OT Encounters: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 – Repent!

By Jeff Pulse

Our Old Testament text for this Sunday, January 28, 2018, is from the Book of the Twelve, the Prophet Jonah. The text is Jonah 3:1-5, 10, which begins with a unique case in the Scriptures. Jonah is the only prophet to be “called” twice! As you recall, Jonah’s first call is recorded in chapter one of Jonah. Now this call comes after Jonah rejected the job description and headed in the opposite direction. There’s probably a sermon there somewhere! The language used in the two calls is almost identical—God has not changed His mind through all of this, although it appears that the LORD has toned down His attitude toward Nineveh, as He does not bring up their “great evil” as He did in 1:2. The LORD also makes no mention of the first call, or Jonah’s failure to take up that call.

Another interesting question may be, “Why does Jonah fulfill the call this second time?” Perhaps he was afraid that another “big fish” would be in his future, or perhaps he was hopeful that the LORD would indeed smite and destroy the Assyrian city. It could also be that he was just happy to do the LORD’s bidding, but that seems unlikely considering his reaction later when the LORD spares the city when repentance occurs. Certainly, following his journey to the pit in the belly of the big fish and then his resurrection back to dry ground via vomiting, a tone and attitude of rising/resurrection is seen in the vocabulary of this text.

One other thing to consider before we look at the grammar. The repentance demonstrated by the people of Nineveh, from the greatest to the least—including animals—is greater than any demonstrating by the people of Israel throughout their history. And in this book of Jonah, everyone repents…except Jonah!

My thanks to R. Lessing and his fine commentary on Jonah in the Concordia Commentary Series.

3:1 This verse is identical to 1:1 except “son of Amittai” is replaced by “a second time”

3:2 haqqeriah—“proclamation; message” Again, the first part of the verse is the same as the previous call. Note the “qum” “rise up.”

       eleha—“to her” as compared to 1:2 which uses “aleha” “against her”

3:3 wayaqamwayelek—roots: qum…halak “rose and went” This time when Jonah arose and went to Nineveh rather than running the opposite direction. This obedience is seen in “kidvar Yahweh” “according to the word of the LORD.”

3:4 mahalak—“journey” This does not necessarily indicate a straight-line journey. Most likely, it was a walking about in the city proclaiming his message.

      wayachal—root: chalal—hiphil “to begin” “to being to do something”

      nehpaketh—root: hapak—niphal “to be destroyed” Lessing: “to be changed”

3:5 wayaaminu—root: aman—hiphil “to trust in; to believe”

      tsom—“fast; time of fasting”

      saqiym—“sackcloth; clothing worn during mourning”

      qetanam—“small; least; insignificant; unimportant”

Note the very short and non-specific nature of Jonah’s message/sermon. His efforts are certainly half-hearted, and yet the City of Nineveh responds with repentance.

3:10 wayinachem—root: nacham—niphal “to change; relent”