Jonah 3 Study Notes


3:1-3 Jonah went to Nineveh as God had commanded. Extremely great city (lit “a great city to God”; see textual footnote) may have a double meaning: great in size (where “God,” Hb elohim, is used as a superlative for “extremely”) and a city “important to God” even though inhabited by Gentiles. Three-day walk could refer to greater Nineveh that included the region around Nineveh proper, including modern Kuyunjik, Khorsabad, and Nimrud with a sixty-mile perimeter. More likely, however, it refers to how long it would take for Jonah to preach thoroughly throughout Nineveh itself, street corner by street corner.

3:4 Forty often refers to a period of testing or judgment in the Bible (Lk 4:2; Heb 3:9), serving here to give Nineveh time to repent.

Jonah preached only on the first day of his three-day task (see note at 3:1-3), showing his half-hearted obedience. Demolished (Hb haphak) has a secondary meaning of “changed” which is not the sense Jonah meant, but ironically that is how the word of prophecy was actually fulfilled. Nineveh was not destroyed, but was instead changed.

3:5-8 After recounting that Nineveh repented and believed the deity whom Jonah represented (v. 5 uses the impersonal term God, not the personal name Yahweh/Lord), the text then explains that this overwhelming response was a result of a royal decree. The king led by example. Sackcloth was worn during times of mourning and repentance, usually while sitting atop ashes (Gn 37:34; 1Kg 21:27; Mt 11:21). Person or animal means even the animals fasted, bellowing miserably to heaven along with the people.


Hebrew pronunciation [SACK]
CSB translation sack, sackcloth
Uses in Jonah 3
Uses in the OT 48
Focus passage Jonah 3:5-6,8

Saq denotes sack (6x, Gn 42:27), entering English through Greek and Latin. Saq was sackcloth (Is 15:3). The thick, rough, dark-colored material was goat hair (Is 50:3; Rv 6:12) or camel hair (Mt 3:4). It might provide blankets (2Sm 21:10). Akkadian, the Ninevite language, used the root similarly. Ninevites wore sackcloth to express repentance (Jnh 3:8), as did Israelites (Neh 9:1). Sackcloth was worn on the skin (2Kg 6:30; Jb 16:15) and involved self-humbling (1Kg 21:27-29). Mourning was the chief reason for wearing sackcloth (Gn 37:34; Jl 1:8). Ammonites (Jr 49:3) and Arameans (1Kg 20:32) wore sackcloth. Prophets called for it communally in the face of judgment (Jr 4:8). People might tear regular clothes and fast (Est 4:1,3), covering themselves with dust (4x, Jr 6:26) or ashes (7x, Jnh 3:6), perhaps shaving or cutting themselves (Jr 48:37). Sackcloth could signal protest (Est 4:1).

3:9 Who knows? indicates that Jonah had not explicitly stated that judgment against the city could be averted by repentance. The king of Nineveh took a shot in the dark.

3:10 Prophecies of doom are often conditional warnings that can be averted through repentance (Jr 18:8-10).