Jonah 3:6
For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
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(6) For word came.—Rather, And the matter reached. The Authorised Version treats the royal edict that follows as the same with the proclamation in Jonah 3:5. This is possible, but it is more probable that the writer intended to describe the effect produced on each district of the vast city in succession, and on all grades of people. The piercing cry uttered from street to street, from square to square, reaches at last the king on his throne of state.

And he laid . . .—Stripping off the state mantle (the Hebrew word implies amplitude. See 1Kings 19:13.) It is interesting to find it used of the “Babylonish garment,” found in Achan’s tent. See Joshua 7:21), the monarch assumes a mourning dress. To form a conception of the change involved, the descriptions of Assyrian royal magnificence should be studied in Layard, or their representations in the Assyrian courts of the Crystal Palace. For the usual signs of Oriental mourning, comp. Genesis 37:34; 2Samuel 3:31; Job 2:8; Psalm 35:13; Ezekiel 26:16, &c.

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.For word came - , rather, "And the matter came," i. e., the "whole account," as we say. "The word, word," throughout Holy Scripture, as in so many languages stands for that which is reported of. "The whole account," namely, how this stranger, in strange austere attire, had come, what had happened to him before he came, how he preached, how the people had believed him, what they had done, as had just been related, "came to the king." The form of words implies that what Jonah relates in this verse took place after what had been mentioned before. People are slow to carry to sovereigns matters of distress, in which they cannot help. This was no matter of peril from man, in which the counsel or energy of the king could be of use. Anyhow it came to him last. But when it came to him, he disdained not to follow the example of those below him. He was not jealous of his prerogative, or that his advice had not been had; but, in the common peril, acted as his subjects had, and humbled himself as they did. Yet this king was the king of Nineveh, the king, whose name was dreaded far and wide, whose will none who disputed, prospered . "He who was accounted and was the greatest of the kings of the earth, was not held back by any thought of his own splendor, greatness or dignity, from fleeing as a suppliant to the mercy of God, and inciting others by his example to the same earnesthess." The kings of Assyria were religious, according to their light. They ascribed all their victories to their god, Asshur . When the king came to hear of One who had a might such as he had not seen, he believed in Him.

And he arose from his throne - He lost no time; he heard, "and he arose" . "It denotes great earnestness, haste, diligence." "And he laid his robe from him." This was the large costly upper garment, so called from its amplitude It is the name of the goodly Babylonian garment Joshua 7:21 which Achan coveted. As worn by kings, it was the most magnificent part of their dress, and a special part of their state. Kings were buried as they lived, in splendid apparel; and rich adornments were buried with them. The king of Nineveh dreads no charge of precipitancy nor man's judgment . "He exchanges purple, gold, gems for the simple rough and sordid sackcloth, and his throne for the most abject ashes, the humblest thing he could do, fulfilling a deeper degree of humility than is related of the people."

Strange credulity, had Jonah's message not been true; strange madness of unbelief which does not repent when a Greater than Jonah cries Matthew 4:17, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Strange garb for the king, in the eyes of a luxurious age; acceptable in His who said Matthew 11:21, "if the mighty works which have been done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes" . "Many wish to repent, yet so as not to part with their luxuries or the vanity of their dress, like the Greek who said he would 'like to be a philosopher, yet in a few things, not altogether.' To whom we may answer, 'delicate food and costly dress agree not with penitence; and that is no great grief which never comes to light'" . "It was a marvelous thing, that purple was outvied by sackcloth. Sackcloth availed, what the purple robe availed not. What the diadem accomplished not, the ashes accomplished. Seest thou, I said not groundlessly that we should fear, not fasting but drunkenness and satiety? For drunkenness and satiety shook the city through and through, and were about to overthrow it; when it was reeling and about to fall, fasting stablished it" . "The king had conquered enemies by valor; he conquered God by humility. Wise king, who, for the saving of his people, owns himself a sinner rather than a king. He forgets that he is a king, fearing God, the King of all; he remembereth not his own power, coming to own the power of the Godhead. Marvelous! While he remembereth not that he is a king of men, he beginneth to be a king of righteousness. The prince, becoming religious, lost not his empire but changed it. Before, he held the princedom of military discipline; now, he obtained the princedom in heavenly disciplines."

