Jonah 3:4
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
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(4) And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey.—This is apparently equivalent to And Jonah entered the city, and walked for a day through it. To enter on a minute inquiry as to whether his course was straight or circuitous seems trivial. The writer has no thought of furnishing data for ascertaining the exact dimensions of Nineveh, but only of producing a general sense of its vast size.

Yet forty days.—The conciseness of the original, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh overthrown,” forcibly expresses “the one deep cry of woe” which the prophet was commissioned to utter. “This simple message of Jonah bears an analogy to what we find elsewhere in Holy Scripture. The great preacher of repentance, St. John the Baptist, repeated doubtless oftentimes that one cry, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Our Lord vouchsafed to begin His own office with those self-same words. And probably, among the civilised but savage inhabitants of Nineveh that one cry was more impressive than any other would have been, Simplicity is always impressive. They were four words which God caused to be written on the wall amid Belshazzar’s impious revelry: Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. We all remember the touching history of Jesus, son of Anan, an unlettered rustic, who, “four years before the war, when Jerusalem was in complete peace and affluence,” burst in on the people at the Feast of Tabernacles with the oft-repeated cry, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice on Jerusalem and the Temple, a voice on the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice on the whole people;” how he went about through all the lanes of the city, repeating, day and night, this one cry, and when scourged till his bones were laid bare, echoed every lash with “Woe, woe, to Jerusalem!” and continued as his daily dirge and his one response to daily good or ill treatment, “Woe, woe, to Jerusalem!” (Pusey.) Instead of “forty days” the LXX. read “three.”

Jonah 3:4. And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey — That is, he proceeded into the city as far as he could go in a day. And he cried, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown — The threat is express; but there was a reserve with God on condition of repentance. And it must be observed, that in most of the threatenings of God there is a condition expressed or understood. This is the general rule for interpreting all such denunciations, as has been observed in the note on Jeremiah 18:8, unless where God makes an express declaration that the iniquity of the people against whom he denounces his judgments is full, and that he will not spare them; or, as it is expressed by our Saviour, with regard to Jerusalem, that the things which belong unto their peace are then hid from their eyes.

3:1-4 God employs Jonah again in his service. His making use of us is an evidence of his being at peace with us. Jonah was not disobedient, as he had been. He neither endeavoured to avoid hearing the command, nor declined to obey it. See here the nature of repentance; it is the change of our mind and way, and a return to our work and duty. Also, the benefit of affliction; it brings those back to their place who had deserted it. See the power of Divine grace, for affliction of itself would rather drive men from God, than draw them to him. God's servants must go where he sends them, come when he calls them, and do what he bids them; we must do whatever the word of the Lord commands. Jonah faithfully and boldly delivered his errand. Whether Jonah said more, to show the anger of God against them, or whether he only repeated these words again and again, is not certain, but this was the purport of his message. Forty days is a long time for a righteous God to delay judgments, yet it is but a little time for an unrighteous people to repent and reform in. And should it not awaken us to get ready for death, to consider that we cannot be so sure that we shall live forty days, as Nineveh then was that it should stand forty days? We should be alarmed if we were sure not to live a month, yet we are careless though we are not sure to live a day.And Jonah began to enter the city a day's journey - Perhaps the day's journey enabled him to traverse the city from end to end, with his one brief, deep cry of woe; "Yet forty days and Nineveh overthrown." He prophesied an utter overthrow, a turning it upside down. He does not speak of it as to happen at a time beyond those days. The close of the forty days and the destruction were to be one. He does not say strictly, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown," but, "Yet forty days and Nineveh overthrown." The last of those forty days was, ere its sun was set, to see Nineveh as a "thing overthrown." Jonah knew from the first God's purpose of mercy to Nineveh; he had a further hint of it in the altered commission which he had received. It is perhaps hinted in the word "Yet" . "If God had meant unconditionally to overthrow them, He would have overthrown them without notice. 'Yet,' always denotes some long-suffering of God." But, taught by that severe discipline, he discharges his office strictly.

