The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD’s word came to Jonah again: 2“Get up, Jonah! Go to the great city of Nineveh. Proclaim to the people there the message I am sending with you.”
3Jonah went to Nineveh as the LORD had said. Nineveh was a very large city. It took three days to walk from one end to the other. 4Jonah went a day’s journey into the city, crying out as he went, “In forty days Nineveh will be conquered!” 5The people believed the LORD’s words. They ordered a city-wide fast, and everyone wore sackcloth.
6When the king of Nineveh heard what was happening, he left his throne, removed his robe, and put on sackcloth. He sat down, covering himself with ashes. 7Then he issued this proclamation for all of Nineveh: “By order of the king and his officials: No one, man or beast, no flock or herd, shall eat anything. They will not eat food nor drink water. 8People and animals must wear sackcloth and cry out aloud to God. Everyone must turn from their wickedness and from violence. 9Who knows but that God might relent and have a change of mind, and turn away from the fierce anger that threatens to punish us.”
10When God saw what they were doing and how they had turned from their wickedness, the punishment God had proclaimed did not fall on them.
1-5: Again, God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and this time Jonah sets out forthwith, and we are not at all surprised. The dimensions of the city, a three day’s walk, are surely exaggerated, but that gives the author a way of emphasizing the response of the Ninevites. Jonah goes only one day’s walk – a third of the way — declares God’s message, and the people immediately repent! Don’t you find it a curious thing that Jonah has not called them to repentance, has not accused them of anything at all, nor has he mentioned God? Jonah has simply said, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” There is no information about how or by whom the overthrow will happen. It could be anything from a bloodless coup to a prolonged siege to fire and brimstone from the sky. Nevertheless, the people of Nineveh immediately take it to heart as a call for spiritual renewal. Contrast their response to the response of the people of Israel and Judah to all the warnings of all the prophets sent by God through decades and decades. Of course, that may be the point of the story of Jonah. He represents every prophet of God who has no choice but to go where God wants him to go, do what God wants him to do, and say what God wants him to say. The people of Nineveh are the model listeners who are immediately stricken by a word from God even when it is not specifically cited as a word from God!
6-9: When the king of Nineveh hears about what’s going on, he also repents in sackcloth and ashes and declares a city-wide fast! He is the ideal king who is willing to give up anything and everything to be obedient to God, unlike all the kings of Judah and Israel who were given so many chances to turn their country around.
10: God has a change of mind and Nineveh is spared. What else could God do? (Note that the 40 days have passed.) Just think what might have been if Israel had repented? Just think what might have been if Judah had repented?
Recognizing our mistakes and shortcomings is a first step toward mending our relationship with God. That is why Catholic, and most Protestant churches typically recite a prayer of confession early in their Sunday worship services.