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Conversion of Nineveh
The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, 2“Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. 4Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.
6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.
There is here set before us a remarkable proof of God’s grace, — that he was pleased to bestow on Jonah his former dignity and honor. He was indeed unworthy of the common light, but God not only restored him to life, but favored him again with the office and honor of a prophet. This, as I have said, Jonah obtained through the wonderful and singular favor of God. As he had previously fled, and by disobedience deprived himself in a manner of all God’s favor, the recovery of his prophetic office was certainly not obtained through his own merit.
It must, in the first place, be observed, that this phrase, The word of Jehovah came the second time, ought to be noticed; for the word of God comes to men in different ways. God indeed addresses each of us individually; but he spoke to his Prophets in a special manner; for he designed them to be witnesses and heralds of his will. Hence, whenever God sets a man in some peculiar office, his word is said to come to him: as the word of God is addressed to magistrates because they are commanded to exercise the power committed to them; so also the word of God ever came to the Prophets, because it was not lawful for them to thrust in themselves without being called.
The command now follows, Arise, go to Nineveh, to that great city, and preach there the preaching which I command thee.
Literally, “And proclaim to or against her the proclamation which I declare to thee.” The Septuagint is, “Και κηρυξον εν αυτη κατα το κηρυγμα το εμπροσθεν ὸ̔ εγω ελαλησα προς σε — And preach in it the former preaching which I have
spoken to thee.” עליה in five MSS., as in chapter 1:2, “against her,” and not אליה, “to her.” אשר אנכי דבר אליד, “which I am
speaking or declaring to thee.” דבר is a participle; being preceded by a nominative, it will admit of an auxiliary verb either in the past, present or future tense, according to the context; though it is often used to express the present time.
Newcome renders the sentence thus — “And cry unto her in the words which I shall speak unto thee;” Henderson more paraphrastically thus — “And make the proclamation to it which I order thee;” and adds the following remarks, — “Be my herald, and faithfully deliver my message. The word κηρυξ in Greek answers to the Hebrew קורא, kore, both signifying a crier, a herald, a preacher; one that makes proclamation with a loud and earnest cry. Such was John Baptist, Isaiah 40:3; such was Jesus Christ, John 7:18-37; and such were all his apostles. And such earnestness becomes a ministry that has to do with immortal souls, asleep and dead in sin, hanging on the brink of perdition, and insensible of their state. The soft speaking, gentle toned, unmoved preacher, is never likely to awaken souls.”
Henry considers that the commission was not specifically explained to him then. “Jonah must go,” he says, “with implicit faith: he shall not know till he comes thither what message he must deliver.” — Ed. God again repeats what we have observed at the be ginning, — that Nineveh was a great city, that Jonah might provide himself with an invincible courage of mind, and come there well prepared: for it often happens, that many boldly undertake an office, but soon fail, because difficulties had not been sufficiently foreseen by them. Hence, when men find more hardships than they thought of at the beginning, they nearly faint, at least they despond. The Lord, therefore, expressly foretold Jonah how difficult would be his employment; as though he said, “I send thee, a man unknown, and of no rank, and a stranger, to denounce ruin on men, not a few in number, but on a vast multitude, and to carry on a contest with the noblest city, and so populous, that it may seem to be a region of itself.”
We now then understand why this character of the city was added; it was, that Jonah might gird up himself for the contest, that he might not afterwards fail in the middle of his course. This fear indeed frightened him at the beginning, so that he shunned the call of God; but he is not now moved in any degree by the greatness of the city, but resolutely follows where the Lord leads. We hence see, that faith, when once it gains the ascendancy in our hearts, surmounts all obstacles and despises all the greatness of the world; for it is immediately added —
Jonah, by saying that he went to Nineveh according to God’s command, proves in the first place, as I have said, how great was the power and energy of his faith; for though Jonah had considered the greatness and pride of the city, he seems to have forgotten that he was an obscure man, alone, and unarmed; but he had laid hold on weapons capable of destroying all the power of the world, for he knew that he was sent from above. His conviction was, that God was on his side; and he knew that God had called him. Hence then it was, that with a high and intrepid mind he looked down on all the splendor of the city Nineveh. Hence John does not without reason say, that the victory, by which we overcome the world, proceeds from faith, (1 John 5:4.) Jonah also proves, at the same time, how much he had improved under God’s scourges. He had been severely chastised; but we know that most of the unbelieving grow hardened under the rod, and vomit forth their rage against God; Jonah, on the contrary, shows here that chastisement had been useful to him for he was subdued and led to obey God.
