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Jonah 3:8--4:2

Context
3:8 Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly 1  to God, and everyone 2  must turn from their 3  evil way of living 4  and from the violence that they do. 5  3:9 Who knows? 6  Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent 7  and turn from his fierce anger 8  so that we might not die.” 9  3:10 When God saw their actions – they turned 10  from their evil way of living! 11  – God relented concerning the judgment 12  he had threatened them with 13  and he did not destroy them. 14 

Jonah Responds to God’s Kindness

4:1 This displeased Jonah terribly 15  and he became very angry. 16  4:2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “Oh, Lord, this is just what I thought 17  would happen 18  when I was in my own country. 19  This is what I tried to prevent 20  by attempting to escape to Tarshish! 21  – because I knew 22  that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger 23  and abounding 24  in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment. 25 

1 tn Heb “with strength”; KJV, NRSV “mightily”; NAB, NCV “loudly”; NIV “urgently.”

2 tn Heb “let them turn, a man from his evil way.” The alternation between the plural verb וְיָשֻׁבוּ (vÿyashuvu, “and let them turn”) and the singular noun אִישׁ (’ish, “a man, each one”) and the singular suffix on מִדַּרְכּוֹ (middarko, “from his way”) emphasizes that each and every person in the collective unity is called to repent.

3 tn Heb “his.” See the preceding note on “one.”

4 tn Heb “evil way.” For other examples of “way” as “way of living,” see Judg 2:17; Ps 107:17-22; Prov 4:25-27; 5:21.

5 tn Heb “that is in their hands.” By speaking of the harm they did as “in their hands,” the king recognized the Ninevites’ personal awareness and immediate responsibility. The term “hands” is either a synecdoche of instrument (e.g., “Is not the hand of Joab in all this?” 2 Sam 14:19) or a synecdoche of part for the whole. The king's descriptive figure of speech reinforces their guilt.

6 sn The king expresses his uncertainty whether Jonah’s message constituted a conditional announcement or an unconditional decree. Jeremiah 18 emphasizes that God sometimes gives people an opportunity to repent when they hear an announcement of judgment. However, as Amos and Isaiah learned, if a people refused to repent over a period of time, the patience of God could be exhausted. The offer of repentance in a conditional announcement of judgment can be withdrawn and in its place an unconditional decree of judgment issued. In many cases it is difficult to determine on the front end whether or not a prophetic message of coming judgment is conditional or unconditional, thus explaining the king’s uncertainty.

7 tn “he might turn and relent.” The two verbs יָשׁוּב וְנִחַם (yashub vÿnikham) may function independently (“turn and repent”) or form a verbal hendiadys (“be willing to turn”; see IBHS 540 §32.3b). The imperfect יָשׁוּב and the perfect with prefixed vav וְנִחַם form a future-time narrative sequence. Both verbs function in a modal sense, denoting possibility, as the introductory interrogative suggests (“Who knows…?”). When used in reference to past actions, שׁוּב (shub) can mean “to be sorry” or “to regret” that someone did something in the past, and when used in reference to future planned actions, it can mean “to change one’s mind” about doing something or “to relent” from sending judgment (BDB 997 s.v. שׁוּב 6). The verb נִחַם (nikham) can mean “to be sorry” about past actions (e.g., Gen 6:6, 7; 1 Sam 15:11, 35) and “to change one’s mind” about future actions (BDB 637 s.v. נחם 2). These two verbs are used together elsewhere in passages that consider the question of whether or not God will change his mind and relent from judgment he has threatened (e.g., Jer 4:28). The verbal root שׁוּב is used four times in vv. 8-10, twice of the Ninevites “repenting” from their moral evil and twice of God “relenting” from his threatened calamity. This repetition creates a wordplay that emphasizes the appropriateness of God’s response: if the people repent, God might relent.

8 tn Heb “from the burning of his nose/face.” See Exod 4:14; 22:24; 32:12; Num 25:4; 32:14; Deut 9:19.

9 tn The imperfect verb נֹאבֵד (noved, “we might not die”) functions in a modal sense, denoting possibility. The king’s hope parallels that of the ship’s captain in 1:6. See also Exod 32:7-14; 2 Sam 12:14-22; 1 Kgs 8:33-43; 21:17-29; Jer 18:6-8; Joel 2:11-15.

