“So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Jonah 2:10.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” Jonah 3:1-4.
Jonah after being ignominiously ejected onto land again hears the voice of the Lord. Notice here that it states, “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time” indicating that God had not spoken to Jonah again since the first chapter.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.’” Jonah 1:1-2.
Jonah, after hearing the Lord immediately fled the scene and was eventually swallowed by a great fish. There is no indication that God spoke to him once after he rebelled until he repented.
While the Christian is in open rebellion against God they will not hear the word of God until they repent and turn again to Him.
“…Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” Jonah 3:2.
Compare this verse with the original message to Jonah quoted above in Jonah 1:1-2. God now tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and, “preach to it the message that I tell you.” There seems to be a stronger emphasis in God’s voice here, as though He is saying, you have had your rebellion, now keep your vow.
“So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” Jonah 3:3-4.
There are those who say that the meaning of “that great city” is that the city was great before God. The word great here can be interpreted in different ways according to its use, just as our own use of the English word great changes with context.
We can easily understand what the word means when someone says, “Abraham Lincoln was a great man”, or “New York is great in size.”
A city might be great before men, and Nineveh was great enough to become the capital of the Assyrians. But there is nothing wonderful in the sight of God when it comes to cities, it is men who brag about them, not God.
“Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon [forests] is not sufficient to burn, nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.” Isaiah 40:15-17.
But Nineveh was a hell-hole, a den of iniquity, filled with perversity, cruelty, and idolatry to the point that the very soil cried out for the blood that soaked into it.
No, it is not a metropolis, cities, towns, hamlets, or outposts that are great before God; it is the men, women, and children in them that are precious to Him.
“Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel [or anyone]?’” Ezekiel 33:11.
“The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9.
No, just as there was a “great wind on the sea” and a “great fish” in chapter one, so there was a great city near modern Mosul; Nineveh.
Nineveh was surrounded by a one hundred foot high wall, 60 miles in length, with, according to one source, 1500 watchtowers on it. It should be added that the wall was wide enough for three chariots to ride abreast around it.
Yet this city was so thoroughly destroyed that it was considered to be just a Bible myth until it was discovered again in the 1800’s. So God’s judgment did, years later, fall on the city as other prophets had prophesied, but not this time.
It states in Scripture that the city was a three days journey across it. It has been said that a day’s journey is about 20 miles, so again we have a number of 60 miles, a great city.
“And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” Jonah 3:4.
Though it sounds absurd, Jonah had three days and three nights to accept death or cry out to the Lord for mercy, “But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have owed. Salvation is of the Lord.” Jonah 2:9.
Now the citizens of Nineveh have the same choice to make. It took a great deal of courage for Jonah to cry out destruction in a wicked foreign city. Why did they not just lynch this noisy interloper?
The answer to this last question is simple, God protected him. But this brings up another question, why did they overwhelmingly believe him? After all, they had their own gods to protect them.
“So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” Jonah 3:5-9.
“So the people of Nineveh believed God…” why? We do know that the Holy Spirit is capable of turning folks around, and there is no question that He was responsible for the good response of the people of Nineveh to Jonah’s message.
But there seems to be more to this than meets the eye.
“But He [Jesus] answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.’” Matthew 12:39-41.
We know that after the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ many people saw Him, even up to 500 people at one time. By this we can see that this part of Jesus’ prophecy literally came true.
But the question is, was Jesus pointing to the account of Jonah and saying, just as you Israelites have read about and know that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish and then cast out live onto the land, so in like manner will the Son of Man be in the belly of the earth and then rise from it again?
Or is Jesus, in comparing Himself to Jonah, saying, that just as Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish was known to the people of Nineveh causing them to repent, so the sign of Jesus’ resurrection would be a sign to the Israelites?
What if this last part is so? What if the people of Nineveh had heard the story from the mariners about a man they cast into the sea and stilled a storm?
The account in Jonah does not tell us where Jonah was vomited up onto the land, but it may have been near a port close to a trade route to Nineveh.
Could it have been one of the Phoenician ports such as Tyre or Sidon near modern Beirut? Is it possible that the Phoenician sailors who cast him overboard returned to the same port?
These men may have been telling the story of how God stilled the storm when they cast Jonah overboard; “And look! There is the man!” Think of what a stunning account that would have been when Jonah followed up by telling everyone how God rescued him from the sea.
This is the sheerest speculation on my part, but could the sign of Jonah have been the knowledge that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, just as we have the knowledge that Jesus was crucified for our sins, buried and rose on the third day. Knowledge of his perilous travels would demand that Jonah was a man to be heard.
God’s Holy Spirit not only opened the way for Jonah, but He also spoke to the conscience of these many people from the king on down. We can know this because the king put his finger on their problem himself when he sent out his decree.
“…yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” Jonah 3:8b-9.
The Holy Spirit convicts all people of their sin and shows them the way of escape from eternal hell, but it is up to each one to decide whether they will cling to this dying world, or embrace our heavenly Father.
“And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” 1 John 5:11-13.
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36.
God is merciful to the one who comes before Him in true repentance, acknowledging their sinful condition and turning to Jesus as their only hope of cleansing from sin.
It was the outward actions of the people of Nineveh that showed their heartfelt repentance from their sinful ways. Imagine, a whole city turned to God in such a short time.
“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” Jonah 3:10.
It is God’s grace and His mercy that calls to those who reject Him, those who have not heard of Him, and to the Christian who has strayed from Him.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart [have a broken heart over your sin], and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him – a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?” Joel 2:12-14.
“Come to Me [Jesus], all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.
Jonah 3:1-10 taken from godisrevealed.com
Scripture taken from the New King James version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.