He went, then, according to the command of Jehovah; that is, nothing else did he regard but to render obedience to God, and to suffer himself to be wholly ruled by him. We hence learn how well God provides for us and for our salvation, when he corrects our perverseness; though sharp may be our chastisements, yet as this benefit follows we know that nothing is better for us than to be humbled under God’s hand, as David says in Psalm 119:1. This change then, he went, is to us a remarkable example; and this is what the Lord has ever in view whenever he roughly handles us; for he cannot otherwise subdue either the haughtiness or the rebellion, or the slowness and indolence of our flesh. We must now also take notice how Jonah attained so much strength; it was, because he had found by experience in the bowels of the fish, that even amidst thousand deaths there is enough in God’s protection to secure our safety. As then he had by experience known that the issues of death are at the will and in the hand of God, he is not now touched with fear so as to shun God’s command, even were the whole world to rise up against him. Hence the more any one has found the kindness of God, the more courageously he ought to proceed in the discharge of his office, and confidently to commit to God his life and his safety, and resolutely to surmount all the perils of the world.
He then says, that Nineveh was a great city 4343 The original is, “And Nineveh was a city great to God” — לאלהים עיר-גדולה. The remark of Henry is, “So the Hebrew phrase is, meaning no more than as we render it, exceeding great; this honor that language doth to the great God, that great things derive their denomination from him” Though the form of the expression here is different from what we find in other places, when God is taken in this sense, as in Psalm 80:10, ארזי-אל, cedars of God, that is, tall or great cedars, — yet there is no other sense that comports with this place. This is the view of Dathius, Drusius, Newcome, and many others. Some render it, great through God, and Grotius seems to have taken it in this sense, for he explains it by “Deo eam augente — God having increased it.” Henderson considers ל here in the sense of לפגי, before, and refers to Genesis 10:9. But this has hardly a meaning in this connection. — Ed.. , even a journey of three days. Some toil much in untying a knot, which at last is no knot at all; for it seems to them strange that one city should be in compass about thirty leagues according to our measure. When they conceive this as being impossible, then they invent some means to avoid the difficulty, — that no one could visit the whole city so as to go through all the alleys, all the streets, and all the public places, except in three days; nay, they add, that this is not to be understood as though one ran or quickly passed through the city, but as though he walked leisurely and made a stay in public places: but these are mere puerilities. And if we believe profane writers, Nineveh must have been a great city, as Jonah declares here: for they say that its area was about four hundred stadia; and we know what space four hundred stadia include. A stadium is one hundred and twenty-five paces; hence eight stadia make a mile. Now if any one will count he will find that there are twelve miles in a hundred stadia; there will then be in four hundred stadia forty-eight miles. This account well agrees with the testimony of Jonah. And then Diodorus and Herodotus say that there were 1500 towers around the city. Since it was so, it could not certainly be a smaller city than what it is represented here by Jonah. Though these things may seem to exceed what is commonly believed, writers have not yet reported them without some foundation: for however false are found to be many things in Diodorus and Herodotus, yet as to Babylon and Nineveh they could not have dared to say what was untrue; for the first was then standing and known to many; and the ruins of the other were still existing, though it had been for some time destroyed. We shall farther see about the end of the book that this city was large, and so populous, that there were there 120,000 children. If any one receives not this testimony, let him feed on the lies of the devil. But since there were so many children there, what else can we say but that the circumference of the city was very great?
But this seems inconsistent with what immediately follows; for Jonah says, that when he entered the city, he performed a journey in the city for one day and preached. The answer is this, — that as soon as he entered the city, and began to proclaim the command of God, some conversions immediately followed: so Jonah does not mean that he went through the city in one day. He then in the first day converted a part of the city; he afterwards continued to exhort each one to repentance: thus the conversion of the whole city followed; but not in the second or the third day, as it may be easily gathered. Let us now proceed to what remains —
Jonah here relates what had briefly been said before, — that he went to Nineveh according to the command of God. He shows then how faithfully he executed the duty enjoined on him, and thus obeyed the word of God. Hence Jonah came and began to enter the city and to preach on the first day. This promptness proves clearly how tractable Jonah had become, and how much he endeavored to obey God in discharging his office: for had there been still a timidity in his heart, he would have inspected the city, as careful and timid men are wont to do, who inquire what is the condition of the place, what are the dispositions of the people, and which is the easiest access to them, and what is the best way, and where is the least danger. If Jonah then had been still entangled by carnal thoughts he would have waited two or three days, and then have began to exercise his office as a Prophet. This he did not, but entered the city and I cried. We now then see how prompt he was in his obedience, who had before attempted to pass over the sea: he now takes hardly a moment to breathe, but he begins at the very entrance to testify that he had come in obedience to God.
