Jonah 3:7
And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:
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(7) And he caused . . .—The fact that the word rendered “decree” in this verse was a technical name for the edicts of Assyrian and Babylonian kings (see Daniel 3:10; Daniel 3:29) would alone vouch for the accurate acquaintance of the author with the customs he describes. But the very form of the royal edict is here preserved. The verse should probably run: And he caused to be proclaimed, and be published in Nineveh According to the decree of the king and his magnates be it proclaimed that,” &c. The word “saying” is apparently formal like our “thus saith,” &c.

And his nobles.—For this association of the great men with the autocrat, comp. Daniel 6:17. Traces of the custom can also be discovered in Assyrian inscriptions, e.g., “I am Assurbanipal king of nations, king of Assyria, Nabu-damiq and Umbadara the great men,” &c. (G. Smith, Assyrian Discoveries, p. 413). Ewald thinks the formal “saying” in the edict marks the omission of the names, which in the original would be given.

Beast.—The Hebrew word is general, and might include all the domestic animals, but from the addition of “herd nor flock” we must doubtless here confine it to the horses and mules, &c., which even, according to our ideas, might have their usual gay housings changed to those suited to a time of mourning. “Men think it strange that the horses at Nineveh were covered with sackcloth, and forget how, at the funerals of the rich, black horses are chosen, and are clothed with black velvet” (Pusey). Herodotus (9:24) and Plutarch (Alexander), have both preserved instances in which horses and mules were associated with human beings in the signs of public mourning. The instinct which underlies the custom is a true one. Not only are the destinies of the animals which minister to man’s wants often identical with his own; but there is a bond of sympathy between them naturally; and one remarkable feature of this book is the prominence given to this truth. (See Jonah 4:11.)

Let them not feed. . . .—Poetically, the beasts are said by Virgil to fast at the death of Daphnis (Eclog., v. 24-28), and in Joel 1:20 their mute appeal against suffering is represented as audible to God. In the horror of the impending ruin of Nineveh, superstition exaggerated the true feeling underlying such representations, and to the belief in the sympathy of the lower animals with man was added the hope that their sufferings would help to appease the wrath of God.

Let them turn.—Notice the insistence on a moral change, and the implied contrast, again showing itself, with the formality of Judaism. Even in this repentance the edict does not stop to distinguish beast from man, but includes all, as all were involved in the threatened destruction.

Violence.—This is the characteristic of Assyrian manners most frequently noticed in the prophets. (See Nahum 2:11-12; Nahum 3:1; Isaiah 10:13-14.) The cuneiform inscriptions abundantly illustrate this point. Take this for example from an inscription of Tiglath Pileser II.: “Tiglath Pileser, the great king, the powerful king, king of nations, &c, the powerful warrior who in the service of Assur his lord the whole of his haters has trampled on like clay, swept like a flood, and reduced to shadows” (G. Smith, Assyrian Discoveries, p. 254).

In their hands.—Comp. Psalm 7:3.

Who can tell . . .?—This sudden recognition of one God by a king of Nineveh appears far more striking if contrasted with the long lists of deities usually mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions, e.g., “By command of Assur, Sin, Shamas, Vul, Bel, Nebo, Ishtar of Nineveh, Sarrat-Kitmuri, Ishtar of Arbela, Ninip, Nergal, and Nusku, into Minni I entered and marched victoriously” (from the Cylinder of Assurbanipal, Smith, p. 333).

