Who knows? God may turn and relent; He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we will not perish."
I. THE PEOPLE OF NINEVEH BELIEVED GOD. (Ver. 5.) Apparently "the people" were first impressed - deep religious impressions commonly begin with them, and rise from them to the upper class - "the common people heard Jesus gladly." There are many hindrances among men of wealth and station to religious impression, but Providence gives compensations - "the poor have the gospel preached unto them." They believed God. They saw in Josiah only a messenger - the messenger of God, who made the earth and the sea. Probably they had heard his history, for "Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites." Before one, in whose person there had been given such tokens of the Divine power, both to punish and to save, they stood in awe. "The busy crowd is by and by arrested; a solemn awe steals over the minds of the people, they press around the preacher to know who and whence he is, and why he utters such an ominous cry in their streets; and hearing as they now do, that, so far from lightly denouncing this doom against them, he had already, at the hazard of his life, shrunk from executing the charge committed to him, that he had been cast out for his wilful resistance into the mighty deep, and miraculously restored only that he might be sent forth anew to utter the cry they now heard of approaching destruction - learning all this concerning Jonah and his burden, how solemn and perilous must their situation have appeared in their eves!" (Kitto). He whom they now heard proclaiming his warning was the messenger of that God who had roused the storm and cast him overboard; who had prepared the great fish to swallow him, keep him alive within its huge body, and then vomit him on the dry land; and who had sent him back to deliver his message, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed." The whole community were actuated by a common feeling. "Word came to the king." All ranks and classes were moved by the message of the strange preacher; all realized that the anger of God and the coming destruction of the city were awful calamities; as of the Pharisees at John's baptism, the question might have been asked, "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" When God makes his voice heard, he bows the hearts of the people like the heart of one man.
II. PROCLAMATION OF A FAST. An external token of distress is deemed fitting - heathen fasts extended to animals as well as men. "It was a custom among the ancient heathen to withhold food from their cattle as well as from themselves in times of mourning and humiliation; in some instances they cut off the hair of their beasts as well as their own" (Kitto). Attitude of the king, great and noble (ver. 6) - all his pride and vain glory laid aside - he humbles himself openly before God - contrast this with spirit of Sennacherib afterwards (2 Kings 18., 19.) - kings never so great as when they pay honour to him by whom kings reign - the King of Nineveh rose above all shame and vanity, saw only the dread reality, and acted accordingly. Kings are in their noblest attitude when leading their people to honour God.
III. PRAYER DEMANDED. "Let them cry mightily unto God." All their own gods are to be set aside - this God only is to be recognized. No one seems to have said a word for the Assyrian gods - "Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Psalm 115:3). Prayer is often derided by the world - in time of pressing danger the praying people are the wise, the patriotic, the true people. Real prayer is no barren form - "let them cry mightily to God" - throw their whole souls into the exercise - pray as for dear life. The true idea of prayer is beseeching God's mercy - beseeching it as the one only resource - what alone can save from misery and ruin.
IV. MORAL REFORMATION DEMANDED. "Let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands." The humiliation of the people more than external - "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7) - instinctive recognition of the holiness of God - it is unholy acts and an unholy spirit that excite his displeasure (see Isaiah 58:5-7). Violence specified - the rapacious cruelty which characterized the people, and the cry of which had come up before God. When once conscience was roused, it would condemn these acts of violence very loudly. Interesting and beautiful sight - all classes hastening to put away their evil ways, and reversing them, doing the very opposite to what they had been wont to do.