We hence see with what emphasis these words ought to be read. The narrative is indeed very simple; Jonah uses here no rhetorical ornaments, nor does he set forth his entrance with any fine display of words. Jonah, he says, entered into the city He who is not well versed in Scripture might say that this is frigid: but when we weigh the circumstances, we see that this simple way of speaking possesses more force and power than all the displays of orators.
He entered then the city a day’s journey, and cried and said, etc. By saying that he cried, he again proves the courage of his soul; for he did not creep in privately, as men are wont to do, advancing cautiously when dangers are apprehended. He says that he cried: then this freedom shows that Jonah was divested of all fear, and endued with such boldness of spirit, that he raised himself up above all the hindrances of the world. And we ought, in the meantime, to remember how disliked must have been his message: for he did not gently lead the Ninevites to God, but threatened them with destruction, and seemed to have given them no hope of pardon. Jonah might have thought that his voice, as one says, would have to return to his own throat, “Can I denounce ruin on this populous city, without being instantly crushed? Will not the first man that meets me stone me to death?” Thus might Jonah have thought within himself. No fear was, however, able to prevent him from doing his duty as a faithful servant, for he had been evidently strengthened by the Lord. But it will be better to join the following verse —
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
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.
It is uncertain whether Jonah had preached for some days in the city before it was known to the king. This is indeed the common opinion; for interpreters so expound the verse, which says that word was brought to the king, as though the king himself knew, that the whole city was in commotion through the preaching of Jonah: but the words admit of a different sense, that is that the preaching of Jonah immediately reached the king; and I am disposed to take this view, as Jonah seems here to explain how the Ninevites were led to put on sackcloth. He had before spoken briefly on the subject, but he now explains what took place more fully; and we know that it was commonly the manner of the Hebrews — to relate the chief points in few words, and then to add an explanation. As then Jonah had said in the last verse that the Ninevites had put on sackcloth, and proclaimed a fast, so he now seems to express more distinctly how this happened, that is, through the royal edict. And it is by no means probable that a fast was proclaimed in the royal city by the mere consent of the people, as the king and his counselors were there present. Inasmuch then as it appears more reasonable that the edict respecting the fast had proceeded from the king, I am therefore inclined so to connect the two verses, as that the first briefly mentions the fruit which followed the preaching of Jonah, and that the second is added as an explanation, for it gives a fuller account of what took place.
Jonah then now says, that a fast was proclaimed by the Ninevites, for the king and his council had so appointed: and I regard the verb ויגע, uigo, as being in the pluperfect tense, When word had come to the king; 4545 Grotius, as well as Junius and Tremelius, had the same view of the verse, by rendering the verb in the tense here proposed. Quia pervenerat is the version of the former; and the version of the latter is, Quu enim pervenisset Our own version and that of Newcome seem also to favor this view, by rendering ו “for,” as giving a reason for what is said in the preceding verse: but Henderson has “and,” and Marckius the same, and also the Septuagint. What Calvin states as to the manner of speaking often adopted in Hebre, is no doubt true. But Henry thinks that the people “led the way,” and that what they commenced was afterwards enforced and made general by the order of the king and his nobles. — Ed. for Jonah now states the reason why the Ninevites proclaimed a fast; it was because the king had been apprised of the preaching of Jonah, and had called together his counselors. It was then a public edict, and not any movement among the people, capriciously made, as it sometimes happens. He says, that it was an edict published by the authority of the king and his council, or his nobles. At the same time, some take טעם, thom, as meaning reason or approbation. טעם, thom, means to taste, and Jonah afterwards uses the verb in this sense; but it is to be taken here in a metaphorical sense for counsel; And I think this meaning is more suitable to this passage. I come now to the subject.
