The word of the LORD comes to Jonah for the second time. He gets the same command as the first time. This time Jonah does not flee for his mission. He goes to Nineveh obediently and brings the preaching as God has commanded him. The whole city comes to repentance and conversion. There is a deep awareness of committed sins and deserved judgment. There is also a deep awareness that the only salvation is to be found in God. Their hope for salvation is not in vain. Whoever goes to God with the mind of the inhabitants of Nineveh, will always be heard by Him.
1 A Second Chance
1 Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,
Jonah receives the word of the LORD the second time. He gets a second chance. This is not only a proof of God’s grace but also a proof of His forgiveness. He also could have sent someone else. We also see here the persevering goodness of God for Nineveh.
The LORD does not remind Jonah of his sin. He is not forever unfit to do a service for the LORD because of his sin. Confession and forgiveness often mean that we return to the task that we dropped by our sin. In this way we can show that we have not received the grace of God in vain.
God often gives His servants a second chance. Examples are Peter and John Mark. God is the God of another chance, yet He does not always give an opportunity for a second chance. Sometimes disobedience is of such a character that God cannot go on with such a servant. The man of God from Judah is an example of this (1Kgs 13:21-26).
2 The Command Is Unchanged
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”
Jonah gets a second chance, but no other command. The content of his preaching has not changed. This is because with God “there is no variation or shifting shadow” (Jam 1:17b). Also, nothing has changed about the wickedness of the people in Nineveh.
It is important that the preaching of the gospel and of the truth in general is not in any way altered or adapted. It is a trick of the devil who, if he can’t stop the truth, always will try to distort it.
3 Jonah Goes
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.
There is now no resistance anymore with Jonah. He obeys and sets off (cf. Mt 21:28-29). This is the obedience that should characterize every servant (cf. 1Kgs 17:5). God alone knows the right place and the right time and the right word. Jonah can rightly say with the Psalmist: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word” (Psa 119:67).
Nineveh must have had between six hundred thousand and one million inhabitants. God’s heart goes out to each of these people. He does not want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2Pet 3:9b; 1Tim 2:4). He cares about all people in the whole world. Jonah is a sign for the Ninevites (Lk 11:30). They must have heard what happened to him. Hence he is a sign for them. They can see in him the punishing, but also the saving God. He himself was saved by the LORD and can now offer this salvation also to Nineveh.
Jonah is here a type of and reference to the Lord Jesus as the One risen from the dead. Christ is also preached as a Savior to the Gentile world only after He had died and risen.
4 The Preaching
4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Jonah is alone, facing an enormous wickedness. He has not organized a campaign, didn’t place advertisements, didn’t hire famous speakers. Peter and Paul also work like Jonah. They all trust only in God and the power of His Word.
After Jonah has walked one day into the city, he must have arrived in the city center at the moment he begins to preach. The appearance and preaching of the stranger Jonah must have caused a great sensation. Probably never before has anyone pointed out the sins of the city, and made known a judging God. It may also have been noticed that his preaching is without any self-interest. He does not preach to become popular. That’s also not the content of his message. Neither does he reduce his hard message to a poor substitute.
Fearless his voice shouts through the streets of Nineveh and calls out the words he was told by the LORD. The preaching of judgment is in itself a proof of the grace of God. The announcement of the judgment is not yet the execution of it. Nineveh is even given a postponement of forty days. In that period they can show what effect the preaching has on them.
It is a period of testing. That is also what the number forty represents. It is the number of testing. This is also evident from other places where this number occurs (Gen 7:17; Exo 24:18; Num 14:25,34; 1Sam 17:16; 1Kgs 19:8; Mt 4:2; Acts 1:3).
The way in which this judgment is carried out shows that it is a radical judgment. To be overthrown is a devastation including the foundation. What was announced to Nineveh, happened to Sodom and Gomorrah.
5 The Power of God’s Word
5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.
Jonah’s preaching is short. The original text contains only five words. But what a mighty preaching! Nowhere in the Bible we find a result of God’s words as here with the inhabitants of Nineveh. The whole city comes to faith in God! The miracle that takes place here is many times greater than that of the fish that had swallowed Jonah.
Jonah is a sign. But the inhabitants do not concern themselves with Jonah. They concern themselves with what he says, which means with God. They received the word of the preaching of God and “accepted [it] not [as] a word of men, but [for] what it really is, the word of God” (1Thes 2:13).
They all repent, from the oldest to the youngest, without exception. They believe what God says. They acknowledge that He has the right to judge them and that it will be right if He does so. When God is believed on His word, He is honored. In return He honors such faith with the answer of His grace.
Jonah’s preaching makes a deep impression and not just a shallow one. This is evidenced by the fast that is called. All entertainment is banned. They focus exclusively on God. They show their inner state of dismay by putting on sackcloth. The sackcloth is not camouflage, but the real expression of dismay. They realize the seriousness of their situation. Judgment is imminent. The soul that has come to this awareness also realizes that there is only one way to escape this judgment, and that is through humiliation and confession and hope for the grace of God.
It is about the judgment of God, not of the LORD. LORD is the Name in connection with His covenant people. The name “God” speaks of His sovereignty and is connected with His creation. The sailors use the name ‘LORD’ after being taught about it by Jonah (Jona 1:14).
“From the greatest to the least of them” can refer to age or body length. It can also refer to the degree of being sinners (cf. Rev 20:12a). All admit themselves to be sinners in any case, and acknowledge the righteousness of God’s judgment. The great sinners do not feel too great, as if there is no grace for them; the small sinners do not feel too small, as if they do not need grace.
Because the men of Nineveh listen, they will judge the proud Jews of the days of the Lord Jesus. The Jews do not listen to the message of Him Who is greater than Jonah (Mt 12:41).
