New Defender's Study Bible Notes
3:3 exceeding great city. Nineveh was a very ancient city, founded by Nimrod, and remained great until its destruction by Babylonia and its allies about 612 B.C. It was also a very wicked city, with its pagan worship centered around the fertility goddess Ishtar. The apex of its greatness, however, was not reached until the reign of Sennacherib, several decades after Jonah’s ministry there, with a newer and more wicked generation. Jonah’s ministry had taken place sometime during the reign of Jeroboam II in Israel, beginning around 780 B.C.
3:3 three days’ journey. The extraordinary size of Nineveh was not exaggerated. In the conventional notation of the day, its dimensions probably included its sister cities: Rehoboth, Calah and Resen (Genesis 10:11-12). Even the inner walled city of Nineveh itself was at least eight miles in circumference.
3:4 Nineveh shall be overthrown. Jonah was evidently a powerful and compelling preacher, and the Ninevite Assyrians were not yet as hardened in their wickedness as they would eventually become. Not only the people but the king (possibly “governor,” since Nineveh was not yet the capital) were brought to repentance. Eventually, Nineveh would indeed be “overthrown,” but God spared her for a season at this time.
3:5 believed God. Nineveh had a tremendous population of 500,000 or more, and apparently all of them turned to God. This surely was the greatest “revival” in the history of the world, and its reality was confirmed by Christ (Matthew 12:41). Yet 150 years later, the descendants of these converts had become so wicked that God finally destroyed the city through a confederacy of Babylonians, Medes, and Scythians (see Nahum 3). At the time of the revival, it seems that something very unusual about Jonah’s preaching must have been involved. According to the later Babylonian historian Berosus, the early Assyrians had a legend of a “fish-man,” Yanueh, who had come out of the sea in ancient times and had taught them all the basics on which their civilization had been established. The name Jonah is pronounced “Yonah” in Hebrew, quite similar to Yanueh. Jonah arrived from the great fish at a time when the Assyrian empire was about to decline, and the Assyrians may have thought that Jonah was Yanueh, returning to tell them what was wrong and how to reverse the worrisome trend.
3:10 God repented. The word “repent” means essentially “to change one’s mind.” When used to refer to God (e.g., Genesis 6:6), it must be understood as “appearing to change His mind.” God never changes His mind about sin, but when men repent concerning their own sins, then God (consistently with His unchanging nature) “appears” to “repent” (in human terminology) concerning His planned punishment on those sins.