Debra Isenbletter, Pastor, Christian Assembly, Springfield, Missouri
Jonah 3:6 “For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.”
In Jonah 3:6-9 we see another response to Jonah’s prophecy, it is the King’s response and it is the same response as the response as the people. In this verse we see the Word Heard, the Word Received and the Word Believed.
The Word Heard: “For word came unto the king of Nineveh,”. I do not know how he heard Jonah’s message, only that he heard it. It may have been through the overwhelming reaction of the people. He could have heard the news of their proclamations and fasts. He could have seen those things, people in deep mourning, that could not be hidden. He could have heard Jonah speak personally, we do not know. However he heard the message, when he heard it, he reacted and he responded by doing something. I believe this statement that the “word came unto the king of Nineveh” is so revealing. That Word of Judgment came unto him because he was just as guilty as the people, it was just as much for him as it was for the people and he knew it. The “word that came unto” him could have been two-fold, the word about the messenger (Jonah) and the word about the message (Judgment). One translation reads: “For the word came to the king of Nineveh [of all that had happened to Jonah, and his terrifying message from God]” (Amplified Bible). The Lord could have used the testimony of Jonah’s experience to add to Jonah’s authority as a prophet.
The phrase “came unto” has several different meanings and each meaning can show different stages of conviction and I believe there was a conviction on the part of the king just as there was with the people. The meanings are “to touch, reach, strike and smite.” Can you not see how each shows a greater level of persuasion and force? First there is a “touch,” that almost seems gentle, an awareness, a way to catch someone’s attention. Second, it goes a little further, it means “to reach.” The message reaches the heart, it cannot be ignored. Third, it means “to strike,” that is like a slap that would further get your attention, you would feel a little pain. Fourth, it means “to smite” and that is the harshest of all because the pain could not be ignored and would have a lasting effect. These are not just different stages of conviction, but if the conviction is ignored, they can also show levels of judgment.
And who did this word come unto? It came unto the king of Nineveh. As the king, he is a visible sign of the power and authority of Nineveh. He is the ruler. He is the is the head. He is a symbol of the people in their attitude and their actions. Isaiah, when writing about the spiritual condition of the people of God pointed out that sin begins with the leaders, who are the head and it spreads and affects the people, the whole body. “For …the whole head is sick … from the sole of the foot even to unto the head there is no soundness…” (Isa.5-6). Sin spreads, and the people follow the examples of their leaders, the leaders have a responsibility and are responsible. The name of this king is not given and the Lord does not tell us but commentators and historians speculate on two possible kings. I will mention two, only because there are certain events pertaining to both that show how the Lord uses circumstances to persuade people. Adad-nirari III and his son Ashur-dan III are two kings that may be possible candidates.
Adad-nirari III. According to history for some reason he chose to worship one god, Nabu (Nebo), the Assyrian god of wisdom, learning, and prophecy. It was a religious revolution that historians compare to the religious revolution in Egypt when Pharaoh Akhenaten chose to worship one single god Aton, the sun god. In both cases there was a monotheistic revelation and, in both cases, it was short-lived. It was short-lived because the priests of all other gods were threatened. But, the sudden change to worshiping only one god is never explained. If it occurred before Jonah’s visit, it may have been one reason why he reacted the way he did and God showed mercy. If it occurred after Jonah’s visit, it may explain why he made such a radical change in setting aside all the other gods and chose a god of wisdom, learning and prophecy.
Ashur-dan III was the son of the king that started the religious revolution. His brother reigned before him but during his reign, according to history, Assyria was hit by a plague and later there was a revolt that broke out and after that there was another plague. The Lord could have used all of those events to prepare the people and king for Jonah’s message. The Lord chooses not to give the name of the king, these two men are only possibilities but these two examples show how the circumstances during their reign could have been used the by Lord to prepare hearts for the message of judgment.
The Word Received: “and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him,”. The king did not simply react to what the people did, but to what Jonah said. The king will first react and the he will act. He stood up: “and he arose from his throne.” He put off: “and laid his robe from him.” He put on: “and covered him with sackcloth.” He sat down: “and sat in ashes.” He did not ignore the message of Jonah and Judgment, he reacted to it. He did not hesitate, he was willing to step down from his seat of authority. He was willing to strip himself of his garments of royalty.
The Word Believed: “and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” He put on: “and covered him with sackcloth.” He put on garments of sorrow and mourning just as his people were doing. He followed their example. He sat down: “and sat in ashes.” He went one step further than the people did, he sat on the ground in the ashes and the dirt. He did this for all to see. He went from the highest place to the lowest place. He humbled himself before God and before man. He did this publicly and not privately. He stepped down from a place of honor to a place of humiliation. This is a picture of the submission of the kings in the last days (Psa.2:11-12). This is a picture of how the humble receive grace and when that grace is received the Lord says “he giveth more grace,” that He “giveth grace to the humble” (Jam.4:6). What a powerful testimony of the Word of God!