Jonah 3

Jonah 3

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Jonah Goes to Nineveh

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

The People of Nineveh Repent

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.


Jonah 3 Commentary

by Hank Workman

We serve a God of second chances.  In fact, it seems we serve a God of numerous ones!

The entire calling Jonah fled from, after his repentance, God issued the same command again.  He took him right back to what He wanted all along.  God continues to reach out and call us wayward people toward the things He has planned for us.  Once our hearts are open and pliable to His call, even though we’ve wandered or run as far away from it, He reissues His call.  You talk about grace – this is a remarkable aspect of His mercy to His children.  Though we resist, run for the hills at times from it, His call still stands.  His love still reaches.  His plans remain firm.

God was determined to work through this reluctant prophet.  But here’s what’s fascinating.  God reissues the calling and simply states, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim the message I will tell you.”  The call has nothing more than where to go.  His specific words are not given yet.  And many, many times this is the same for us: Go and wait for further instruction.  He often leads us one step at a time without the full picture before.

It’s a curious thing to consider why this is the case.  Many times we can’t handle what and where He’s leading.  Seriously.  Sometimes if we knew what He was about to do, we would dig in our heels again.  But like with Jonah and each step he took toward that city, with each step we make in the direction He’s called, He works in our spirit.  His Holy Spirit speaks to our heart, presses in upon us.

His calling upon our lives is more than just an acceptance of that call.  It’s walking toward it.  Many times the impossibility of whatever it is seems daunting enough.  But with each step we make He strengthens us for what is coming next.  Anyone that has done this knows there are roadblocks at times, a waiting period all too often, but in the middle of all this, He is strengthening our faith toward what He’s placed before us.  All He asks is that we move toward it, He’ll do the rest and our faith miraculously becomes stronger in the process.

Miraculously, Jonah went to Nineveh, was given a word from God and the entire city from the king down repented.

Where does the story of Jonah resonate for you?  As He’s the God of second chances, where have you fled from that call or His purpose?  No matter how far you’ve run His purpose for you hasn’t changed by your own decisions.  Yes, we may have picked up baggage, found ourselves way far from where we were intended to be through our determination not to follow.  But as He can change the hardest of hearts and redirect, He can take the mess we’ve made and use it toward His glory.  It just takes repentance and one step at a time.  He’ll reveal more as you go, strengthening you for the calling that was there all along.

Jonah 3 Commentary

by Brad Boyles

God’s mercy is on full display here. God showed mercy to Jonah and called him to deliver the message a second time. God was under no obligation to use Jonah a second time. However, Jonah’s ordeal actually may have put him in the best situation to preach this message to Nineveh. He was a dead man walking. Jonah had a testimony.

“When he stopped at a corner and the crowd gathered, they would say, “Brother, where have you been?” Jonah told them, “I am a man from the dead. A fish swallowed me because God had sent me to Nineveh but I tried to run away to Tarshish.” People didn’t ridicule Jonah’s story. They listened to him.””

J. Vernon McGee

I have read many children’s stories about Jonah and the whale over the years. It is probably one of my daughter’s favorite stories. Unfortunately, details can get twisted and sometimes lost in the retelling of such Bible stories. In one of my daughter’s books, God’s message that Jonah speaks to the people of Nineveh goes something like this, “Mend your ways in 40 days or Nineveh will be destroyed.” Unfortunately, that’s not what Jonah said. Here are a few translations of what Jonah actually said…

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 

Jonah 3:4 ESV

Jonah set out on the first day of his walk in the city and proclaimed, “In forty days Nineveh will be demolished!”

Jonah 3:4 CSB

Jonah entered the city, went one day’s walk and preached, “In forty days Nineveh will be smashed.”

Jonah 3:4 MSG

A careful reading of verse 4 shows us there was no promise of mercy given by Jonah. We read here that there was no guarantee that “mending their ways” would save them from God’s judgment. One could argue that the time given (40 days) was an act of mercy, and I would agree, but it wouldn’t have been out of the question for the people of Nineveh to thoroughly enjoy their last 40 days by partying hard. This wasn’t their response. Everyone from the king down to the animals covered themselves in sackcloth. This is miraculous. Imagine a city like Las Vegas where a street preacher walks the strip warning about the judgment of God. It is nearly impossible to think that this preaching would travel to the city officials and all the way up to the mayor who would respond with a call to repentance!

“Sackcloth and ashes were used in Old Testament times as a symbol of debasement, mourning, and/or repentance. Someone wanting to show his repentant heart would often wear sackcloth, sit in ashes, and put ashes on top of his head. Sackcloth was a coarse material usually made of black goat’s hair, making it quite uncomfortable to wear. The ashes signified desolation and ruin.”

The people of Nineveh lived out Pascal’s wager.

“Pascal argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.), whereas he stands to receive infinite gains (as represented by eternity in Heaven) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).”


The entire ordeal demonstrated faith, which by definition is being confident of what we hope for and convinced about things we do not see. Amazingly, the Scriptures tell us that God changed the course He had originally intended because of this act of faith. God gave Jonah a testimony and a second chance. Through Jonah’s preaching, God gave Nineveh a second chance. God is full of grace and mercy and He loves repentance!

“Who would have thought that in the wicked city of Nineveh people would listen to the Word of God and to a man who said, “I’m back from the dead”? By the way, that is the same message we have. We have a message concerning a man who came back from the dead. Paul writes, “… if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom 4:24-25).”

J. Vernon McGee
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