By Kersley Fitzgerald

I'm going to assume you know the story of Jonah. God told him to go to Nineveh and tell them if they didn't shape up, God would smash them. Jonah didn't want Nineveh to repent, so he ran in the other direction. Got swallowed by a fish or possibly a whale. Got spit up and went to Nineveh. If you're not familiar, set this aside and read the book of Jonah — it's short.

The Bible doesn't give too many details about Nineveh itself. It was the capital city of Assyria. Going by the biblical timeline, it was probably one of the first cities settled after the Flood. Shortly after, it was headquarters of the worship of the goddess Ishtar, the "Queen of Heaven." You may also know her as one of her later variants: Ashera, Ashtoreth, Astarte, Isis, Venus, or Aphrodite. Her worship included temple prostitution so vile that she is one of the few gods the Bible specifically warns against worshiping (Deuteronomy 16:21; Judges 6:25-26).

She was also the goddess of war, which the Assyrians honored very much.

The first few verses of Nahum 3 describe the city:
Woe to the bloody city,
      all full of lies and plunder —
      no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
      galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
      flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
      heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end —
      they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
      graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
      and peoples with her charms.
Ashurnasirpal, king of Assyria, recorded some of his exploits:
I built a pillar over against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes,...and I cut off the limbs of the officers, of the royal officers who had rebelled...Many captives from among them I burned with fire, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their hands and their fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers(?), of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts (tree trunks) round about the city. Their young men and maidens I burned in the fire...Twenty men I captured alive and I immured them in the wall of his palace...The rest of them [their warriors] I consumed with thirst in the desert of the Euphrates. [1]
Inspiration for Vlad the Impaler maybe?

When the Assyrian army captured another city or nation, which was often, the entire population was either massacred or resettled elsewhere (see 2 Kings 29:24). Captured kings were beheaded, their heads displayed on staffs in the banquet hall and then left to rot on the city walls. One general was flayed alive; his brother was dismembered and pieces of his body sent about as souvenirs.

Still, Nineveh was glorious. The city wall was seven and a half miles long, surrounding 1730 acres. Gardens, zoos, aqueducts, and 120,000 men, women, and children. Also cattle (Jonah 4:11).

Nineveh was on the east bank of the Tigris River, by modern-day Mosul. It laid about 536 miles from Samaria, where Jeroboam reigned. That's quite a distance when you have to walk. Through enemy territory.

Which Jonah did.

Jonah is first mentioned in 2 Kings 14:25 as a prophet during the time of the Israelite king Jeroboam. We don't know when in Jeroboam's 41-year reign Jonah was called to go to Nineveh, but we do know that about 42 years after Jeroboam, Assyria demolished Israel.

So God asked Jonah to travel to Israel's mortal enemy, the cruelest place on the planet, to offer a message of repentance and forgiveness.

Not only that, if they accepted the message, Jonah would have rescued the method of Israel's future destruction.

Brings to mind the stories of people being held up at gunpoint who wind up taking their robber to dinner. Or the imprisoned evangelists who had the chance to escape but stayed to witness to their jailer (Acts 16:25-34).

Does this apply to us now? We're no longer threatened with extinction by communists. Aliens have not just passed the orbit of Pluto on a collision course. So what horribly cruel culture is about to catastrophically damage the influence of modern Christians? What ignorant, lost people are steps away from destroying the Christian culture? Ready to cart us away. Separate us from the things we value — both holy and profane. Maybe even kill us. It could be that this is the culture God is calling us to reach — while we have the chance.

Before ears are closed completely. Because what the Bible doesn't tell us is how many Assyrians became authentic God-followers during those 40 or so years. Less than 100 years after Assyria wiped out Israel, the Prophecies of Nahum and Zephaniah came to pass — Babylon obliterated the great city of Nineveh. Nineveh was so utterly ruined it wasn't until the nineteenth century AD that Bible critics found enough archaeological evidence to admit it existed.

Revelation and Daniel tell us this will be the fate of the cultures that currently threaten Christianity. So take those prophecies. Then take Matthew 28:19-20 and 2 Timothy 3:12 and you get the same message to us that God gave to Jonah:
Go tell your enemies about Me now because soon they are going take your freedom and your business and your children and your eyes and your head and your voice.

And then, when they are done, they are all going to die.
We are so familiar with the Scripture telling us to love our enemies, but we don't take it to its logical conclusion. Don't just tell people who have hurt us about Jesus — tell people who will destroy us.

Annoyingly convicting questions arise: Are we Jonah? Are we refusing to spread the message of repentance and forgiveness to the authors of our future destruction? Who is it we need to reach before we are silenced? Not all of us will be called to witness to our enemy, but if we are, do we value God enough to do it?

1. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, by D. D. Luckenbill, 1926, Vol. I, pp. 145, 147, 153, 162.

Image credit: "Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

TagsChristian-Life  |  End-Times  |  Witnessing-Evangelism

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Published 2-11-14