He cries, what God had commanded him to cry out, without reserve or exception. The sentence, as are all God's threatenings until the last, was conditional. But God does not say this. That sentence was now within forty days of its completion; yet even thus it was remitted. Wonderful encouragement, when one Lent sufficed to save some 600,000 souls from perishing! Yet the first visitation of the cholera was checked in its progress in England, upon one day's national fast and humiliation; and we have seen how general prayer has often-times at once opened or closed the heavens as we needed. "A few years ago," relates Augustine, "when Arcadias was Emperor at Constantinople (what I say, some have heard, some of our people were present there,) did not God, willing to terrify the city, and, by terrifying, to amend, convert, cleanse, change it, reveal to a faithful servant of His (a soldier, it is said), that the city should perish by fire from heaven, and warned him to tell the Bishop! It was told. The Bishop despised it not, but addressed the people. The city turned to the mourning of penitence, as that Nineveh of old. Yet lest men should think that he who said this, deceived or was deceived, the day which God had threatened, came. When all were intently expecting the issue with great fears, at the beginning of night as the world was being darkened, a fiery cloud was seen from the East, small at first then, as it approached the city, gradually enlarging, until it hung terribly over the whole city.

All fled to the Church; the place did not hold the people. But after that great tribulation, when God had accredited His word, the cloud began to diminish and at last disappeared. The people, freed from fear for a while, again heard that they must migrate, because the whole city should be destroyed on the next sabbath. The whole people left the city with the Emperor; no one remained in his house. That multitude, having one some miles, when gathered in one spot to pour forth prayer to God, suddenly saw a great smoke, and sent forth a loud cry to God." The city was saved. "What shall we say?" adds Augustine. "Was this the anger of God, or rather His mercy? Who doubts that the most merciful Father willed by terrifying to convert, not to punish by destroying? As the hand is lifted up to strike, and is recalled in pity, when he who was to be struck is terrified, so was it done to that city." Will any of God's warnings "now" move our great Babylon to repentance, that it be not ruined?

4. a day's journey—not going straight forward without stopping: for the city was but eighteen miles in length; but stopping in his progress from time to time to announce his message to the crowds gathering about him.

Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown—The commission, given indefinitely at his setting out, assumes now on his arrival a definite form, and that severer than before. It is no longer a cry against the sins of Nineveh, but an announcement of its ruin in forty days. This number is in Scripture associated often with humiliation. It was forty days that Moses, Elijah, and Christ fasted. Forty years elapsed from the beginning of Christ's ministry (the antitype of Jonah's) to the destruction of Jerusalem. The more definite form of the denunciation implies that Nineveh has now almost filled up the measure of her guilt. The change in the form which the Ninevites would hear from Jonah on anxious inquiry into his history, would alarm them the more, as implying the increasing nearness and certainty of their doom, and would at the same time reprove Jonah for his previous guilt in delaying to warn them. The very solitariness of the one message announced by the stranger thus suddenly appearing among them, would impress them with the more awe. Learning from him, that so far from lightly prophesying evil against them, he had shrunk from announcing a less severe denunciation, and therefore had been cast into the deep and only saved by miracle, they felt how imminent was their peril, threatened as they now were by a prophet whose fortunes were so closely bound up with theirs. In Noah's days one hundred twenty years of warning were given to men, yet they repented not till the flood came, and it was too late. But in the case of Nineveh, God granted a double mercy: first, that its people should repent immediately after threatening; second, that pardon should immediately follow their repentance.

The former verse gives us intelligence of Jonah’s arrival at Nineveh; now, so soon as come, he preacheth.

Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said; to walk through and to preach the dreadful threats of God against Nineveh, and he proclaimed openly and plainly what God commanded; he feared not to tell all what concerned all; he did it with earnestness, as deeply affected with what he spake from God against this mighty city.

Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown; a very short time, some might think, for this great city; but it is more time than God was bound to give, or than they could deserve, or than God gave to Sodom and Gomorrah, the sins of which cities were no doubt found in Nineveh now Jonah preached, and grew ripe by that time Nahum came to foretell their ruin; see Nahum. The threat is express and peremptory in its form and words; though there be a reserve with God on condition of repentance, which operated in due time, and manifestly proved that God intended mercy to repenting Nineveh, though he threatened an overthrow to impenitent Nineveh. How it should be overthrown is not expressed; some conjecture by a foreign enemy, which carrieth unlikelihood with it; others guess by fire from heaven: but since it was not destroyed we need not inquire how it should have been, and had they not repented the event would have informed us fully.

