Jonah 3

1 Jonah renewed his commitment, and God recommissioned him. Disobedience does not always disqualify one for the task God has assigned, but it can cause delays, unnecessary problems, less effective witness, or long-term consequences.
2 The job of any prophet is to speak God's words to people. God would reveal to Jonah specifically what he was to say at the proper time. Jonah 1:2 only indicates that Jonah was to preach against Nineveh because of its wickedness.
3 Having learned his lesson, Jonah responds in obedience to God. Nineveh, though not yet the capital, was a very large city. It was 30 miles long and averaged 10 miles wide. This included the agricultural regions and surrounding villages. Thus, if person could walk 10 miles a day through its streets and countryside, it would take three days to traverse it lengthwise. It is likely that Jonah meandered around in order to speak to as many people as possible. Nineveh had 120,000 people in it according to verse 4:11.
4 The message that God gave Jonah was a warning that in 40 days, Nineveh would be overthrown. We are not told whether Jonah elaborated, or if he even considered that it would not occur if the people would repent. Later on it is revealed that Jonah despised the Ninevites, and some have suggested that he delivered this message from God with great enthusiasm.
5 Even after one day and one warning, the people began to believe God and repent. Obviously, they believed Jonah's message, but the message was from God, and it was important that the people believed that God exists, He has the right to demand certain behavior, and He had the right to punish those who are disobedient. They also seemed to understand that God demands that people give up their wicked ways, and that if they did so they just might escape the punishment that He warned them about through Jonah. After all, if God was taking the time to warn them of the danger, He probably intended for them to escape if they wanted to.

The salvation that comes through Christ works the same way. God warns us that without a good relationship with Him, people are doomed to be separated from Him forever. However, by turning to Him through faith in Christ, we attain eternal life with Him. Turning to God always involves turning away from those things that displease Him, and even mourning that we had engaged in those activities.

Nineveh was a powerful city full of wicked and cruel people. There was no apparent enemy, nor anyone marching against the city. Yet, when they heard Jonah, a foreigner, preach his simple message from this "foreign" God they took it to heart and put on sackcloth to externally show their repentant attitude. They fasted to have more time for supplication to God. No one was too proud or powerful. Everyone repented.

6 It appears that Jonah did not speak directly to the king. Instead, everyone was talking about the message of doom, and the bad news spread quickly. When the king found that most of his people believed the message and were already repenting, he did not need further confirmation, but took steps to humble himself and repent. This is an example of a "grassroots movement" where change started with the common people and spread upwards to the ruling authorities.
7 Most of the people in Nineveh were repenting, but the king wanted to make sure that it was a citywide repentance. Obviously, no law could make someone truly repent from his heart, but fortunately, by the time this edict was decreed, most of the people had already repented.

The king declared the most severe type of fast. Fasts without water generally last a few days at most. Only a few times in Scripture have fasts without water gone as long as 40 days, undoubtedly only with supernatural help from God (Exo 34:28). The animals were also to participate in this fast. While not tending the animals would have kept people from being distracted from their prayers, this pagan king might have (mistakenly?) thought that the animals could somehow participate in this spiritual event. Apparently, it was common in some Eastern cultures to have the animals participate in mourning. Whether or not animal participation made any difference to God, the fact that the king wanted every living thing to participate demonstrated how thoroughly committed he was to having the entire city become right before God.

8 Wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes were both uncomfortable activities. They were outward symbols of humility, repentance, and recognition of one's mortality. These made everyone appear equal - whether king or servant girl. However, repentance is more than being hungry and wearing uncomfortable clothing. The purpose of repentance is to change one's heart, to turn away from doing those things that displease God, but rather commit to obey Him. The two charges leveled against Nineveh were wickedness and violence. The king specifically decrees that people repent of these things. It is unfortunate that most people only recognize their misdeeds when faced with the consequences.
9 The king, like the people, apparently understood that God's message of doom was conditional and would only occur if people kept on their current course of wickedness. Almost all of God's warnings of doom throughout Scripture are really invitations to escape destruction. God is forgiving and desires to save people, not destroy them.
10 The people of Nineveh had heeded the warning. Since God can determine the true motivations of people, we can be assured that their repentance was sincere. A revival had swept the city and presumably 120,000 people turned to God in less than 40 days. As far as we know, no event like this had occurred before or has since.

In response, God had mercy on them and did not destroy them. God's methodology, in general, is not to threaten people into submission. Nonetheless, presenting the inevitable consequences for continued disobedience is a legitimate way to motivate people to turn to God. Different people respond better to different facets of the Gospel of God. In this instance, the warning of doom was the most effective method, and obviously it worked well.

Perhaps in light of this we can see why God wanted Jonah to do this task. For whatever reason, he had exactly what was needed to communicate effectively with the Ninevites. It would also explain why God went to such great lengths with the storm and fish to persuade Jonah to do this work.

Some have raised concerns about the idea that God "repented" or "changed His mind" about destroying the city. Jer 18:6-10 probably gives the clearest indication of how God works in these matters - if people heed His warnings, they will not suffer the destruction that was planned. Thus, this problem is turned around such that if God had destroyed the Ninevites despite their repentance then God would have violated His own immutable and loving character. We can also see throughout the progress of this chapter that the people understood this mode of operation, even though it is not explicitly explained. In the next chapter we find that Jonah also knew about this methodology. Therefore, people should not be concerned that God is fickle, whimsical, swayable, or pronounces empty threats. His mode of operation concerning warnings has been the same from the time God warned Adam not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the present day when God still warns us that the rejection of Jesus Christ will mean eternal separation from Him.