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Why Does God Really Spare Nineveh

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David Frankel

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Why Does God Really Spare Nineveh

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Why Does God Really Spare Nineveh

The Book of Jonah depicts the animals being dressed in sackcloth and mourning along with the people. Are the Ninevites fools or repentants?

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Why Does God Really Spare Nineveh

When the king of Nineveh hears about the destruction of the city in forty days, he rises from his throne and decrees a general repentance for man and animal: all men, cattle and sheep must fast, people must wear sackcloth and pray to God. Print by Philip Galle 1547 – 1612 

In the final verse of the book of Jonah, God explains to Jonah why he decided not to punish the Ninevites (Jonah 4:11):

…וַאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס עַל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ בָּהּ הַרְבֵּה מִשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה רִבּוֹ אָדָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע בֵּין יְמִינוֹ לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ וּבְהֵמָה רַבָּה.
…Shall I not pity Nineveh, the great city that has more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?

As the book’s conclusion, this likely represents its central message. But as many have observed, God’s answer is surprising and problematic. Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508; Commentary on Jonah ad loc., question #5) asks:

כי היה לו להקדוש ברוך הוא להשיב את יונה, ואיך לא אחוס על האנשים אשר שבו אלי בכל לבבם ונפשם, ומשורת הדין מודה ועוזב ירוחם, ואיך לא זכר לו זאת הטענה החזקה וזכר החלושה מהנערים ובהמה רבה אשר לא ידעו בין ימינם לשמאלם, וידוע שמפני תשובתם נחם ה’ על הרעה, לא מפני הנערים והבהמות.
God should have responded to Jonah saying “How shall I not pity people who turned to me with their whole heart and soul?” It is only right that whoever confesses and abandons sin should be shown mercy! So how is it that God didn’t mention to him this strong argument, and mentioned the weak one about the many children and animals that cannot discern between their right hand and their left? It is known, after all, that God retracted his evil decree because of their repentance, not because of the children and animals!

Fishbane: Pity Is a Stronger Motivator for God than Repentance

Many answers have been given to this question. For example, Michael Fishbane suggests that the book of Jonah sought to highlight the idea that forgiveness was not, as Abravanel claimed, “only right.” God is not constricted by any rules of conduct, so repentance does not really account for God’s forgiveness—it only makes it a viable option. God’s true reason for relenting punishment was his pity for his creatures, and this is what he impresses upon the prophet.[1]

The Ninevites are “Innocent”

While this explanation is theologically valuable, it does not do justice to the unique derogatory tone of God’s statement of 4:11, where all the people of Nineveh—not just the children as Abravanel’s question suggests—are depicted as imbeciles, creatures who cannot discern between their right hand and their left.[2] This fact explains why God mentions the Ninevites together with the animals. In the un-P.C. words of Abravanel (at a later stage in his commentary), הנה הם כדמות ב”ח בלתי מדברים!, “They are [depicted in 4:11 as being] just like the animals who can’t speak”! God spares them because they can’t really be held accountable for their actions. To punish them with death would be like killing a watchdog for barking at a welcome visitor.

This understanding of God’s attitude toward the Ninevites fits perfectly with God’s reference to the destruction of the gourd. God essentially tells Jonah, “if you can feel bad about the destruction of a single plant (!), surely I can feel the same way about the destruction of the massive amounts of people and animals in Nineveh.” This patronizing attitude, comparing the Ninevites to animals and even gourds, coming as it does at the end of the story, must be an essential component of the story’s meaning.

What about the Ninevites’ Recognition of God?

The interpretation of 4:11 given above raises new interpretive challenges. Earlier on in the story, when Jonah prophecies to the Ninevites, the entire population, from greatest to smallest, put their faith in God (ויאמינו באלהים), convene a fast and put on sackcloth (3:5).

Furthermore, in 3:8, the king of Nineveh calls upon the population to

וְיָשֻׁבוּ אִישׁ מִדַּרְכּוֹ הָרָעָה וּמִן הֶחָמָס אֲשֶׁר בְּכַפֵּיהֶם.
[T]urn away, each person, from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.

The king’s command only makes sense if the people can independently determine which of their ways are evil, and turn away from them with focused intent.

