Jonah 4:2 "I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness."
Like the kings before him, Assyrian King Adad-nirari III built his empire on brutality. He ascended to the throne of the Assyrian Empire around 806BC and would have continued in his bloodthirsty campaigns of violence over neighboring peoples had God not sent Jonah to Nineveh to proclaim that he and his people repent.
The Bible records in Jonah 3:4-10 that when Jonah entered Nineveh and proclaimed that God would destroy them if they did not stop their evil atrocities against other nations, Adad-nirari III issued a decree, as recorded in Jonah 3:8-9, to "let every man turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?"
You see, the book of Jonah is much more than an account of a man being swallowed alive by a great fish. Jonah is the historical record of God’s mercy on one of the cruelest yet arguably most dominant empires in world history. The incredible fact though, is that if it wasn’t for the biblical record of Nineveh and the Assyrian kings, very little would have ever been known because up until 1847 no one believed Nineveh ever even existed. The only ancient document recording the history of this mighty empire was the Bible.
In 1847, Sir Austen Henry Layard discovered the capital, Nineveh, and for the first time we began to marvel at how massive and dominant the Assyrian Empire was. Nineveh stretched 30 miles along the banks of the Tigris River and 10 miles back. Its inner walls were 100 feet (10 stories) high and 50 feet wide, with 200 foot towers in its corners. Their empire spread from the Mediterranean Sea all the way across to the Persian Gulf and then down into Egypt. From their beginnings in 1800BC until the final destruction of their empire in 612BC, they were one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever seen.
Layard also unearthed the incredible library of King Assurbanipal, containing over 10,000 clay tablets with the detailed writings of the Assyrian kings and their conquests and achievements. It is in these writings that we learn of the campaigns of cruelty and terror that defined the Assyrians and prompted God to send Jonah to preach to them. In one of his records, King Assurnasirpal describes how he treated prisoners of war: "I built a pillar against his city gate, & I flayed all the chief men, & I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I walled up within the pillar; some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, & others I bound to stakes round about the pillar. And I cut off the limbs of the officers. Many captives from among them I burned with fire, & many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, & their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made 1 pillar of the living, & another of heads, & I bound their heads to posts round about the city."
It was into this culture that Jonah was sent, to proclaim the one and only God will take action and destroy them if they do not repent. Although Jonah admitted that he knew God would forgive them if they would acknowledge their sin and turn from it, because he knew the character of his God to be "gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness", he hated seeing the Assyrians forgiven for such evilness against his own Jewish people.
But God explained to Jonah why He forgave them when they repented. Jonah 4:11, the last verse in the book of Jonah, tells us: "Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?..." God wants you to know there is no sin too great, nothing you have ever done, that He is unwilling to forgive. If He can forgive such barbarous people like the Assyrians, He is willing and able to forgive you for your sins.
And the message of the historical facts in the book of Jonah is not how to survive in the belly of a great fish – it’s how to know you can have your guilty conscience cleansed from anything you’ve done in your life, by the only One who can – the God of the Bible.
is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called "Faith: Substance and Evidence." He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.