Jonah 3 – “Nineveh Repents”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Jonah warns Nineveh of doom, the people repent, and Yahweh forgives them.

II. Photo
The people of Nineveh repent: “By decree of the king and his nobles: No man or beast — of flock or herd — shall taste anything!“ (v. 7)

III. Select Verses    
(the entire chapter)
1-4: The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it what I tell you.” Jonah went at once to Nineveh in accordance with the LORD’s command. Nineveh was an enormously large city a three days’ walk across. Jonah started out and made his way into the city the distance of one day’s walk, and proclaimed: “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5-9: The people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast, and great and small alike put on sackcloth.  When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he had the word cried through Nineveh: “By decree of the king and his nobles: No man or beast — of flock or herd — shall taste anything! They shall not graze, and they shall not drink water!  They shall be covered with sackcloth — man and beast — and shall cry mightily to God. Let everyone turn back from his evil ways and from the injustice of which he is guilty.  Who knows but that God may turn and relent? He may turn back from His wrath, so that we do not perish.”
10: God saw what they did, how they were turning back from their evil ways. And God renounced the punishment He had planned to bring upon them, and did not carry it out.

IV. Outline
1-2. God repeats his command
3-4. Jonah delivers the message
5-9. The king and people of Nineveh fast and pray
10. God renounces the decree

V. Comment
The city of Nineveh is described in v. 3: “Nineveh was an enormously large city a three days’ walk across.” As Stuart notes, this passage comes up in the discussion about the date and authorship of Jonah: “Solely on the basis of the use of היה “to be” in the past tense in describing Nineveh in 3:3, it has usually been assumed that the narrator had to be someone living after 612, ie, after Nineveh fell to the Babylonians and was destroyed. This dating depends upon taking the sentence in question to read, in essence, “Nineveh was a city . . .,” ie, is a city no longer from the perspective of the narrator and his or her audience. However, if the sentence emphasizes the type of city Nineveh was at the time Jonah visited it, rather than the fact that it was simply a city at all, the matter may be considered differently. That is, we must ask whether the narrator’s object in 3:3 may not be to point out that Nineveh “then” was more important than it is “now,” ie, in the narrator’s lifetime. This would be possible if, for example, (1) Nineveh was no longer the royal residence at the time of the composition of the story; or (2) Nineveh had ceased to be “important to God” (גדולה לאלהים) if that is indeed the sense of the unusual Hebrew wording. Thus even the relative distance of the narrator from the story is impossible to fix with certainty. Besides this, the Hebrew narrative style calls for the past tense regardless of proximity to the events. Thus the importance of the verb in 3:3 is easily overrated.” (432)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Stuart, Douglas K. Hosea-jonah. Waco, Tex: Word Books, 1987.
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