves in the first place... how great was the power and energy of his faith; for though Jonah had considered the greatness and pride of the city, he seems to have forgotten that he was an obscure man, alone, and unarmed; but he had laid hold on weapons capable of destroying all the power of the world, for he knew that he was sent from above. His conviction was, that God was on his side; and he knew that God had called him. Hence then it was, that with a high and intrepid mind he looked down on all the splendor of the city Nineveh. Hence John does not without reason say, that the victory, by which we overcome the world, proceeds from faith (1st John 5:4). Jonah also proves, at the same time, how much he had improved under God's scourges. He had been severely chastised; but we know that most of the unbelieving grow hardened under the rod, and vomit forth their rage against God; Jonah, on the contrary, shows here that chastisement had been useful to him for he was subdued and led to obey God."

[v.3b] - "an exceeding great city" - The way the Hebrew is here written would have this phrase rendered as, "a city great to God." However, this figure of speech is not saying that the city was the object of God's care, but rather, as it is rendered in translation, that the city was great in size, or superior in size. And, as John Calvin said, "so they say, the cedars of God, the mountains of God, the fields of God, when they are superior in height or in any other respect. Hence a city is called the city of God, when it is beyond others renowned."

[v.4] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "We now then see how prompt [Jonah] was in his obedience, who had before attempted to pass over the sea: he now takes hardly a moment to breathe, but he begins at the very entrance to testify that he had come in obedience to God."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 2:8-3:5:

Grant, Almighty God, that as there is so much timidity in us, that none of us is prepared to follow where you may call us, we may be so instructed by the example of your servant Jonah, as to obey you in everything, and that though Satan and the world may oppose us with all their terrors, we may yet be strengthened by a reliance on your power and protection, which you have promised to us, and may go on in the course of our vocation, and never turn aside, but thus contend against all the hindrances of this world, until we reach that celestial kingdom, where we shall enjoy you and Christ your only begotten Son, who is our strength and our salvation: and may your Spirit quicken us, and strengthen all our faculties, that we may obey you, and that at length your name may be glorified in us, and that we may finally become partakers of that glory to which you invite us through Christ our Lord. Amen.

[v.5-9] - Reference, Matthew 12:41; Luke 11:32.

[v.6-8] - From Matthew Henry's Commentary: "Note, It is not enough to fast for sin, but we must fast from sin, and, in order to the success of our prayers, must no more regard iniquity in our hearts (Psalm 66:18). This is the only fast that God has chosen and will accept (Isaiah 58:6; Zechariah 7:5, 9). The work of a fast-day is not done with the day; no, then the hardest and most needful part of the work begins, which is to turn from sin, and to live a new life, and not return with the dog to his vomit (2nd Peter 2:22)."

[v.7-8] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "But it seems strange, and even ridiculous, that the king should bid animals, as well as men, to make a confession of repentance; for penitence is a change in man, when he returns to God after having been alienated from him: this cannot comport with the character of brute animals... To this I answer—that this was done for the sake of men: for it would have been ridiculous in the king to prohibit food and drink to animals, except he had a regard to men themselves. But his object was to set before the Ninevites, as in a mirror or picture, what they deserved. The same was done under the law; for, whenever they slew victims, they were reminded of their own sins; for it ought to have come to their minds, that the sheep or any other animal sacrificed was innocent, and that it stood at the altar in his stead who had sinned. They therefore saw in the ox, or the lamb, or the goat, a striking emblem of their own condemnation. So also the Ninevites, when they constrained the oxen, the donkeys, and other animals, to fast, were reminded of what grievous and severe punishment they were worthy: inasmuch as innocent animals suffered punishment together with them. We hence see that no expiation was sought for by the king, when he enjoined a fast on brute animals, but that, on the contrary, men were roused by such means seriously to acknowledge the wrath of God, and to entertain greater fear, that they might be more truly humbled before him, and be displeased with themselves, and be thus more disposed and better prepared and molded to seek pardon."

[v.8] - "evil way" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "By 'way' the Scripture usually means the whole course or manner of man's life; it was as though he said, 'Let every one of you change his disposition and his conduct; let us all become new creatures.' And this is true penitence, the conversion of man to God."

[v.10a] - From John Calvin's Commentary: "Jonah now says, that the Ninevites obtained pardon through their repentance: and this is an example worthy of being observed; for we hence learn for what purpose God daily urges us to repentance, and that is, because he desires to be reconciled to us, and that we should be reconciled to him. The reason then why so many reproofs and threatening resound in our ears, whenever we come to hear the word of God, is this,— that as God seeks to recover us from destruction he speaks sharply to us: in short, whatever the Scripture contains on repentance and the judgment of God ought to be wholly applied for this purpose—to induce us to return into favor with him; for he is ready to be reconciled, and is ever prepared to embrace those who without dissimulation turn to him. We then understand by this example that God has no other object in view, whenever he sharply constrains us, than that he may be reconciled to us, provided only we be our own judges, and thus anticipate his wrath by genuine sorrow of heart, provided we solicit the pardon of our guilt and sin, and loathe ourselves, and confess that we are worthy of perdition."

[v.10b] - "And God saw their works" - From John Calvin's Commentary: "We must first see what works he means, that no one may snatch at a single word, as hypocrites are known to do... 'God had respect to their works'— what works? not sackcloth, not ashes, not fasting; for Jonah does not now mention these; but he had respect to their works—because they turned from their evil way. We hence see that God was not pacified by outward rites only, by the external profession of repentance, but that he rather looked on the true and important change which had taken place in the Ninevites, for they had become renewed. These then were their works, even the fruits of repentance. And such a change of life could not have taken place, had not the Ninevites been really moved by a sense of God's wrath. The fear of God then had preceded; and this fear could not have been without faith. We hence see that he chiefly speaks here not of external works, but of the renovation of men."

John Calvin's Prayer for Verses 6-10:

Grant, Almighty God, that as we are loaded with so many vices, and so many sins, and even scandalous crimes break out daily among us,— O grant, that we may not be hardened against so many exhortations, by which you invite us to yourself, but that being made contrite in spirit, whenever you denounce on us your wrath, we may be really humbled, and so place ourselves before your tribunal, that we may, by a true confession and genuine fear, anticipate the judgment which would otherwise have been prepared for us; and that in the meantime relying on Christ our Mediator, we may entertain such a hope of pardon as may raise us up to you, and not doubt but that you are ready to embrace us, when we shall be moved by a true and real feeling of fear and penitence, since it is a proof of your favor, when you are pleased to anticipate us, and by your Spirit testify that you are a Father to us; and, in a word, may we be so cast down in ourselves, as to raise up our hope even to heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.