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Jonah 3:8-9

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 

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 The offer of repentance in a conditional announcement of judgment can be withdrawn and in its place an unconditional decree of judgment issued.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.



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