6. in ashes—emblem of the deepest humiliation (Job 2:8; Eze 27:30). This now accounteth for the people’s proclaiming a fast, Jonah 3:5, they did it because it was commanded, and they had the king’s example herein.

Word came to the king: whether Jonah did particularly speak to his hearers to send word to the king, or whether the strangeness of the thing might move some or other to report it to the courtiers, and they to the king, is not specified; certain it is that the king had word brought him, and it was considered by him: nor is it said who this king was; Sardanapalus seems too early, Pul-belochus is with more probability thought to be this king.

Arose from his throne; came down from his royal seat.

Laid his robe from him; put off his rich, gorgeous, and luxurious apparel.

Covered him with sackcloth; put on the rough and uneasy garments of a mourner.

And sat in ashes, as Esther 4:3 Job 2:8 42:6.

For word came unto the king of Nineveh,.... Who was not Sardanapalus, a very dissolute prince, and abandoned to his lusts; but rather Pul, the same that came against Menahem king of Israel, 2 Kings 15:19, as Bishop Usher (s) thinks; to him news were brought that there was such a prophet come into the city, and published such and such things, which met with credit among the people; and that these, of all ranks and degrees, age and sex, were afflicted with it, and thrown into the utmost concern about it; so very swiftly did the ministry of Jonah spread in the city; and what he delivered was so quickly carried from one to another, that in one day's time it reached the palace, and the royal ear:

and he arose from his throne; where he sat in great majesty and splendour, encircled by his nobles, receiving their caresses and compliments; or, it may be, giving audience to foreign ambassadors, sent to court his friendship and alliance; or hearing causes, and redressing the grievances of his subjects; for he appears to be one that did not indulge himself in hunting, and such like exercises, or in his lusts and pleasures:

and he laid his robe from him; his royal apparel, his imperial robe, and garments of his glory, as the Targum; or his glorious garments, with which he was richly and most magnificently arrayed; he put off these, and left his throne, in token of his concern at hearing such dismal tidings as the overthrow of his capital city, and of his humiliation and abasement:

and covered him with sackcloth; which was very rough and coarse, and must be very disagreeable to a person so tender and delicate, and was what the meanest of his subjects wore on this occasion:

and sat in ashes; or "in the" or "that ashes" (t); used in such times of mourning, which were either strewed under him, or put upon his head; and this, with the other, were done to afflict the body, and affect the mind with a sense of sin, and the misery threatened for sin, and to shaw deep humiliation for it.

(s) Annales Vet. Test. A. M. 3233. Vid. Rollin's Ancient History, vol. 2. p. 30. (t) "in cinere illo", Vatablus, Tarnovius.

For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
6. For word came unto] Rather, And the tidings reached, R.V. The introduction of the word “for” for “and” in A.V. is of the nature of a gloss. Our translators appear to have taken the view that Jonah 3:5 states generally the effect of Jonah’s preaching upon the Ninevites, and that Jonah 3:6-9 relate more particularly how the fast mentioned in Jonah 3:5 was brought about. “They proclaimed a fast,” I said, “and it was by a royal edict that they did so, for the report of what was going on was brought to the king, and he too was moved like his people, and both inaugurated in his own person and instituted by his authority a national fast.” The statement in Jonah 3:5, however, is not necessarily proleptical. It may be intended by the writer to describe the effect produced in each district of the city as Jonah reached it, before the Court had any knowledge of what was going on. The people were first impressed, and then their rulers. The tide of penitence and humiliation rose higher and higher, till it reached and included the king and his nobles, and what had been done by spontaneous action, or local authority, received the final sanction and imprimatur of the central government. Whichever view be adopted, the literal translation should be retained.

he arose from his throne, &c.] It is in favour of the view that the people did not wait for the royal edict to commence their fast, that the king himself seems to have been the subject of immediate and strong emotion, as soon as the tidings reached him. He first, as by a resistless impulse, humbled himself to the dust, and then took measures, out of the depth of his humiliation, that his subjects should be humbled with him.

