God Used Jonah to Change a Culture

Assyrian Cruelty 1     God used the preaching of Jonah to change the corrupt culture of Nineveh. Around 760 BC, God sent His prophet, Jonah, to preach a message of judgment to Nineveh, a major city in Assyria. The reason for the message was, as God declared, “their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jon 1:2). As “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25), God had paid attention to the wickedness of the Ninevites, and the time was near for Him to pour out His wrath. Prior to Jonah’s preaching, the Assyrians were living wickedly and their culture was noted for its brutality. Some of their cruelty could be seen in how they treated non-Assyrians, whom they attacked. For example, “Assurbanipal, one of its rulers, was accustomed to tear off the hands and the lips of his victims. Tiglathpileser flayed them alive and made great piles of their skulls.”[1] There are ancient relief carvings that picture Assyrian cruelty, no doubt to intimidate those who may have considered opposing them. This would have been an early form of psychological warfare.

Assyrian Cruelty 3    God is very slow to anger (Exo 34:6; Psa 86:15), but His patience with the Assyrians was coming to an end and He was ready to judge the nation. His message to the Ninevites was simple, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon 3:4b). This was a message of pending destruction. However, the forty days was a period of grace in which God gave the nation the opportunity to turn from their wickedness and pursue righteousness. Surprisingly, the Assyrians displayed positive volition and responded properly to God’s message. The text reveals, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them” (Jon 3:5). Even the king of Nineveh “arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, [and] covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes” (Jon 3:6). The king acknowledged his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people and called for a fast to demonstrate their humility (Jon 3:7). He reasoned that since God had not brought judgment already, there was opportunity to turn from their violent ways and avoid the Lord’s wrath. The king commanded, “let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands” (Jon 3:8). His reasoning was simple, for he thought, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jon 3:9). Because the Ninevites humbled themselves before God, He spared them from His judgment, for “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” (Jon 3:10). This shows the principle that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5). Because of their humility, that generation knew God’s grace and was spared from destruction.

     Unfortunately, the following generations of Assyrians returned to their evil practices and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. And two decades later they attacked the southern kingdom of Judah during King Hezekiah’s reign (ca. 701 B.C.).[2] But God spared Judah because they humbly sought the Lord (Isa 37:1-38). Because the Assyrians turned away from the Lord and pursued evil again, God destroyed their kingdom in 612 B.C.

     What this lesson about the Assyrians reveals is that the humility and faith of one generation is merely the humility and faith of one generation, and that believing and humble parents do not guarantee believing and humble children. We are no different. God will judge America if we are wicked, and He will spare His judgment if we humble ourselves and turn to Him in faith. We all want to leave a good and lasting legacy to our children, one upon which they can build and do better than we have done. However, we cannot make their decisions for them, as they must choose to carry on what is handed to them. But if we make bad choices, our children will suffer because of our unfaithfulness.

     Personally, I blame much of America’s spiritual and moral decline on the preachers who have failed to accurately communicate God’s Word from the pulpit. False teachers and prophets have communicated a message of their own imagination and have not accurately taught God’s Word. The result is that much of the nation has slipped into moral decline and our pride has grown large as we worship at the altar of self-interest. I pray it’s not too late to turn things around.

     So, what do we do? Well, like Jonah, we should preach the righteousness of God, His judgment of sin upon the arrogant, and His grace and mercy which is available to the humble who turn to Him in faith. Hopefully Americans will listen, and there will be revival, and our nation will pursue righteousness and not evil. If we’re not going to share God’s Word directly with others, then we should at least support those ministries that do. But even once we’ve done all we can, we should realize we are only responsible for our godly output, not the outcome. That is, we control our message and personal lifestyle, but not the response of those who hear and see it. People must be free to accept or reject what is offered. In addition, we should realize there will always be some, sometimes the majority, who are hopelessly unrepentant. The Bible reveals historical events in which God judged arrogant generations, both Gentile and Jewish, because of their defiance against Him (i.e. the Noahic flood, Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt, Canaan, Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc.). Not even Jesus persuaded His generation, and they too were destroyed (Matt 23:37-40). Hopefully we can learn from the historical lessons found in the Bible.

     Let us seek the Lord, learn His Word, live righteously, and share His Word with others and support those ministries that do the same.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

[1] Gerald B. Stanton, “The prophet Jonah and His Message.” Bibliotheca Sacra 108 (April 1951) 240.

[2] Scripture informs us, “Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them” (Isa 36:1), and the king sent his military commander, Rabshakeh, to besiege Jerusalem. His message was, “Make your peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern” (Isa 36:16). If they refused, the residents of the city would be “doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine” (Isa 36:12). No doubt, worse cruelties were involved, and one can only imagine the post-traumatic stress their victims endured.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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