Jonah 3 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Jonah 3)
The second testimony as the Risen One: God's grace and mercy to Israel and the Gentiles

And now the second testimony begins. All that Israel could have been, all that belonged to man as responsible in himself, as far as testimony was concerned, has failed for ever. Christ Himself, the faithful One, has been rejected. Israel, consequently as the vessel of God's testimony in the flesh, is set aside. It is the risen One only, who can now bear testimony; and, we may add, bear it even to Israel, who is now become the object of mercy, instead of becoming the vessel of promise and of testimony. But this makes God return, so to speak, into His own character of lovingkindness. If Israel cannot, as a righteous one, be the vessel of the testimony of righteousness (and even, as a sinner, has rejected it), God returns to His own gracious character, as a faithful Creator; from which, moreover, in the depth of His own being, He never departed, although He put man to the proof, by bringing him into relationship with Himself, under every possible advantage, to see whether he could be a witness of righteousness—of God on the earth. Jonah knew at heart that there was grace in God. Assuredly he and his nation had experienced it. But in this case, unless righteousness were apart from mercy, so that he who stood as witness of this righteousness might be honoured—unless it were vindictive, so that he as its witness might be exalted—he would have nothing to do with it. Thenceforward he became incapable of it. For, in truth, God was gracious; and such a witness of Him as Jonah would have had was impossible—would not have been true.

It is on this account that grace (that is, the revelation of grace) is identified with mercy towards the Gentiles. Is He the God of the Jews only? Nay, verily, but of the Gentiles also. And the casting-off of the Jews, as Jews, becomes the reconciling of the world. The same Lord is rich unto all that call upon Him, that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy.[1]

God's controversy with Jonah: the reason for His warnings

This is God's controversy with Jonah at the end. He would refuse God the right of shewing mercy to His helpless creatures, and insist upon His rigorous execution of the sentence upon the Gentile world without even leaving space for repentance. God answers him, not at first by unfolding the counsels of His grace, but by appealing to the rights of His sovereign goodness, to His nature, to His own character. Nineveh has hearkened to God. Now, if God threatens, it is in order that man may turn from his iniquity and be spared. Why else should He warn the sinner? Why not leave him to ripen unwarned for judgment? But these are not the ways of God.

The effect of God's Word on the Ninevites: confession of sin and pardon

And we may remark here that, in the case of Nineveh, it is not faith in Jehovah, as in the case of the terrified mariners. The effect of the dreadful troubles that will fall upon Israel in the last days, as judgment upon the unfaithful witness of Jehovah, will be to make this God of judgment known, and to cause the great name of Jehovah to be glorified in all the earth (chap. 1: 14, 16). With respect to the last days, we have seen that this is the testimony of all the prophets[2], as well as that of the Psalms.[3]

Here it is simply God. The inhabitants of Nineveh believed God. It is the effect of the word of God on their conscience. They confess, and turn away from their sin. They acknowledge the judgment of God to be just and His word true; and God pardons them and does not execute His judgment. Moreover, this is in accordance with His ways as revealed by Jeremiah.

[1] Hence, also, we may add, it is connected with resurrection in its accomplishment. This indeed, has a deeper cause—the state of man by nature; but this was brought out, in dispensation, by the failure of the Jews in connection with Christ after the flesh.

[2] See Isaiah 66; Ezekiel 36: 36; 37: 28; 39: 7, 22; Zechariah 2: 11; 14; and a multitude of other passages.

[3] See Psalm 9: 15, 16; 83: 18; and all the Psalms at the end of the book.