“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)
We left off last week discussing Nineveh, the great capital city of Assyria, and how God was going to turn His back on her, destroying her people and many animals, because of the peoples sinfulness. God sent Jonah to warn her. After running away from God the first time, Jonah reluctantly went and warned the people. The king and his people turned from their evil ways, and we were noticing the sequence of the order of events as they did so: Jonah 3V6-10 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:
- When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth [an interesting point that the king includes animals in their fast as well as the wearing of sackcloth (wearing sackcloth was a traditional sign of repentance and/or mourning)]
Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
The book of Jonah shows us that God’s loving concern is for all creation; it shows us His great patience and His willingness to accept our attempts to reconcile with Him when we truly turn, willing to stop our waywardness and look to God once again for what is good and right instead of choosing our own way – which generally leads to destructive, self-centered, unloving behavior and at its worst, violence, war, cruelty, power struggles of all kinds – worshiping ourselves and all kinds of other things except God. Nineveh, as the great menace to Israel, represents the Gentiles (God loves all peoples). Jonah represents Israel’s jealousy of her favored relationship with God, and her unwillingness to share the Lord’s compassion with the nations (Israel was God’s chosen nation and bloodline to Jesus; Israel was chosen to bring the Living God to all other nations). And the king of Nineveh shows us that the city had concern for their domestic animals.
Inclusion of the domestic animals was unusual and expresses the urgency with which the Ninevites sought mercy. The story of Jonah is also seen as a foreshadowing of Christs death and resurrection. It could be correlated that this unusual inclusion of animals with the people of Nineveh’s repentance holds particular significance foreshadowing all that Jesus died for in the restoration of the created order. The Ninevites show us that “all flesh” is involved in mankind’s repentance. The created order was turned on it’s head at the fall of mankind and instead of self sacrificial serving of all creation, we act in accordance with Satan’s nature and wield dominance in a way that was never intended by God. All creation was affected by our sin (sin is anything that separates us from being in perfect harmony with the God Head). Though animals are innocent of original sin, their nature has been affected by our choice. Taking responsibility of our sin before God in the way the Ninevites did is only fitting given all the harm we have done to the Lord’s creation.
The inclusion also expresses some other important points about how our lives with animals should intersect:
- We already know animals are included in the covenant between us and God (Gen 9:8-11). The Ninevites show us their animals are an important part of their lives by including them in their affairs before God. Yaweh tells us they are of special concern to Him (Jonah 4:11), and we are to demonstrate a special concern for them, too (Jonah 3:4-10); animals are an important part of the creation story, we are to consider them, as well, while aligning our affairs with God’s will, in understanding how to apply His word, and in teaching others about the gospel story; our evil and violent affairs affect them, and should be a part of what is taken into consideration when we turn in repentance.
At the time that Jesus was with us on earth, He spoke of Jonah:
- Luke 11:29-32: “As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 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.”
Are we going to remain like stubborn Israel at the time of Jonah, unwilling to share God’s love, mercy, and compassion through us to the rest of Creation (be merciful as your Father is also merciful. Luke 6:36)? Or will we be like the Israelites of Jesus’ day, who crucified Him because He was not what they expected? Will we be like the Ninevites to whom Jonah was speaking, hear the Lord and turn from our evil ways? Will church leaders rise up and lead their flocks “to be merciful,” including animals as part of the gospel message? Will they begin teaching the flock about the systemic evil that has the animal kingdom embedded in what appears to be an eternal Treblinka – that has much of the earth held hostage to consumerism? Will leaders take responsibility for community repentance? Or, are we like the people of Jesus’ day, looking for a warrior God, favored status, and for Him to abolish the evil that exists today instead of fighting evil by refraining from it, standing up to it along with Him – indeed sacrificing our fleshly desires that cause us to exploit the animal kingdom?
Jesus died and rose again for all of creation out of sacrificial love, mercy and compassion, to restore the created order to Himself and to give us the power to act in partnership with Him to help restore the created order until He returns. We crucify our Lord and Saviour all over again when we do not heed His call.
Thank you for reading – visit again! Hope everyone had a Blessed Easter. Father, we seal this message with a prayer that each and everyone reading “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy (set apart) people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph 3:18) for ALL of us, including His creation – amen! ~ Kathy