Jonah: key man in the salvation of Nineveh

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Jonah 1:1-2 “The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amitai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  Extra Reading: Jonah 1:1-17.

Jonah is mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25. He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, the king of Israel from 793-753 B.C.  He may have been a member of the company of prophets mentioned in connection with Elisha’s ministry (2 Kings 2:3). God told Jonah to preach in Nineveh, the most important city in Assyria, the rising world power of Jonah’s day. Within 50 years, Nineveh would become the capital of the vast Assyrian empire. Jonah doesn’t say much about Nineveh’s wickedness, but the prophet Nahum gives us more insight. Nahum says that Nineveh was guilty of (1) evil plots against God (Nahum 1:9), (2) exploitation of the helpless (Nahum 2:12), (3) cruelty in war (Nahum 2:12, 13), (4) idolatry, prostitution, and witchcraft (Nahum 3:4). God told Jonah to go to Nineveh about 650 km northeast of Israel, to warn of judgment and to declare that the people could receive mercy and forgiveness if they repented. From verse we learn that Nineveh was a powerful and wicked city. Jonah had grown up hating the Assyrians and fearing their atrocities. His hatred was so strong that he didn’t want them to receive God’s mercy. Jonah was actually afraid the people would repent (4:2,3). Jonah’s attitude is representative of Israel’s reluctance to share God’s love and mercy with others, even though this was their God-given mission (Genesis 12:3). They, like Jonah, did not want non-Jews (Gentiles) to obtain God’s favour. Jonah knew that God had a specific job for him, but he didn’t want to do it. Tarshish was the best option for him as he thought. Tarshish was in the far west.

When God gives us directions through His Word, sometimes we run in fear or in stubbornness, claiming that God is asking too much. It may have been fear, or anger at the wideness of God’s mercy, that made Jonah run. But running got him into worse trouble. In the end, Jonah understood that it is best to do what God asks in the first place. But by then he had paid a costly price for running. It is far better to obey from the start. We all know that sin run rampant in our society-daily headlines and overflowing prisons of our country bear dramatic witness to that fact. With child abuse, pornography, serial killings, threats of terrorism, anarchy, and ruthless dictatorships, the world seems to be filled to overflowing with violence, hatred, and corruption in high places. Reading, hearing, and perhaps even experiencing these tragedies, we begin to understand the necessity of God’s judgment. We may even find ourselves wishing for vengeance by any means upon the violent perpetrators. Jonah was a vessel prepared by God to convey a special message of salvation to the Ninevites, but he ran away from the assignment and God had to stop him by throwing him into the belly of a great fish. Jonah’s story is a profound illustration of God’s mercy and grace. No one deserved God’s favour less than the people of Nineveh, Assyria’s capital. Jonah knew that God would forgive and bless them if they would turn from their sin and worship Him. Jonah also knew the power of God’s message.

Prayer: God of mercy, forgive us for failing to obey You. In Jesus’ name we ask, Amen!Rev. Samuel N. Modise


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