Jonah 3:8
But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, 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). Jonah 3:8The 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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