|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:5-10 There was a wonder of Divine grace in the repentance and reformation of Nineveh. It condemns the men of the gospel generation, Mt 12:41. A very small degree of light may convince men that humbling themselves before God, confessing their sins with prayer, and turning from sin, are means of escaping wrath and obtaining mercy. The people followed the example of the king. It became a national act, and it was necessary it should be so, when it was to prevent a national ruin. Let even the brute creatures' cries and moans for want of food remind their owners to cry to God. In prayer we must cry mightily, with fixedness of thought, firmness of faith, and devout affections. It concerns us in prayer to stir up all that is within us. It is not enough to fast for sin, but we must fast from sin; and, in order to the success of our prayers, we must no more regard iniquity in our hearts, Ps 66:18. The work of a fast-day is not done with the day. The Ninevites hoped that God would turn from his fierce anger; and that thus their ruin would be prevented. They could not be so confident of finding mercy upon their repentance, as we may be, who have the death and merits of Christ, to which we may trust for pardon upon repentance. They dared not presume, but they did not despair. Hope of mercy is the great encouragement to repentance and reformation. Let us boldly cast ourselves down at the footstool of free grace, and God will look upon us with compassion. God sees who turn from their evil ways, and who do not. Thus he spared Nineveh. We read of no sacrifices offered to God to make atonement for sin; but a broken and a contrite heart, such as the Ninevites then had, he will not despise.
Verses 5-9. § 3. The Ninevites hearken to the cry of Jonah, believe in God, and repent. Verse 5. - Believed God; believed in God, which implies trust and hope; Vulgate, crediderunt in Deum. They recognized Jonah as God's messenger; they recognized God's power as able to execute the threat, and they had confidence in his mercy if they repented. This great result has seemed to some incredible, and has occasioned doubts to be east upon the history. But, as we have seen in the Introduction, Jonah's mission occurred probably at a time of national depression, when men's minds were disposed to expect calamity, and anxious to avert it by any means. Other considerations led to the same result. They had heard much of the God of the Hebrews, much of the doings of his great prophets Elijah and Elisha; and now they had in their midst one of these holy men, who, as they were informed, had been miraculously preserved from death in order to carry his message to them; for that it was thus that Jonah was "a sign unto the Ninevites" (Luke 11:30) seems most certain. They saw the Divine inspiration beaming in his look, dictating his utterance, animating his bearing, filling him with courage, confidence, and faith. The credulity with which they received the announcements of their own seers, their national predilection for presages and omens, encouraged them to open their ears to this stranger, and to regard his mission with grave attention. Their own conscience, too, was on the prophet's side, and assisted his words with its powerful pleading. So they believed in God, and proclaimed a fast. Spontaneously, without any special order from the authorities. Before the final fall of Nineveh, the inscriptions mention, the then king ordered a fast of one hundred days and nights to the gods in order to avert the threatened danger (see a note by Professor Sayce, in G. Smith's 'History of Babylon,' p. 156). Put on sackcloth (comp. Genesis 37:34; 1 Kings 21:27; Joel 1:13). The custom of changing the dress in token of mourning was not confined to the Hebrews (comp. Ezekiel 26:16).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
So the people of Nineveh believed God,.... Or "in God" (r): in the word of the Lord, as the Targum; they believed there was a God, and that he, in whose name Jonah came, was the true God; they believed the word the prophet spake was not the word of man, but, the word of God; faith came by hearing the word, which is the spring of true repentance, and the root of all good works. Kimchi and R. Jeshuah, in Aben Ezra, suppose that the men of the ship, in which Jonah had been, were at Nineveh; and these testified that they had cast him into the sea, and declared the whole affair concerning him; and this served greatly to engage their attention to him, and believe what he said: but this is not certain; and, besides, their faith was the effect of the divine power that went along with the preaching of Jonah, and not owing to the persuasion of men;
and proclaimed a fast; not of themselves, but by the order of their king, as follows; though Kimchi thinks this was before that:
and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them; both, with respect to rank and age, so universal were their fasting and mourning; in token of which they stripped themselves of their common and rich apparel, and clothed themselves with sackcloth; as was usual in extraordinary cases of mourning, not only with the Jews, but other nations.
(Jonah would be a quite a sight to behold. The digestive juices of the fish would have turned his skin to a most unnatural colour and his hair was most like all gone. Indeed, anyone looking like that would attract your attention and give his message more credence, especially after he told you what had happened to him. A God who creates storms, prepares large fish to swallow a man and preserves him in the fish, would not likely have too much trouble destroying your city. Editor)
(r) "in Deum", V. L.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
5. believed God—gave credit to Jonah's message from God; thus recognizing Jehovah as the true God.
fast … sackcloth—In the East outward actions are often used as symbolical expressions of inward feelings. So fasting and clothing in sackcloth were customary in humiliation. Compare in Ahab's case, parallel to that of Nineveh, both receiving a respite on penitence (1Ki 21:27; 20:31, 32; Joe 1:13).
from the greatest … to the least—The penitence was not partial, but pervading all classes.
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