Jonah 3:7-9. Let neither man nor beast taste any thing — This was ordered to add the greater solemnity to the humiliation, and that men might be affected by the mournful cries of the cattle under such restraints, and thereby be moved to greater sorrow and contrition. It was, however, carrying their abstinence to a greater severity than we find practised among the Jews; for though, in times of public calamity, and on the day of solemn expiation, they made their children fast, as we may gather from Joel 2:16, yet we nowhere read of their extending that rigour to cattle. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth — Their horses and camels, both which they had been accustomed to adorn with rich and costly clothing, they must now clothe with sackcloth, in testimony of a hearty repentance; the clothing of the beasts must witness for the men. Thus, in funerals, the covering horses and mules with sackcloth adds to the solemnity of the occasion, and tends to increase the sorrow. And cry mightily — That is, let the men cry; for though the men and beasts are spoken of promiscuously in this proclamation, yet there are some expressions which are to be applied peculiarly to the men. Yea, let every one turn from his evil way — Let every one forsake his vicious practices. And from the violence that is in their hands — Let him cease to defraud or oppress his fellow-creatures, and desist from all acts of violence; yea, and let him restore what he has gotten by such practices. Natural religion instructed them, that their earnest prayers, without true amendment, would not avail them before God; nor would their repentance be thought sincere, unless they restored to the true owners what they had gained by violence and injustice. Who can tell if God will turn and repent? — That is, whether he will change his way toward us, and revoke the sentence gone forth against us. It was a great thing for these heathen to give such proofs of repentance, under an uncertain hope of pardon.

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.And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh; - literally, "And he cried and said, etc." The cry or proclamation of the king corresponded with the cry of Jonah. Where the prophet's cry, calling to repentance, had reached, the proclamation of the king followed, obeying. "By the decree of the king and his nobles." This is a hint of the political state of Nineveh, beyond what we have elsewhere. It was not then an absolute monarchy. At least, the king strengthened his command by that of his nobles, as Darius the Mede sealed the den of lions, into which Daniel was cast, with the signet of his lords as well as his own Daniel 6:17, "that the purpose might not be changed concerning him."

Let neither man nor beast ... - o "Are brutes too then to fast, horses and mules to be clothed with sackcloth? Yes, he says. For as, when a rich man dies, his relatives clothe not only the men and maidservants, but the horses too with sackcloth, and, giving them to the grooms, bid that they should follow to the tomb, in token of the greatness of the calamity and inviting all to sympathy, so also when that city was about to perish, they clad the brute natures in sackcloth, and put them under the yoke of fasting. The irrational animals cannot, through words, learn the anger of God; let them learn through hunger, that the infliction is from God: for if, he says, the city should be overthrown, it would be one grave of us the inhabitants and of them also." It was no arbitrary nor wanton nor careless act of the king of Nineveh to make the mute animals share in the common fast. It proceeded probably from an indistinct consciousness that God cared for them also, and, that "they" were not guilty. So the Psalmist looked on God's care of His creatures as a fresh ground for man's trust in Him Psalm 36:6-7, "O Lord, Thou preservest man and beast: How excellent is Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Thy wings." As our Lord teaches that God's care of the sparrows is a pledge to man of God's minute unceasing care for him, so the Ninevites felt truly that the cry of the poor brutes would be heard by God. And God confirmed that judgment, when He told Jonah of the "much cattle ," as a ground for having pity on Nineveh. The moanings and lowings of the animals, their voices of distress, pierce man's heart too, and must have added to his sense of the common misery. Ignorance or pride of human nature alone could think that man's sorrow is not aided by these objects of sense. Nature was truer in the king of Nineveh.

7. neither … beast … taste any thing—The brute creatures share in the evil effects of man's sin (Jon 4:11; Ro 8:20, 22); so they here according to Eastern custom, are made to share in man's outward indications of humiliation. "When the Persian general Masistias was slain, the horses and mules of the Persians were shorn, as well as themselves" [Newcome from Plutarch; also Herodotus, 9.24]. And he, the king, caused it to be proclaimed; took a particular care to have speedily a fast ordered, and notified to the people by those public officers who were wont to proclaim the decrees and edicts of the king and his council.

And published: this ingemination confirms the thing, and adds somewhat for showing the deep sense the king had both of his oral and his people’s sins, danger, and duty in this exigent.

By the decree of the king and his nobles; it was an act of the king and council, and that which passed them with good liking, they relished the thing, as the Hebrew phrase importeth.

Let neither man: men have sinned and provoked God to this high displeasure, it does most principally concern them to repent, fast, and mourn for their sins, that God may pardon and spare them.