It is worthy of being noticed, that the king of so splendid a city 4646 Who this king was is a matter of conjecture. “About thirteen years,” says Newcome, “after the death of Jeroboam II., king of Israel, Pul, king of Assyria, invaded Israel. So that Pul, or his predecessor, may have been the king here mentioned.” Others think that he was Sardanapalus, a character notorious in history for his luxurious, effeminate, and debauched life. — Ed. , nay, at that time the greatest monarch, should have rendered himself so submissive to the exhortation of Jonah: for we see how proud kings are; as they think themselves exempt from the common lot of men, so they carry themselves above all laws. Hence it comes, that they will have all things to be lawful for them; and while they give loose reins to their lusts they cannot bear to be admonished, even by their equals. But Jonah was a stranger and of a humble condition: that he therefore so touched the heart of the king, must be ascribed to the hidden power of God, which he puts forth through his word whenever he pleases. God does not indeed work alike by the preaching of his word, he does not always keep to the same course; but, when he pleases, he so efficaciously touches the hearts of men, that the success of his word exceeds all expectation, as in the memorable example presented to us here. Who could have said that a heathen king, who had ever lived according to his own will, who had no feeling as to true and genuine religion, would have been thus in an instant subdued? For he put aside his royal dress, laid himself in the dust, and clothed himself in sackcloth. We hence see that God not only spoke by the mouth of Jonah, but added power to his word.
We must also bear in mind what Christ says, that the men of Nineveh would rise up in judgment against that generation, as they had repented at the preaching of Jonah; and “Behold,” he said, “a greater than Jonah is here,” (Matthew 12:41.) Christ, at this day, proclaims the voice of his Gospel; for though he is not here in a visible form among us, he yet speaks by his ministers. If we despise his doctrine, how can our obstinacy and hardness be excused, since the Ninevites, who had no knowledge of the true doctrine of religion, who were imbued with no religious principles, were so suddenly converted by the preaching of Jonah? And that their repentance was sincere we may conclude from this circumstance — that the preaching of Jonah was severe, for he denounced destruction on a most powerful city; this might have instantly inflamed the king’s mind with rage and fury; and that he was calmly humbled, was certainly a proof of no common change. We have then here a remarkable instance of penitence, — that the king should have so forgotten himself and his dignity, as to throw aside his splendid dress, to put on sackcloth, and to lie down on ashes.
But as to fasting and sackcloth, it is very true, as we have observed in our remarks on Joel, that repentance consists not in these external things: for God cares not for outward rites, and all those things which are resplendent in the sight of men are worthless before him; what indeed he requires, is sincerity of heart. Hence what Jonah here says of fasting, and other outward performances, ought to be referred to their legitimate end, — that the Ninevites intended thus to show that they were justly summoned as guilty before God’s tribunal, and also, that they humbly deprecated the wrath of their judge. Fasting then and sackcloth were only an external profession of repentance. Were any one to fast all his life, and to put on sackcloth, and to scatter dust on himself, and not to connect with all this a sincerity of heart, he would do nothing but mock God. 4747 Ον τη νηστεια προσεσχεν, αλλα τη αποχη των κακων — “He [God] did not regard fasting, but abstinence from evils.” — Theodoret. “It is not enough,” says Henry, “to fast for sin, but we must fast from sin, and in order to the success of our prayers, must no more regard iniquity in our hearts... The work of a fast-day is not done with the day; no, then the hardest and most needful part of the work begins, which is to turn from sin, and to live a new life, and not to return with the dog to his vomit.” — Ed. Hence these outward performances are, in themselves, of small or of no value, except when preceded by an interior feeling of heart, and men be on this account led to manifest such outward evidences. Whenever then Scripture mentions fasting, and ashes, and sackcloth, we must bear in mind that these things are set before us as the outward signs of repentance which when not genuine do nothing else but provoke the wrath of God; but when true, they are approved of God on account of the end in view, and not that they avail, of themselves, to pacify his wrath, or to expiate sins.
If now any one asks whether penitence is always to be accompanied with fasting, ashes, and sackcloth, the answer is at hand, — that the faithful ought through their whole life to repent: for except everyone of us continually strives to renounce himself and his former life, he has not yet learned what it is to serve God; for we must ever contend with the flesh. But though there is a continual exercise of repentance, yet fasting is not required of us always. It then follows that fasting is a public and solemn testimony of repentance, when there appears to be some extraordinary evidence of God’s wrath. Thus have we seen that the Jews were by Joel called to lie in ashes, and to put on sackcloth because God had come forth, as it were, armed against them; and all the Prophets had declared that destruction was nigh the people. In the same manner the Ninevites, when terrified by this dreadful edict, put on sackcloth proclaimed a fasts because this was usually done in extremities. We now then perceive why the king, having himself put on sackcloth, enjoined on the whole people both fasting and other tokens of repentance.
