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Sermon Bible Commentary

Jonah 3



Verse 1

Jonah 3:1

I. From Joppa the prophet probably went up to Jerusalem, to appear in the Temple, to which he had looked from the deep, to sacrifice to God with the voice of thanksgiving, to pay what he had vowed. Then, probably, he returned to Gath-hepher, his former home. And there, as it would seem, he was living when he received the second commission to go to Nineveh. Notice the points of identity between the first and the second commission. (i) God still needs to speak. (ii) Nineveh is still a great city. Therefore that is the place for Him to speak. There are also points of difference between the first and the second commission. (1) One respects Jonah himself, and glances, not reproachfully, but still in a spirit of fatherly faithfulness at his recent disobedience. "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, preach the preaching that I bid thee." Formerly he knew the message that he was to deliver. Now he is simply told that a message will be given him, but he is not to know it until he arrives at the place. He is relegated, as it were, from the position of the "friend who knoweth his Lord's will," to, or towards, that of the "servant who knoweth not." (2) The message is different in its substance also, to meet the change in Nineveh.

II. From Jonah's preaching in Nineveh we see: (i) The exceeding sinfulness of sin. The horror of great darkness which settles down with the night upon Nineveh is all brought by sin. (ii) The inflexible justice of God. (iii) The stupendous power a city has—power for good and power for evil.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 189.

References: Jonah 3:1-4.—W. G. Blaikie,Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 250. Jonah 3:2.—J. McC. Hussey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 177; J. Keble, Sermons from Lent to Passiontide, p. 279. Jonah 3:4.—Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 333; J. Vaughan, Sermons, 15th series, p. 85.

Verse 5

Jonah 3:5

I. Our Lord tells us that "Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites." He was a sign (1) of the impartiality and inflexibility of the Divine justice. Prophet though he was, raised to a higher place of life than common men, admitted to a knowledge of some of the secrets of the Divine government of the world; in favour, as might be supposed, in the celestial court, he no sooner swerves and turns from the way of obedience, than God turns upon him the arrestive and vindicative powers of His government. He is pursued, convicted, cast into the deep. It will appear manifest to them that all nature serves God for His just occasions; that the nets of capture are already woven—spread wherever there can be the footsteps of flight; that storms are brooding in the air and vengeance sleeping in the sea, for those who choose to awake them. (1) He was also a sign of Divine mercy. For he is alive! He has been delivered. From sea and grave, and death and hell, he has come forth. He is not merely in life, he is in favour, once more, with God. Let us take this man as a sign of mercy,—repent and pray, and press towards the gate—see if it will not open a little wider. So the prophet was "a sign" unto them.

II. Notice the effects which are produced upon the city by Jonah's progress through it. They are such as no man ever produced in a single day, either before or since. They are such as could flow only from the presence and action of the mighty power, and the still mightier grace of God. A sense of God soon filled the city. It was shed from group to group, from street to street. It was awful, painful, at the first, like a "resurrection of condemnation," to their spirits. It turned them away from their own gods as effectually as the sailors in the ship were turned from theirs. "They believed God." Possessed of that faith, all that follows is natural and inevitable.

III. The proclamation which was the faithful exposition of the true sentiments, both of king and people, bears certain marks which we may briefly note. (i) We cannot fail to be struck with the comprehensiveness of it. The prohibition is over every human being, and over all the animals possessed by and related to man. (ii) Fasting was the first part of the decree. Fasting has been a religious exercise in the East as far back as history takes us. The efficacy of it will be more or less, according to climate, individual temperament, and other circumstances. (iii) The covering with sackcloth was the next part of the decree. In its nature and purpose it is closely allied to fasting—with this difference, that it is visible. (iv) Each person is to utter a mighty cry. The Eastern nations have always been addicted to vocal demonstration for the expression of the stronger emotions. The "might," no doubt, is to be in the desire more than in the mere voice that utters it. (v) But by far the most striking and satisfactory characteristic of this proclamation is the last—that which requires from every man a personal and practical reformation: "Let them turn every one from his evil way."

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 216.

References: Jonah 3:5-9.—J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 100. Jonah 3:5-10.—W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 295. Jonah 3:8.—J. N. Norton, Golden Truths, p. 152. Jonah 3:9.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 275.

Verse 10

Jonah 3:10

I. In the last verse of the third chapter we come upon a difficulty which has exercised the faith and called forth the ingenuity of interpreters. The difficulty is this, there are passages in Holy Scripture which assert in the strongest way that God cannot repent, and that He never does. There are certain other passages (of which this is one) which assert, just as strongly, that He can repent, and that, in fact, He has often done so.

II. If the question is put, "Why was not Nineveh destroyed? how can we reconcile the sparing of the city with Divine veracity, since there is no condition or qualification in the denouncing cry?"—the answer is, that the condition was involved and understood. The possibility of mercy was clearly understood by Jonah, for he was displeased with it. It was understood also by the Ninevites, for they cried for long days and nights. If God had made unreserved announcement of destruction, the city must have been destroyed, for He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? "Hath He said it, and shall He not do it?" "But He knew that the city would repent: why then did He threaten without any expressed reference to this eventuality?" The answer is, that He knew that the city would repent under the shadow of the Divine commination. Not otherwise. The commination was uttered because it was deserved, because it suited the moral condition of the people, because it was necessary in the perfect government of God. Also, God foresaw its good effect; and therefore, in all truth and sincerity, it was put forth. "God knows that His believing children will persevere unto the end: why, then, does He speak to them as if they might not—as if they might apostatize and drawback unto perdition?" The answer is, because they might. It is a clear possibility that they might; and very likely the realization by them of this awful possibility is one of the elements which compose and complete the certainty of perseverance unto the end.

III. The mind of God is the one perfect mirror reflecting without the least distortion or refraction, every object, act, state, being, in the universe, just as it is. God morally regards us at any one moment just as we are. If we repent of all sin and grow into all goodness, His thought and feeling will rise with us; and as, repenting, He spared Nineveh, so will He spare us, and we shall live and not die.

A. Raleigh, The Story of Jonah, p. 241.

References: 3:10-4:1.—J. Menzies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 117; W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 297. Jonah 3—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 103. Jonah 4:1-4.—W. G. Blaikie, Homiletic Magazine, vol. vi., p. 356. Jonah 4:2.—S. Cox, Expositions, 2nd series, p. 75.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jonah 3:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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