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Jonah 3:9

9. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?

9. Quis novit an convertatur et poenitentia ducatur Deus, et revertatur a furore irae suae, ut non pereamus?

 

The mind and design of the king are here more distinctly stated, — that he thus endeavored to reconcile himself and the people to God. Some give a rendering somewhat different, “He who knows will turn and be led by penitence,” etc.; they read not interrogatively; but this rendering cannot stand. There is in the meaning of the Prophet nothing ambiguous, for he introduces the king here as expressing a doubt, Who knows whether God will be reconciled to us? We hence see that the king was not overwhelmed with despair for he still thought of a remedy; and this is the purport of the verse.

But this may seem contrary to the nature of faith; and then if it be opposed to faith, it follows that it must be inconsistent with repentance; for faith and repentance are connected together, as we have observed in other places; as no one can willingly submit to God, except he has previously known his goodness, and entertained a hope of salvation; for he who is touched only with fear avoids God’s presence; and then despair prevails, and perverseness follows. How then was it that the king of Nineveh had seriously and undissemblingly repented, while yet he spoke doubtfully of the favor of God? To this I answer, that it was a measure of doubt, which was yet connected with faith, even that which does not directly reject the promise of God, but has other hindrances: as for instance, when any ones cast down with fear, afterwards receives courage from the hope of pardon and salvation set before him, he is not yet immediately freed from all fear; for as long as he looks on his sins, and is entangled by various thoughts, he vacillates, he fluctuates. There is, therefore, no doubt but that the king of Nineveh entertained hope of deliverance; but at the same time his mind was perplexed, both on account of the sermon of Jonah and on account of the consciousness of his own sins: there were then two obstacles, which deprived the king’s mind of certainty, or at least prevented him from apprehending immediately the mercy of God, and from perceiving with a calm mind that God would be gracious to him. The first obstacle was the awful message, — that Nineveh would be destroyed in forty days. For though Jonah, as we have said, might have added something more, yet the denunciation was distinct and express, and tended to cast down the minds of all. The king then had to struggle, in order to overcome this obstacle, and to resist this declaration of Jonah as far as it was found to be without any comfort. And then the king, while considering his own sins, could not but vacillate for some time. But yet we see that he strove to emerge, though he had these obstacles before his eyes, for he says, Who knows whether God will turn from the fury of his wrath, and repent? We hence see that the king was in a hard struggle; for though Jonah seemed to have closed the door and to shut out the king from any hope of deliverance, and though his own conscience held him fast bound, he yet perseveres and encourages himself; in short, he aspires to the hope of pardon.

And it must be further noticed, that this form of expression expresses a difficulty rather than a mistrust. The king then here asks, as it were doubtingly, Who knows whether God will turn? for it was a difficult thing to be believed, that God, after a long forbearance, would spare the wicked city. Hence the king expresses it as a difficulty; and such an interrogation was no proof of the absence of faith. A similar expression is found in Joel, “Who knows,” etc.? We then stated several things in explaining that passage: but it is enough here briefly to state, that the king here does not betray a mistrust, but sets forth a difficulty. And it was an evidence of humility that he acknowledged himself and his people to be sunk as it were, in the lowest hell, and yet ceased not to entertain some hope: for it is a strong proof of hope, when we still entertain it, though this be contrary to the whole order of nature, and wholly inconsistent with human reason. We now then see the meaning of the words. Of the repentance of God we shall speak hereafter, either to-morrow or the day after.

Lest we perish, he says. We see how a heathen king thought of redeeming himself from destruction’ it was by having God pacified. As soon then as any danger threatens us, let us bear this in mind, that no deliverance can be found except the Lord receives us into favor; such was the conviction of the king of Nineveh, for he concluded that all things would be well as soon as God should be propitious. We hence see how much this new and untrained disciple had improved; for he understood that men cannot escape miseries until God be pacified towards them, and that when men return into favor with him, though they ought to have perished a hundred times before, they yet shall be delivered and made safe; for the grace or the favor of God is the fountain of life and salvation, and of all blessings. It afterwards follows —

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