But it seems strange, and even ridiculous, that the king should bid animals, as well as men, to make a confession of repentance; for penitence is a change in man, when he returns to God after having been alienated from him: this cannot comport with the character of brute animals. Then the king of Nineveh acted foolishly and contrary to all reason in connecting animals with men when he spoke of repentance. But, in answer to this, we must bear in mind what I have before said — that destruction had been denounced, not only on men, but also on the whole city, even on the buildings: for as God created the whole world for the sake of men, so also his wrath, when excited against men, includes the beasts, and trees, and every thing in heaven and on earth. But the question is not yet solved; for though God may punish animals on account of men’s sins, yet neither oxen nor sheep can pacify the wrath of God. To this I answer — that this was done for the sake of men: for it would have been ridiculous in the king to prohibit food and drink to animals, except he had a regard to men themselves. But his object was to set before the Ninevites, as in a mirror or picture, what they deserved. The same was done under the law; for, whenever they slew victims, they were reminded of their own sins; for it ought to have come to their minds, that the sheep or any other animal sacrificed was innocent, and that it stood at the altar in his stead who had sinned. They therefore saw in the ox, or the lamb, or the goat, a striking emblem of their own condemnation. So also the Ninevites, when they constrained the oxen, the asses and other animals, to fast, were reminded of what grievous and severe punishment they were worthy: inasmuch as innocent animals suffered punishment together with them. We hence see that no expiation was sought for by the king, when he enjoined a fast on brute animals, but that, on the contrary, men were roused by such means seriously to acknowledge the wrath of God, and to entertain greater fear, that they might be more truly humbled before him, and be displeased with themselves, and be thus more disposed and better prepared and moulded to seek pardon.
We now then see that this must be considered as intended to terrify the consciences of men, that they, who had long flattered themselves, might by such a remedy be roused from their insensibility. The same was the intention of different washings under the law, the cleansing of garments and of vessels; it was, that the people might know that every thing they touched was polluted by their filth. And this ought to be especially observed; for the Papists, wedded as they are to external rites, lay hold on anything said in Scripture about fasting, and ashes, and sackcloth, and think that the whole of religion consists in these outward observances: but bodily exercise, as Paul says, profiteth but littler (1 Timothy 4:8.) Therefore this rule ought ever to be our guide — that fasting and such things are in themselves of no value, but must be estimated only by the end in view. So then, when the animals were constrained by the Ninevites to suffer want, the men themselves, being reminded of their guilt, learned what it was to dread God’s wrath; and on this account it was that fasting was approved by God.
Now, if any one objects and says that nothing ought to be done in the worship of God beyond what his word warrants, the answer is — that the king of Nineveh had not appointed any kind of expiation, neither did he intend that they should thus worship God, but regarded only the end which I have mentioned; and that end fully harmonizes with the word of God and his command. Hence the king of Nineveh attempted nothing that was inconsistent with the word of God, since he had in every thing this in view — that he and his people might go humbly before God’s tribunal, and with real penitential feelings solicit his forgiveness. This then is an answer sufficiently plain.
When therefore Jonah afterwards subjoins, 4848 Calvin has omitted to notice the words at the beginning of the seventh verse. His version is, Et promulgavit ac dixit, etc., but this rendering comports not with what follows. The verbs are evidently in future Niphal, preceded by a ו conversive, and ought to be rendered impersonally, “And it was proclaimed and published,” etc. And so Newcome renders them; and this is in conformity with the Septuagint, Και εκηρυχθη και ερρεθη εν τη Νινευὴ — “And it was proclaimed and published in Nineveh.” Henderson gives a paraphrase, “And a proclamation was made through Nineveh.” — Ed. that the king commanded both the people and the beasts to put on sackcloth, let us know, that if any one now were to take this as an example, he would be nothing else but a mountebank; for this reason ought ever to be remembered, — that the king sought aids by which he might lead himself and his people to true repentance. But the disposition of man is prone to imitate what is evil: for we are all very like apes; we ought therefore always to consider by what spirit those were actuated whom we wish to imitate, lest we should be contented with the outward form and neglect the main things.