That they can successfully do so is clear from God’s reaction (3:10):

וַיַּרְא הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם כִּי שָׁבוּ מִדַּרְכָּם הָרָעָה וַיִּנָּחֶם הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהֶם וְלֹא עָשָׂה.
When God saw their deeds, that they turned away from their evil ways, he relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

But if the Ninevites indeed turned away from their evil ways, they were obviously fully capable of distinguishing between wrong and right! Thus, how can God say that the Ninevites cannot distinguish between their right hand and their left, and that they should be pitied alongside their animals?

An Earlier Jonah Tale: Without Repentance

I believe that a spoof on the Ninevites, ridiculing them for their thick-headed intelligence, is embedded within the book of Jonah. The author/editor of the book of Jonah converted this earlier tale into a more serious treatise on matters of theodicy, repentance, and the proper role of the prophet.

Crying and Wearing Sackcloth with Animals

In my reconstruction, the verses that are indented are secondary:

ג:ד וַיָּחֶל יוֹנָה לָבוֹא בָעִיר מַהֲלַךְ יוֹם אֶחָד, וַיִּקְרָא וַיֹּאמַר עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת.
3:4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
ג:ה וַיַּאֲמִינוּ אַנְשֵׁי נִינְוֵה בֵּאלֹהִים, וַיִּקְרְאוּ צוֹם   וַיִּלְבְּשׁוּ שַׂקִּים, מִגְּדוֹלָם וְעַד קְטַנָּם. 
3:5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.
ג:ו וַיִּגַּע הַדָּבָר אֶל מֶלֶךְ נִינְוֵה  וַיָּקָם מִכִּסְאוֹ  וַיַּעֲבֵר אַדַּרְתּוֹ מֵעָלָיו וַיְכַס שַׂק וַיֵּשֶׁב עַל הָאֵפֶר.ג:זוַיַּזְעֵק וַיֹּאמֶר בְּנִינְוֵה מִטַּעַם הַמֶּלֶךְ וּגְדֹלָיו לֵאמֹר הָאָדָם וְהַבְּהֵמָה הַבָּקָר וְהַצֹּאן אַל יִטְעֲמוּ מְאוּמָה אַל יִרְעוּ וּמַיִם אַל יִשְׁתּוּ. ג:ח וְיִתְכַּסּוּ שַׂקִּים הָאָדָם וְהַבְּהֵמָה וְיִקְרְאוּ אֶל אֱלֹהִים בְּחָזְקָה
3:6 The word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God;
וְיָשֻׁבוּ אִישׁ מִדַּרְכּוֹ הָרָעָה וּמִן-הֶחָמָס אֲשֶׁר בְּכַפֵּיהֶם  
Yes, let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
ג:ט מִי יוֹדֵעַ יָשׁוּב וְנִחַם הָאֱלֹהִים וְשָׁב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ וְלֹא נֹאבֵד. ג:י וַיַּרְא הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם
3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” 3:10 Then God saw their works,
כִּי שָׁבוּ מִדַּרְכָּם הָרָעָה  
that they turned from their evil way;
וַיִּנָּחֶם הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהֶם וְלֹא עָשָׂה.
and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

Adding Repentance in vv. 8 and 10

The presentation of the Ninevites in verses 7-9 is ludicrous. The king and his most distinguished nobles proclaim that all the people and animals of Nineveh must fast, cover themselves in sackcloth, and cry out with great force unto God. We can just imagine the people of Nineveh, together with their sheep and cows, dressed in sackcloth, mehing and mooing as loudly as possible, hoping that this will get God to relent!

The sudden reference to repentance in verse 8b fits poorly within this context. The secondary character of verse 8b is indicated by the fact that it suddenly refers exclusively to people (note: “the violence that is in their hands,” not in their hooves!). Consequently, the reference to repentance in verse 10 is also secondary. Thus, in answer to Abravanel’s question, God did not tell Jonah about the repentance of the Ninevites because, in the original tale, they did not actually repent.

“Their Works” – Sackcloth and Mourning, Not Repentance

The “works” that God saw that caused him to relent were, in the original form of 3:10, precisely the actions described in verses 7-8, the fasting, sackcloth-donning and loud crying of the people and animals. This is confirmed by the fact that the word מעשיהם, “their works” must originally refer to the people and animals alike, since God then relents from the evil that he planned to do “to them,” which grammatically must include the animals. With the addition of “that they turned from their evil way,” the subject of the verse is converted to the people alone, and the “works” is redefined as repentance.