Nor beast: these, comprised ill the threat, and likely to be involved. in the common danger, are put under a fast; this the general, which is afterwards expressed more particularly,

herd and flock; let none of these, whether at home in the stall, or abroad in the fold and herd.

Taste any thing: this is referred by some to the strictness with which men were bound to keep this fast; but this may be a general prohibition, explained by what follows, let all, man and beast, forbear to eat or drink, that the fast might be most solemn, that the cry of man, seconded with the cry of hungry cattle, might enter the ears of God, who preserveth man and beast.

And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh,.... By a herald or heralds, sent into the several parts of the city:

by the decree of the king and his nobles; with whom he consulted, and whose advice he took; and who were equally concerned at this news, and very probably were present when word was brought to the king concerning it:

saying, let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; a very strict and general fast this: abstinence from all food was enjoined; not only men of every rank and age, but the cattle likewise, horses and camels, they used either for their pleasure or business; their oxen, cows, and calves, of their herd; their sheep, goats, lambs, and kids, of their flocks:

let them not feed, nor drink water; no food were to be put into their mangers or folds: nor were they to be suffered to graze in their pastures, or to be allowed the least quantity of food or drink; this was ordered, to make the mourning the greater; thus Virgil (u) describes the mourning for the death of Caesar by the oxen not coming to the rivers to drink, nor touching the grass of the field; and to afflict their minds the more, and for their greater mortification, since these creatures were for their use and pleasure, Fasting was used by the Heathens; as well as the Jews, in some cases; particularly the Egyptians, as Herodotus (w) observes, from whom the Assyrians might take it.

(u) "Non ulli pastos, illis egere diebus Frigida Daphni boves, ad flumius, nulla neque amnem Libavit quadrupes, nec graminis attigit herbam". Bucolic. Eclog. 5. l. 24, &c. (w) L. 2. c. 4. & l. 4. c. 186.

And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor {e} beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:

(e) Not that the dumb beasts had sinned or could repent, but that by their example man might be astonished, considering that for his sin the anger of God hung over all creatures.

7. and published] This word is not a participle, though likely to be taken for one in the A.V. It is literally, “And he caused a proclamation to be made, and said, &c.

the decree] The word here used is not properly a Hebrew word. It occurs frequently in the Chaldee of Daniel and Ezra to denote a mandate or decree of the Babylonish and Persian monarchs. Dr Pusey rightly sees in the employment of it here a proof of the “accuracy” of Jonah as a writer. He observes, “This is a Syriac word; and accordingly, since it has now been ascertained beyond all question that the language of Nineveh was a dialect of Syriac, it was, with a Hebrew pronunciation (the vowel points are different here from those in Daniel and Ezra), the very word used of this decree at Nineveh.”

and his nobles] Lit., his great men, or grandees, Proverbs 18:16. We have a similar association of his nobles with himself by Darius the Mede, when he caused the stone which was laid upon the mouth of the den, into which Daniel had been cast, to be sealed “with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel” (Daniel 6:17). In the present case, however, it would seem that it was not in the exercise of a constitutional right, but by a voluntary act on the part of the king, that the nobles were associated with him in the edict which he issued. Kalisch observes, “It would be unsafe to infer from this passage that the nobles were in some manner constitutionally connected with the government of the kingdom, and thus tempered its arbitrariness, as we know now from the monuments, no less than from the records of history, that ‘the Assyrian monarch was a thorough Eastern despot, unchecked by popular opinion, and having complete power over the lives and property of his subjects, rather adored as a god than feared as a man.’ ” (Layard, Nin. and Babyl. p. 632). May not this association of his nobles with himself have been “fruit meet for repentance,” an abdication, in some sort, of the haughty arbitrariness of his power, an humbling of himself “under the mighty hand of God”?

saying] The decree, thus introduced, extends to the end of Jonah 3:9.

