Assyrian kings recorded their conquests of neighboring cities on cuneiforms and sculptured reliefs, depicting in word or graphic detail how they punished those refusing to bow down: dismembering, beheading, impaling bodies and heads on stakes, flaying corpses and hanging the skins on city walls, covering nearby mountains and filling rivers with the blood of those conquered.
Reliefs carved on slabs of stone hung on palace walls like fine art.
No wonder Jonah boarded a ship sailing in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Stubborn? Yes. Afraid? Naturally. Concerned for lost souls? Uh… no. Especially those of his enemies.
Jonah is often called the Reluctant Prophet. And we’d be reluctant, too, don’t ya think?
Nineveh became the capital city when Sennacherib moved there from Dur-Sharrukin to build a new palace. The famed hanging gardens were most likely in Nineveh and not Babylon, according to some sources. Grand parks and gardens, aqueducts, canals, massive walls, gates, temples, statues, military forces and equipment—all were financed by the spoils of war (booty) as the Assyrian kings invaded and overtook smaller neighboring territories.
Nineveh was founded by Nimrod, Noah’s great-grandson, and became the largest, wealthiest city of the ancient world. Situated near the Tigris River, today we know it as Mosul, Iraq.
As a nation, Israel preferred to keep its distance from such depraved brutality. And Jonah’s air of superiority is evident.
During Hezekiah’s reign God’s people succeeded in resisting Assyria’s attempts to conquer Judah, the Northern Kingdom. Of course, Assyrian writings only record their victories.
Being called for missionary work, at first Jonah refused. Little wonder. When he finally did follow Divine leading to the great city, he had to overcome his own fear and disgust before preaching the message God gave him.
The last thing he expected was revival. But the whole city repented—close to half a million people.
What a response from the preaching of a man with a bad attitude and a hard heart. From this same man who threw a tantrum afterward, and complained about nonessentials.
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This afflicted prophet cried long and hard over the sins of his relatives and neighbors. In return for compassion he was thrown into a deep pit. And left to die. By God’s chosen people—rebels uninterested in hearing from God or hearing from His messengers.
Jeremiah believed. His heart remained tender his entire life, except maybe for a few brief periods of discouragement. But who wouldn’t get discouraged?
Obedient, faithful, broken over the hardness of their hearts… Jeremiah saw no fruit for his life devoted to ministry. And when he was rescued, an Ethiopian eunuch held the rope at the top. Slave to Zedekiah, King of Judah—a stranger who believed, and cared, and acted to save another.
Yet, in all Jeremiah’s apparent lack of success—according to modern American standards—it isn’t the book of Jonah that speaks to my heart and lifts my spirit in the mornings, as I read God’s Word.
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath. He has led me and made me walk in darkness and not in light. Surely He has turned His hand against me time and time again throughout the day… He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and woe… Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer… I have become the ridicule of all my people—their taunting song all the day. He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drink wormwood. He has also broken my teeth with gravel, and covered me with ashes. You have moved my soul far from peace; I have forgotten prosperity…
This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I hope in Him! The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord… Let him sit alone and keep silent, because God has laid it on him… For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men…
I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. You have heard my voice: Do not hide Your ear from my sighing, from my cry for help. You drew near on the day I called on You, and said, Do not fear! – Lamentations 3