What is the “Word” that Came to the King?

Let us return to verse 6. What was the “word” that came to the king that prompted him to offer his decree? It seems most likely that the “word” was the statement of Jonah, as reported in verse 4, that the city would soon be destroyed. The reference in verse 5 to the Ninevites’ faith in God disrupts this natural continuity.

Furthermore, according to verse 5, the Ninevites decided to fast as soon as they heard Jonah’s prophecy. This, however, contravenes the continuation of the narrative (verses 7-8), which implies that the people and animals fasted and donned sackcloth in response to the edict of the king and his nobles. There would surely be little need for the king to proclaim his edict if all the Ninevites, great and small, were already fasting!

From Fools and Automatons to Wise and Independent People

What was the purpose of the addition of verse 5? In its original form, the narrative presented the people of Nineveh, like their leaders, as fools. However ridiculous the edict of the king and nobles might have been, the people of Nineveh duly obeyed. The “works” of the Ninevites, including their animals’ rites of expiation, were performed in blind obedience to their inane leaders.

A similar motif is found in the book of Esther, which depicts Ahasuerus as a royal buffoon, whose ridiculous orders (e.g., the man of the household must be the boss!) must always be obeyed (cf. Esther, 1:16-22; 4:10-11; 8:8-13; cf. 1 Esdras 4:1-12).[3] With the addition of verse 5, the picture is changed. The people of Nineveh act of their own volition, after wisely putting their faith in God.

Jonah Finds out that God Is not Going to Destroy Ninveh

Jonah 4:1-5 read as follows:

ד:א וַיֵּרַע אֶל יוֹנָה רָעָה גְדוֹלָה וַיִּחַר לוֹ.ד:ב וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֶל יְ-הוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּה יְ-הוָה הֲלוֹא זֶה דְבָרִי עַד הֱיוֹתִי עַל אַדְמָתִי עַל כֵּן קִדַּמְתִּי לִבְרֹחַ תַּרְשִׁישָׁה: כִּי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי אַתָּה אֵל חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב חֶסֶד וְנִחָם עַל הָרָעָה. ד:ג וְעַתָּה יְ-הוָה קַח נָא אֶת נַפְשִׁי מִמֶּנִּי כִּי טוֹב מוֹתִי מֵחַיָּי. ד:דוַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הוָה, הַהֵיטֵב חָרָה לָךְ. ד:הוַיֵּצֵא יוֹנָה מִן הָעִיר וַיֵּשֶׁב מִקֶּדֶם לָעִיר; וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ שָׁם סֻכָּה וַיֵּשֶׁב תַּחְתֶּיהָ בַּצֵּל עַד אֲשֶׁר יִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיֶה בָּעִיר.
4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became distressed. 4:2 So he prayed to the Lord, and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. 4:3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” 4:4 Then the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be upset?” 4:5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.

These verses are serious and even somber. The saving of Nineveh is a terrible calamity for Jonah, and he pleads that God put an end to his life. The issue that Jonah finds so troubling is the longsuffering character of his deity, who is prone to renege on his threats of destruction.

What apparently irks Jonah most about this is the effect that it has on his status as prophet. After the threats of doom fail to materialize, the prophet loses all credibility and public respect (cf. Deut. 18:21-22).[4] This, Jonah explains, is the reason that he fled from his mission in the first place. He did not want to suffer public humiliation. Now that the humiliation has been forced upon him, all he wants is to rest in peace. This somber and even tragic mood would not seem to accord very well with the atmosphere of lampoon reconstructed above. 

Earlier Text: Jonah Does not Yet Know God’s Decision

There are good reasons, however, for also attributing these four verses to the hand of the final editor. Verse 5 follows verses 1-4 very poorly. How can Jonah leave the city at this point and wait to see “what would become of the city,” when he already knows the city has been spared[5] and has complained about it, even expressing his desire to die because of it?[6]

If we remove this prayer, however, 4:5 follows chapter 3 perfectly. Jonah 3:10 relates that God decided to spare the city after seeing the “works” of the people and animals. The prophet, however, does not yet know this. In 4:5, the original narrator turns the focus back to Jonah, who has, in the meantime, finished traversing the city, and now waits in anticipation for the imminent destruction of the city (following the Septuagint version of 3:4, “Yet three days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The MT, which has Jonah predict the destruction in forty-days’ time, would indicate an inordinately long waiting period for Jonah outside the city.[7]This version serves, however, to present the Ninevites as true repentants, fasting and debasing themselves for forty days!).