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey,.... As soon as he came to it, he did not go into an inn, to refresh himself after his wearisome journey; or spend his time in gazing upon the city, and to observe its structure, and the curiosities of it; but immediately sets about his work, and proclaims what he was bid to do; and before he could finish one day's journey, he had no need to proceed any further, the whole city was alarmed with his preaching, was terrified with it, and brought to repentance by it:

and he cried; as he went along; he lifted up his voice like a trumpet, that everyone might hear; he did not mutter it out, as if afraid to deliver his message, but cried aloud in the hearing of all; and very probably now and then made a stop in the streets, where there was a concourse of people, or where more streets met, and there, as a herald, proclaimed what he had to say:

and said, yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown; not by a foreign army besieging and taking it, which was not probable to be done in such a space of time, but by the immediate power of God; either by fire from heaven, as he overthrow Sodom and Gomorrah, their works being like theirs, as Kimchi and Ben Melech observe, or by an earthquake; that is, within forty days, or at the end of forty days, as the Targum; not exceeding such a space, which was granted for their repentance, which is implied, though not expressed; and must be understood with this proviso, except it repented, for otherwise why is any time fixed? and why have they warning given them, or the prophet sent to them? and why were they not destroyed at once, as Sodom and Gomorrah, without any notice? doubtless, so it would have been, had not this been the case. The Septuagint version very wrongly reads, "yet three days", &c. and as wrongly does Josephus (q) make Jonah to say, that in a short time they would lose the empire of Asia, when only the destruction of Nineveh is threatened; though, indeed, that loss followed upon it.

(q) Antiqu. l. 9. c. 10. sect. 2.

And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's {c} journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.

(c) He went forward one day in the city and preached, and so he continued until the city was converted.

4. And Jonah began to enter into the city] Calvin well brings out the moral grandeur of the scene which this verse so simply and briefly describes; the promptitude of Jonah’s action, in entering without delay or hesitation or enquiry, immediately, as it would seem, upon his reaching the city, upon his difficult and dangerous task; his boldness, as a helpless and unprotected stranger, in standing in the heart of “the bloody city,” and denouncing destruction upon it. It was, indeed, to “beard the lion in his den” to adventure himself on such an errand into “the dwelling of the lions and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion, even the old lion, walked, and the lion’s whelp, and none made them afraid.” (Nahum 2:11.)

a day’s journey] “He began to perambulate the city, going hither and thither, as far as was possible, in the first day.” (Maurer.) And as he went he cried. In him was personified the description of the wise King of Israel:

“Wisdom crieth without;

She uttereth her voice in the streets:

She crieth in the chief place of concourse,

in the openings of the gates:

In the city she uttereth her words,


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Turn ye at my reproof.”

Proverbs 1:20-23.

Some have supposed that, as a day’s journey would suffice to traverse from one side to the other a city, of which the dimensions were such as have been assigned (Jonah 3:3) to Nineveh, and as, moreover, Jonah is found afterwards (Jonah 4:5) on the east side of Nineveh (i. e. the opposite side to that on which he would have entered it in coming from Palestine), we are intended here to understand that he walked quite through the city in a single day, uttering continually as he went “his one deep cry of woe.” The other view, however, is more natural, and it enhances the idea of the impressibility of the Ninevites, and their readiness to believe and repent, which it is evidently the design of the inspired writer to convey, if we suppose that while the preacher himself was seen and heard in only a portion of the vast city, his message was taken up and repeated, and sped and bore fruit rapidly in every direction, till tidings of what was happening came to the king himself (Jonah 3:6), and in obedience to the yet distant and unseen prophet, he issued the edict which laid the whole of Nineveh, man and beast, abashed and humbled before the threatened blow.