6 Arising From the Throne
6 When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered [himself] with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.
The effect of the preaching is so spontaneous that no one waits for a word from the king, but they put on sackcloth (verse 5). But the king does not stay behind. He joins the general mourning. His first reaction is that he arises from his throne. With this he expresses as it were, that he renounces his authority because of the abuse he has made of it. This act also includes the acknowledgment of the authority of a Superior.
We also see this aspect with other kings who rise from their throne, such as Ehud (Jdg 3:20) and Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 3:24). As long as man thinks he can control his own life, his own ‘I’ is still on the throne. The first result of someone who is convinced of God’s authority over his life is that he arises from his ‘throne’.
The king of Nineveh does not stop there. The next thing he does is to lay aside his robe. With this he says, as it were, that he has lost all his dignity. Finally, he also covers himself with sackcloth. He joins the people in their mourning. He acknowledges that there is no regard of persons with God: “For there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:22b-23).
Then he goes one step further. He takes his place on the ashes, the place that speaks of the deepest humiliation and death (Job 42:6; Psa 22:16). As the head of the people he is aware of his greater responsibility in leading the way into sin. From this low point, he starts a different way of governing the people. Without still being aware of it, he leads the people back to God.
7 A Command of Life
7 He issued a proclamation and it said, “In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water.
It seems as if this command by the king and his ministers is leading the people to ruin. Not eating and not drinking will result in death. But that is the appearance that deceives. On the contrary, it is an order to life. Whoever takes the place of death before God, whoever acknowledges to be dead before God, is given life.
Everything shows that the people take Jonah’s message seriously. There is no delay, on the contrary, there is haste. The command calls for an immediate conversion of the sins to which they have surrendered and over which God’s judgment now looms. The life in hedonism and debauchery is given up. The most essential necessities of life are renounced. Even the animals are withheld from any food.
This expresses how much man and animal are connected in the curse that hangs over creation as a result of man’s sin (Joel 1:18,20). Man and animal are also united in expressing the grief over sin and the longing to be set free from the curse, from the slavery to corruption (Rom 8:19-25). Man and animal will share in that liberation (Psa 36:6-7). We see in the last verse of this book that God also takes the animals into account (Jona 4:11).
8 Calling on God
8 But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men [literally them] call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands.
According to verse 5, all have already covered themselves with sackcloth. Their appearance reflects their inner change. But also the beasts must be covered with a sackcloth. They share in the grief of the people. Think of the horses in front of a hearse that are covered with black rugs.
It is assumed that the calling of beasts does not belong in the biblical text, because beasts neither call to God, nor repent. Of course, beasts cannot repent, but beasts can call to God, and God hears them too. They will do this even more when they do not receive food and drink (Job 39:3; Psa 104:21).
The deep awareness of the impending disaster and its righteousness is evident in the call to cry to God ‘earnestly’. A general, thoughtless spoken prayer has no effect. Nor is it the expression of someone who is convinced of the state of emergency in which he finds himself.
Those who are convinced of this state of emergency will do everything in their power to bring about a change in their fate. The actions of God that are noticed to work this will result in God being constantly faced with prayers. The Lord Jesus Himself invites such persistent, continuous prayer in the parable of a widow who persistently appeals to an unjust judge (Lk 18:1-8). He expresses this parable in response to the emergency situation He has painted in the verses before (Lk 17:20-37).
Conversion only occurs when someone honestly says to God, for example: ‘I have lied.’ This is called confessing the sins. Out of conviction, such a person agrees that he is indeed not to be trusted. It is the acknowledgment that it is not good inside, in the heart. There is also the acknowledgment that such sin deserves the punishment of God, that it is righteous if God throws man into hell for his sins. Conversion is therefore not a superficial matter, but a profound work.
It is not about feeling, but about conscience that must come in the light of God. We could say that repentance is that we go to God to condemn ourselves before Him. It also means confessing to Him that there was no obedience to Him so far and that life was thoroughly wrong as a result. There will also be repentance for living in this way so far and that one distances oneself from it.
These aspects of conversion can be seen in the inhabitants of Nineveh. We see the repentance to God in earnestly calling to God. We also see the call that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands, that is, to distance himself from the former walk and trade, “way” and “hands”. With ‘violence’, one could think of the many extortions that the inhabitants of Nineveh have apparently been guilty of.
9 Who knows …
9 Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.”
The whole city feels that it is possible that God will not execute His judgment, although Jonah did not speak about it. There is the general sense of God’s goodness. The expression “who knows” makes their mind clear. They demand no forgiveness and claim no mercy. In their confession there is no sacrifice or anything they promise or offer God, to appease Him with it, to earn something. Salvation is on the basis of faith in Christ alone and not on the basis of works.
10 And He Did Not Do It
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do [it].
Just as the wickedness has risen from Nineveh to God before (Jona 1:2), so now repentance rises. God does not only hear their calls, He also sees their change. They produce fruit worthy of the repentance (Mt 3:8). That fruit is that they turn form their wicked way. No animal sacrifices are brought, but they bring the sacrifice of a broken spirit and contrite heart (Psa 51:17).
Their change leads God to change His mind. He relents concerning His earlier plan and does not execute it. God’s relenting never has to do with acknowledging a wrong deed. God never does anything wrong. The element of regret about wrongdoing is not present here. If God relents, it means that in His government He comes back from something He had in mind, but changes it when He sees people behaving differently.
God can therefore relent in the sense that He comes back to an intention to bless or punish man if the ways of man give cause to so (cf. Jer 18:7-8; 26:2-3). This shows that man is not a puppet and God is not an adamant God.