10 tn This clause is introduced by כִּי (ki, “that”) and functions as an epexegetical, explanatory clause.

11 tn Heb “from their evil way” (so KJV, ASV, NAB); NASB “wicked way.”

12 tn Heb “calamity” or “disaster.” The noun רָעָה (raah, “calamity, disaster”) functions as a metonymy of result – the cause being the threatened judgment (e.g., Exod 32:12, 14; 2 Sam 24:16; Jer 18:8; 26:13, 19; 42:10; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; HALOT 1263 s.v. רָעָה 6). The root רָעָה is repeated three times in vv. 8 and 10. Twice it refers to the Ninevites’ moral “evil” (vv. 8 and 10a) and here it refers to the “calamity” or “disaster” that the Lord had threatened (v. 10b). This repetition of the root forms a polysemantic wordplay that exploits this broad range of meanings of the noun. The wordplay emphasizes that God’s response was appropriate: because the Ninevites repented from their moral “evil” God relented from the “calamity” he had threatened.

13 tn Heb “the disaster that he had spoken to do to them.”

14 tn Heb “and he did not do it.” See notes on 3:8-9.

15 tn Heb “It was evil to Jonah, a great evil.” The cognate accusative construction רוַיֵּרע...רָעָהַ (vayyera’…raah) emphasizes the great magnitude of his displeasure (e.g., Neh 2:10 for the identical construction; see IBHS 167 §10.2.1g). The verb רָעַע (raa’) means “to be displeasing” (BDB 949 s.v. רָעַע 1; e.g., Gen 21:11, 12; 48:17; Num 11:16; 22:34; Josh 24:15; 1 Sam 8:6; 2 Sam 11:25; Neh 2:10; 13:8; Prov 24:18; Jer 40:4). The use of the verb רָעַע (“to be evil, bad”) and the noun רָעָה (“evil, bad, calamity”) here in 4:1 creates a wordplay with the use of רָעָה in 3:8-10. When God saw that the Ninevites repented from their moral evil (רָעָה), he relented from the calamity (רָעָה) that he had threatened – and this development greatly displeased (רָעָה) Jonah.

16 tn Heb “it burned to him.” The verb חָרָה (kharah, “to burn”) functions figuratively here (hypocatastasis) referring to anger (BDB 354 s.v. חָרָה). It is related to the noun חֲרוֹן (kharon, “heat/burning”) in the phrase “the heat of his anger” in 3:9. The repetition of the root highlights the contrast in attitudes between Jonah and God: God’s burning anger “cooled off” when the Ninevites repented, but Jonah’s anger was “kindled” when God did not destroy Nineveh.

17 tn Heb “my saying?” The first common singular suffix on דְבָרִי (dÿvari, “my saying”) functions as a subjective genitive: “I said.” The verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) here refers to the inner speech and thoughts of Jonah (see HALOT 66 s.v. אמר 4; BDB 56 s.v. אָמַר 2; e.g., Gen 17:17; Ruth 4:4; 1 Sam 20:26; Esth 6:6; Jonah 2:4). There is no hint anywhere else in the book that Jonah had argued with God when he was originally commissioned. While most English versions render it “I said” or “my saying,” a few take it as inner speech: “This is what I feared” (NEB), “It is just as I feared” (REB), “I knew from the very beginning” (CEV).

18 tn The phrase “would happen” does not appear in the Hebrew text but is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity and smoothness.

19 tn Heb “Is this not my saying while I was in my own country?” The rhetorical question implies a positive answer (“Yes, this was the very thing that Jonah had anticipated would happen all along!”) so it is rendered as an emphatic declaration in the translation.