The outward form which the humiliation both of king and people took was that common in the East (comp. Ezekiel 26:16; and see Dictionary of the Bible, Article Mourning), as we know both from sacred and secular writings. In the case of the king of Assyria it is the more remarkable both because of his characteristic pride as “the great king” (2 Kings 18:19; 2 Kings 18:28), and because of the pomp and luxury with which he was ordinarily surrounded. No greater contrast could well be conceived than between the royal “robe” and “sackcloth,” or between the heap of “ashes” and the king’s “throne.” “In the bas-relief I am describing,” writes Layard, “the dress of a king consisted of a long flowing garment, edged with fringes and tassels, descending to his ankles, and confined at the waist by a girdle. Over this robe a second, similarly ornamented and open in front, appears to have been thrown. From his shoulders fell a cape or hood, also adorned with tassels, and to it were attached two long ribbons or lappets. He wore the conical mitre, or tiara, which distinguishes the monarch in Assyrian bas-reliefs, and appears to have been reserved for him alone … Around the neck of the king was a necklace. He wore ear-rings, and his arms, which were bare from a little above the elbow, were encircled by armlets and bracelets remarkable for the beauty of their forms. The clasps were formed by the heads of animals, and the centre by stars and rosettes, probably inlaid with precious stones.” (Nineveh, abridged edition, 1851, p. 97.)

Of the throne the same writer says, “The thrones or arm-chairs, supported by animals and human figures, resemble those of the ancient Egyptians, and of the monuments of Kouyunjik, Khorsabad and Persepolis. They also remind us of the throne of Solomon, which had ‘stays (or arms) on either side on the place of the seat, and two lions stood by the stays. And twelve lions stood there, on the one side and on the other, upon the six steps.’ ” 1 Kings 10:19-20. (lb. p. 164.)

his robe] The same word is used of Achan’s “goodly Babylonish garment,” Joshua 7:21, which this may have resembled. But it is also used of a garment of rough hair-cloth, Genesis 25:25; Zechariah 13:4, and of Elijah’s hairy “mantle,” or cloak, 1 Kings 19:13; 1 Kings 19:19. The root-meaning of the word is size, amplitude.

