Jonah Table of  Contents

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Minor Prophets: Major Messages

Chapter Three of Jonah

Jonah 3:1-10

"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.’ 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. 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!’ So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then 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. 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. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?’ Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it."

Passages From the Writings


  • "The nations, hearing from the Word of God about their sins, and that they would perish, were converted after repenting, and were heard by the Lord, and saved."

AC 9437 [2]

  • "As ‘forty’ signified what is full or complete…forty signifies what is complete in respect to instruction and influx…for this reason it was said by Jonah to the Ninevites that ‘the city would be overthrown after forty days" (Jonah 3:4)

AR 492

  • "By being clothed in sackcloth is signified mourning on account of the vastated truth in the church; for garments signify truths; and therefore, to be clothed in sackcloth, which is not a garment, signifies mourning that there is no truth; and where there is no truth, there is no church." Jonah 3:5-6 is cited.

AE 637 [6]

  • "…in the Jewish and Israelitish church mourning was represented by ‘rending the clothes and being clothed in sackcloth;’ and this because grief of mind and mourning of heart, which are interior things, were represented at that time by external things, which because of their correspondences with spiritual things were significative." Jonah 3:5, 6, and 8 are cited among the examples from the Word.

AC 4779 [2]

  • "…the rite of putting sackcloth on the loins to testify…mourning may be seen from the historic and prophetic parts of the Word, as in…Jonah 3:5-8…for a sign representative of mourning over the evil on account of which Nineveh was to perish; thus over destroyed good."

AR 166

  • "From the signification of garments it is also manifest why they rent their garments, when any one spoke against the Divine truth of the Word…and why, on account of transgressions against Divine truths, they put off their garments, and put on sackcloth." Jonah 3:5, 6, and 8 are cited.

AE 195 [17]

  • "That in mourning for transgression against Divine truths they should put off their garments and put on sackcloth." Jonah 3:5, 6, and 8 are cited.

AC 7520

  • "That ‘ashes’ denote falsity, may be confirmed from passages where another word for ‘ashes (cinis)’ is used, for these ashes have a like origin…" Jonah 3:6 is cited.

AC 9723

  • "…by ‘ashes’ in the opposite sense, namely, what is condemned that remains after the burning from the fire of self love. This is signified by ‘the ashes’ which they carried on the head, and in which they rolled themselves when bewailing their sins." Jonah 3:6 is cited.

AR 337

  • "In the spiritual sense by kings those who are in truths are signified, by the great ones those who are in goods, by the rich those that are in the knowledge of good, by the mighty they that are in erudition, by servants they that are in such things from others, and thus from memory, and by freemen they that are in such things from themselves…" Jonah 3:7 is cited.

AE 408 [3]

  • "Internal goods are signified by ‘great ones,’ because these four, namely, ‘great ones,’ ‘the rich,’ ‘the commanders of thousands’ and ‘the mighty’ signify all the goods and truths that are with man, thus the goods and truths both of the internal or spiritual man and of the external or natural man…Like things are signified by the ‘great ones’ elsewhere in the Word (namely in…Jonah 3:7)."

AC 7523

  • "The interior good and also the interior evil…are signified by ‘man,’ are those which are of the intention or end, for the intention or end is the inmost of man; but the exterior good and also the exterior evil which are signified by ‘beast,’ are those which are of the thought, and of the consequent action when nothing stands in the way…By ‘beast,’…in respect to the external or natural man, a man is nothing else than a beast, for he takes delight in the like cupidities and pleasures, as also in the like appetites and sense…Therefore…from a holy rite it was commanded by the king of Nineveh, that both man and beast were to fast, and were to be covered with sackcloth (Jonah 3:7, 8)."

AR 567

  • "…in the spiritual world a man’s affections appear at a distance like beasts…and beasts, viewed in themselves, are nothing but forms of natural affections…By man and beasts together is signified man as to spiritual and natural affection, in the following passages…Jonah 3:7, 8…"

AE 650 [21]

  • "…‘man’ signifies the internal spiritual man, and ‘beast’ signifies the external or natural…" Jonah 3:7-8 are cited as an example.

AC 623 [2]

  • "Here ‘webs’ and ‘garments’ are predicated of things of the understanding, that is, of the thought; ‘iniquity’ and ‘violence,’ of things of the will, that is, of works. In Jonah 3:8…the ‘evil way’ is predicated of falsities, which are of the understanding; and ‘violence,’ which are of the will."

AC 588 [2]

  • "…the ‘wrath of anger’ is attributed to Jehovah, and consequently ‘repentance.’ In Jonah …[3:9]."

DSS 51 [2]

  • "…the Word is such in the sense of the letter, it may be evident that it cannot be understood without doctrine. But let examples illustrate this. It is said that Jehovah repenteth (Jonah 3:9; 4:2), and it is also said that Jehovah repenteth not (Num. 23:19…): without doctrine these statements do not agree."

TCR 226 [2]

  • Please note that this reference has the same wording and sources as cited in the quote above.

AC 10441 [2-4]

  • "In these passages (Jonah 3:9,10) Jehovah is said to have ‘repented,’ when yet it cannot be that He repents, because He knows all things before He does them; from which it is evident that by ‘repenting’ is signified mercy."

Derived Doctrine

"Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time…"

  • The word of the Lord coming to Jonah for the second time seems to convey a restoration—an opening again—of a covenant between heaven and earth. "The conjunction of heaven with man is by means of the Word, and the Word is called a covenant, because a covenant signifies a conjunction." (White Horse 10)
  • A second time, perhaps, signifies an acknowledgment that a conjunction would involve "labor and combat." See AC 755 regarding the correspondence of "second." Two, or second, signifies conjunction. AC 5194 explains that two or twain represent the conjunction of the external natural with the things of the internal natural. Two also represents the conjunction of the will and understanding.

"Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you…"

  • AC 1612 teaches that to "arise" signifies a Divine edict to survey the heavenly kingdom.
  • AC 2326 teaches that arising represents acknowledgment from the elevation of the mind, or a state of affection from charity.
  • AC 3050 and 5605 add to the meanings of the word "go" this thought: it is to elevate one’s mind within to more interior things.
  • Nineveh signifies falsities of doctrinal things from reasoning and contrived by the proprium (selfhood). (AC 1184) Nineveh signifies falsities from the fallacies of the senses in the obscurity of an unenlightened understanding, or ignorance. (AC 1188 [2])
  • To preach signifies about the same thing spiritually as naturally, but to teach rather than exhort. (AE 612)
  • The "message I tell you…" directs us to the true source of mercy and salvation.

"So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.

  • Nota bene how well this verse repeats and ties together the derived teachings we turned to above.

"Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk."

  • The city was a three-day journey in extent. This is the first day. "Day" signifies the successive states of a person’s regeneration. (AC 6) "Three" signifies what is holy; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Love, Wisdom, and Use.
  • That which is "first" sets the tone or theme for all that is to follow: Repentance, Reformation, and Regeneration.

"To enter the city…"

  • To enter in, when predicated of the Lord, signifies to conjoin Himself to man. (AE 251)
  • A city denotes the order and organization of the interiors of the mind, specifically as to good and truth. (AC 3538)

"Forty days"

  • Forty signifies the duration of temptation and likewise its vastation. (AC 730 [2], AC 862, and AC 1963)

The people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast…"

  • A fast signifies to mourn because of a lack of good and truth. (AE 1189 [2]) A fasting signifies to be in an unhappy state when good is no longer conjoined with truths. (AC 9182 [10])

Putting It All Together

The great city of Nineveh has many spiritual representations. The world saw Nineveh as a mighty nation, but in the eyes of the Lord, it represented the shallowness and weakness (death) of false doctrines, contrived beliefs confirmed by the proprium (self love), the fallacies of the senses, and the unenlightened understanding that spawns spiritual ignorance. The Lord’s mercy and love for all prompted Him not only to send His message to Nineveh, but to ensure that it would be preserved for eternity.

Jonah’s call to "arise and go" preach to Nineveh what the Lord told him is a call for spiritual renewal. It is a call for repentance. Thus, the fasting, sackcloth, and ashes symbolize a call to be aware that "where there is no truth, there is no church." Where the Word is closed and not loved, there is a loss of conjunction with the Divine resources. The fasting of man and beast symbolizes a need for the spiritual and natural appetites to come to the Lord for that "bread which comes down from heaven." The Ninevites giving up their natural food and drink represents their turning away from the "as-of-self" concepts and reminds all who read and hear the Word of the Lord to rely on heavenly manna. "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance…" (Isaiah 55:2)

The king sitting in ashes and mourning represents a sorrowful attitude toward "the remains of the fire of self-love." Repentance involves: self-examination, making oneself guilty for the sins and evils committed, asking the Lord for His help, and desiring to attain a new life.

As we mull over this concept, think about the Lord’s preaching on earth. As He went about His mission, He often used these words: "You have heard it said of old…but I say unto you…" Putting aside human traditions and taking on the Lord’s teachings is an ongoing effort. Jonah was told to preach the words of the Lord. He was not to make things up from his memory. He was to be a true and faithful prophet of the Lord’s ways.

P&P tells us of the results of Jonah’s mission: "The nations, hearing from the Word of God about their sins, and that they would perish, were converted after repenting, and were heard by the Lord, and saved."

Read and Review

Read the selection from P&P.

Read Jonah 3:1-10.

Questions to Stimulate Reflection

  1. Where there is no truth, there is no church. Can you imagine any society where there is a total absence of truth? Could there be situations where truth is present but empty because people ascribe it to themselves and deny the Lord?

  2. How did the Lord’s words to Jonah strike you when He said "…preach…the message that I tell you"? For me, those words carry power. Sermons, doctrinal classes need to be carefully worked to keep the focus on the words of the Lord. Jokes, humor, have their place in the proper setting. Is the church or worship a proper setting?

  3. Were you struck with the quickness of Nineveh’s repentance? First, the people of the city responded, and then the king did so with his call for national observance of fasting.

  4. Was the literal sense of the king sitting on ashes to mourn clear enough that you can now make some application to a life situation? Ashes represent the remains from the fire of self-love. Can you recall some project or cause that carried you away and in spite of advice or a warning from the conscience you pressed on? Looking back you clearly see that your motives grew out of self-love. In retrospect you now see what a waste of time it was. Instead of doing it for the good of the Lord or neighbor it was "all about ourselves." An unhealthy self-love leaves us with a burnt out useless pile of residue. What had appeared at the time a momentous cause really ended up a little thing that sadly was limited in eternal uses. Is this your insight of this king on the ashes scene? One last doctrinal thought: A king represents ruling loves. Is this passage giving us a picture of the Lord as the mourning king or is it a picture of ourselves as a repentant king?

  5. The Lord’s love for us is a major theme in this chapter. The impossible happening ought to give us cause to be thankful. What emotions usually accompany gratitude to the Lord? How do we associate gratitude and repentance, or do we? Should we?

  6. Preaching should teach and not exhort. I’m still mulling over that quote from the Writings. Effective preaching, if it involves opening the spiritual sense of the Word, eventually brings some kind of exhortation. Could this be a reminder to teach and then let the Lord do the exhorting? Does teaching inspire self-exhortation? How and when?

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