Narrative :: Jonah: Introduction Notes on ch:  3  4  

Study Notes on Jonah (including Hebrew narrative) by Tim Bulkeley


Jonah Obeys

3:1 "The word of Adonai came to Jonah a second time, saying" this is where we came in, apart from the "second time" recognising the repetition we have returned to 1:1. Has Jonah learned his lesson....?

3:2 This verse continues, repeating textually 1:2, however there is a notable change in the contents (as there often is in biblical repetition) compare the literal versions below:

"Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me." (1:2)

"Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it the message that I tell you." (3:2)

What does this difference mean?

3:3 The MT reads "Nineveh was [or became] a great city for God", yet no translation represents this, however no textual evidence is produced to argue for removing it. Wolff 1986 (143-148) suggests translating: "even for God Nineveh was..." which seems to render the Hebrew well. So, does this odd turn of phrase suggest more than Nineveh's great size - that Nineveh matters?

"three days' journey in breadth" compare 1:17 "three days and three nights" in the fish.

3:4 "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" cf. "forty days" elsewhere Gen 7:4,12,17 (the flood); 50:3 (mourning Jacob) as well as more positive echoes in the story of Moses on the mountain of God "overthrown" is used e.g. of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:21,25,29; Deut 29:23 and the flood? Job 12:15). Is this why Jonah at last obeys?

Or does Jonah obey, was this simple warning of destruction with its time limit and no escape offered, what God calls "the message that I tell you." (3:2)?  Or did God call also for the repentance which in fact Nineveh will offer (v.5).

 

3:5 Jonah's message must rate a place in the Guinness Book of Records (just five words in Hebrew)  - not even introduced by a messenger formula. Yet instantly "the people of Nin'eveh believed God", this really is unprecedented success!

 

3:8 Notice how the king's instructions heighten the burlesque atmosphere "let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God".

"cry mightily"  the word serves as a Leitwort in telling the story:
Jonah was told to cry against Nineveh 1:2; 3:2, 
begged to "cry to God" 1:6 
though he only does so in 2:2 after the pagan sailors already have 1:14
when he finally gets round to obeying 3:4 he must indeed have "cried mightily"
for the Ninevites "cry a fast" 3:5 
and repent with an enthusiasm never shown before or since 3:8.

 

3:9 "Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish." Here is irony, the repentant Ninevites don't know, as we will see God's faithless prophet knows (4:2).

 

3:10 "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind" When God sees that they "turned" he "repents" ("changes his mind" NRSV)

 


© Tim Bulkeley, 2003