Jonah converts Assyrians
Jonah preaches doom to Nineveh1The LORD gave Jonah the message one more time:
2“Go to the important city of Nineveh right now and tell them exactly what I tell you to say.”
3Jonah left for Nineveh right away, as the LORD said. Nineveh was a city with a huge footprint. It took three days to walk throughout the city. 4Jonah went into the city on a day trip. He spent the day walking around the city delivering God’s message. “In 40 days Nineveh will be destroyed.”
5The people in Nineveh believed him. They called for a sacred day of fasting and mourning. Everyone needed to wear the mourning clothes of sackcloth. It didn’t matter if the people were high and mighty or down and out.
The king wears sackcloth6When Nineveh’s king heard what was going on, he changed into sackcloth and sprinkled himself in ashes.
7Then he made a royal proclamation:
“This is an order from the king and his council of nobles. Everyone and all the livestock need to go on a complete fast. No food. No water. 8Everyone needs to wear sackcloth. Humans and animals alike. And all the people need to pray hard to God. Also, everyone needs to stop doing hurtful and violent things to each other. 9It’s possible we can change God’s mind, quinch his anger, and convince him not to kill us. Who knows?”
10God saw them change. They turned their backs on evil. So, God changed his plans. He turned his back on the disaster he had in store for them.
Almost eight miles (12 km) of walls protected Downtown Nineveh from the outside world. Built along the Tigris River, this was one of the capital cities of the Assyrian Empire. The city with this honor varied according to who was king. City walls surrounded almost 2,000 acres (750 hectares). That’s more than double the size of Central Park in New York City, and 20 times the size of the Mall of America. Nineveh was about three square miles or 8 square km. That’s the size of about 1,500 football fields with endzones.
Scholars haven’t seemed to figure out what the three days refer to. The original Hebrew language uses just one word to explain it. It says Jonah took three days to mahᵃlāk, a word that typically means a journey, a trip. So, did it take him only three days to get there? Nineveh was about 700 miles from Israel, where Jonah lived. He could have made it there in three days on a scooter. But the motorized scooter wasn’t invented until 1916. He might have walked around the city walls in three days. But eight miles in three days sounds more like Moses. The most common guess is that it took him three days to tour the city.
It’s unclear what Jonah said would happen to Nineveh. The Hebrew word was used in different ways. It could mean overthrown, devastated, changed, attacked, and more. But given the reaction of Nineveh and Jonah, whatever he said would happen would have been painful to the Assyrians.
Christians arguing that this story is a parable and not history point here. They ask, How many prophets in Jewish history delivered God’s message to people who believed them? And those prophets were talking to people steeped in Jewish faith. Jonah was talking to pagans. They worshiped other gods. Yet they immediately, that day, believed this outsider.
Sackcloth is a rough fabric like burlap feed sacks. It was made from goat hair and camel hair. Farmers and their customers used those sacks to store grain. People in Bible times dressed in rough clothes as an expression of mourning or sadness. Our version in the Western world is to wear stylish clothes and makeup. We often dress in black clothes or an armband. But nothing raggy.
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