By New Christian Bible Study Staff
In the third chapter of the Book of Jonah, Jonah finally reaches Nineveh, and starts preaching repentance and reformation to the people there. And... they listen! Even the King of Assyria listens!
The inner meaning of the story is pretty close to the surface here, and there's important symbolism. Swedenborg summarizes the chapter's meaning in this one sentence:
"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." (The Inner Meaning of the Prophets and Psalms 213)
Rev. George McCurdy, in his exegesis of this chapter, offers this summary:
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 is a call for spiritual renewal. It is a call for repentance. 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 "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.
Here's a link to an interesting (audio) sermon on this chapter, by Rev. Todd Beiswenger.
Rev. Martin Pennington suggests two explanatory passages from Swedenborg's theological writings:
"Forty days means a period of temptation combats or severe change." (Arcana Coelestia 730)
"A fast represents those who are in a state of unhappiness when good is no longer joined to the truths." (Arcana Coelestia 9182)
Other references of interest listed by Rev. McCurdy include:
"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) (Arcana Coelestia 9437)
"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. (Apocalypse Revealed 492)
"…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." (Arcana Coelestia 4779)
"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. (Apocalypse Revealed 166)
"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. (Arcana Coelestia 7520)
"…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. (Arcana Coelestia 9723)
"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. (Apocalypse Revealed 337)
"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)." (Arcana Coelestia 7523)
"… 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…" (Apocalypse Revealed 567)
"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." (Arcana Coelestia 623)
"…the ‘wrath of anger’ is attributed to Jehovah, and consequently ‘repentance.’" (Arcana Coelestia 588)
"…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." (Teachings Regarding the Sacred Scripture 51)
"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." (Arcana Coelestia 10441[2-4])
Finally, here's a link to Rev. McCurdy's study guide for the Book of Jonah, which is available for free as a .pdf, for your use.
9182. 'When a man persuades a virgin who is not betrothed' means good that has not been joined to truth. This is clear from the meaning of 'persuading', when said in reference to a man and a virgin, as his enticing her to be joined to him; from the meaning of 'a man' as truth, dealt with in 3134, 7716, 9007; from the meaning of 'a virgin' as the Church in respect of good, dealt with in 3081, 4638, thus the good which the Church is; and from the meaning of 'being betrothed' as being joined to. Something brief must be stated here about the law regarding a wrongful joining together, which is the subject at present - about where the cause and origin of that law lie. The cause of all the laws laid down for the children of Israel lies in heaven; and the laws of order there are the origin from which they spring. The laws of order in heaven all spring from Divine Truth and Goodness which emanate from the Lord, and therefore are laws concerning the good of love and the truth of faith. Goodness and truth joined together in heaven is called the heavenly marriage; and this marriage is represented in marriages on earth. It is also meant in the Word by marriages. From this one can see what is implied by wrongful joinings together, and also by cases of whoredom or adultery. The present two verses deal with a wrongful joining together which later on is either made rightful or else dissolved. A wrongful joining together which later on is made rightful is the subject in the present verse, and a wrongful joining together which later on is dissolved is the subject in the next.
 A wrongful joining together is one that takes place not as a result of a desire for marriage, but as a result of some other desire, such as an interest in good looks, monetary gain, or personal status, or else it is one that takes place as a result of sexual lust. Any such joining together is wrongful initially; it is wrongful because they are external attractions that draw the two people together and not at the same time internal ones. Nevertheless those external attractions may subsequently serve as the means towards a rightful joining together, which takes place when the two people are of one mind. They may also be the means of preventing a subsequent joining together from taking place if the two people are not of one mind. This is a matter commonly known in the world.
 A rightful joining together, which is a joining of minds, takes place when similar goodness and similar truth exist with both persons; for goodness and truth constitute a person's life, goodness and truth on the level of private and public behaviour constituting the life of the external man, and goodness and truth on a spiritual level constituting the life of the internal man. It should be recognized that a person's life springs from no other source than goodness and truth; for everything the person loves is called good, and everything the person believes is called truth. Or what amounts to the same thing, everything the person wills is called good, and everything the person understands is called truth. From this it is evident that a rightful joining together takes place when truth exists with one person in a marriage and the good which complements that truth exists in the other person. For when this is their relationship the heavenly marriage, which is a marriage of goodness and truth, is represented in the two of them. So it is that conjugial love descends from that marriage, see 2727-2759, 2803, 3132, 4434, 4835.
 From all this, mentioned by way of introduction, anyone may recognize the nature of the joinings together dealt with in the present verse and the one following. Betrothal before marriage has been a custom since ancient times; it represented a first joining together, which is that of the internal man without the external. The actual marriage following it represented a second joining together, which is that of the internal man together with the external. For when a person is being regenerated by forms of the good and the truths of faith, the internal man is regenerated first and the external man afterwards, since the external man is regenerated from the internal, 3286, 3321, 3493, 3882, 8746.
