Thursday

13 September 2018

Jonah 3:6-10

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 137:1-7 

Background

If the people of Israel harboured difficult memories about the Ninevites, then it seems likely that they would have been even angrier with the leader of their enemies. As our story from yesterday continues, not only do all of the people of Nineveh respond immediately, so does the King. As soon as the news reaches him, he wears sackcloth and sits in ashes.

There are a few peculiar points about this part of the story. Nineveh was a city that did not have a king (anymore than say London ever had a king). It is not clear exactly who this figure is, except presumably we are meant to regard him as the highest authority. The second is that the king of a foreign city is shown signalling his repentance in a very Jewish way. There are no examples of people repenting using sackcloth and ashes in Mesopotamian literature but there are several in the Jewish Bible (eg Esther 4:1, Jeremiah 6:26). We might expect a powerful king to be more likely than anyone else to ignore the warnings of a foreign prophet, particularly as the Bible says nothing about Jonah having any way to support his claims. Instead the king not only responds, he is said to use a Jewish way to demonstrate his repentance.

What is more, the king does not just command outer actions of repentance. Jonah has simply announced that Nineveh will be overthrown. It is left to the king to introduce the idea of repentance and announce that the people must turn from their evil ways and from violence. If we remember that the Jewish people had been victims of Assyrian violence, the fact that the king mentions this may be significant. Normally, however, would we not expect that the prophet would be the one to announce that people should repent?

 

To Ponder

  • A prophet announces destruction. A king orders the people to repent and hopes that God will relent. Do you find this division of roles strange? Why?
  • Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes. After everything that he has gone through, God changes God’s mind. How would you respond?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.