Debra Isenbletter, Pastor, Christian Assembly, Springfield, Missouri
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.”
In this verse we see Jonah’s activity as he steps forward in faith and enters the great city of Nineveh. We see his Journey and his message of Judgment.
The Journey: “And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey,” I have no idea what Jonah thought as entered the city, it must have been both an amazing and overwhelming sight to this prophet of God. I know he had probably never seen anything like this city before. Yet the scripture says that he began to preach the moment he entered the city. He began and he did not stop once he started. Like Jeremiah, he found he could not hold back, he must preach. Jeremiah could not hold back, could not contain the message God gave him, though he tried. “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing [holding it in], and I could not stay [contain it any longer].” (Jer.20:9)
What persistence, what patience, what perseverance! He could not help but see the city but his commission from his God, the burning message that was placed in his heart, was so much greater. There was no comparison. Matthew Henry describes the faithfulness and dedication of not just Jonah but all of those that serve the Lord. “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.”
That dedication overshadows any discouragement and transforms it into determination. How often must have the Apostle Paul been visually overwhelmed when he entered the great cities of the ancient world, such as Athens or Rome. He saw the great architectures, the great temples, the great palaces, the great works of man’s hands. He saw those things and was not discouraged because he also saw the great idolatry (Act.17:16) and great need. It was their need for the Lord that gave him the strength to preach the Word of God.
We also see just how large the city of Nineveh was, because when Jonah entered the city and began to preach, he was only able to preach “a day’s journey” and we find that he had only covered one-third of the city. Jonah could have preached three days, covered the city in that time and then stopped or he could have kept preaching for forty days. We do not know how long Jonah preach, only that he preached and that it was an exhausting task. Other translations read: “Jonah began his entry into the city and had finished only his first day of proclaiming…” (Complete Jewish Bible). “Then on the first day’s walk, Jonah began to go through the city.” (Amplified Bible). That first day must have been an exhausting day.
The Judgment: “and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
The prophet: “and he cried, and said.” I looked “cried” up in Strong’s and it says it has “the idea of accosting a person met.” I can just picture Jonah stopping people that he met along the way and speaking to them. The word “cried” also means “to recite” and “to proclaim” and Jonah could have done that in the market or the square or any central meeting place. Jonah “cried” and then he “said” and that word means “to certify,” “to challenge,” “to command.” Jonah was not intimidated, he spoke boldly, loudly, he spoke with authority, with zeal. He spoke to individuals, he spoke to crowds. He spoke because he had a message and a mission from God. The people may have heard of or about the God of the Hebrews but now they are now hearing personally from that God and that message concerned them.
The period: “Yet forty days.” The number 40 is a picture of perfect judgment and also perfect testing. We see that perfect judgment in the flood, when it rained 40 days (Gen.7:4) and after 40 days Noah opened the window of the ark (Gen.8:6). We see a picture of perfect testing in Exodus. Moses spent 40 years raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in the royal court. That was a time of testing and when the time came Moses passed that test and put God first. By faith Moses refused to be called Pharaoh’s son (Heb.11:25). By faith Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God (Heb.11:25), By faith Moses forsook Egypt (Heb.11:27). Moses was tested again for 40 years tending Jethro’s flocks (Acts 7:10). Moses was tested again 40 years leading God’s people in the wilderness (Acts 7:36) and they were tested at the same time. They were tested when they ate manna for 40 years (Exo.16:35). They were tested and proved God when they were sustained for 40 years, they lacked nothing (Neh.9:21). They were tested in the wilderness for 40 years (Deu.8:2). Also we see that testing of the Messiah. Jesus fasted for 40 days (Mat.4:2) and was tempted for 40 days (Luk.4:2). As far as Nineveh is concerned, these 40 days speaks of judgment but behind the threat of judgment is a test for the people, how will they respond?
The prophecy: “and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The prophecy is simple, it is that the city will be “overthrown” and that word has two opposite meanings. It can mean “to overturn” and it can mean to “return,” to “change, become converted.” If the people do not change their attitude, they will be overthrown, if they change their attitude, they will be spared judgment. They can be overthrown by judgment or by conviction. Either way they are overthrown by the Word of God. Jonah’s message is brief, it is not long, it is only eight words and is one of the shortest of all prophecies.
God lets Nineveh know what He will do, He gives them a warning of 40 days. Why? God could have immediately destroyed them but He did not. God waited 40 days to see what they would do. The message did not include a verbal offer of repentance that we know of. This makes their reaction and their repentance amazing. They chose to repent without a demand from God.