20 tn Or “This is why I originally fled to Tarshish.” The verb קָדַם (qadam) in the Piel stem has a broad range of meanings and here could mean: (1) “to go before, be in front of” (1 Sam 20:25; Ps 68:26); (2) “to do [something] beforehand,” (Ps 119:147); or (3) “to anticipate, to do [something] early, forestall [something]” (Ps 119:148). The lexicons nuance Jonah 4:2 as “to do [something] for the first time” (HALOT 1069 s.v. קדם 4) or “to do [something] beforehand” (BDB 870 s.v. קָדַם 3). The phrase קִדַּמְתִּי לִבְרֹחַ (qiddamti livroakh, “I did the first time to flee”) is an idiom that probably means “I originally fled” or “I fled the first time.” The infinitive construct לִבְרֹחַ (“to flee”) functions as an object complement. This phrase is translated variously by English versions, depending on the category of meaning chosen for קָדַם: (1) “to do [something] for the first time, beforehand”: “That is why I fled beforehand” (JPS, NJPS), “I fled before” (KJV), “I fled previously” (NKJV), “I fled at the beginning” (NRSV), “I first tried to flee” (NJB), “I fled at first” (NAB); (2) “to do [something] early, to hasten to do [something]”: “That is why I was so quick to flee” (NIV), “I hastened to flee” (ASV), “I made haste to flee” (RSV), “I did my best to run away” (TEV); and (3) “to anticipate, forestall [something]”: “it was to forestall this that I tried to escape to Tarshish” (REB), “to forestall it I tried to escape to Tarshish” (NEB), “in order to forestall this I fled” (NASB). The ancient versions also handle it variously: (1) “to do [something] early, to hasten to do [something]”: “Therefore I made haste to flee” (LXX), “That is why I hastened to run away” (Tg. Jonah 4:2); and (2) “to go before, to be in front”: “Therefore I went before to flee to Tarshish” (Vulgate). The two most likely options are (1) “to do [something] the first time” = “This is why I originally fled to Tarshish” and (2) “to anticipate, forestall [something]” = “This is what I tried to forestall [= prevent] by fleeing to Tarshish.”

21 tn See note on the phrase “to Tarshish” in 1:3.

sn The narrator skillfully withheld Jonah’s motivations from the reader up to this point for rhetorical effect – to build suspense and to create a shocking, surprising effect. Now, for the first time, the narrator reveals why Jonah fled from the commission of God in 1:3 – he had not wanted to give God the opportunity to relent from judging Nineveh! Jonah knew that if he preached in Nineveh, the people might repent and as a result, God might more than likely relent from sending judgment. Hoping to seal their fate, Jonah had originally refused to preach so that the Ninevites would not have an opportunity to repent. Apparently Jonah hoped that God would have therefore judged them without advance warning. Or perhaps he was afraid he would betray his nationalistic self-interests by functioning as the instrument through which the Lord would spare Israel’s main enemy. Jonah probably wanted God to destroy Nineveh for three reasons: (1) as a loyal nationalist, he despised non-Israelites (cf. 1:9); (2) he believed that idolaters had forfeited any opportunity to be shown mercy (cf. 2:9-10); and (3) the prophets Amos and Hosea had recently announced that God would sovereignly use the Assyrians to judge unrepentant Israel (Hos 9:3; 11:5) and take them into exile (Amos 5:27). If God destroyed Nineveh, the Assyrians would not be able to destroy Israel. The better solution would have been for Jonah to work for the repentance of Nineveh and Israel.

22 tn Or “know.” What Jonah knew then he still knows about the Lord’s character, which is being demonstrated in his dealings with both Nineveh and Jonah. The Hebrew suffixed tense accommodates both times here.

23 tn Heb “long of nostrils.” Because the nose often expresses anger through flared nostrils it became the source of this idiom meaning “slow to anger” (e.g., Exod 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Pss 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jer 15:15; Nah 1:3; BDB 74 s.v. אָרֵךְ).

24 tn Heb “great” (so KJV); ASV, NASB “abundant”; NAB “rich in clemency.”

25 tn Heb “calamity.” The noun רָעָה (raah, “calamity, disaster”) functions as a metonymy of result – the cause being the threatened judgment (e.g., Exod 32:12, 14; 2 Sam 24:16; Jer 18:8; 26:13, 19; 42:10; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). The classic statement of God’s willingness to relent from judgment when a sinful people repent is Jer 18:1-11.

sn Jonah is precisely correct in his listing of the Lord’s attributes. See Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:18-19; 2 Chr 30:9; Neh 9:17, 31-32; Pss 86:3-8, 15; 103:2-13; 116:5 (note the parallels to Jonah 2 in Ps 116:1-4); 145:8; Neh 9:17; Joel 2:13.



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