Yet forty days] “He threatens the overthrow of the city unconditionally. From the event, however, it is clear that the threat was to be understood with this condition, ‘unless ye shall (in the mean time) have amended your life and conduct.’ Comp. Jeremiah 18:7-8.”—(Rosenm.) God’s threatenings are always implied promises.

overthrown] The word is the same as that used of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, both in the history of that event (Genesis 19:25; Genesis 19:29), and in subsequent reference to it (Deuteronomy 29:23 [Heb. 22]). Not necessarily by the same means, (comp. “overthrown by strangers,” Isaiah 1:7,) but as complete and signal shall the overthrow be. The use of the participle, lit., Yet forty days and Nineveh overthrown, is very forcible. To the prophet’s eye, overlooking the short interval of forty days, Nineveh appears not a great city with walls and towers and palaces, and busy marts and crowded thoroughfares, but one vast mass of ruins.

It may be asked whether the whole of Jonah’s preaching to the Ninevites consisted of this one sentence incessantly repeated. The sacred text, taken simply as it stands, seems to imply that it did. We have indeed here “the spectacle of an unknown Hebrew, in a prophet’s austere and homely attire, passing through the splendid streets of the proudest town of the Eastern world;” but not (except so far as imagination completes the picture) of his “uttering words of rebuke and menace, bidding the people not only to make restitution of their unlawfully acquired property, but to give up their ancestral deities for the one God of Israel.” (Kalisch.) To an oriental mind (and Almighty God is wont to adapt His means to those whom they are to reach) the simple, oft-repeated announcement might be more startling than a laboured address. “Simplicity is always impressive. They were four words which God caused to be written on the wall amid Belshazzar’s impious revelry; Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. We all remember the touching history of Jesus the son of Anan, an unlettered rustic, who, ‘four years before the war, when Jerusalem was in complete peace and affluence,’ burst in on the people at the feast of tabernacles with one oft-repeated cry, ‘A voice from the East, a voice from the West, a voice from the four winds, a voice on Jerusalem and the temple, a voice on the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice on the whole people;’ how he went about through all the lanes of the city, repeating, day and night, this one cry; and when scourged until his bones were laid bare, echoed every lash with ‘Woe, woe, to Jerusalem,’ and continued as his daily dirge and his one response to daily good or ill-treatment, ‘Woe, woe, to Jerusalem.’ The magistrates and even the cold Josephus thought that there was something in it above nature.” (Pusey.)

