“You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labour and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals? (Jonah 4:10, 11)
As I read the book of Jonah for the first time in awhile, I was struck by a few things. First, It matters not whether we believe that this story is a literal account, allegorical, or having the nature of a parable. Jonah found himself in the “belly of a great fish.” But before he found himself there, he was on a ship, being tossed about by the “sea.” In biblical text, the “seas” are used as a reference for forces of evil that threaten the world (see Greg Boyd’s sermon, and Revelation 21:1 as an example). So it stands to reason that because Jonah was running from God, being in the “belly of a great fish” could all be an allegory for what Jonah endured because he ran from God. Jonah could not understand why God would grant mercy to such wicked and violent people; he despised and feared the Assyrians; they might deride him, perhaps kill him. So Jonah headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh (Nineveh was the capital of Assyria).
Second, the great city of Nineveh (called so for it’s size and affluence) reminds me of many churches of today. Many are affluent, large; perhaps some have grown complacent, self-sufficient, even self-centered and ineffective at creating “disciples of all men.” Many perhaps align themselves with the culture, like the citizens of Nineveh, caught up in the cultures sinfulness.
Third, the people of Nineveh heard the Lord and repented of their evil ways; today, many are not hearing the entire message of the Lord in regards to all He died for. He died to “redeem all things to Himself” (Col 1:20) – the entire created order, which was governed by complete Shalom in the beginning before the fall. We are to partner with God, to create Shalom as best we can in our fallen state, relying on Jesus’ direction and power to do so (until He comes the second time to complete our redemption…and there will be no more “sea.” Rev 21:1). We are to be, in the words of my partner blogger, Ros Smith, “…preaching Him as Lord of the WHOLE creation. We’re not repenting of the ruthless greed, which has caused so much harm to both humans and animals. We have conformed to the standards of ‘the world’. Christians should recognise the needs of God’s creation and practise a godly stewardship. But most are conforming to harsh, secular standards as far as animals are concerned… . Many Christians seem indifferent to legal animal abuse and any reports issued by the churches tend to be human-centered.”
Fourth, God was concerned about all people (pg. 4) – and God’s concern was also for the animals in that great city. The Agape love that Christ calls His people to display was intended to include ALL creation. The job we were given in the Garden before the fall, was to care for the earth and animal kingdom in His Image, has been throughout history, and still is our job today (Gen 2:15); and God mourns bitterly over the destruction of His creation (Jer 9:10; 12:4; Isa 5:8; Rev 11:18).
Fifth, the decision by the king and his people shows us how God is willing to work with us at our level. God accepted the Ninevites repentance, even though part of the readiness was most likely due to to their historical situation, not entirely their fear or respect for the living God:
- Assyrian power was at a low point during the reign of Assur-dan III (773-756 B.C.). “Assyria had suffered military reverses, diplomatic setback, famine and domestic uprisings. An eclipse had taken place on June 15, 763 B.C., which could have been regarded as a terrible omen. With all of this going on, it is not surprising that the Ninevites would have been especially jittery, ready to pay attention to a foreign prophet who suddenly appears in their city.” (Archaeological Study Bible, pg 1469)
- Israel at this time was enjoying relief from foreign pressures (for more on the relationship between Israel and Assyria, go here) – in the words of the Zondervan NASB Study Bible, pg 1292 – “relief that had come in accordance with encouraging words from Elisha and Jonah – she felt jealously complacent about her favored status with God (Amos 6:1). She focused her religion on expectations of the ‘day of the Lord’ (Amos 5:18-20), when God’s darkness would engulf the other nations, leaving Israel to bask in His light. It was in such a time that the Lord sent Amos and Hosea to announce to His people Israel that He would ‘spare them no longer’ (Amos 7:8: 8:2) but would send them into exile ‘beyond Damascus’ (Amos 5:27)…to Assyria (Hos 9:3; 10:6; 11:5). During this time the Lord also sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn it of the imminent danger of divine judgment.”
God was going to destroy Nineveh because “it’s wickedness has come up before me,” says God to Jonah in 1:1. According to the prophet Nahum, Nineveh’s sins included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution and witchcraft, and commercial exploitation (Nah 1:11; 2:12-13; 3:1,4,16,19 – does any of this sound familiar to our day in time?). Jonah tells us that God changed His mind about turning His back on Nineveh, which in doing so, would have allowed the forces of darkness to destroy her, her many people and her many animals. The reason? Because the leader of that great city turned from his evil ways, him and the people he governed (no matter what outside pressures were part of the decision, God had mercy on them in their turning and relented). This says a lot about God’s way – note in Jonah 3V6-10 the sequence of the order of events: God accepts the Ninevites repentance once their leader sits in the dust and declares they “each give up their evil ways” – depicting that repentance is a community affair as well as an individual one.
We will continue the story in Part Two. Stay tuned!
Thank you for reading! Hope you had a blessed Easter! ~Kathy