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Why Nineveh? Jonah Would Love to Know Too!

25 Jul

Photo by diannehope on Morgue File.

Here we are with installment three of our Geographical-Theology treatment. I actually never meant for there to be any sequels to the first post, but God has led me onward and upward.

Our next stop, much to the chagrin and protest of Jonah, is a place near and dear to the Assyrians (but not many others, Jonah chief amongst them!), a place called Nineveh. Nineveh was, in Jonah’s day, the capital city of the mighty Assyrian Empire.

Assyria was the world-power at that time. The Assyrians were known for their brutality in war. They were (as most were in that day and time) a warrior culture. This is not to say they were all a bunch of Neanderthals or meat-heads; but, they were known for their prowess in battle and war—and they were more than willing, and capable, of living up to that well-fought, much-earned distinction.

Jonah was certainly not alone in his extreme dislike for the Assyrians. There would not have been many eyes filled with tears the day the Assyrians bit the proverbial dust. Many hated them. Probably because they had warred against, defeated and conquered almost everyone on the map. People hated them because they feared them. Some hated them because they were jealous of their success and victories. Some hated them for their brutality and methods of warfare and exile.

Like many kingdoms of that day, the Assyrians not only set out to fight against you and defeat you on the field of battle. Having done so, they wanted to exile your inhabitants. They wanted to conquer the land in more than just military victory. They wanted to truly own you. They wanted the victory to be complete and total.

In fact, the Bible gives to us the two-pronged exilic strategy of the Assyrians. We find this two-part approach to the exiling of a foreign conquered nation in 2 Kings 17.

The first prong of the strategy (after the defeat of the other nation of course) was to remove key inhabitants from their native land and redistribute them throughout the Assyrian Empire.

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. (2 Ks. 17.6)

The second prong of the strategy was to repopulate the conquered, recently vacated nation with peoples from other parts of the Assyrian Empire.

And the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel. And they took possession of Samaria and lived in its cities. (2 Ks. 17.24)

So they did to Israel. All this occurred around 722/21 BC. The exact dating of Jonah is debated among Evangelical scholars (and other as well). Some place the prophet and his book in the early to mid 8th century (i.e. 700s BC). Others place it later, anywhere up to the 3rd century BC.

Whichever date one chooses (or one in between), what is clear from the opening chapter of Jonah is two pivotal points: 1. God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach judgment and repentance to them; and 2. Jonah rebelled against said call of God and ran as far and fast away from Nineveh as he possibly could!

Nineveh, quite obviously, was not a destination Jonah had in mind. It was a place he had no desire to visit. If God had called him to prophesy in Jerusalem? Okay. In Jericho? No problem. In Samaria? Sure thing.

But Nineveh? Oh, you must be kidding me, right?! Absooooluuuuutely not!

If they had had such things in his day, Jonah could have sang, I’m leaving on a jet plane!

Jonah wanted no part of Nineveh. He wanted nothing to do with this divine assignment. It is quite unusual in Scripture to see a prophet of YHWH blatantly disobey a direct call (order) from YHWH. But, Jonah does just that.

Why?

Jonah fears that if he makes the trek to Nineveh, which won’t be quick or easy, and he preaches the coming righteous judgment of God; those contrarians, better known as Assyrians, will do two things, which Jonah just cannot even bear to consider: 1. They will actually listen to Jonah’s preaching and the word of YHWH and 2. God forbid, those blasted, no good Assyrians will actually repent, probably, if for no better reason, than simply to spite Jonah!

So, Jonah, in his hatred toward the Assyrians, his bigotry and prejudice against them, does what only seems plausible to his defiant and disobedient heart: he runs like the devil to get out of Dodge!

Bigotry blinds even prophets to the mercy and love of God. Prejudice places the right and responsibility of judgment on the one who is prejudiced. It makes him/her the judge, jury and executioner. But, the Bible, oddly enough, says something quite differently. There is something in there that says, Vengeance is mine, says the LORD.

Jonah wanted the judgment of God to fall on the Assyrians. After all, had the prophets not been preaching long and hard against Israel, God’s own chosen people, that if they did not repent God will bring judgment. And now God is going to afford the wicked Assyrians the same mercy?

Jonah would have loved to have been commissioned and called to go to Nineveh to preach their impending, unavoidable doom . . . sans the possibility of repentance of course!

And, I suppose Jonah was truly a prophet after all, because his greatest fear came true: they heard the message of YHWH and they repented! And Jonah sulked!

(To read more about my thoughts on Jonah see: Jonah 1Jonah 2Jonah 3.)

So what does Nineveh teach us in our geographical-theology? It seems to me rather obvious, but I’ll list a few things briefly.

Nineveh and Geographical-Theology:

  1. God’s sovereignty and mercy extends beyond the borders of Israel (or, to contextualize it: beyond our country or church) to those in a foreign land. Even to those who are guilty of all sorts of crimes and sins. God is not geographically bound (henotheism is a false concept, when it comes to the true God).
  2. God uses Jonah and Nineveh to illustrate the sin of bigotry and prejudice. That from these pride and disobedience arise in the heart. So much so that it leads the prophet of YHWH to commit treason and sedition against his Lord. These are dangerous things. They are absolutely antithetical to the nature and message of God.
  3. God has a way of highlighting our shortcomings and weaknesses. Of all the prophets he could have called to go to Nineveh, why did he choose Jonah?
  4. God’s grace can reach and save even the most pagan of people.
  5. If we are not careful, much like ancient Israel and Judah, we can grow apathetic to God’s voice and word. We can take many things for granted. We can rest in a false hope and a false security. We must have our hearts tender to God’s word. And always remember, he is God, he is Lord and we are called to honor and serve him.
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