In this context, God notifies Jonah of his decision to spare the city through experiencing the loss of the gourd. This does not provide a rebuttal to Jonah’s serious theological attack (which wasn’t made), but is simply God’s way of informing Jonah for the first time that he has decided to spare the city:

וַאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס עַל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ בָּהּ הַרְבֵּה מִשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה רִבּוֹ אָדָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע בֵּין יְמִינוֹ לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ וּבְהֵמָה רַבָּה.
hall I not pity Nineveh, the great city that has more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?

This mention of livestock is likely meant as humor, since the king made the livestock wear sackcloth and “mourn” with the citizens. It is a kind of “wink-wink” at Jonah (and the readers) at the Ninevites expense.

Fleeing to Tarshish: A Late Supplement

There is another reason that we should consider Jonah 4:1-4 secondary. Jonah 4:1-4 focuses on Jonah’s reason for fleeing to Tarshish, as reported in chapter 1. However, as first suggested (in a slightly different form) by Jack Sasson, the entire episode of Jonah’s attempted escape to Tarshish and his subsequent prayer in the abdomen of the fish did not belong to the original tale.[8]

The original Jonah tale consisted of chapters 3-4 alone. It told the simple story of the obedient prophet, Jonah, who went to proclaim doom on Nineveh as soon as God told him to do so. God then explained to his loyal prophet, who was naturally waiting to see the fulfillment of his prophecy, that he decided not to destroy the great city, because of his pity for his many creatures.

“A Second Time” as a Redactional Bridge

The word שנית, “a second time,” in 3:1 is the only indication that Jonah now goes to the place where he had previously refused to go. Indeed, verses 2-3 read perfectly well as a report of a first-time event![9] Only the conversion of Jonah into a rebellious prophet, accomplished by prefixing chapters 1-2, made it necessary to add the word שנית in 3:1. We might compare the way in which the book of Deuteronomy, which was originally independent, was interpreted as a “repetition” of the already given Torah[10](משנה תורה), in order to facilitate its present appearance after the previous books of the Pentateuch.[11] This analysis strengthens the suggestion that Jonah’s plea of 4:1-4 must belong to the book’s later, editorial layer, since it makes clear reference to rebellious flight to Tarshish of chapter 1.

Comparing the Original Opening with the Added Opening

Uncovering the distinction between the original tale in chapters 3-4 and the later expansion in chapters 1-2 allows us to further refine the meaning of the original tale:

Original Opening New Opening
ג:א וַיְהִי דְבַר יְ-הוָה אֶל יוֹנָה שֵׁנִית לֵאמֹר. ג:ב קוּם לֵךְ אֶל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ אֶת הַקְּרִיאָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר אֵלֶיךָג:ג וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה…
א:א וַיְהִי דְּבַר יְ-הוָה אֶל יוֹנָה בֶן אֲמִתַּי לֵאמֹר. א:ב קוּם לֵךְ אֶל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וּקְרָא עָלֶיהָ כִּי עָלְתָה רָעָתָם לְפָנָי. א:גוַיָּקָם יוֹנָה…
3:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah [the second time] saying, 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3:3And Jonah arose… 1:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and denounce it/declare doom on it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” 1:3 And Jonah arose…

Informing Jonah of Nineveh’s Wickedness

In the original tale, the prophet is called upon to “proclaim” a divine decree; the city will soon be destroyed. No reason is given to the prophet, or offered by the prophet, for the decree.  He is simply called upon to carry out his mission and he does. It is only in the secondary rewriting of Jonah’s mission in 1:2 that the wickedness of the city is mentioned and Jonah is informed of his mission’s rationale.

Distinguishing between קרא אל (Proclaim) and קרא על (Denounce)

This is also why, as noted by Jack Sasson, the new opening uses the phrase קרא על. Unlike the term קרא אל which is used in the original opening in ch. 3 and has the neutral meaning of “proclaim to,” the phrase קרא על is distinctly negative, indicating condemnation or accusation of wrongdoing (cf. Deut. 15:9; 1 Kgs. 13:2). This rewriting fits perfectly with my suggestion that the theme of repentance was secondarily introduced in 3:8 and 3:10. Repentance can only be relevant in a story of people that are wicked and deserve being denounced.