man nor beast, herd nor flock] The Hebrew word for “beast” here means tame or domestic animals, and probably refers only to “beasts of burden,” horses, mules, and the like. So Ahab says to Obadiah when the famine was in Samaria, “peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we be not deprived of beasts” (1 Kings 18:5). “Herd and flock” will then be an additional clause, not amplifying, but distinct from “beast,” and the covering with sackcloth, in Jonah 3:8, will thus be confined to those animals which were in man’s more immediate use, and many of which, with their gay and costly trappings and harness, had been the ministers of his pomp and pride, or, as employed in war, had been the instruments of his “violence.” The extension of the fast to all, and of the sackcloth to some at least, of the animals in Nineveh, is probably without exact parallel in extant history. The Speaker’s Commentary rightly points out that “the voluntary fasting of animals, wild as well as tame, at the death of Daphnis, described by Virgil, Eclog. v. 24–28, which has often been referred to, is plainly a mere poetic fancy.” But the description in the text is quite in keeping with the common instinct and practice of mankind. Men have always been wont to extend the outward signs of their joy or sorrow to everything under their control. Our dress, our food, our houses, our equipage, our horses, our servants, all wear the hue of the occasion for which they are employed. “Man, in his luxury and pride, would have everything reflect his glory and minister to pomp. Self-humiliation would have everything reflect its lowliness. Sorrow would have everything answer to its sorrow. Men think it strange that the horses at Nineveh were covered with sackcloth, and forget how, at the funerals of the rich, black horses are chosen, and are clothed with black velvet” (Pusey). In the extreme case of Nineveh, the instinct may well have been indulged to an extreme. Like all other common instincts of our nature, it had a true origin, for the destiny of man and of the lower creation is inseparably connected (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 1:28; Romans 8:19-23). The effect upon the Ninevites of seeing “their deserts set before them as in a mirror or a picture” (Calvin), all that belonged to them involved with them, through their guilt, in a common danger with themselves—all creation, as it were, threatened and humbled for the sin of its lord—may well have been to incite them powerfully to repentance. The appeal to the compassion of Almighty God, who “preserveth man and beast” (Psalm 36:6; comp. ch. Jonah 4:11), may well have been strengthened by the mute misery of the innocent beasts (Joel 1:20) But, apart from these considerations, the requirements of the history are fully satisfied by regarding the act of the king of Nineveh as instinctive, called for by the urgent circumstances of the case, and coloured by the demonstrativeness of oriental character.

Verse 7. - He caused it, etc.; literally, he caused proclamation to be made, and said, i.e. by the heralds. The decree. The word used here (taam) is an Accadian term, which had become naturalized in Assyria, Persia, and Babylonia, and was applied to a mandate issued with royal authority. It is found in Daniel 3:10, 29; Daniel 4:6; Ezra 4:8, etc. Jonah introduces it here as being the very word employed in describing the proclamation. And his nobles. The monarchs of Assyria were absolute; and if the king in the present case associated the magnates with himself, he did it in an humility occasioned by alarm, and because he saw that they were of the same mind as himself (comp. Daniel 6:17). Saying. The decree extends from here to the end of ver. 9. Man nor beast; i.e. domestic animals, horses, mules, distinct from herd and flock. These great cities contained in their area immense open spaces, like our parks, where cattle were kept. The dumb animals were made to share in their masters' fast and sorrow, as they shared their joy and feasting; their bleating and bellowing were so many appeals to Heaven for mercy; the punishment of these innocent creatures was a kind of atonement for the guilt of their lords (comp. Hosea 4:3; Joel 1:20; and note how the brute creation is said to sham in the happiness of paradise regained, Isaiah 11.). The commentators quote Virgil, 'Ecl.,' 5:24, etc., where, however, the point is that the grief of the shepherds hinders them from attending to the wants of their flocks. Herodotus (9:24) mentions an instance of the Persians cutting the manes and tails of their horses and mules in a case of general mourning (comp. Eurip., 'Alcest.,' 428, etc.; Plut., 'Alex.,' 72). Jonah 3:7The 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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