|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.
Verse 8. - Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. As we put trappings on horses in funerals. The LXX. wrongly makes this verse give an account of the execution of the edict instead of being part of the edict itself; thus: "And men and beasts were clothed with sackcloth," etc. Cry mightily; i.e. let man cry mightily; Septuagint, ἐκτενῶς, "with intensity;" Vulgate, in fortitudine. Let them turn every one from his evil way (Jeremiah 25:5; Jeremiah 36:3, 7). The edict recognizes the truth that outward acts of penitence are worthless without moral reformation - a truth which the Jews themselves had been very loth to admit (see Isaiah 58.). And from the violence that is in their hands. The acts of violence that their hands have committed (Job 16:17; Psalm 7:3). This is the special sin of the Assyrians, always grasping after empire, oppressing other nations, and guilty of rapine and avarice at home (see Isaiah 10:13, 14; Isaiah 37:24, etc.; Nahum 2:11, 12; Nahum 3:1).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth,.... As the king was, and the people also were; and this order enjoined the same to the beasts, horses, and camels, whose rich trappings were to be taken off, and sackcloth put upon them, for the greater solemnity, of the mourning; as at this day, at the funerals of great persons, not only the horses which draw the hearse and mourning, coaches are covered with black velvet, to make the solemnity more awful: but others are led, clothed in like manner:
and cry mightily unto God; which clause stands so closely connected with the former, as if it respected beasts as well as men, who sometimes are said to cry for food in times of drought and distress, Joel 1:20; and who here might purposely be kept from food and drink, that they might cry, and so the more affect the minds of the Ninevites, in their humiliation and abasement; but men are principally meant, at least who were to cry unto God intensely and earnestly, with great ardour, fervency, and importunity; not only aloud, and with a strong voice, but with their whole heart, as Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret it; heartily, sincerely, and devoutly, for the averting divine wrath, and the pardon of their sins, and the sparing of their city:
yea, let them turn everyone from his evil way; as well knowing that fasting and prayer would be of no avail, without leaving everyone their sinful courses, and reforming their life and manners:
and from the violence that is in their hands: their rapine and oppression, their thefts and robberies, and preying upon the substance of others; which seem to be the reigning vices of this city, in doing which many murders were committed also; see Nahum 3:1; the Jewish writers interpret this of making restitution for rapine and violence, which is a genuine fruit of repentance; see Luke 19:8. The Septuagint version understands this, not as a direction from the king to the men of Nineveh what they should do, but as a narrative of what they did; and no doubt but they did these things, put on sackcloth, fast, pray, and turn from their evil ways; yet they are the instructions of the king unto them and the orders he gave them.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
8. cry … turn—Prayer without reformation is a mockery of God (Ps 66:18; Isa 58:6). Prayer, on the other hand, must precede true reformation, as we cannot turn to God from our evil way unless God first turns us (Jer 31:18, 19).
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