 This shows what is meant in the Word by 'betrothal' and 'being betrothed', and also what is meant by 'bridegroom' and 'bride'. It shows that 'betrothal' means the joining together of truth and good in the internal man, and that where the Lord and the Church are the subject 'bridegroom' means good and 'bride' truth, as in the following places: In Jeremiah,
I have remembered for you the mercy of your youth, the love of your betrothals, when you went out after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Jeremiah 2:2.
This refers to the Ancient Church and its establishment by the Lord. 'The love of betrothals' is the affection belonging to spiritual life that is received from the truths of faith and the good of love. A state of desire, when they were still without knowledge of those truths and lacked that good, is meant by 'going out after Me in the wilderness' and 'in a land not sown'.
 In Hosea,
I will make for them a covenant on that day with the wild animals of the field, and with the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the earth. And I will abolish 1 the bow, and the sword, and war from the land. And I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in judgement, and in mercy and in compassion. 2 Hosea 2:18-19.
This refers to the establishment of a new Church. 'Making a covenant with the wild animals of the field, with the birds, and with the creeping things of the earth' means a joining together which the Lord accomplishes by means of the goodness and truth, internal and external, present with a person.
'A covenant' is a joining together, 665, 666, 1023, 1038, 1864, 1996, 2003, 2021, 6804, 8767, 8778. 'The wild animals of the field' are the life derived from good, 841, 908. 'The birds' are the life of truth, 40, 745, 776, 991, 3219, 5149, 7441. 'The creeping things of the earth' are the forms of good and the truths among the sensory perceptions of the external man, 746, 909.
'Abolishing the bow, the sword, and war' means destroying the teachings and powers of falsity.
'The bow' is teachings that present falsity, 2686, 2709.
'The sword' is falsity engaged in conflict against truth, 2799, 4499, 6353,
'War' is the conflict itself, or spiritual conflict, 1664, 2686, 8273.
'Abolishing' these means destroying them.
(References: Arcana Coelestia 665-666)
 'Betrothing in righteousness and in judgement' means being joined to the Lord in goodness and truth - 'betrothing' is joining to oneself, and 'righteousness' has reference to good, 'judgement' to truth, 2235. 'Betrothing in mercy and in compassion' means doing so out of love towards those governed by good, and in love towards those guided by truths - the Lord's 'mercy' has reference to His love towards those who lack good but nevertheless desire it, and His 'compassion' to His love towards those who have no knowledge of truth but nevertheless desire it. From all this it is evident that 'betrothal' means the joining together by the Lord of goodness and truth present with a person. Anyone can see that matters such as these are meant in those verses in Hosea, for when their contents are looked at in nothing brighter than natural light it is evident that Jehovah does not make a covenant with the wild animals of the field, the birds, and the creeping things of the earth, but with those possessing the goodness and truth of faith, thus with the goodness and truth present with a person, and therefore that such matters lie within this prophetic utterance.
 In Malachi,
Judah has acted faithlessly, for he has profaned the holiness of Jehovah, for he loved and betrothed to himself the daughter of a foreign god. Malachi 2:11.
'Betrothing the daughter of a foreign god' means being joined to the evil of falsity, 'a foreign god' being falsity, 4402 (end), 4544, 7873.
 As regards the meaning of 'bridegroom' as good, where the Lord and the Church are the subject, and of 'bride' as truth, this may be seen in Isaiah,
Jehovah has clothed me with the garments of salvation, with the robe of righteousness has He covered me, as a bridegroom puts on his priestly tiara, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 3 Isaiah 61:10.
I saw the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Revelation 21:1-2.
In the same book,
The angel said, Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife. Revelation 21:9; 22:17.
Here 'bride' stands for the Church.
(References: Revelation 21:2)
 In Matthew,
Jesus said to John's disciples, Can the sons of the wedding mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. Matthew 9:15; Luke 5:34-35.
The expression 'the sons of the wedding' refers to those who adhere to the truths of the Church and receive good, good which comes from the Lord being 'the bridegroom'. 'The sons of the wedding do not mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them' implies that they are in a state of bliss and happiness, and so are with the Lord, when they adhere to the truths joined to their good. 'They will fast when the bridegroom is taken away from them' implies that they are in a state of unhappiness when good is no longer joined to the truths. The latter state is the final state of the Church, whereas the former is the first state.
 Something similar is meant in Matthew 25:1-12 by the bridegroom, whom the ten virgins went out to meet. For the virgins who had oil in their lamps are people who have good within their truths; but the virgins who did not have oil in their lamps are people who do not have good within their truths, see 4638, 'oil' being the good of love, 886, 3722, 4582.
(References: Arcana Coelestia 3728)
 In John,
John said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. John 3:28-29.
'The bride' stands for the truth that composes the Church's faith, and 'the bridegroom' for the good that composes the Church's love, both of which come from the Lord, and so stand for a member of the Church with whom good has been joined to truths. 'The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears' stands for faith consisting of truth, and 'who rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice' stands for an affection for the truth composing faith. All this also shows what is meant in the internal sense by the joy and voice of the bridegroom and the bride in Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11; Revelation 18:23, namely heaven and the happiness that result from the joining together of goodness and truth present with man and angel.
(References: Exodus 22:16)