"Nineveh, That Great City"
cities of the ancient world in the days of divided Israel one of the
greatest was Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian realm. Founded on the
fertile bank of the Tigris, soon after the dispersion from the tower of
Babel, it had flourished through the centuries until it had become
"an exceeding great city of three days' journey." Jonah 3:3.
In the time
of its temporal prosperity Nineveh was a center of crime and wickedness.
Inspiration has characterized it as "the bloody city, . . . full of
lies and robbery." In figurative language the prophet Nahum compared
the Ninevites to a cruel, ravenous lion. "Upon whom," he
inquired, "hath not thy wickedness passed continually?" Nahum
wicked though it had become, was not wholly given over to evil. He who
"beholdeth all the sons of men" (Psalm 33:13) and "seeth
every precious thing" (Job 28:10) perceived in that city many who
something better and higher, and who, if granted opportunity to learn of
the living God, would put away their evil deeds and worship Him. And so in
His wisdom God revealed Himself to them in an unmistakable manner, to lead
them, if possible, to repentance.
instrument chosen for this work was the prophet Jonah, the son of Amittai.
To him came the word of the Lord, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great
city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before Me."
prophet thought of the difficulties and seeming impossibilities of this
commission, he was tempted to question the wisdom of the call. From a
human viewpoint it seemed as if nothing could be gained by proclaiming
such a message in that proud city. He forgot for the moment that the God
whom he served was all-wise and all-powerful. While he hesitated, still
doubting, Satan overwhelmed him with discouragement. The prophet was
seized with a great dread, and he "rose up to flee unto Tarshish."
Going to Joppa, and finding there a ship ready to sail, "he paid the
fare thereof and went down into it, to go with them." Verse 3.
In the charge
given him, Jonah had been entrusted with a heavy responsibility; yet He
who had bidden him go was able to sustain His servant and grant him
success. Had the prophet obeyed unquestioningly, he would have been spared
many bitter experiences, and would have been blessed abundantly. Yet in
the hour of Jonah's despair the Lord did not desert him. Through a series
of trials and strange
the prophet's confidence in God and in His infinite power to save was to
If, when the
call first came to him, Jonah had stopped to consider calmly, he might
have known how foolish would be any effort on his part to escape the
responsibility placed upon him. But not for long was he permitted to go on
undisturbed in his mad flight. "The Lord sent out a great wind into
the sea, and there was a might tempest in the sea, so that the ship was
like to be broken. Then the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto
his god, and cast forth the wares that were in the ship into the sea, to
lighten it of them. But Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship;
and he lay, and was fast asleep." Verses 4, 5.
mariners were beseeching their heathen gods for help, the master of the
ship, distressed beyond measure, sought out Jonah and said, "What
meanest thou, O sleeper? arise, call upon thy God, if so be that God will
think upon us, that we perish not." Verse 6.
prayers of the man who had turned aside from the path of duty brought no
help. The mariners, impressed with the thought that the strange violence
of the storm betokened the anger of their gods, proposed as a last resort
the casting of lots, "that we may know," they said, "for
whose cause this evil is upon us. So they cast lots, and the lot fell upon
Jonah. Then said they unto him, Tell us, we pray thee, for whose cause
this evil is upon us; what is thine occupation? and whence comest thou?
what is thy country? and of what people art thou?
said unto them, I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven,
which hath made the sea and the dry land.
were the men exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done
this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because
he had told them.
said they unto him, What shall we do unto thee, that the sea may be calm
unto us? for the sea wrought, and was tempestuous. And he said unto them,
Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto
you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.
the men rowed hard to bring it to the land; but they could not: for the
sea wrought, and was tempestuous against them. Wherefore they cried unto
the Lord, and said, We beseech Thee, O Lord, we beseech Thee, let us not
perish for this man's life, and lay not upon us innocent blood: for Thou,
O Lord, hast done as it pleased Thee. So they took up Jonah, and cast him
forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men
feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and
Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the
belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly, and said:
by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord,
And He heard
Out of the
belly of hell cried I,
heardest my voice.
Thou hadst cast me into the deep,
In the midst
of the seas;
floods compassed me about:
billows and Thy waves passed over me.
said, I am cast out of Thy sight;
Yet I will
look again toward Thy holy temple.
compassed me about,
Even to the
depth closed me round about,
were wrapped about my head.
I went down
to the bottoms of the mountains;
with her bars was about me forever:
hast Thou brought up my life from corruption, O
Lord my God.
When my soul
fainted within me I remembered the Lord:
And my prayer
came in unto Thee,
that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.
But I will
sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay
that that I have vowed.
of the Lord."
Verse 7 to
At last Jonah
had learned that "salvation belongeth unto the Lord." Psalm 3:8.
With penitence and a recognition of the saving grace of God, came
deliverance. Jonah was released from the perils of the mighty deep and was
cast upon the dry land.
