So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth…
1. Note the renewed charge to the penitent prophet, and his new eagerness to fulfil it. It is God's mercy that gives us the opportunity of effacing past disobedience by new alacrity. The second charge is possibly distinguishable from the first as being less precise. The substance of the message is set forth. "The preaching which I bid thee," — not his own imaginations, nor any fine things of his own spinning.
2. Note the repentance of Nineveh. The impression made by Jonah's terrible cry is perfectly credible and natural in the excitable population of an eastern city, in which even now any appeal to terror, especially if associated with religious and prophetic claims, easily sets the whole in a frenzy. The specified tokens of repentance are those of ordinary mourning, such as were common all over the East, with only the strange addition which smacks of heathen ideas, that the animals were made sharers in them. There is great significance in that "believing God" (ver. 5). The foundation of all true repentance is crediting God's Word of threatening, and therefore realising the danger as well as the disobedience of our sin. We learn from the Ninevites what is true repentance. The deepest meaning of the whole narrative is set forth in our Lord's use of it when He holds up the men of Nineveh as a condemnatory instance to the hardened consciences of His hearers. The story was a smiting blow to the proud exclusiveness and self-complacent contempt of prophetic warnings, which marked the entire history of God's people. But if repentance be but transient, it leaves the heart harder than before.
3. Note the repentance of God. All God's promises and threatenings are conditional God threatens precisely in order that He may not have to perform His threatenings. He repents of the evil which He said He would do when they repent of the evil which they have done.
(A. Maclaren, 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.