The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." (Jonah 1:1-2)In their written accounts of the life of Jesus both Matthew (Matthew 12:38-45) and Luke (Luke 11:29-32) describe an encounter between Jesus and a crowd where he points to the story of Jonah as a sign. A story that the Jewish crowds he was speaking to were quite familiar. In response to repeated requests from the religious leaders of his day for an immediate and spectacular miracle or sign direct from heaven to end all doubt whether he was the Messiah, Jesus points to an old account known very well by his audience. The religious leaders and teachers of the law who were demanding this sign would have read and taught the story of Jonah many times before, which at this point in history was already more than 700 years old. Jesus points to the City of Nineveh and the justice of God.
... Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you." (Jonah 3:1-2)
... The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. (Jonah 3:5)
... When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)
The Reconstructed Mashki Gate of Nineveh. One of the fifteen gateways of ancient Nineveh. The lower portions of the stone retaining wall are original. The gateway structure itself was originally of mudbrick. A few orthostats can be seen at the right of the passageway. Height of the vault is about 16 feet. Photo from April 1990.
Here we have a city of more than 120,000 people who are pursing violence and evil. A people dedicated to sin. A city who was coming face to face with the justice of God and was doomed to destruction, but something happens, something changes, there is something else they encounter. These 120,000 or more people also came face to face with the incredible love of God. This is a story, among other things, about the justice and love of God.
The verdict of God was clear and the city of Nineveh was doomed. Justice required destruction of the city, but love provided a second chance. This is where a man named Jonah comes into the story. God calls Jonah to deliver a message to the city, but Jonah runs from God. Ultimately after nearly dying in the sea Jonah accepts God's will and goes to Nineveh to deliver the message that they are doomed to destruction. The message and the people's response to it changed everything. Hearing the message the people believed it and turned away from violence and sin. I find it interesting that this response started with the people and ended with the government of the city. It was a bottom up change not a top down change. It was a heart change not a law change. They believed the message from God, expressed sincere sorrow, and turned from evil. In other words they believed, repented, and turned away from their sin. God spared the city from destruction a this time, but it would not extend for eternity. Nineveh would be destroyed and conquered by the Babylonians 200 years later. Eternal salvation was not available yet but it was coming. A greater prophet and messenger was coming. Much greater!
One of my favorite quotes sums up what happen in this account perfectly.
"The wisdom of God has devised a way for the love of God to satisfy the wrath of God without compromising the justice of God."
John Piper didn't say this referring to the account of Nineveh as recorded in this ancient book titled Jonah. He wrote this about the Cross, about Jesus. Jesus is the WAY. Jesus provides us the way to satisfy the wrath of God without compromising His justice.
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