The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Jonah 3:1-10

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 3, 2011

Jon 3:1  And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time saying:
Jon 3:2  Arise, and go to Nineveh, the great city: and preach in it the preaching that I bid thee.

These two verses recall the book’s opening: “Now the word of the Lord came to Jonas, the son of Amathi, saying: Arise and go to Nineveh, the great city, and preach against it: For the wickedness thereof is come up before me.” The author wants us to see that what he is about to relate in chapters 3 and 4 is intimately connected with what has already been narrated. Jonah is being given a second chance.

The original command to Jonah was to “preach against” Nineveh, but now he is told to preach in it the preaching that I bid thee.

Jon 3:3  And Jonah arose, and went to Ninive, according to the word of the Lord: now Ninive was a great city of three days’ journey.

And Jonah arose. Recall in the notes on yesterday’s reading that the command to “arise” was important because of the repeated refrain the Jonah “went down,” i.e, he “went down to Joppa;” “went down into it” (the ship); “went down into the inner part of the ship”. The refrain indicated Jonah’s disavowal of God’s will that he go to Nineveh. Here we see he now obeys the request.

Jon 3:4  And Jonas began to enter into the city one day’s journey: and he cried and said: Yet forty days and Ninive shall be destroyed.

And Jonah began to enter the city one day’s journey. These words should be seen in conjunction with the end of verse 3: “now Nineveh was a great city of three day’s journey” (i.e., it would take three days to traverse it). Recall that Jonah was in the “great fish” (whale) for three days. The implication of the text is that it took him three days to offer his prayer of repentance in chapter 2. This becomes important in the following verses.

Jon 3:5  And the men of Nineveh believed in God: and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least.
Jon 3:6  And the word came to the king of Nineveh: and he rose up out of his throne, and cast away his robe from him, and was clothed in sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
Jon 3:7  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published in Nineveh, from the mouth of the king and of his princes, saying: Let neither men nor beasts, oxen, nor sheep taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water.
Jon 3:8  And let men and beasts be covered with sackcloth, and cry to the Lord with all their strength, and let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the iniquity that is in their hands.
Jon 3:9  Who can tell if God will turn, and forgive: and will turn away from his fierce anger, and we shall not perish?

The Jewish prophet Jonah had to experience God’s anger, manifested in a storm, and three days in a great fish before he repented. In contrast, the Pagan Ninevites, the quintessential enemies of God repent on the very first day they heard of God’s impending wrath. Jonah represent a common attitude among the chosen people during the post-exilic period; an attitude the author is condemning: “Narrow, unwilling to bring the message of Yahweh to the enemies of his people, and angry when they accept it. Jonah, like Ruth,  is a protest against the narrowness and exclusivism which often appeared in postexilic Judaism. This narrowness frequently expressed itself in a hate of foreign nations, a desire for their destruction rather than their recognition of the divinity of Yahweh. Hence Jonah marks one of the greatest steps forward in the spiritual advancement of biblical religion” (McKenzie’s Dictionary of the Bible).

The people believe in God, and we are meant to recall the progression of the sailor’s attitude towards the God of Jonah in chapter 1. See yesterday’s notes.

Even the king (verse 6) who is the straw that stirs the drink, the power behind the Assyrian empire, that great, militaristic, brutal entity often described as the Third Reich of its day, is shown responding to the call to repent. He clothes himself in sackcloth and sits in ashes, and commands his people to do the same. These are common signs of repentance throughout the ancient world.

This portrayal of the King of Assyria is remarkable given how the Bible speaks of him. He is portrayed as arrogant, giving no regard to the gods of other peoples, including the one true God (see Isaiah 10:5-34; 2 Kings 19:4-6). That God’s grace and mercy can be extended even to him is something the author wants his readers to come to grips with.

Pagan kings at this time often styled themselves as gods with authority over creation, including animals. The fact that the King of Assyria orders even the beasts to fast and don sackcloth indicates the total submission of his power to God, creator of the universe. The king shows concern for both his people and the animals, while in contrast Jonah shows more concern for the withered gourd plant than for the people and animals in Nineveh (Jonah 4:1-11).

We are reminded that sin affects nature Jer 12:4; Hos 4:1-3; Amos 1:2; Rom 8:19-23).

In verse 9 the king proclamation asks: Who can tell if God will turn, and forgive: and will turn away from his fierce anger, and we shall not perish? This should be seen in relation to verse 8: And let men and beasts be covered with sackcloth, and cry to the Lord with all their strength, and let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the iniquity that is in their hands. The king understands that repentance is more than just words, sackcloth, or ashes; it involves a reorientation of of heart (will) and mind (see Isaiah 58:3-7). Also, the question Who can tell if God will turn, and forgive: and will turn away from his fierce anger, and we shall not perish would call to mind to Jeremiah’s lesson of the potter: Jer 18:1  The word that came to Jeremias from the Lord, saying: Arise, and go down into the potter’s house, and there thou shalt hear my words. And I went down into the potter’s house, and behold he was doing a work on the wheel. And the vessel was broken which he was making of clay with his hands: and turning he made another vessel, as it seemed good in his eyes to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Cannot I do with you, as this potter, O house of Israel, saith the Lord? behold as clay is in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. I will suddenly speak against a nation, and against a kingdom, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy it. If that nation against which I have spoken, shall repent of their evil, I also will repent of the evil that I have thought to do to them. And I will suddenly speak of a nation and of a kingdom, to build up and plant it. If it shall do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice: I will repent of the good that I have spoken to do unto it.

Jon 3:10  And God saw their works, that they were turned from their evil way: and God had mercy with regard to the evil which he had said that he would do to them, and he did it not.

God’s mercy is gratuitous. He neither had to offer the Ninevites the opportunity to repent or acknowledge it.The phrase God saw their works calls to mind the end of the creation narrative in Genesis 1~”And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good.”

“With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence:

“For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had hated it. How would anything have endured, if you had not willed it? Or how would anything not called forth by you have been preserved? You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, you who love the living” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 301).

6 Responses to “My Notes on Jonah 3:1-10”

  1. […] UPDATE: My Notes on Today’s First Reading (Jonah 3:1-10). […]

  2. […] Top Posts Father Maas' Commentary on Matthew 21:33-43A Summary of Rerum NovarumResources for Sunday Mass, October 2, 2011 (Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Rite)Cornelius a Lapide on Luke 11:27-28 for the Vigil Mass of the Assumption (August 15)Dec 1: Haydock's Commentary on Today's 1st Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10) With Some Added Notes By MeThis Weeks Posts: Sunday, October 2-Saturday, October 8A Practical Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 For The 4th Sunday In LentAquinas' Catena Aurea on Today's Gospel (Luke 10:38-42)Bernardin de Piconio's Commentary on Philippians 4:6-9More Notes On John 2:1-12, The Wedding At Cana « My Notes on Jonah 3:1-10 […]

  3. […] My Notes on Today’s First Reading (Jonah 3:1-5, 10). These notes were previously posted and are on verses 1-10. […]

  4. […] My Notes on Today’s First Reading (Jonah 3:1-10). […]

  5. […] My Notes on Today’s First Reading (Jonah 3:1-10). […]

  6. […] was angry. This verse must be seen in light of the Ninevites conversion narrated in chapter 3 (see yesterday’s post). Especially pertinent is the last verse of that chapter: “And God saw their works, that they […]

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