The Meaning of Jonah 3:3 Explained

Jonah 3:3

KJV: So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.

YLT: and Jonah riseth, and he goeth unto Nineveh, according to the word of Jehovah. And Nineveh hath been a great city before God, a journey of three days.

Darby: And Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of Jehovah. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days' journey.

ASV: So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of Jehovah. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city, of three days journey.

What does Jonah 3:3 Mean?

Verse Meaning

Having learned that he must fulfill the Lord"s commission or suffer the most unpleasant consequences, Jonah this time obeyed and traveled east to Nineveh rather than west (cf. Jonah 1:3). For all he knew, he might end up impaled on a pole or skinned alive, which is how the Assyrians often dealt with their enemies. Nevertheless, such a fate was preferable to suffering divine discipline again.
The writer"s description that Nineveh "was" a great city has led some interpreters to conclude that it was not great when the book was written. Some of them take this as evidence for a late date of writing, even during the postexilic period. However it seems more likely that the writer was simply describing Nineveh as it was when God sent Jonah to it. Probably "was" implies that Nineveh had already become a great city when Jonah visited it. The Hebrew syntax favors this view. Roland de Vaux estimated that Israel"s largest city, Samaria, had a population of about30 ,000 at this time. [1] Nineveh was at least four times larger ( Jonah 4:11).
The meaning of "a three-days" walk" remains somewhat obscure. The Hebrew phrase is literally "a distance of three days," which does not solve the problem. It may mean that it took three days to walk through the city from one extremity to the opposite one, but the extent of Nineveh"s ruins argues against this interpretation. It may also mean that it took three days to walk around the circumference of the city, though this seems unlikely (cf. Jonah 3:4). Whether the size refers to the area enclosed by the major eight-mile wall, which seems improbable, or includes the outlying suburbs is also unclear. Apparently at this time "Nineveh" referred to (1) the city and (2) a complex of four cities including the city in question. [2] Probably the "three-days walk" describes the time it took to visit the city and its outlying suburbs. [3] In any case, the description clearly points to Nineveh"s geographical size as being large and requiring several days for Jonah"s message to reach everyone (cf. Jonah 4:11).
Another explanation is that the literal meaning of the phrase, namely, "a visit of three days," describes the protocol involved in visiting an important city such as Nineveh. It was customary in the ancient Near East for an emissary from another city-state to take three days for an official visit. He would spend the first day meeting and enjoying the hospitality of his host, the second day discussing the primary purpose of his visit, and the third saying his farewells. [4] If Jonah was such an emissary, he went as a divine representative to Nineveh"s king and other government officials as well as to the people. This explanation suggests that Jonah"s preaching may have started with the king and then proceeded to the people rather than the other way around. This view may account better for the king"s repentance and his decree to all the people to repent (Heb. sub; Jonah 3:6-9) compared to the traditional view.

Context Summary

Jonah 3:1-10 - A Repentant City
Peter was not only forgiven, but restored to his office; so also was Jonah again sent to Nineveh. Thank God for our second chances! There was no hesitancy this time. The prophet arose and went. The story of his deliverance seems to have reached Nineveh and to have prepared its people to receive his word, Luke 11:30. We must deliver God's messages and preach only as He bids us. He will tell us what to say.
Nineveh is said to have been sixty miles in circuit, the distance of a three days' journey. It was full of violence and cruelty. But the sight of that strange figure, clad in a rude sheep-skin mantle, smote its conscience. The alarm spread from the streets to the palace. Even the great king felt it within his sculptured chambers. It stirred him to action, so that king and court, peers and people, and even the brute creation, became united in one act of common humiliation. The repentance was city-wide in its scope, Jonah 3:5; was practical, Jonah 3:8; and directed toward God, Jonah 3:9. What a contrast to Israel! There, prophet after prophet was exposed to refusal and even to cruel usage. Whatever fear there may have been upon man's side, there was no hesitation upon God's. He abundantly pardoned! See Isaiah 55:7. [source]

Chapter Summary: Jonah 3

1  Jonah, sent again, preaches to the Ninevites
5  Upon their repentance,
10  God relents

What do the individual words in Jonah 3:3 mean?

So arose Jonah and went to Nineveh according to the word of Yahweh Now Nineveh was city great an exceedingly a journey [in extent of] three days
וַיָּ֣קָם יוֹנָ֗ה וַיֵּ֛לֶךְ אֶל־ נִֽינְוֶ֖ה‪‬ כִּדְבַ֣ר יְהוָ֑ה וְנִֽינְוֵ֗ה הָיְתָ֤ה עִיר־ גְּדוֹלָה֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים מַהֲלַ֖ךְ שְׁלֹ֥שֶׁת יָמִֽים

וַיָּ֣קָם  So  arose 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Verb, Qal, Consecutive imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: קוּם 
Sense: to rise, arise, stand, rise up, stand up.
יוֹנָ֗ה  Jonah 
Parse: Proper Noun, masculine singular
Root: יׄונָה  
Sense: son of Amittai and a native of Gath-hepher; 5th of the minor prophets who prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II and whom God sent also to prophecy to Nineveh.
וַיֵּ֛לֶךְ  and  went 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Verb, Qal, Consecutive imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: הָלַךְ  
Sense: to go, walk, come.
נִֽינְוֶ֖ה‪‬  Nineveh 
Parse: Proper Noun, feminine singular
Root: נִינְוֵה  
Sense: capital of the ancient kingdom of Assyria; located on the east bank of the Tigris river, 550 miles (880 km) from its mouth and 250 miles (400 km) north of Babylon.
כִּדְבַ֣ר  according  to  the  word 
Parse: Preposition-k, Noun, masculine singular construct
Root: דָּבָר  
Sense: speech, word, speaking, thing.
יְהוָ֑ה  of  Yahweh 
Parse: Proper Noun, masculine singular
Root: יהוה 
Sense: the proper name of the one true God.
וְנִֽינְוֵ֗ה  Now  Nineveh 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Proper Noun, feminine singular
Root: נִינְוֵה  
Sense: capital of the ancient kingdom of Assyria; located on the east bank of the Tigris river, 550 miles (880 km) from its mouth and 250 miles (400 km) north of Babylon.
עִיר־  city 
Parse: Noun, feminine singular construct
Root: עִיר 
Sense: excitement, anguish.
גְּדוֹלָה֙  great 
Parse: Adjective, feminine singular
Root: גָּבֹול 
Sense: great.
לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים  an  exceedingly 
Parse: Preposition-l, Noun, masculine plural
Root: אֱלֹהִים  
Sense: (plural).
מַהֲלַ֖ךְ  a  journey  [in  extent  of] 
Parse: Noun, masculine singular construct
Root: מַהֲלָךְ  
Sense: walk, journey, going, place to walk.
שְׁלֹ֥שֶׁת  three 
Parse: Number, masculine singular construct
Root: מִשְׁלֹשׁ 
Sense: three, triad.
יָמִֽים  days 
Parse: Noun, masculine plural
Root: יׄום 
Sense: day, time, year.