The People of Nineveh Respond to Jonah’s Warning, 1-10

3:1 The LORD said to Jonah a second time, 3:2 “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 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!”

Nineveh was a very important city – Lit. ‘a city great to God’ – utilising a common Heb. superlative. The AV renders this, ‘Now Nineveh was an exceeding great (Heb ‘gadol’) city of three days’ journey.’ This would imply that it was a very large city, which would take three days to travel through. Nineveh itself has been excavated, and its walls are just over 9 miles in circumference. The Heb ‘gadol’ is also used of Gibeon, which is actually quite small. Study of ancient (and modern Bedouin Arab) customs confirms that the reference here is to administrative importance, rather than to physical size. A visit to such a centre customarily took three days: one to arrive, the next the conduct your business, and the third to leave. (Donald Wiseman, A Bible for Today and Tomorrow)

See how reluctant a prophet Jonah is. His message to Nineveh is terse in the extreme, and does not even mention God’s name.

3:5 The people of Nineveh believed in God, and they declared a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 3:6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat on ashes. 3:7 He issued a proclamation and said, “In Nineveh, by the decree of the king and his nobles: No human or animal, cattle or sheep, is to taste anything; they must not eat and they must not drink water. 3:8 Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do. 3:9 Who knows? Perhaps God might be willing to change his mind and relent and turn from his fierce anger so that we might not die.” 3:10 When God saw their actions—they turned from their evil way of living!—God relented concerning the judgment he had threatened them with and he did not destroy them.

v10 ‘But is not God said to repent? There seems to be a change in his decree, in Jon 3:10. Repentance is attributed to God figuratively, Nun 23:19. There may be a change in God’s work, but not in his will. He may will a change, but not change his will.’ (Watson, A Body of Divinity, 69)