By Robin Schumacher
The Story of Nineveh
The account of the city of Nineveh as recorded in the books of Jonah and Nahum stands as a testimony to the patience and forgiveness of God, as well as His justice. The story of Jonah is a familiar one – Jonah is sent by God to the people of Nineveh to command them to repent of their sin before God or they will face certain judgment. Instead of obeying God, Jonah boards a ship heading in the complete opposite direction of Nineveh. However, God brings about a storm that results in Jonah being thrown overboard and uncomfortably transported to Nineveh via a great fish.
When one understands the background and people of Nineveh, it becomes somewhat understandable why Jonah would not want to visit that city and assist in them escaping God’s judgment. The city of Nineveh, the ancient capital of Assyria, was populated by the Assyrians who were an incredibly barbaric people. When archaeologists uncovered Nineveh, the TV documentaries that showcased the findings had to be filtered because the evidence of the people’s brutality was so great. As an example, the Assyrians used to torture and kill their victims by slowly impaling and sliding them down sharp poles. They would also fillet people and make handbags from their skins. In a stone pillar found at the site of Nineveh, one Assyrian ruler boasted of “nobles I flayed” and went on to say “Three thousand captives I burned with fire. I left not one hostage alive. I cut off the hands and feet of some. I cut off the noses, ears and fingers of others. The eyes of numerous soldiers I put out. Maidens I burned as a holocaust”. Through the examples obtained via archaeology, it is easy to compile a fairly good portrayal of the type of people that inhabited the city, which yields a solid understanding of why God would send His prophet to them preaching repentance and judgment.
And yet, the book of Jonah is a demonstration of God’s grace and forgiveness even to such a brutal people. Through the preaching of Jonah, the people repented of their sins and were forgiven by God. When Jonah objected to God showing kindness and grace to the people, God said to him: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:11). Despite their great wickedness, God spared them.
Sadly, though, Nineveh reverted back to their ways years later, and this time, no offer of repentance was extended. Instead, the book of Nahum (and Zephaniah) records a simple declaration of judgment that came. God brought the Babylonians and Medes to destroy the city in 612 B.C. Archaeologist David Stronach of the University of California at Berkeley speaks to the desolation that scientists found when they uncovered Nineveh: “I've never seen anything like this mass of tangled bodies with weapons in the midst of them. The desperation of the defense is now manifest.”
The account of Nineveh stands as an excellent example of how God deals with sin: He is slow to anger and always warns of the consequences that come from living wickedly before Him. And, although He is quick to forgive, being a God of justice and righteousness, He will most certainly bring judgment against those who continually ignore Him and continue down a path of sinful living.
A Discernable Pattern
From the above examples, we see a distinct pattern emerging from the judgments brought by God upon various peoples:
1. God declares an annihilation form of judgment to stamp out a cancer
2. The judgments are for public recognition of extreme sin
3. Judgment is preceded by warning and/or long periods of exposure to the truth and time to repent
4. Any and all ‘innocent’ adults are given a way of escape with their families; sometimes all given a way to avoid judgment via repentance or leaving a particular region. It should also be noted that expulsion from a land was the most common judgment, not extermination. This pattern goes all the way back to the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 3:24)
5. Someone is almost always saved (redeemed) from the evil culture
6. The judgment of God falls
This outline is found again and again in the Old Testament. Far from being innocent, the objects of God’s judgments were involved in gross sin and committed acts of great barbarism such as ritualistically burning their own children to death as offerings to their false gods. Amazingly, instead of immediately destroying the peoples involved in such things, the actual opposite is found: the Scripture conveys that God had incredible patience and waited until the full measure of their deeds were completed. For example, while speaking to Abraham about the future exodus of Israel from Egypt, God says the following about the Amorite people: "Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete” (Gen 15:15).
One has to ask if mankind today would be as long-suffering with such horrible deeds? Were such acts as those chronicled in the Old Testament catapulted into the twenty-first century and globally broadcast via CNN, there would no doubt be a universal outcry with military action being prescribed if such actions were not immediately halted. Why, then, do God’s critics feel justified in labeling the Creator as morally unjust even when God waited in some cases for centuries to punish the peoples involved?
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