Once more the
servant of God was commissioned to warn Nineveh. "The word of the
Lord came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that
great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee." This
time he did not stop to question or doubt, but obeyed
He "arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the
Lord." Jonah 3:1-3.
entered the city, he began at once to "cry against" it the
message, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown."
Verse 4. From street to street he went, sounding the note of warning.
was not in vain. The cry that rang through the streets of the godless city
was passed from lip to lip until all the inhabitants had heard the
startling announcement. The Spirit of God pressed the message home to
every heart and caused multitudes to tremble because of their sins and to
repent in deep humiliation.
people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on
sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word
came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid
his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And
he causeth it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree
of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor
flock, taste anything: let them not feed, nor drink water: but let man and
beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them
turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their
hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His
fierce anger, that we perish not?" Verses 5-9.
As king and
nobles, with the common people, the high and the low," "repented
at the preaching of Jonas" (Matthew 12:41) and united in crying to
the God of heaven, His
granted them. He "saw their words, that they turned from their evil
way; and God repented of the evil, that He had said that He would do unto
them; and He did it not." Jonah 3:10. Their doom was averted, the God
of Israel was exalted and honored throughout the heathen world, and His
law was revered. Not until many years later was Nineveh to fall a prey to
the surrounding nations through forgetfulness of God and through boastful
pride. [For an account of the downfall of Assyria, see chapter 30.]
learned of God's purpose to spare the city that, notwithstanding its
wickedness, had been led to repent in sackcloth and ashes, he should have
been the first to rejoice because of God's amazing grace; but instead he
allowed his mind to dwell upon the possibility of his being regarded as a
false prophet. Jealous of his reputation, he lost sight of the infinitely
greater value of the souls in that wretched city. The compassion shown by
God toward the repentant Ninevites "displeased Jonah exceedingly, and
he was very angry." "Was not this my saying," he inquired
of the Lord, "when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before
unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow
to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil."
Jonah 4:1, 2.
Once more he
yielded to his inclination to question and doubt, and once more he was
overwhelmed with discouragement. Losing sight of the interests of others,
and feeling as if he would rather die than live to see the city spared, in
his dissatisfaction he exclaimed, "Now, O Lord, take, I beseech Thee,
my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live."
thou well to be angry?" the Lord inquired. "So Jonah went out of
the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a
booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become
of the city. And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up
over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from
his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd." Verses 3-6.
Then the Lord
gave Jonah an object lesson. He "prepared a worm when the morning
rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to
pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and
the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in
himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live."
spoke to His prophet, "Doest thou well to be angry for the
gourd?" And he said, "I do well to be angry, even unto
said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast
not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and
perished in a night: and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city,
wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern
between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"
humiliated, and unable to understand God's purpose in sparing Nineveh,
Jonah nevertheless had fulfilled the commission given him to warn that
great city; and though the event predicted did not come to pass, yet the
warning was nonetheless from God. And it accomplished the purpose God
designed it should. The glory of His grace was revealed among the heathen.
Those who had long been sitting "in darkness and in the shadow of
death, being bound in affliction and iron," "cried unto the Lord
in their trouble," and "He saved them out of their distresses.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their
bands in sunder." "He sent His word, and healed them, and
delivered them from their destructions." Psalm 107:10, 13, 14, 20.
His earthly ministry referred to the good wrought by the preaching of
Jonah in Nineveh, and compared the inhabitants of that heathen center with
professed people of God
in His day. "The men of Nineveh," He declared, "shall rise
in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they
repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is
here." Matthew 12:40, 41. Into the busy world, filled with the din of
commerce and the altercation of trade, where men were trying to get all
they could for self, Christ had come; and above the confusion His voice,
like the trump of God, was heard: "What shall it profit a man, it he
shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man
give in exchange for his soul?" Mark 8:36, 37.
preaching of Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so Christ's preaching was
a sign to His generation. But what a contrast in the reception of the
word! Yet in the face of indifference and scorn the Saviour labored on and
on, until He had accomplished His mission.
The lesson is
for God's messengers today, when the cities of the nations are as verily
in need of a knowledge of the attributes and purposes of the true God as
were the Ninevites of old. Christ's ambassadors are to point men to the
nobler world, which has largely been lost sight of. According to the
teaching of the Holy Scriptures, the only city that will endure is the
city whose builder and maker is God. With the eye of faith man may behold
the threshold of heaven, flushed with God's living glory. Through His
ministering servants the Lord Jesus is calling upon men to strive with
sanctified ambition to secure the immortal inheritance. He urges them to
lay up treasure beside the throne of God.
coming rapidly and surely an almost universal guilt upon the inhabitants
of the cities, because of the steady increase of determined wickedness.