Explaining Why God Doesn’t Destroy Non-Israelite Cities

It would seem, then, that in the original tale of chapters 3-4, the city was not conceived of as particularly wicked, so it did not have much about which to repent. The entire mission imposed upon Jonah was designed from the start to teach him, and especially the readers, a lesson that had nothing to do with sin and repentance.

This lesson is that the God of Israel can destroy even great cities if he so wishes. All of nature is at his beck and call (4:6-8). But see how foolish these great cities are! Their kings and wise men give ridiculous orders and their dull-witted citizens mindlessly obey. They act as if they are no different than the animals, and, indeed, they are worthy of the same kind of pity. This is why God does not destroy them.

Contrast with Other Biblical Texts

This lesson or message of the original Jonah tale stands in stark contrast to other biblical texts, and should be seen as directly challenging their message. For example, in Isaiah 27:11 we read regarding an unidentified city,

ישעיה כז:יא …כִּי לֹא עַם בִּינוֹת הוּא עַל כֵּן לֹא יְרַחֲמֶנּוּ עֹשֵׂהוּ וְיֹצְרוֹ לֹא יְחֻנֶּנּוּ.
Isa 27:11 …For it is a people of no understanding; Therefore He who made them will not have mercy on them, and He who formed them will show them no favor.

In this conception—the very opposite of Jonah—God has no patience for fools, even though he created them.

A similarly patronizing attitude to idolatry is found in Psalm 115:[12]

תהלים קטו:ה פֶּה לָהֶם וְלֹא יְדַבֵּרוּ עֵינַיִם לָהֶם וְלֹא יִרְאוּ. קטו:ו אָזְנַיִם לָהֶם וְלֹא יִשְׁמָעוּ אַף לָהֶם וְלֹא יְרִיחוּן. קטו:ז יְדֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְמִישׁוּן רַגְלֵיהֶם וְלֹא יְהַלֵּכוּ לֹא יֶהְגּוּ בִּגְרוֹנָם. קטו:ח כְּמוֹהֶם יִהְיוּ עֹשֵׂיהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר בֹּטֵחַ בָּהֶם.
Psa 115:5 They [= the idols] have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see. 115:6 They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell. 115:7 They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. 115:8 Let those that make them become like unto them, and every one that trusts in them.

The sentiment here is again the same. People who trust in idols are complete imbeciles. As such they deserve to become as deaf, dumb and blind as them![13]

The tale of Jonah in chapters 3-4 came to reject this conception. Why does God preserve great heathen cities? Why does he not fulfill the many oracles of doom against the nations? These peoples are indeed foolish, but that is precisely why God has pity on them!

Implication of Original Story for Israelites

The implication for the Israelites is relatively clear. Rather than seeking the destruction of the nations, the Israelites should foster a tolerant sense of humor toward them. Zeev Weisman suggested that the book of Esther should be categorized as an “indulgent satire,” that pokes fun at the Persian authorities without seeking to oppose them.[14] The original tale of Jonah in chapters 3-4 may have served a similar role.       

In the final form of the book, the people of Nineveh are accorded complete respect and are essentially spared because they repent from sin. The other gentiles presented in chapter 1 are also accorded full respect as potential worshipers of the one and only God. At this stage, it is Jonah who becomes the object of derision.[15]

