Jonah 3:8
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God: yes, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.
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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.Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth - The gorgeous caparisons of horses, mules and camels was part of Eastern magnificence. Who knows not how man's pride is fed by the sleekness of his stud, their "well-appointed" trappings? 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. People 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.

And cry unto God mightily - , "with might which conquereth judgment." A faint prayer does not express a strong desire, nor obtain what it does not strongly ask for, as having only half a heart.

And let them turn, every man from his evil way - Isaiah 59:6. "See what removed that inevitable wrath. Did fasting and sackcloth alone? No, but the change of the whole life. How does this appear? From the prophet's word itself. For he who spake of the wrath of God and of their fast, himself mentions the reconciliation and its cause. "And God saw their works." What works? that they fasted? that they put on sackcloth? He passes by these, and says, "that every one turned from his evil ways, and God repented of the evil which He had said that He would do unto them." Seest thou, that not the fast plucked them from the peril, but the change of life made God propitious to these pagan. I say this, not that we should dishonor, but that we may honor fasting. For the honor of a fast is not in abstinence from food, but in avoidance of sin. So that tie who limiteth fasting to the abstinence from food only, he it is, who above all dishonoreth it. Fastest thou? Show it me by its works. 'What works?' askest thou? if you see a poor man, have mercy; if an enemy, be reconciled; if a friend doing well, envy him not; if a beautiful woman, pass on. Let not the mouth alone fast; let eyes too, and hearing and feet, and hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, clean from rapine and avarice! let the feet fast, holding back from going to unlawful sights! let the eyes fast, learning never to thrust themselves on beautiful objects, nor to look curiously on others' beauty, for the food of the eye is gazing. Let the ear too fast, for the fast of the ears is not to hear detractions and calumnies. Let the mouth too fast from foul words and reproaches. For what boots it, to abstain from birds and fish, while we bite and devour our brethren? The detractor preys on his brother's flesh."

He says, each from his evil way, because, in the general mass of corruption, each man has his own special heart's sin. All were to return, but by forsaking, each, one by one, his own habitual, favorite sin.

And from the violence - "Violence" is singled out as the special sin of Nineveh, out "of all their evil way;" as the angel saith, Mark 16:7. "tell His diciples and Peter." This was the giant, Goliath-sin. When this should be effaced, the rest would give way, as the Philistines fled, when their champion was fallen to the earth dead. "That is in their hands," literally "in their palms" , the hollow of their hand. The hands being the instruments alike of using violence and of grasping its fruits, the violence cleaves to them in both ways, in its guilt and in its gains. So Job and David say, Job 16:17; 1 Chronicles 12:17. "while there was no violence in my hands;" and Isaiah, "the work of wickedness is in their hands." Repentance and restitution clear the hands from the guilt of the violence: restitution, which gives back what was wronged; repentance, which, for love of God, hates and quits the sins, of which it repents. "Keep the winning, keep the sinning. The fruits of sin are temporal gain, eternal loss. We cannot keep the gain and escape the loss. Whoever keeps the gain of sin, loves it in its fruits, and will have them, all of them. The Hebrews had a saying , "Whoso hath stolen a beam, and used it in building a great tower, must pull down the whole tower and restore the beam to its owner," i. e., restitution must be made at any cost. "He," they say , "who confesses a sin and does not restore the thing stolen, is like one who holds a reptile in his hands, who, if he were washed with all the water in the world, would never be purified, until he cast it out of his hands; when he has done this, the first sprinkling cleanses him."

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). But let man, every man, from the greatest, the king on the throne, to the least, the beggar on the dunghill, put off his usual and softer habit, and afflict himself in coarsest garments.

And beast; their horses, in which they gloried much, their camels also, both which they adorned with rich and costly clothing in their stables, and with as rich furniture for saddles, bridles, and trappings when they were used abroad, now all, in testimony of a hearty repentance, must clothe with sackcloth; the clothing of beasts must witness for men.

