|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 9. - Who can tell? (2 Samuel 12:22). An expression of hope that the Divine, wrath may be averted by the timely repentance. It is the same form of words as in Joel 2:14, "Perhaps God would thereby indicate that he had himself put it into their mouths" (Pusey; comp. Jeremiah 18:11). If God; i.e. the one God, whom the king and his people now acknowledge as supreme, like the idol worshippers at Carmel, when they fell on their faces, crying, "Jehovah, he is the God" (1 Kings 18:39).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Who can tell,.... The Septuagint and Arabic versions prefix to this the word "saying", and take them to be, not the words of the king, but of the Ninevites; though very wrongly: or "who is he that knows"; which some connect with the next word, "he will return": that is, that knows the ways of repentance, he will return, as Kimchi and Ben Melech; or that knows that he has sinned, as Aben Ezra: or that knows the transgressions he is guilty of, will return, as Jarchi; and so the Targum,
"whosoever knows that sins are in his hands, he will return, or let him return, from them:''
but they are the words of the king, with respect to God, encouraging his subjects to the above things, from the consideration of the probability, or at least possibility, of God's being merciful to them:
if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce wrath,
that we perish not? he speaks here not as nor as absolutely doubting, but as between hope and fear: for, by the light of nature, it is not certain that God will pardon men upon repentance; it is only probable or possible he may; neither the light of nature nor the law of Moses connect repentance and remission of sins, it is the Gospel does this; and it is only by the Gospel revelation that any can be assured that God will forgive, even penitent sinners; however, this Heathen prince encourages his subjects not to despair of, but to hope for, the mercy of God, though they could not be sure of it; and it may be observed, that he does not put their hope of not perishing, or of salvation, upon their fasting, praying, and reformation, but upon the will, mercy, and goodness of God.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
9. Who can tell—(Compare Joe 2:14). Their acting on a vague possibility of God's mercy, without any special ground of encouragement, is the more remarkable instance of faith, as they had to break through long-rooted prejudices in giving up idols to seek Jehovah at all. The only ground which their ready faith rested on, was the fact of God sending one to warn them, instead of destroying them at once; this suggested the thought of a possibility of pardon. Hence they are cited by Christ as about to condemn in the judgment those who, with much greater light and privileges, yet repent not (Mt 12:41).
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