Romans 10:6-15; Matthew 12:39-41; Luke 11:29-32
Jonah, the reluctant soul winner, is spoken of favorably in 2 Kings 14:25 as the prophet who predicted Israel’s growth and prosperity during the reign of Jeroboam II. However, it is this same Jonah who is the disobedient and reluctant spokesman that the Lord sent to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to prophesy against it (Jonah 1-4).
The Thing Closest to God’s Heart
Nineveh was the ancient capital city of the Assyrian Empire founded by Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10). The Bible describes it as a “great city” (Jonah 1:2; 3:2-3; 4:11). At the time of Jonah, the city was surrounded by a circuit wall almost eight miles long. As the Book of Jonah reports (3:4), it would have required a “three-day’s journey” to go around the city, and a “day’s journey” would have been needed to reach the center of the city. Its population has been estimated to be a million plus souls.
God’s call to Jonah (1:2; 3:1-2) is proof that He is “not willing that any should perish” (2 Pet. 3:9), and that He “will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4) … even the Assyrians. The prophet was to call Nineveh to repentance, warning the nation of its approaching doom unless it turned to God.
Though the people are described as wicked (1:2), they are still the object of God’s compassion. The Lord God has said,
“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die” (Ezek. 33:11).
Most especially God is concerned about the salvation of at least one-hundred and twenty-thousand children who know nothing about the Lord – “persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand” – Jonah 4:11). Oh, the great love of God for Hell-bound, wicked sinners, children and even animals (“much cattle”). All are important to God! People need the Lord! Sinners both then and now need to be saved from the wrath of God!
“How then shall they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of Whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things” (Rom. 10:14-15)!
Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:10)
The Book of Jonah is about missions and evangelism and neither the story of Jonah or the work of getting sinners saved can be explained independant of God or miracles.
The “sign” given to the Ninevites was the “miracle” of Jonah’s resurrection from his death in the belly of the whale to life on dry land (2:10). The “sign” given to the Jerusalem Generation was the resurrection of Christ from His death on the Cross and descent into the “heart of the earth” (Ps. 63:9; Eph. 4:9) to life after three days (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Before we are too harsh in our criticism of Jonah, let’s remember that he has good reason to hate the Assyrians. These Gentiles were blood-thirsty, merciless, and savage-pagan enemies of the Israelites. Furthurmore, God had appointed Assyria to be a “rod” of judgment against Israel because of their sin and idolatry (Isa. 10:5-11).
However, there are many lessons to be learned in this short narrative from the life and inspired pen of Jonah. For example:
1. It is never too late nor is there any wrong place to pray.
… “out of the fish’s belly” (2:1)
… “out of the belly of Sheol” (2:2)
- There is no peace or happiness for the disobedient servant of God.
… “I cried by reason of my afliction” (2:2).
- 3. God’s love is universal for all people—Gentiles as well as His chosen People, the Israelites.
- 4. The God of compassion had the right to love and forgive the pagan Assyrians or any other people who turned to Him in obedience and faith.
ADDED NOTES ON ASSYRIA
The favorite pursuits of the Assyrian kings were war and hunting. Archaeologists have discovered that the Assyrian Army was ruthless and effective. Its cruelty included burning cities, burning children, impaling victims on stakes, beheading, and chopping off hands. But, like Babylon, because of the cruelty and paganism of the Assyrians, the Hebrew people harbored deep-seated hostility against this nation. This attitude is revealed clearly in the Book of Jonah. After he finally went to Nineveh, the prophet was disappointed with God because He spared the city.
Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary
Copyright (C) 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers