Jonah 3:1-10: My translation

Jonah, The Lukewarm Prophet

Prophet Jonah in Nineveh.
Prophet Jonah in Nineveh.

By partially obeying God, the Prophet Jonah attempts to restrain the power of God's message. At Nineveh Jonah half-heartily obeys God by only preaching to a small populous and not revising God's original sermon as God had commanded him previously. Rather than preaching to Nineveh, Jonah pronounces five Hebrew words of judgment against the city. Inwardly craving the destruction of sinners, the Prophet Jonah stomps out of Nineveh to await its fate.

Jonah 3 Study Notes

Jonah Chapter Three (Hebrew keywords and phrases in capital letters).

Jonah 3:1 | The Word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.

Jonah 1:1 The Word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai.

  • Jonah 1:1 mentions Jonah's father, while Jonah 3:1 emphasizes the fact that God has tried to speak to the prophet Jonah about his mission for the second time.

  • The phrase the Word of the LORD begins a new section in Jonah 3.

Jonah 3:2 |"RISE! GO to Nineveh the GREAT city CRY OUT to it the proclamation that I am going to tell you."

Jonah 1:2 "RISE. GO to Nineveh the GREAT city. CRY OUT against it for their EVIL has risen before me.

  • In Jonah 1:2, the LORD commands Jonah to preach against Nineveh, but here in Jonah 3:2 the LORD commands the prophet to preach to the city.

  • In Jonah 3:2, the LORD changes His message & tone of the original proclamation (Jonah 1:2).

  • Otherwise, why would he include "the proclamation I'm going to tell you" (Jonah 3:2). The LORD may be teaching Jonah a lesson for his rebellion.

Jonah 3:3 |Jonah ROSE. He went to Nineveh according to the Word of the LORD. Nineveh was a GREAT city to God, a walk of three days.

  • Up to this point, Jonah has obeyed the LORD when he ROSE and went to Nineveh.

  • The phrase the Word of the LORD has appeared twice in Jonah 3. It begins and ends a section of the text, a pericope (Jonah 1:1-3:3b).

  • In 3:3c the word "Nineveh" is placed before the verb in the Hebrew text. This is called fronting in linguistics.

  • This reiterates the importance of the GREAT city to the LORD.

  • The phrase a walk of three days describes its populous size.

Jonah 3:4 |Jonah began to go into the city a walk of one day. He CRIED OUT and said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be demolished!"

  • Jonah did RISE & CRY OUT as the LORD commanded him. But...he didn't preach to the whole city. He only began to go into the populous city. He went into the city a walk of one day.

  • He only preached five Hebrew words to the populous. It doesn't look as though the prophet Jonah preached the LORD's revised proclamation (Jonah 3:2).

  • Jonah didn't confront the king first as did most of the Old Testament prophets, rather his message condemns the Ninevite populous with destruction and judgment. He only partially obeys the command of the LORD. He's the Lukewarm Prophet!

Jonah 3:5 |The people of Nineveh believed in God. They CRIED OUT [for] a fast. They put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least.

  • Despite Jonah's shadiness, all the Ninevites believe in God. As with the Pagan Sailors (Jonah 1), Jonah doesn't reveal the name of Yahweh (LORD) to them.

  • The Ninevites believe in an unknown God (Elohim) who threatened to destroy them in Jonah's message.

  • They CRIED OUT [for] a fast and put on sackcloth, both signs of repentance. From the least to the greatest, all of them REPENTED.

  • The people spread Jonah's reluctantly preached message throughout the rest of the


Jonah 3:6 |When the Word struck the king of Nineveh, He ROSE from his throne. He removed his robe from himself. He covered himself with sackcloth. He sat in ashes. RISE. CRY OUT to your God! Perhaps, your Deity will notice us, so that we will not PERISH.

  • When the five Word message reached the King, it struck his heart. The King ROSE and fully obeyed, whereas Jonah ROSE to partially obey.

  • The King ROSE from the throne, removed his robe, and put on sackcloth. Then he sat in ashes. These are signs of deep humility.

  • In Jonah 4 the prophet will sit outside the city, not with a humble heart but rather an ANGRY one.

Jonah 3:7 |He made a proclamation and it said, "In Nineveh by decree of the king and his GREAT ones: Do not let humanity, beast, herd, or flock taste anything. Do not let them eat [food] or drink water.

  • Unlike Jonah's message preached to one-third of the Ninevites, the King's decree effects the entire population and their animals.

  • The GREAT ones refer to the King's nobles.

  • In Jonah 3:7c the words - humanity, beast, herd, or flock - come before the verb "Do not taste" (fronting).

  • This stresses that every person and animal are called to participate. No questions asked.

Jonah 3:8 |Let humanity and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let humanity CRY OUT with strength to God. Let each person TURN from his/her EVIL [ways] and from the violence in their hands.

  • Both human and wild beast must wear sackcloth. The term "humanity" means all the Ninevites.

  • The King decrees his people to CRY OUT like the Pagan Sailors did on the raging sea (Jonah 1:14).

  • The verb TURN means to stop living in immorality.

  • The keyword EVIL has already been a major theme in the Jonah story.

  • The Ninevites knew their history of violence against Israel, Jonah's people. More than likely, the Ninevites repented of this violence.

Jonah 3:9 | Who knows? God might TURN and REPENT. He might TURN from his burning anger. We might not PERISH.

  • Who knows? God might TURN and REPENT. The King isn't sure. This reveals that Jonah didn't preach anything about mercy.

  • The King just hopes that by CRYING OUT for a fast, they will move God's heart to REPENT.

  • REPENT = "be remorseful" (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament).

  • Open theists like this verse because they believe God changes His mind.

  • Most theologians who don't believe God can change struggle with this verse.

  • The Ninevites, like the Pagan Sailors, don't want to PERISH (Jonah 1:6).

Jonah 3:10 |When God saw their deeds that they TURNED from their EVIL ways, God REPENTED of the EVIL that He spoke of doing to them. He did not do [it].

  • The Ninevites TURNED from EVIL (violence). God REPENTED. He must have felt remorse as the text says.

  • EVIL can describe a natural disaster like a GREAT storm which ushers in God's justice on account of sin (Jonah 1:7).

  • Research the Ninevite methods of transporting the Israelite prisoners (violence). Nevertheless, the narrator struggles with something God was going to do before He changed His mind.

A Relief with Jonah's Experiences Etched on It.
A Relief with Jonah's Experiences Etched on It.

Jonah 3:1-10

Jonah, the Lukewarm Prophet

Jonah 3 Sermon

Intro: The prophet Jonah stands in front of Nineveh after soaking in the stomach acid of a great fish for three days. A short time ago, he tries to run from God, because he doesn’t want God to have mercy upon his enemy. The LORD deals with the prophet by appointing a fish to swallow him. Then when God tires of listening to Jonah’s manipulative prayers, He causes the fish to vomit the lukewarm prophet out of its mouth. Finally, he approaches Nineveh burnt and bruised. As Christians we should not just partially obey God’s plan unless we want to endure the following two trials: 1) God placing higher expectations upon us; and 2) God accomplishing His intended plan without us.

Let’s consider the first trial arising from partially obeying God:

I. God will place higher expectations upon us (Jonah 3:1-4).

  1. God may require more from us when we manifest a lukewarm attitude (Jonah 3:1-2).

    • God requires much more from Jonah the second time. He originally commanded the prophet to preach judgment against Nineveh, but now He tells Jonah to speak to Nineveh. In Jonah 3:2, God changes the message and tone of the first proclamation (Jonah 1:2). Otherwise, why would He include “the proclamation I’m going to tell you” (Jonah 3:2)?

    • Jonah fears that the Ninevites will repent when he preaches the message of judgment against the city in Jonah 1, so he runs from God. Now the prophet actually stands in front of the city gate. God tells him to proclaim a message to the Ninevites rather than against them. This would definitely increase the odds that the wicked city would repent of its sins.

    • If we only partially obey God’s Word, we face the risk of greater expectations from God the second time He tells us to do something. God will carry out His plan despite our attempts to sabotage it with a lukewarm attitude. He might require us to face our deepest fears when we walk in partial obedience. With Jonah, this meant he might be God’s chosen instrument that brings about the salvation of his enemies.

  2. God’s higher standard tempts us to sink further into disobedience (Jonah 3:3-4).

    • Jonah didn’t follow through with God’s command. The prophet Jonah only obeys God in the fact that he finally arrives in Nineveh. The great city takes three days to walk (Jonah 3:3). Jonah, however, only began to go into the city a walk of one day. When he enters the city, he pronounces five Hebrew words of judgment. “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be demolished” (Jonah 3:4).

    • The prophet doesn’t want any part of God’s revised message of mercy to Nineveh, so he simply speaks a few words of condemnation against them. Soon his attitude festers into a raging temper tantrum. We must not forget that Jonah prophesied to the Israelites. They considered him a true prophet. Even a tried-and-true prophet who steps out of God’s plan risks much. How much more careful should we be in fully aligning with God’s plan?

    • If we really mess up and God’s expectations become more intense, we need to comply with His will. Otherwise, we will pay a high price for our rebellion. God will throw our emotions into a world of chaos. He will not let us experience a moment of peace until we bend to His plan. Despite this outcome, Jonah resolves not to share his God with Nineveh.

Let's consider the second trial arising from partially obeying God:

II. God will accomplish His plan without us (Jonah 3:5-10).

  1. When we avoid sharing God's intended message, we still release His Word with its life changing power (Jonah 3:5-6).

    • The prophet Jonah reluctantly preaches five words of judgment. Jonah doesn’t confront the Pagan King first as do most of the Old Testament prophets. Nor does he preach God’s revised message to the city, but the Ninevites believe in God anyway. When Jonah finally does preach, he doesn’t reveal Yahweh to the foreigners. Instead, he tells them about God (Elohim).

    • Hearing the words of judgment, the Ninevites cry out for a fast. Every single person in the city from the youngest to the oldest participates. They also put on sackcloth in surrender to this unknown God. The people spread the message throughout the city. The King hears the Word, rises from his throne, puts on sackcloth, and sits in ashes. All signs of deep repentance.

    • At times we share the Word of God in such a way that prematurely judges people. As Christians, we pronounce judgment rather quickly. Some pastors even practice this against non-Christians from the pulpit. God’s intentions may be different than our agenda, so we must represent the heart of God with truth. His Word has life changing power. God can shatter our preconceived ideas instantly whenever His truth transforms the heart of our enemy.

  2. If we don’t carry out God’s plan, He might use our greatest enemy to fulfill His will (Jonah 3:7-10).

    • As an Israelite, Jonah’s worst enemy would be the Ninevite King. The King fully obeys God and makes a proclamation that calls every human and animal within the city walls to repent of evil and turn to God with all their strength. He commands every living to put on sackcloth and fast before God. The King preaches a more complete Gospel and to more people than Jonah does. As a result, the city repents of its history of violence.

    • Since Jonah doesn’t preach about God’s mercy to the Ninevites, the Pagan King can only guess that God will not judge them if they repent. The King hopes that the city’s acts of deep humility will cause God to repent of His anger towards them. When God repents in Jonah 3:10, He expresses remorse for His prior decision to judge Nineveh. God hasn’t committed an act of immorality; rather His heart now feels compassion for Nineveh instead of anger.

    • Our attitudes could lead to our replacement. After God transforms our enemy, He might assign this despised person the responsibilities He originally intends for us. If we persist in rebellion, refuse to share God's grace with our enemies, or stubbornly fight for our agenda, we might live to see our greatest fears come to pass. Our worst enemy might take our spot in God's plan which means this individual will receive our blessings God originally intended for us.

In conclusion, we should not just partially obey God’s plan unless we want to endure the following two trials: 1) God placing higher expectations upon us; and 2) God accomplishing His intended plan without us. God doesn’t need us to fulfill His plan, but He will deal with us accordingly if we try to do our part with wrong motives. More specifically, He will wreak havoc on our emotions leaving us burnt and bruised with no peace. If we continue yet in stubbornness, we may even see our worst fears come to life. God might use our insincere message to transform the heart of our enemy and then elevate him to a higher spiritual status than us. He may even go so far as to assign this person our part in His plan. Our lukewarm attitude could rob us of every blessing God intends for us.

Jonah 3 | The Prophet Jonah: Partially Obeying God's Voice

Examine the story of the prophet Jonah and his half-hearted obedience to God's command, as he attempts to restrain the power of God's message. Dig into how Jonah's inward craving for the destruction of Nineveh affects his spirit.

Rob Sportsman ~