"Nineveh, That Great City"
Among the 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 3:1, 19.
Yet Nineveh, 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 were reaching out after 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
The 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." Jonah 1:1,2.
As the 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 providences, the
prophet's confidence in God and in His infinite power to save was to be
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.
As the 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.
But the 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?
"And he 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.
"Then 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.
"Then 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.
"Nevertheless 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 made vows.
"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And
Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
"Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's
belly, and said:
"I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord,
And He heard me;
Out of the belly of hell cried I,
And Thou heardest my voice.
"For Thou hadst cast me into the deep,
In the midst of the seas;
And the floods compassed me about:
And Thy billows and Thy waves passed over me.
"Then I said, I am cast out of Thy sight;
Yet I will look again toward Thy holy temple.
The waters compassed me about,
Even to the soul:
"The depth closed me round about,
The weeds were wrapped about my head.
I went down to the bottoms of the mountains;
The earth with her bars was about me forever:
"Yet hast Thou brought up my life from corruption, O
Lord my God.
When my soul fainted within me I remembered the
And my prayer came in unto Thee,
Into Thine holy temple.
"They 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.
Salvation is of the Lord." Verse 7 to 2:9.
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 unhesitatingly. He "arose, and went unto
Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord." Jonah 3:1-3.
As Jonah 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.
The message 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.
"The 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 mercy was 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
When Jonah 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 may 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."
"Doest 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."
Again God spoke to His prophet, "Doest thou well to be angry for
the gourd?" And he said, "I do well to be angry, even unto
"Then 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?" Verses 7-11.
Confused, 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 message of 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.
Christ during His earthly ministry referred to the good wrought by
the preaching of Jonah in Nineveh, and compared the inhabitants of that
heathen center with the 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.
As the 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
There is 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 horror.
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 cities, where 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 heaven.
The 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.
God allows 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
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 danger.
God's 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.
God's message 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.
"Behold, 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:
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, O, leave me not alone!
Still support and comfort me.
"Hide me, O my Saviour, hide!
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
O receive my soul at last!"
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