Cry mightily unto God: beasts in distress and starving cry to God, as the young ravens and hungry lions, and so here beasts of the herd and flock cry. But it is to be referred to men lamenting their sins, deprecating judgments. imploring mercy with all earnestness and vehemency Of desire, called here a crying mightily to God, as Amos 1:5.

Let them turn; the inhabitants of Nineveh, whether traders, or who live at their ease and pleasure there, let them reform and amend their doings. Every one: the edict for ceasing from violence is as full and particular as the edict for fasting, alt are commanded to be just and righteous.

From his evil way; not cease from single acts only, but change the course and habitual manner of life, called here their way: every one was vicious, and each one almost had some particular method of sin, which was his way of sinning; this must they turn from. Violence: oppression and rapine, as a chief sin, is here particularly mentioned: compare this with Nahum 3:1.

That is in their hands; which acted by them is still in their bands, both in the guilt of it, the effects of it, and as publicly known as what is seen in a man’s hands: see Psalm 7:3. 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.

But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and {f} cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

(f) He exhorted that the men should earnestly call to God for mercy.

8. and cry mightily] These words are to be restricted to “man.” They do not include, as some have thought (comparing Joel 1:18; Joel 1:20), “beast” as well. The addition “mightily” favours the restriction, and so also does the exact order of the Hebrew: “Let them be clothed with sackcloth, man and beast (the parenthesis is inserted here as qualifying what precedes only), and let them cry … and let them turn,” &c.

let them turn] The prominence of the moral element in the repentance of heathen Nineveh is very striking. Complete as was the outward act of humiliation, the king’s decree implies that it would be worthless without a corresponding moral reformation. The tenth verse tells us that it was to this that God had respect, “He saw their works, that they turned from their evil way,” and the heathen king seems clearly to have understood that it would be so. Here again, the favourable light in which these heathen show, in comparison with the chosen people, is most marked. Frequent and indignant is the remonstrance of the Hebrew prophets against the attempt of their countrymen to gain the favour or avert the displeasure of Almighty God by fasting and sackcloth, while the heart remained unchanged and the life unrenewed. “Is it such a fast that I have chosen?” is God’s own indignant question to His people by the prophet Isaiah (ch. 58).

the violence that is in their hands] “Violence” was their chief sin, as all we learn of the Assyrians, both from sacred and secular history, shows. Comp. Nahum 2:11-12; Nahum 3:1, and Isaiah 10:13-14. The form of expression, in their hands, the hand being the instrument of violence, is the same as in Psalm 7:3 (Hebrews 4), and elsewhere.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). "And I have also withholden the rain from you, in yet three months to the harvest; and have caused it to rain upon one city, and I do not cause it to rain upon another. One field is rained upon, and the field upon which it does not rain withers. Amos 4:8. And two, three towns stagger to one town to drink water, and are not satisfied: and ye have not returned to me, is the saying of Jehovah." The second punishment mentioned is the withholding of rain, or drought, which was followed by the failure of the harvest and the scarcity of water (cf. Leviticus 26:19-20; Deuteronomy 28:23). The rain "in yet (i.e., at the time when there were yet) three months to the harvest" is the so-called latter rain, which falls in the latter half of February and the first half of March, and is of the greatest importance to the vigorous development of the ears of corn and also of the grains. In southern Palestine the harvest commences in the latter half of April (Nisan), and falls for the most part in May and June; but in the northern part of the land it is from two to four weeks later (see my Archologie, i. pp. 33, 34, ii. pp. 113, 114), so that in round numbers we may reckon three months from the latter rain to the harvest. But in order to show the people more clearly that the sending and withholding of rain belonged to Him, God caused it to rain here and there, upon one town and one field, and not upon others (the imperfects from 'amtı̄r onwards express the repetition of a thing, what generally happens, and timmâtēr, third pers. fem., is used impersonally). This occasioned such distress, that the inhabitants of the places in which it had not rained were obliged to go to a great distance for the necessary supply of water to drink, and yet could not get enough to satisfy them. נוּע, to stagger, to totter, expresses the insecure and trembling walk of a man almost fainting with thirst.
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