Verse 6. - For word came; and the mater came; ἤγγισεν ὁ λόγος, "the word came near" (Septuagint). The tokens of penitence mentioned in ver. 5 were not exhibited in obedience to any royal command. Rather, as the impression made by the prophet spread among the people, and as they adopted these modes of showing their sorrow, the news of the movement reached the king, and he put himself at the head of it. The reigning monarch was probably either Shalmaneser III. or one of the two who succeeded him, Asshur-danil and Asshur-nirari, whose three reigns extended from B.C. 781 to 750. His robe (addereth); the word used for the "Babylonish garment" in Joshua 7:21. The magnificence of the Assyrian kings attire is attested by the monuments. Sat in ashes (comp. Job 2:8; Esther 4:3). Jonah 3:6The Ninevites believed in God, since they hearkened to the preaching of the prophet sent to them by God, and humbled themselves before God with repentance. They proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth (penitential garments: see at Joel 1:13-14; 1 Kings 21:27, etc.), "from their great one even to their small one," i.e., both old and young, all without exception. Even the king, when the matter (had-dâbhâr) came to his knowledge, i.e., when he was informed of Jonah's coming, and of his threatening prediction, descended from his throne, laid aside his royal robe ('addereth, see at Joshua 7:21), wrapt himself in a sackcloth, and sat down in ashes, as a sign of the deepest mourning (compare Job 2:8), and by a royal edict appointed a general fast for man and beast. ויּזעק, he caused to be proclaimed. ויּאמר, and said, viz., through his heralds. מפּעם הם, ex decreto, by command of the king and his great men, i.e., his ministers (פעם equals פעם, Daniel 3:10, Daniel 3:29, a technical term for the edicts of the Assyrian and Babylonian kings). "Man and beast (viz., oxen and sheep) are to taste nothing; they are not to pasture (the cattle are not to be driven to the pasture), and are to drink no water." אל, for which we should expect לא, may be explained from the fact that the command is communicated directly. Moreover, man and beast are to be covered with mourning clothes, and cry to God bechozqâh, i.e., strongly, mightily, and to turn every one from his evil ways: so "will God perhaps (מי יודע) turn and repent (yâshūbh venicham, as in Joel 2:14), and desist from the fierceness of His anger (cf. Exodus 32:12), that we perish not." This verse (Jonah 3:9) also belongs to the king's edict. The powerful impression made upon the Ninevites by Jonah's preaching, so that the whole city repented in sackcloth and ashes, is quite intelligible, if we simply bear in mind the great susceptibility of Oriental races to emotion, the awe of one Supreme Being which is peculiar to all the heathen religions of Asia, and the great esteem in which soothsaying and oracles were held in Assyria from the very earliest times (vid., Cicero, de divinat. i. 1); and if we also take into calculation the circumstance that the appearance of a foreigner, who, without any conceivable personal interest, and with the most fearless boldness, disclosed to the great royal city its godless ways, and announced its destruction within a very short period with the confidence so characteristic of the God-sent prophets, could not fail to make a powerful impression upon the minds of the people, which would be all the stronger if the report of the miraculous working of the prophets of Israel had penetrated to Nineveh. There is just as little to surprise us in the circumstance that the signs of mourning among the Ninevites resemble in most respects the forms of penitential mourning current among the Israelites, since these outward signs of mourning are for the most part the common human expressions of deep sorrow of heart, and are found in the same or similar forms among all the nations of antiquity (see the numerous proofs of this which are collected in Winer's Real-wrterbuch, art. Trauer; and in Herzog's Cyclopaedia). Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26:16) depicts the mourning of the Tyrian princes over the ruin of their capital in just the same manner in which that of the king of Nineveh is described here in Jonah 3:6, except that, instead of sackcloth, he mentions trembling as that with which they wrap themselves round. The garment of haircloth (saq) worn as mourning costume reaches as far back as the patriarchal age (cf. Genesis 37:34; Job 16:15). Even the one feature which is peculiar to the mourning of Nineveh - namely, that the cattle also have to take part in the mourning - is attested by Herodotus (9:24) as an Asiatic custom.

(Note: Herodotus relates that the Persians, when mourning for their general, Masistios, who had fallen in the battle at Platea, shaved off the hair from their horses, and adds, "Thus did the barbarians, in their way, mourn for the deceased Masistios." Plutarch relates the same thing (Aristid. 14 fin. Compare Brissonius, de regno Pers. princip. ii. p. 206; and Periz. ad Aeliani Var. hist. vii. 8). The objection made to this by Hitzig - namely, that the mourning of the cattle in our book is not analogous to the case recorded by Herodotus, because the former was an expression of repentance - has no force whatever, for the simple reason that in all nations the outward signs of penitential mourning are the same as those of mourning for the dead.)

This custom originated in the idea that there is a biotic rapport between man and the larger domestic animals, such as oxen, sheep, and goats, which are his living property. It is only to these animals that there is any reference here, and not to "horses, asses, and camels, which were decorated at other times with costly coverings," as Marck, Rosenmller, and others erroneously assume. Moreover, this was not done "with the intention of impelling the men to shed hotter tears through the lowing and groaning of the cattle" (Theodoret); or "to set before them as in a mirror, through the sufferings of the innocent brutes, their own great guilt" (Chald.); but it was a manifestation of the thought, that just as the animals which live with man are drawn into fellowship with his sin, so their sufferings might also help to appease the wrath of God. And although this thought might not be free from superstition, there lay at the foundation of it this deep truth, that the irrational creature is made subject to vanity on account of man's sins, and sighs along with man for liberation from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:19.). We cannot therefore take the words "cry mightily unto God" as referring only to the men, as many commentators have done, in opposition to the context; but must regard "man and beast" as the subject of this clause also, since the thought that even the beasts cry to or call upon God in distress has its scriptural warrant in Joel 1:20.

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