So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth…
Notice the substance of Jonah's proclamation, and the strong effect which it was made instrumental in producing. Most probably, while with the zeal of an awakened spirit Jonah began to execute his commission, the burden of it, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed," was but used by him as a general theme suggestive of enlargement. To the eye of sense the enterprise thus commenced might seem most formidable and dangerous. But, in the view of faith, difficulties vanished. The effect produced was remarkable. All ranks were pervaded by feelings of disquietude and alarm. The woeful tidings spread from mouth to mouth. God gave unwonted power to the message of His servant, so that the inhabitants of this great and dissipated city were roused to deep concern, and its myriads bowed themselves in penitence and prayer. The impression produced might be partly the mere result of apprehension, as the sinner is often scared for a time, but without lasting and salutary effect. We must distinguish between such transient and partial feelings and genuine penitence. The latter issues in return to Him who has been so grievously offended. Its reality is shown in amendment of life. Notice the general nature of the Ninevites' penitence here described, in which We must recognise the exertion of a Divine influence and power. Fear is contagious: faith is the result of Divine influence upon the heart; and it shows the influence of prevailing wickedness in a community that, while some are roused by the preaching of the Gospel to religious earnestness and activity, a much larger proportion too often remain indifferent and slothful. The penitence of the Ninevites was in many cases genuine. We are reminded by this narrative of the propriety of rulers, in their official capacity, employing their influence with a view to promote the interests of righteousness and truth. Civil eminence is to be consecrated to God's service. We have ground for judging of the pervading and thorough character of the transaction. The vast city was filled with fear and lamentation. The outward signs of abasement were everywhere discernible. Had the repentance of the Ninevites been confined to external indications it would have been exclusive of that homage which God requires, and has alone declared His readiness to accept. The most important feature of the sorrow consisted, not in the covering of the limbs with sackcloth, but in their "crying mightily unto God," and in "turning every one from their evil way, and from the violence that was in their hands." Godly sorrow will be followed by amendment, the view of sin by its loathing and detestation. We gather from this narrative the propriety of a nation, when threatened by disaster, turning to the great source of sufficiency and strength. And also the happy results that may be expected to follow from such a public recognition of the Ruler of the universe. Stand in awe of God's mighty power, and admire the wonders of Divine mercy and patience. This history is fitted to remind Christians of their duty and their strength. The duty is to "Go into all the world and preach," — not the thunderings of wrath, nor the avenging sentence merely of a broken law, but — the" Gospel to every creature."
(A. Bonar, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.