Summary: YHWH as He really is. . . “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2b). Please see resources for background information on Jonah.
The Compassion of YHWH
The City Believed 3:4-5
4 On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
Exegesis: 3:1-3 is the beginning of Jonah’s venture on “dry ground.” Verse 4-5 now starts with Jonah’s first day of obedience. The transition of time period here marks a start of this new scene/paragraph from the first duration on dry ground to Jonah’s message and the Ninevites response to Jonah arrival. The is clear stated in verse 5a, “5 The Ninevites believed God.” The writer makes it very clear that the Ninevites took the message of Jonah to heart took drastic measures to get leniencies from YHWH. Jonah’s message: The essence of his proclamation was that Nineveh would be overthrown in only forty days. Interesting to note that the same Hebrew word (haphak, overthrown, destroyed) was the same word that was used to describe the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:25. The message the prophet was to proclaim was not merely threat. It is very clear that YHWH had every intention on following through with the message He provide Jonah to announce to the great city will be (haphak, overthrown, destroyed) in forty days. Within the context of Scripture forty days was often the period of testing (Gen. 7:17; Exod. 24:18; 1 Kings 19:8; Matt. 4:2). The most relevant to the present context would most likely be that of Gen 7:17, 17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth.” Even being a pagan nations the story and the flood was passed down to every generation. Whether legend, myths or literal at the time Jonah’s simple message of that the city will “overturned” proceeding a time of forty days was no arbitrary number and certainly not unfamiliar with the catastrophe of the world. For the an Israelite the number forty is more significant. Exod. 24:18, “18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” A time of communion between Moses and YHWH. ). Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days before David stepped forward (1 Samuel 17). In 1 Kings 19:8 is when Elijah fled to Horeb under the guidance of the angel who led him and “. . . traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.” Being the one of the capital of the largest nation of the known world, such stories could not have been keep indigenously confidential within the populous of nation of Israel alone. Occupying a central position on the great highway between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West, wealth flowed into it from many sources, so that it became the greatest of all ancient cities. Certainly it couldn’t just been wealth but also a great source of information and intelligence about nations that surrounded it, especially considering they plan of conquering it Israel was in the works. It’s likely the consider knowledge of Israel’s history from the time they left Egypt unto where they stood both as a nation and militarily was well known among the Ninevites. Jonah’s message of including 40 days did not seem like something that could have been easily dismissed. This could explain why the populous of Nineveh did not show any sign of ignoring the prophets message. “5 The Ninevites believed God.” Why did the city believe Jonah’s message? The city populous already heard about YHWH prior to Jonah’s arrival. Nineveh was Centre of worship of Dagon. Images of Dagon have been found in palaces and temples in Nineveh and throughout the region. Among the pantheons of Mesopotamia and the eastern Mediterranean coast was the worship of Dagon was a fish-god. The name "Dagon" is derived from "dag" which means "fish." Although there was a deep affection from Dagon’s worshippers to their deity, the symbol of a fish in human form was really meant to represent fertility and the vivifying powers of nature and reproduction. It’s interesting to note that the god Dagon had already suffered defeat by the power of YHWH on two separate occasions. First account in Judges 16:23-30 at the death of Samson. Notice that Philistines were praising their god “Dagon,” when YHWH gave Samson the strength when he “reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood.” YHWH brought down the temple of Dagon, through His servant Samson. Second time was in 1Samuel 5:1-7. Dagon, fall face first on the ground before the ark of the LORD! Dagon “head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” Verse seven declares Dagons defeat, “7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” As a result, spiritual awareness among the populous Nineveh as to who YHWH the God of Jonah was. “What better heralding, as a divinely sent messenger to Nineveh, could Jonah have had, than to be thrown up out of the mouth of a great fish, in the presence of witnesses, say on the coast of Phoenicia, where the fish-god was a favorite object of worship? Such an incident would have inevitably aroused the mercurial nature of Oriental observers, so that a multitude would be ready to follow the seemingly new avatar of the fish-god, proclaiming the story of his uprising from the sea, as he went on his mission to the city where the fish-god had its very centre of worship” In other words, Jonah survived a perilous journey inside of big fish on the beaches of a nation that worshiped the fish god Dagon. Jonah was delivered to the people who worship fish by the God who controlled the fish, thus reinforces the sovereignty of YHWH, Jonah 1:14b, “for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased." In addition, there was a lot of unrest with the Assyria empire at the time also. The city was ripe for spiritual harvest. It has been suggested that the people were prepared to receive a prophet due to ominous omens that appeared previous to Jonah’s arrival. By the time of Jonah’s proclamation the Assyria had difficulty resisting its neighbors to the North, the Urartu mountain tribes who allied with their neighbors, the people of Mannai and Madai. These invaders pushed the northern border of Assyria south to within less than 100 miles of Nineveh.” The Syrians were pressed back to their homelands. Meanwhile in "the southern kingdom of Judah, King Uzziah built a strong kingdom. Side by side these two kingdoms flourished." As a result the Assyrian’s had been under a lot of international, military and diplomatic losses. Nineveh had suffered a severe plague prior to experiencing an eclipse of the sun two years later. They had been largely unsuccessful in repelling attacks from the north of the kingdom and had lost ground. The Ninevites, a pagan culture as the sailors in chapter, therefore believed some god was angry with them, they simply didn’t know which one. The Ninevites were notoriously known for their brutality. They would take another enemy leader and take a sharpened pole and drive it through the lower part of the chest. The pole is then raised, bearing the writhing victim aloft; then the pole is planted into a hole dug for it, and the man is left to die. Assyrians would also take babies and burn them alive while the parents watched. The walls of the city of Nineveh were spiked turrets or poles upon which they impaled foreign officers, still alive and suffering immeasurably. Their brutality was legendary, especially among the city populous who possible reviled in their superiority and lethargic disposition towards the human suffering of their enemies. One might add to this Jonah’s unique and recent ride inside the belly of a great fish. The book does not state that anyone besides Jonah was aware of the event, and it may have happened along a lonely stretch of beach. It is also possible that the event was witnessed by others and such a miracle would have been reported across the land. News of his rescue and his precarious voyage to Nineveh may have attracted considerable publicity in to the city of Nineveh itself. Fast and Sackcloth: The practice of sackcloth and ashes was familiar with being worn by those who are either greatly distressed or greatly penitent. Even among pagan cultures of the time. However, it the actual warring of sackcloth mainly reserved for the poverty stricken or customarily slaves. It was the personification of the humility and destination. It was the garments of beggars and the extremely needy and the utter dependent. A practice of self-depravation was a common in Jewish history as well (2 Sam. 3:31, 35; 1 Kings 21:27; Neh. 9:1-2; Isa. 15:3; 58:5; Dan. 9:3; Joel 1:13-14). A practice of self-depravation was accustom common among pagans as well to appease the gods whom they worship in order to grant requests, rewards and rescue in times of need. The sailors in chapter one (1:6, 14) after identifying the source of them calamity, did not hesitate to inquire as to what they must done to appease God whom Jonah served. The Ninevites did not want to perish any more than the sailors did. This is intuitive and innate conscience and sub conscience will to live imbedded into human nature and the Ninevites were no different.