Jonah afterwards adds, And they cried mightily 4949 בחזקח, with vigor. “Εκτεςῶς — intensely, earnestly.” — Sept. Vehementer — vehemently.” — Grotius. “Totis viribus — with all their powers.” — Mercerius. “Cum intensione valida — with strong intensity” — Marckius. “In prayer,” says Henry, “we must cry mightily, with a fixedness of thought, firmness of faith, and fervor of pious and devout affections. — Ed. to God This must be confined to men; for it could not have been applied to brute animals. Men then, as well as the beasts, abstained from meat and drink, and they cried to God. This crying could not have proceeded except from fear and a religious feeling: hence, as I have said, this cannot be applied indiscriminately to the beasts as well as to men. 5050 Yet Henry does in a manner apply this mighty crying to the beasts. “Let even the brute creatures do it according to their capacity; let their cries and moans for want of food be graciously construed as cries to God; as the cries of young ravens are, Job 38:41; and of the young lions, Psalm 104:21.” — Ed. But it deserves to be noticed, that the king of Nineveh commanded the people to cry mightily to God; for we hence learn that they were really frightened, inasmuch as he speaks not here of ordinary crying, but he adds mightily, as when we say, with all our power, or as we say in French, A force, or, fort et ferme. Jonah then expresses something uncommon and extraordinary, when he tells us that it was contained in the king’s edict, that men should cry mightily to God; for it was the same as though he said, “Let all men now awake and shake off their indifference; for every one of us have hitherto greatly indulged ourselves in our vices: it is now time that fear should possess our minds, and also constrain us to deprecate the wrath of God.” And it is also worthy of being observed, that the king proposes no other remedy, but that the people should have recourse to prayer. It might indeed have been, that Jonah exhorted the Ninevites to resort to this duty of religion, etc. We may, however, undeniably conclude that it is a feeling implanted in us by nature, that when we are pressed by adversities, we implore the favor of God. This then is the only remedy in afflictions and distresses, to pray to God. But when we, taught by the Law and by the Gospel, use not this remedy, whenever God warns us and exhorts us to repentance, what shadow of excuse can we have, since heathens, even those who understood not a syllable of true religion, yet prayed to God, and the king himself commanded this with the consent of his nobles? Hence this edict of the king ought to fill us with more shame than if one adduced the same doctrine only from the word of God: for though the authority of that king is not the same with that of God, yet when that miserable and blind prince acknowledged through the dictates of nature, that God is to be pacified by prayer, what excuse, as I have said, can remain for us?
But Jonah shows more clearly afterwards, that it was no feigned repentance when the Ninevites put on sackcloth, and abstained also from meat and drink; for it follows in the kings edict, And let every one turn from his own wicked ways and from the plunder which is in their hands Here the heathen king shows for what purpose and with what design he had given orders respecting fasting and other things; it was done that the Ninevites might thus more effectually stimulate themselves to fear God; for he here exhorts them to turn from their evil way. By “way” the Scripture usually means the whole course or manner of man’s life; it was as though he said, “Let every one of you change his disposition and his conduct; let us all become new creatures.” And this is true penitence, the conversion of man to God; and this the heathen king meant. The more shameful then is their dullness who seek to pacify God by frivolous devices, as the Papists do; for while they obtrude on God trifles, I know not what, they think that these are so many expiations, and they tenaciously contend for them. They need no other judge than this heathen king, who shows that true penitence is wholly different, that it then only takes place when men become changed in mind and heart, and wholly turn to a better course of life.
Let every one then turn, he says, from his evil way, and from the plunder
A rapacite, from robbery, extortion, plunder מז-החמס, from violence, outrage, or injustice done by force or violence: it means tyrannical injustice.
“Απο της αδικιας — from injustice,” wrong, iniquity. — Sept. But as it is said to be in their hand, it means, by a metonymy, the plunder got by injustice, exercised tyrannically.
