Jonah 3:3-4

3:3 So Jonah went immediately to Nineveh, as the Lord had said. (Now Nineveh was an enormous city – it required three days to walk through it!) 3:4 When Jonah began to enter the city one day’s walk, he announced, “At the end of forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown!”

tn Heb “was a great city to God/gods.” The greatness of Nineveh has been mentioned already in 1:2 and 3:2. What is being added now? Does the term לֵאלֹהִים (lelohim, “to God/gods”) (1) refer to the Lord’s personal estimate of the city, (2) does it speak of the city as “belonging to” God, (3) does it refer to Nineveh as a city with many shrines and gods, or (4) is it simply an idiomatic reinforcement of the city’s size? Interpreters do not agree on the answer. To introduce the idea either of God’s ownership or of dedication to idolatry (though not impossible) is unexpected here, being without parallel or follow-up elsewhere in the book. The alternatives “great/large/important in God’s estimation” (consider Ps 89:41b) or the merely idiomatic “exceptionally great/large/important” could both be amplified by focus on physical size in the following phrase and are both consistent with emphases elsewhere in the book (Jonah 4:11 again puts attention on size – of population). If “great” is best understood as a reference primarily to size here, in view of the following phrase and v. 4a (Jonah went “one day’s walk”), rather than to importance, this might weigh slightly in favor of an idiomatic “very great/large,” though no example with “God” used idiomatically to indicate superlative (Gen 23:6; 30:8; Exod 9:28; 1 Sam 14:15; Pss 36:6; 80:10) has exactly the same construction as the wording in Jonah 3:3.

tn Heb “a three-day walk.” The term “required” is supplied in the translation for the sake of smoothness and clarity.

sn Required three days to walk through it. Although this phrase is one of the several indications in the book of Jonah of Nineveh’s impressive size, interpreters are not precisely sure what “a three-day walk” means. In light of the existing archaeological remains, the phrase does not describe the length of time it would have taken a person to walk around the walls of the city or to walk from one end of the walled city to the other. Other suggestions are that it may indicate the time required to walk from one edge of Nineveh’s environs to the other (in other words, including outlying regions) or that it indicates the time required to arrive, do business, and leave. More information might also show that the phrase involved an idiomatic description (consider Gen 30:36; Exod 3:18; a three-day-journey would be different for families than for soldiers, for example), rather than a precise measurement of distance, for which terms were available (Ezek 45:1-6; 48:8-35). With twenty miles as quite a full day’s walk, it seems possible and simplest, however, to take the phrase as including an outlying region associated with Nineveh, about sixty miles in length.

tn Heb “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown!” The adverbial use of עוֹד (’od, “yet”) denotes limited temporal continuation (BDB 728 s.v. עוֹד 1.a; Gen 29:7; Isa 10:32). Tg. Jonah 3:4 rendered it as “at the end of [forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown].”

tn Heb “be overturned.” The Niphal נֶהְפָּכֶת (nehpakhet, “be overturned”) refers to a city being overthrown and destroyed (BDB 246 s.v. הָפַךְ 2.d). The related Qal form refers to the destruction of a city by military conquest (Judg 7:3; 2 Sam 10:3; 2 Kgs 21:13; Amos 4:11) or divine intervention as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:21, 25, 29; Deut 29:22; Jer 20:16; Lam 4:6; BDB 245 s.v. 1.b). The participle form used here depicts an imminent future action (see IBHS 627-28 §37.6f) which is specified as only “forty days” away.