The corruption that prevails is beyond the power of the human pen to
describe. Every day brings fresh revelations of strife, bribery, and
fraud; every day brings its heart-sickening record of violence and
lawlessness, of indifference to human suffering, of brutal, fiendish
destruction of human life. Every day testifies to the increase of
insanity, murder, and suicide.
From age to
age Satan has sought to keep men in ignorance of the beneficent designs of
Jehovah. He has endeavored to remove from their sight the great things of
God's law-- the principles of justice, mercy, and love therein set forth.
Men boast of the wonderful progress and enlightenment of the age in which
we are now living; but God sees the earth filled with iniquity and
violence. Men declare that the law of God has been abrogated, that the
Bible is not authentic; and as a result, a tide of evil, such as has not
been seen since the days of Noah and of apostate Israel, is sweeping over
the world. Nobility of soul, gentleness, piety, are battered away to
gratify the lust for forbidden things. The black record of crime committed
for the sake of gain is enough to chill the blood and fill the soul with
Our God is a
God of mercy. With long-sufferance and tender compassion He deals with the
transgressors of His law. And yet, in this our day, when men and women
have so many opportunities for becoming familiar with the divine law as
revealed in Holy Writ, the great Ruler of the universe cannot behold with
any satisfaction the wicked
reign violence and crime. The end of God's forbearance with those who
persist in disobedience is approaching rapidly.
Ought men to
be surprised over a sudden and unexpected change in the dealings of the
Supreme Ruler with the inhabitants of a fallen world? Ought they to be
surprised when punishment follows transgression and increasing crime?
Ought they to be surprised that God should bring destruction and death
upon those whose ill-gotten gains have been obtained through deception and
fraud? Notwithstanding the fact that increasing light regarding God's
requirements has been shining on their pathway, many have refused to
recognize Jehovah's rulership, and have chosen to remain under the black
banner of the originator of all rebellion against the government of
forbearance of God has been very great--so great that when we consider the
continuous insult to His holy commandments, we marvel. The Omnipotent One
has been exerting a restraining power over His own attributes. But He will
certainly arise to punish the wicked, who so boldly defy the just claims
of the Decalogue.
men a period of probation; but there is a point beyond which divine
patience is exhausted, and the judgments of God are sure to follow. The
Lord bears long with men, and with cities, mercifully giving warnings to
save them from divine wrath; but a time will come when pleadings for mercy
will no longer be heard, and the rebellious element that continues to
reject the light of truth will be blotted out, in mercy to themselves and
to those who would otherwise be influenced by their example.
The time is
at hand when there will be sorrow in the world that no human balm can
heal. The Spirit of God is being withdrawn. Disasters by sea and by land
follow one another in quick succession. How frequently we hear of
earthquakes and tornadoes, of destruction by fire and flood, with great
loss of life and property! Apparently these calamities are capricious
outbreaks of disorganized, unregulated forces of nature, wholly beyond the
control of man; but in them all, God's purpose may be read. They are among
the agencies by which He seeks to arouse men and women to a sense of their
messengers in the great cities are not to become discouraged over the
wickedness, the injustice, the depravity, which they are called upon to
face while endeavoring to proclaim the glad tidings of salvation. The Lord
would cheer every such worker with the same message that He gave to the
apostle Paul in wicked Corinth: "Be not afraid, but speak, and hold
not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt
thee: for I have much people in this city." Acts 18:9, 10. Let those
engaged in soul-saving ministry remember that while there are many who
will not heed the counsel of God in His word, the whole world will not
turn from light and truth, from the invitations of a patient, forbearing
Saviour. In every city, filled though it may be with violence and crime,
there are many who with proper teaching may learn to become followers of
Jesus. Thousands may thus be reached with saving truth and be led to
receive Christ as a personal Saviour.
for the inhabitants of earth today is, "Be ye also ready: for in such
an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." Matthew 24:44. The
conditions prevailing in society, and especially in the great cities of
the nations, proclaim in thunder tones that the hour of God's judgment is
come and that the end of all things earthly is at hand. We are standing on
the threshold of the crisis of the ages. In quick succession the judgments
of God will follow one another--fire, and flood, and earthquake, with war
and bloodshed. We are not to be surprised at this time by events both
great and decisive; for the angel of mercy cannot remain much longer to
shelter the impenitent.
the Lord cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth
for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no
more cover her slain." Isaiah 26:21. The storm of God's wrath is
gathering; and those only will stand who respond to the invitations of
mercy, as did the inhabitants of Nineveh under the preaching of Jonah, and
become sanctified through obedience to the laws of the divine Ruler. The
righteous alone shall be hid with Christ in God till the desolation be
overpast. Let the language of the soul be:
refuge have I none,
helpless soul on Thee;
leave me not alone!
and comfort me.
me, O my Saviour, hide!
storm of life is past;
Safe into the
O receive my
soul at last!"