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Jonah 3:5

5. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.

5. Et crediderunt viri Ninevae Deo, et indixerunt jejunium, et induerunt saccos a magno eorum usque ad parvum eorum.

 

One thing, escaped me in the third verse: Jonah said that Nineveh was a city great to God. This form of speech is common in Scripture: for the Hebrews call that Divine, whatever it be, that is superior or excellent: so they say, the cedars of God, the mountains of God, the fields of God, when they are superior in height or in any other respect. Hence a city is called the city of God, when it is beyond others renowned. I wished briefly to allude to this subject, because some, with too much refinement and even puerility says that it was called the city of God, because it was the object of God’s care, and in which he intended to exhibit a remarkable instance of conversion. But, as I have said, this is to be taken as the usual mode of speaking in similar cases.

I now return to the text: Jonah says, that the citizens of Nineveh believed God 4444     ויאמינו באלהים, “And they believed in God. The verb אמן in Hiphil is ever followed by ב or ל, except in one instance by את in Judges 11:20. When followed by ב it seems to mean, to give credit to what is said, to believe one’s testimony, or the truth of what is referred to. To believe then in God is to believe the truth of what he declares, to believe his word. Hence in 2 Chronicles 20:20, Jehosophat said to the people, “Believe in the Lord your God,” האמינו ביהוה אלהיכם; and he adds, “Believe [in] his Prophets,” האמינו בנביאיו. It is the word of God, and the word of the Prophets, which was the same, or the truth or veracity of God and of his Prophets, that they For I have believed [in] thy commandments,” במצותיך, that is, in the truth of thy commandments. — When the verb in Hiphil is followed by ל, the idea of reliance or dependance is more especially conveyed, though in many instances there is hardly a difference tobe recognized, except the context be minutely observed.
   Among other passages, the verb in its Hiphil form is followed by ב, in Genesis 15:6, Exodus 14:31, Numbers 20:12, 2 Kings 17:14, Proverbs 26:25, Jeremiah 12:6; — and by ל in Exodus 4:1-8, Deuteronomy 9:23, 1 Kings 10:7, Psalm 106:24, Isaiah 43:10, Jeremiah 40:14

   The Septuagint renders believing in God by επίστευσαν τω θεω: so does Paul in Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6; but he retains the Hebrew form in Romans 4:5, πιστευοντι επι τον, etc. Calvin here conveys the same meaning by “crediderunt Deo — believed God:” that is, the Ninevites gave credit to what God declared by Jonah, they believed God’s word. — Ed.
. We hence gather that the preaching of Jonah was not so concise but that he introduced his discourse by declaring that he was God’s Prophet, and that he did not proclaim these commands without authority; and we also gather that Jonah so denounced ruin, that at the same time he showed God to be the avenger of sins that he reproved the Ninevites, and, as it were, summoned them to God’s tribunal, making known to them their guilt; for had he spoken only of punishment, it could not certainly have been otherwise, but that the Ninevites must have rebelled furiously against God; but by showing to them their guilt, he led them to acknowledge that the threatened punishment was just, and thus he prepared them for humility and penitence. Both these things may be collected from this expression of Jonah, that the Ninevites believed God; for were they not persuaded that the command came from heaven, what was their faith? Let us then know, that Jonah had so spoken of his vocation, that the Ninevites felt assured that he was a celestial herald: hence was their faith: and further, the Ninevites would never have so believed as to put on sackcloth, had they not been reminded of their sins. There is, therefore, no doubt but that Jonah, while crying against Nineveh, at the same time made known how wickedly the men lived, and how grievous were their offenses against God. Hence then it was that they put on sackcloth, and suppliantly fled to God’s mercy: they understood that they were deservedly summoned to judgment on account of their wicked lives.

But it may be asked, how came the Ninevites to believe God, as no hope of salvation was given them? for there can be no faith without an acquaintance with the paternal kindness of God; whosoever regards God as angry with him must necessarily despair. Since then Jonah gave them no knowledge of God’s mercy, he must have greatly terrified the Ninevites, and not have called them to faith. The answer is, that the expression is to be taken as including a part for the whole; for there is no perfect faith when men, being called to repentance, do suppliantly humble themselves before God; but yet it is a part of faith; for the Apostle says, in Hebrew 11:7, that Noah through faith feared; he deduces the fear which Noah entertained on account of the oracular word he received, from faith, showing thereby that it was faith in part, and pointing out the source from which it proceeded. At the same time, the mind of the holy Patriarch must have been moved by other things besides threatening, when he built an ark for himself, as the means of safety. We may thus, by taking a part for the whole, explain this, place, — that the Ninevites believed God; for as they knew that God required the deserved punishment, they submitted to him, and, at the same time, solicited pardon: but the Ninevites, no doubt, derived from the words of Jonah something more than mere terror: for had they only apprehended this — that they were guilty before God, and were justly summoned to punishment, they would have been confounded and stunned with dread, and could never have been encouraged to seek forgiveness. Inasmuch then as they suppliantly prostrated themselves before God, they must certainly have conceived some hope of grace. They were not, therefore, so touched with penitence and the fear of God, but that they had some knowledge of divine grace: thus they believed God; for though they were aware that they were most worthy of death, they yet despaired not, but retook themselves to prayer. Since then we see that the Ninevites sought this, remedy, we must feel assured that they derived more advantage from the preaching of Jonah than the mere knowledge that they were guilty before God: this ought certainly to be understood. But we shall speak more on the subject in our next lecture.


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