The scriptures record Jonah's sermon to the people of Nineveh this way:

Jonah 3:4-5 (ESV) 4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.

Should we assume this is really all that was said or is it safe to assume that maybe the people had some follow up questions and Jonah had some follow up answers?

It's interesting that Jonah doesn't even mention God, yet the people know to repent to God. Perhaps they were already acquainted with יהוה (YHWH) and the Israelites similar to the acquaintance of Rahab and the inhabitants of Jericho so that all they needed was an Israelite to show up and forcefully proclaim calamity.

Joshua 2:9-10 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.

Update: In addition the accepted answer below, I provide a possible explanation for how so few words could have such a profound impact on a nation @ hermeneutics.stackexchange.com: How might 8 simple words have such a dramatic effect on them?

3 Answers 3


No. We should not assume there was more said.

In fact, it is that the people of Nineveh repented at only five Hebrew words that is remarkable!! Jonah is in a full conversation with God (Jon. 1:1, 4:2) and is still resisting his words. Jonah is the quintessential reluctant prophet. He doesn't want to change.

Jonah doesn't think Nineveh deserves God's mercy (Jon. 4:2-3). He's angry that God would save them.

Everyone that Jonah encounters turns to God (the sailors - Jon. 1:16 - and Nineveh) - yet Jonah can't bring himself around to God's viewpoint. From God's viewpoint, he is concerned about all humanity - not just the Jews. Notice the last sentence of Jonah (Jon 4:11):

And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

If God is concerned with gentiles - which He created too - then why isn't Jonah sharing God's heart and showing concern for the gentiles as well?

The reason Jesus mentions the "men of Nineveh" (Matt. 12:38-45) is that they repented as much less of a sign (only 5 words) and the men of Jesus' day will not believe what he is saying. The Pharisees are asking for more signs! The point is, the "men of Nineveh" repented at less than what you have seen.

  • So basically it's your contention that assuming Jonah was more helpful in saying more would be at odds with the character portrayal of the prophet Jonah in the book? I think there's is something to that.
    – Austin
    Sep 9, 2020 at 15:42
  • 1
    Exactly. Viewing it through this lens also helps illuminate Jesus' words to the Pharisees who are looking for more signs. Jonah is a difficult book. It even ends with a question that leaves the reader to interpret what the ending would be.
    – S. Broberg
    Sep 10, 2020 at 16:53
  • Thanks again for this answer. It helped me to provide an answer of my own. hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/66104/25589
    – Austin
    Aug 2, 2021 at 7:16

Does Jonah even mention God to the people of Nineveh?

Yes. - Jonah does specifically mention the repentance to God (אֱלֹהִ֖ים) in his sermon to Nineveh. Read [Jonah 3:7-9] where Yonah's sermon is published by the King of Nineveh for the entire city, stating : "And they shall cover themselves with sackcloth, both man and beast, and they shall call mightily to God, and everyone shall repent of his evil way and of the dishonest gain which is in their hands."

Jonah 3:7 [MT] "And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh: By the counsel of the king and his nobles, saying: Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep shall taste anything; they shall not graze, neither shall they drink water." (וַיַּזְעֵ֗ק וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ בְּנִֽינְוֵ֔ה מִטַּ֧עַם הַמֶּ֛לֶךְ וּגְדֹלָ֖יו לֵאמֹ֑ר הָֽאָדָ֨ם וְהַבְּהֵמָ֜ה הַבָּקָ֣ר וְהַצֹּ֗אן אַל־יִטְעֲמוּ֙ מְא֔וּמָה אַ֨ל־יִרְע֔וּ וּמַ֖יִם אַל־יִשְׁתּֽוּ)

Jonah 3:8 [MT] " And they shall cover themselves with sackcloth, both man and beast, and they shall call mightily to God, and everyone shall repent of his evil way and of the dishonest gain which is in their hands." (וְיִתְכַּסּ֣וּ שַׂקִּ֗ים הָֽאָדָם֙ וְהַבְּהֵמָ֔ה וְיִקְרְא֥וּ אֶל־אֱלֹהִ֖ים בְּחָזְקָ֑ה וְיָשֻׁ֗בוּ אִישׁ מִדַּרְכּ֣וֹ הָֽרָעָ֔ה וּמִן־הֶֽחָמָ֖ס אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּכַפֵּיהֶֽם)

Jonah 3:9 [MT] "Whoever knows shall repent, and The-God will relent, and He will return from His burning wrath, and we will not perish." (מִֽי־יוֹדֵ֣עַ יָשׁ֔וּב וְנִחַ֖ם הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְשָׁ֛ב מֵֽחֲר֥וֹן אַפּ֖וֹ וְלֹ֥א נֹאבֵֽד)

  • 1
    Thanks again. Why do you say that the proclamation is of Jonah when the King claims it to be by the counsel of the King and nobles in verse 3:7. That seems to be a large interpretive leap. Also the King in verse 10 seems certain of the present doom prophesied by Jonah, but uncertain of the efficacy of repentance. It seems the king would actually know instead of asking who does, if Jonah would have communicated God's instructions for repentance to Nineveh.
    – Austin
    Sep 7, 2020 at 18:22
  • Read [Jonah 3:6] in regards to The-Word of God from Yonah reaching the King of Nineveh prior its publication : "And the-Word reached the king of Nineveh, whereupon he rose from his throne, took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat on the ashes." (וַיִּגַּ֚ע הַדָּבָר֙ אֶל־מֶ֣לֶךְ נִֽינְוֵ֔ה וַיָּ֙קָם֙ מִכִּסְא֔וֹ וַיַּֽעֲבֵ֥ר אַדַּרְתּ֖וֹ מֵֽעָלָ֑יו וַיְכַ֣ס שַׂ֔ק וַיֵּ֖שֶׁב עַל־הָאֵֽפֶר). - Later we read in [Jonah 3:7]: "And he" - King of Nineveh - "caused It" - The-Word from Yonah "to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh". Sep 7, 2020 at 18:29
  • Interesting, where do you find the pronoun or definite article for "it" in the Hebrew for verse 7 so that we may know that what was proclaimed was the Word of God instead of a decree originating from the counsel of the King and his nobles.
    – Austin
    Sep 7, 2020 at 18:45
  • In [Jonah 3:7] - The Hebrew phrase "Va-Yazeq" (וַיַּזְעֵ֗ק) means "And-he proclaimed (it)" or "And-he summoned (it)" There is no pronoun for "it" used in the Hebrew text. Sep 7, 2020 at 19:01
  • Jonah 3 [MT] : mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt1703.htm Sep 7, 2020 at 19:08

Several centuries had past from the time of Joshua to Jonah.

The records in Jonah is minimal. There has to be more according to Matthew 12:41

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites. He was a foreigner preaching a foreign god. Likely, there were questions from the locals. He might even had a translator.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.