As I was reading through some minor prophets the other day, I spent some time thinking about the book of Nahum. I’m sure I am not the only one that if asked what the book of Nahum was about, would be unable to answer the question to any capacity up until my study the other night. Nahum is a fairly short book detailing Gods anger toward Nineveh and a prophecy given to Nahum of their coming judgment and ultimate destruction.
Most likely we all know about Nineveh from the book of Jonah, but it wasn’t until the other night that I learned something new about Nineveh that changed my entire perception of Jonah. We know from Jonah 3:3 that Nineveh was a very large city and took 3 days to walk through but I have come to learn that Nineveh was also the capital of Assyria. Now, you might be thinking, “that’s great, why do I care about Assyria?”
Assyria was responsible for the captivity and dispersion of the northern kingdom of Israel, home to 10 out of the 12 tribes of Israel. Assyria was known for taking over cities swiftly and with force, many times torturing and mutilating the leaders of the subdued city before beheading them. They were the dominant world power at the time Jonah preached to the city of Nineveh.
As I began to process all of this, I finally started to understand the prophet Jonah. I have heard many a sermon based out of Jonah where Jonah is depicted is silly, foolish, and petty. And though there may be some truth to it, I’ve never taken the time to try to identify with how Jonah was feeling at the time that God chose to have compassion on Nineveh.
Imagine for a moment, that China invaded America and took control of everything west of the Mississippi River and was responsible for the death and torture of millions of your fellow Americans. God then calls you out of the remaining portion of America and tells you to go to Beijing and tell the people there to repent. Begrudgingly, you go and they repent and God turns away His wrath from the nation that is responsible for the swallowing up of 60-70% of yours. Anyone else beginning to understand why Jonah felt the way he did?
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not trying to justify Jonah’s anger or his bitterness toward God. I am just trying to pull out the depth of emotion in this very short book that I think gives much more weight and clarity to what was really going on.
The first thing that struck me was the level of Gods compassion and eagerness to turn away His wrath. This was not just a small city that stood on its own. This wasn’t even a massive city that stood on its own. This was the main hub of the only world superpower of its time but because of the repentance of Nineveh, God chose to delay His judgment on the nation of Assyria. We learn in Nahum that their repentance didn’t last long and that judgment still came to Nineveh. So why bother sending Jonah in the first place and not just execute judgment? In Jonah 4:11, God says, “and should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left-and also many animals?” Yes, He cares about the animals too but that’s not the focus. Even though Nineveh reverted back to its wickedness and idolatry after a couple generations, we don’t know how many of those 120,000 of that first generation actually kept the faith. That’s what God was after, the people who didn’t know any better. We live in a world today full of people who don’t know any better except to live wickedly just like they have been taught to do by the generations before them and so on. Do we have the same compassion toward them as God had toward the Ninevites?
The second thing that struck me was something that I had to take some time to introspect and ponder. I believe that Jonah felt personally offended by the wickedness of Assyria and their responsibility for the captivity and dispersion of his own people and that is why he reacted so emotionally to Gods compassion toward the Ninevites. The Lord then asked me a question, “what do YOU do when someone who has hurt you, repents and finds me?” This could be anyone from an ex best friend, to someone who always rubbed you the wrong way, or even more fitting, someone who hurt someone you love? Do we meet their repentance with the same anger and skepticism Jonah did the Ninevites? Do we get frustrated when we start to see God blessing their life? Do we question the authenticity of their salvation because we don’t think they will keep the faith for long? Are we actually angry with God for accepting them? Shame on us for not rejoicing with them and offering prayer or encouragement if/when appropriate.
As we’ve seen, through a little bit of digging, there is much more to the story of Jonah than what is written. I find cultural context to be one of the best tools we can use to help us properly understand and interpret scripture. In closing, I want to ask the question, does your heart look more like Jonah’s or more like God’s? As you reflect, you may be shocked to realize just how much you can identify with Jonah. I know I did.
Please feel free to comment any thoughts, questions, disagreements, or concerns. I love to dialogue. I pray you are blessed and brought into a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father through this study. Shalom.