Appendix

Original Jonah Story Reconstructed

ג:א וַיְהִי דְבַר יְ-הוָה אֶל יוֹנָה //לֵאמֹר. ג:ב קוּם לֵךְ אֶל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה וּקְרָא אֵלֶיהָ אֶת הַקְּרִיאָה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי דֹּבֵר אֵלֶיךָ. ג וַיָּקָם יוֹנָה וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל נִינְוֶה כִּדְבַר יְ-הוָה וְנִינְוֵה הָיְתָה עִיר גְּדוֹלָה לֵאלֹהִים מַהֲלַךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים. ג:ד וַיָּחֶל יוֹנָה לָבוֹא בָעִיר מַהֲלַךְ יוֹם אֶחָד, וַיִּקְרָא וַיֹּאמַר עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם [תרגום שבעים: שלשה ימים] וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת. // ג:ו וַיִּגַּע הַדָּבָר אֶל מֶלֶךְ נִינְוֵה  וַיָּקָם מִכִּסְאוֹ  וַיַּעֲבֵר אַדַּרְתּוֹ מֵעָלָיו וַיְכַס שַׂק וַיֵּשֶׁב עַל הָאֵפֶר. ג:ז וַיַּזְעֵק וַיֹּאמֶר בְּנִינְוֵה מִטַּעַם הַמֶּלֶךְ וּגְדֹלָיו לֵאמֹר הָאָדָם וְהַבְּהֵמָה הַבָּקָר וְהַצֹּאן אַל יִטְעֲמוּ מְאוּמָה אַל יִרְעוּ וּמַיִם אַל יִשְׁתּוּ. ג:ח וְיִתְכַּסּוּ שַׂקִּים הָאָדָם וְהַבְּהֵמָה וְיִקְרְאוּ אֶל אֱלֹהִים בְּחָזְקָה // ג:ט מִי יוֹדֵעַ יָשׁוּב וְנִחַם הָאֱלֹהִים וְשָׁב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ וְלֹא נֹאבֵד.ג:י וַיַּרְא הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם //וַיִּנָּחֶם הָאֱלֹהִים עַל הָרָעָה אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לָהֶם וְלֹא עָשָׂה. //
3:1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah // saying, 3:2“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.3:4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days [LXX: three days], and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” // 3:6 The word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 3:7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 3:8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; // 3:9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” 3:10 Then God saw their works, // and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.//
ד:ה וַיֵּצֵא יוֹנָה מִן הָעִיר וַיֵּשֶׁב מִקֶּדֶם לָעִיר; וַיַּעַשׂ לוֹ שָׁם סֻכָּה וַיֵּשֶׁב תַּחְתֶּיהָ בַּצֵּל עַד אֲשֶׁר יִרְאֶה מַה יִּהְיֶה בָּעִיר. ד:ווַיְמַן יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהִים קִיקָיוֹן וַיַּעַל מֵעַל לְיוֹנָה לִהְיוֹת צֵל עַל רֹאשׁוֹ לְהַצִּיל לוֹ מֵרָעָתוֹ וַיִּשְׂמַח יוֹנָה עַל הַקִּיקָיוֹן שִׂמְחָה גְדוֹלָה. ד:ז וַיְמַן הָאֱלֹהִים תּוֹלַעַת בַּעֲלוֹת הַשַּׁחַר לַמָּחֳרָת וַתַּךְ אֶת הַקִּיקָיוֹן וַיִּיבָשׁ. ד:ח וַיְהִי כִּזְרֹחַ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וַיְמַן אֱלֹהִים רוּחַ קָדִים חֲרִישִׁית וַתַּךְ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ עַל רֹאשׁ יוֹנָה וַיִּתְעַלָּף וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת נַפְשׁוֹ לָמוּת וַיֹּאמֶר טוֹב מוֹתִי מֵחַיָּי.ד:ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים אֶל יוֹנָה הַהֵיטֵב חָרָה לְךָ עַל הַקִּיקָיוֹן וַיֹּאמֶר הֵיטֵב חָרָה לִי עַד מָוֶת. ד:י וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הוָה אַתָּה חַסְתָּ עַל הַקִּיקָיוֹן אֲשֶׁר לֹא עָמַלְתָּ בּוֹ וְלֹא גִדַּלְתּוֹ שֶׁבִּן לַיְלָה הָיָה וּבִן לַיְלָה אָבָד.ד:יא וַאֲנִי לֹא אָחוּס עַל נִינְוֵה הָעִיר הַגְּדוֹלָה אֲשֶׁר יֶשׁ בָּהּ הַרְבֵּה מִשְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה רִבּוֹ אָדָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדַע בֵּין יְמִינוֹ לִשְׂמֹאלוֹ וּבְהֵמָה רַבָּה.
4:5 Meanwhile, Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city. 4:6 So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort.[16] And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 4:7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 4:8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” 4:9Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 4:10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.  4:11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”

Published

October 7, 2016

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Last Updated

November 15, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Rabbi David Frankel did his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Professor Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School (VTSupp. 89) and The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel (Eisenbrauns). He teaches Hebrew Bible to M.A. and Rabbinical students at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.