Marckius observes that the similitude here is first taken from the feet, and then taken from the hands. The feet are no to go in the evil way, nor the hands employed in doing what is unjust. Henry explains the passage very fully and yet concisely, “let them turn every one from his evil way — the evil way of his heart — and the evil way of his conversation; and particularly from the violence that is in their hands, — let them restore what they have unjustly taken, and make reparation for the wrong they have done, — and let them not any more oppress those they have power over, or defraud those they have dealings with.” — Ed. which is in their hand. One kind of evil is here subjoined, a part being stated for the whole, for plunders were not the only things which stood in need of amendment among the Ninevites, as it is probable that they were polluted by other vices and corruptions. In a city so large, drunkenness probably prevailed, as well as luxury, and pride, and ambition, and also lusts. It cannot indeed be doubted, but that Nineveh was filled with innumerable vices: but the king, by mentioning a part for the whole, points out here the principal vice, when he says, Let every one turn from his evil way, and from his rapacity. It was the same as though he had said that the principal virtue is equity or justice, that is, when men deal with one another without doing any hurt or injury: and well would it be were this doctrine to prevail at this day among all those who falsely assume the Christian name. For the Papists, though they accumulate expiations, pass by charity; and in the whole course of life equity has hardly any place. Let them then learn, from the mouth of a heathen king, what God principally requires from men, and approves of in their life, even to abstain from plunder and from the doing of any injury. We now then perceive why rapacity was especially mentioned. But we must bear in mind that the king, as yet a novice, and hardly in a slight degree imbued with the elements of religion, through hearing what Jonah preached, gave orders to his people according to the measure of his faith and knowledge: but if he made such progress in so short a time, what excuse can we pretend, whose ears have been stunned by continual preaching for twenty or thirty years, if we yet come short of the novitiate of this king? These circumstances ought then to be carefully observed by us. Let us now proceed —
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 —
Jonah now says, that the Ninevites obtained pardon through their repentance: and this is an example worthy of being observed; for we hence learn for what purpose God daily urges us to repentance, and that is, because he desires to be reconciled to us, and that we should be reconciled to him. The reason then why so many reproofs and threatening resound in our ears, whenever we come to hear the word of God, is this, — that as God seeks to recover us from destruction he speaks sharply to us: in short, whatever the Scripture contains on repentance and the judgment of God ought to be wholly applied for this purpose — to induce us to return into favor with him; for he is ready to be reconciled, and is ever prepared to embrace those who without dissimulation turn to him. We then understand by this example that God has no other object in view, whenever he sharply constrains us, than that he may be reconciled to us, provided only we be our own judges, and thus anticipate his wrath by genuine sorrow of heart, provided we solicit the pardon of our guilt and sin, and loathe ourselves, and confess that we are worthy of perdition.
But Jonah seems to ascribe their deliverance to their repentance, and also to their works: for he says that the Ninevites obtained pardon, because God looked on their works.
We must first see what works he means, that no one may snatch at a single word, as hypocrites are wont to do; and this, as we have said, is very commonly the case under the Papacy. God had respect to their works — what works? not sackcloth, not ashes, not fasting; for Jonah does not now mention these; but he had respect to their works — because they turned from their evil way. We hence see that God was not pacified by outward rites only, by the external profession of repentance, but that he rather looked on the true and important change which had taken place in the Ninevites, for they had become renewed. These then were their works, even the fruits of repentance. And such a change of life could not have taken place, had not the Ninevites been really moved by a sense of God’s wrath. The fear of God then had preceded; and this fear could not have been without faith. We hence see that he chiefly speaks here not of external works, but of the renovation of men.
But if any one objects and says that still this view does not prevent us from thinking that good works reconcile us to God, and that they thus procure our salvation: to this I answer — that the question here is not about the procuring cause of forgiveness. It is certain that God was freely pacified towards the Ninevites, as he freely restores his favor daily to us. Jonah then did not mean that satisfactions availed before God, as though the Ninevites made compensations for their former sins. The words mean no such thing; but he shows it as a fact which followed, that God was pacified, because the Ninevites repented. But we are to learn from other parts of Scripture how God becomes gracious to us, and how we obtain pardon with him, and whether this comes to us for our merits and repentance or whether God himself forgives us freely. Since the whole Scripture testifies that pardon is gratuitously given us, and that God cannot be otherwise propitious to us than by not imputing sins, there is no need, with regard to the present passage, anxiously to inquire why God looked on the works of the Ninevites, so as not to destroy them: for this is said merely as a consequence. Jonah then does not here point out the cause, but only declares that God was pacified towards the Ninevites, as soon as they repented. But we shall speak more on this subject.