Verse 4. - § 2. Jonah, undeterred by the danger of the enterprise, executes his mission at one, and announces the approaching destruction of the city. Began to enter into the city a day's journey. Jonah commenced his day's journey in the city, and, as he found a suitable place, uttered his warning cry, not necessarily continuing in one straight course, but going to the most frequented spots. At the time of Jonah's preaching the royal residence was probably at Chalah: i.e. Nimrud, the most southern of the cities. Coming from Palestine, he would reach this part first, so that his strange message would soon come to the king's ears (ver. 6). Yet forty days. "Forty" in Scripture is the number of probation (see Genesis 7:4, 12; Exodus 24:18; 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4:2). The LXX. has, ἔτι τρεῖς ἡμέραι, "yet three days" owing probably to some clerical error, as writing γ instead of μ. St. Augustine ('De Civit.,' 18:44) endeavours to explain the discrepaney mystically as referring to Christ under different circumstances, as being the same who remained forty days on earth after his resurrection, and who rose again on the third day. Shall be overthrown. This is the word used for the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:25, 27; Amos 4:11). The prophet appears to have gone on through the city, repeating this one awful announcement, as we read of fanatics denouncing woe on Jerusalem before its final destruction (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 6:05. 3). The threat was conditional virtually, though expressed in uncompromising terms. In the Hebrew the participle is used, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh overthrown," as though he saw at the end of the specified time the great city lying in ruins. One sees from Isaiah 36:11, 13, that Jonah could readily be understood by the Assyrians. Jonah 3:4The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, to go to Nineveh and proclaim to that city what Jehovah would say to him. קריאה: that which is called out, the proclamation, τὸ κήρυγμα (lxx). Jonah now obeyed the word of Jehovah. But Nineveh was a great city to God (lē'lōhı̄m), i.e., it was regarded by God as a great city. This remark points to the motive for sparing it (cf. Jonah 4:11), in case its inhabitants hearkened to the word of God. Its greatness amounted to "a three days' walk." This is usually supposed to refer to the circumference of the city, by which the size of a city is generally determined. But the statement in Jonah 3:4, that "Jonah began to enter into the city the walk of a day," i.e., a day's journey, is apparently at variance with this. Hence Hitzig has come to the conclusion that the diameter or length of the city is intended, and that, as the walk of a day in Jonah 3:4 evidently points to the walk of three days in Jonah 3:3, the latter must also be understood as referring to the length of Nineveh. But according to Diod. ii. 3 the length of the city was 150 stadia, and Herodotus (v. 53) gives just this number of stadia as a day's journey. Hence Jonah would not have commenced his preaching till he had reached the opposite end of the city. This line of argument, the intention of which is to prove the absurdity of the narrative, is based upon the perfectly arbitrary assumption that Jonah went through the entire length of the city in a straight line, which is neither probable in itself, nor implied in בּוא בעיר. This simply means to enter, or go into the city, and says nothing about the direction of the course he took within the city. But in a city, the diameter of which was 150 stadia, and the circumference 480 stadia, one might easily walk for a whole day without reaching the other end, by winding about from one street into another. And Jonah would have to do this to find a suitable place for his preaching, since we are not warranted in assuming that it lay exactly in the geographical centre, or at the end of the street which led from the gate into the city. But if Jonah wandered about in different directions, as Theodoret says, "not going straight through the city, but strolling through market-places, streets, etc.," the distance of a day's journey over which he travelled must not be understood as relating to the diameter or length of the city; so that the objection to the general opinion, that the three days' journey given as the size of the city refers to the circumference, entirely falls to the ground. Moreover, Hitzig has quite overlooked the word ויּחל in his argument. The text does not affirm that Jonah went a day's journey into the city, but that he "began to go into the city a day's journey, and cried out." These words do not affirm that he did not begin to preach till after he had gone a whole day's journey, but simply that he had commenced his day's journey in the city when he found a suitable place and a fitting opportunity for his proclamation. They leave the distance that he had really gone, when he began his preaching, quite indefinite; and by no means necessitate the assumption that he only began to preach in the evening, after his day's journey was ended. All that they distinctly affirm is, that he did not preach directly he entered the city, but only after he had commenced a day's journey, that is to say, had gone some distance into the city. And this is in perfect harmony with all that we know about the size of Nineveh at that time. The circumference of the great city Nineveh, or the length of the boundaries of the city of Nineveh in the broadest sense, was, as Niebuhr says (p. 277), "nearly ninety English miles, not reckoning the smaller windings of the boundary; and this would be just three days' travelling for a good walker on a long journey." "Jonah," he continues, "begins to go a day's journey into the city, then preaches, and the preaching reaches the ears of the king (cf. Jonah 3:6). He therefore came very near to the citadel as he went along on his first day's journey. At that time the citadel was probably in Nimrud (Calah). Jonah, who would hardly have travelled through the desert, went by what is now the ordinary caravan road past Amida, and therefore entered the city at Nineveh. And it was on the road from Nineveh to Calah, not far off the city, possibly in the city itself, that he preached. Now the distance between Calah and Nineveh (not reckoning either city), measured in a straight line upon the map, is 18 1/2 English miles." If, then, we add to this, (1) that the road from Nineveh to Calah or Nimrud hardly ran in a perfectly straight line, and therefore would be really longer than the exact distance between the two parts of the city according to the map, and (2) that Jonah had first of all to go through Nineveh, and possibly into Calah, he may very well have walked twenty English miles, or a short day's journey, before he preached. The main point of his preaching is all that is given, viz., the threat that Nineveh would be destroyed, which was the point of chief importance, so far as the object of the book was concerned, and which Jonah of course explained by denouncing the sins and vices of the city. The threat ran thus: "Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed." נהפּך, lit., overturned, i.e., destroyed from the very foundations, is the word applied to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The respite granted is fixed at forty days, according to the number which, even as early as the flood, was taken as the measure for determining the delaying of visitations of God.

(Note: The lxx, however, τρεῖς ἡμέρας, probably from a peculiar and arbitrary combination, and not merely from an early error of the pen. The other Greek translators (Aquil., Symm., and Theodot.) had, according to Theodoret, the number forty; and so also had the Syriac.)

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