"Sinners listened to Jonah,
V. REASON FOR THESE STEPS. (Ver. 9.) "Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce wrath, that we perish not?" Only a possibility - "Who can tell?" But in time of extreme peril a possibility ought to be acted on. "We cannot plead this on the score of justice, neither can we ply his faithfulness with any specific assurance of mercy, given to meet the necessities of our case; we have nothing to encourage us but the general character of God himself, as manifested in his dealings with men on earth. But still we have that, and the matter is not altogether hopeless. For why should God have sent his prophet to admonish us of sin, and foretell his impending judgment - a prophet too who has himself been the subject of singular mercy and forbearance? If destruction alone had been his object, would he not rather have allowed us to sleep on in our sinfulness? And why in particular should these forty days have been made to run between our doom and our punishment? Surely this bespeaks some thought of mercy in God; it must have been meant to leave the door still open to us for forgiveness and peace" (Fairbairn). The proclamation and the reason for it were not perfect - did not go beyond the spirit of fear and trembling - but the Ninevites acted on their light. "if there be first a ready mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not" (2 Corinthians 8:12). Whoever faithfully follows the light he has may look for more - "to him that hath shall be given." It is interesting to think how Jonah's prophecy would affect the young, and it is the property of childhood to receive testimony with full belief in it. Possibly the emotion of the children may have helped to move the parents. Prospect of speedy death is naturally more terrible to young than old. The following picture of the scene by Ephraem Syrus may be quoted: -
"The children inquired while weeping
And in what day will it be "When the parents listened to these things (1) They had but one preacher, and that a stranger. (2) They heard but one message, and it was wrath. (3) They had but a vague hope of mercy. - W.G.B.
"When the parents listened to these things (1) They had but one preacher, and that a stranger. (2) They heard but one message, and it was wrath. (3) They had but a vague hope of mercy. - W.G.B.
(1) They had but one preacher, and that a stranger.
(2) They heard but one message, and it was wrath.
(3) They had but a vague hope of mercy. - W.G.B.
Who can tell if God will turn?
(F. B. Meyer.)
I. THE MISERABLE PLIGHT IN WHICH THE MEN OF NINEVEH FOUND THEMSELVES. They were like those in the days of Noah. They were rich and mighty above all people. Locked in security, they fell into abomin able sins. Their vices probably rivalled those of Sodom. Suddenly they were startled from their security, and convinced of their sin. Their miserable plight consisted in three discoveries — their great sin; the shortness of their time; the terrible character of their destruction.
II. THE SLENDER GROUND WHICH THE NINEVITES HAD FOR HOPE. In Jonah's message there was no proclamation of mercy made. It was the trumpet of the judge, but not the silver trump of jubilee. He was sent with a thundering commission, and he dealt it out in a thundering fashion. The king's answer was, "Who can tell? There may be hope." Another thing that would cut off the hope of the Ninevites was, that they knew nothing of God except, it may be, some dreadful legends of His terrible acts. They lacked another encouragement that we have. They had never heard of the Cross. Jonah's preaching was very powerful, but there was no Christ in it.
III. THE URGING OF DIVINE REASONS WHY WE SHOULD IMITATE THE NINEVITES IN REPENTANCE. God, in order that you may know His mercy, has been pleased to preserve instances thereof, that so often as you look upon them you may be led to say, if such and such an one was saved, why may not I? If you are conscious of guilt, your only hope of deliverance lies in the mercy of God. While it will be a happy thing for thee to be saved, it will be a serious thing for God to save thee. God delighteth to save sinners, because this puts jewels in His crown. He is glorified in His justice, but not as He is in His mercy.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Sometimes a nation may be in such a situation that no man can tell what will be their doom; whether the threatened vengeance will fall upon them, or whether they shall escape.
2. The event of the present war will appear dismally doubtful if we consider some scriptural prophecies, particularly in Daniel and the Revelation.
3. The event of the present war, and the doom of our country and nation, will appear dreadfully uncertain if we consider our national guilt and impenitence. When a nation is in such a doubtful situation that no man can know its doom, if there be any hope, it is only in the way of repentance, reformation, and earnest prayer. This appears to be the only way of hope on two accounts.(1) National sin has a direct tendency, in its own nature, to weaken and destroy a nation. Repentance, reformation, and prayer are the proper cures for this disease.(2) This too is the only method to turn away the displeasure of God, and obtain His favour and protection. It is only to the penitent that promises of deliverance are made. National judgments are inflicted for national sins, and therefore reformation from national sins is the only hopeful way to escape them.
(S. Davies, A. M.)
(W. K. Tweedie.)
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