Jonah 1:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, and cry out against it: for their wickedness has come up before Me."
Northern Iraq’s Christian communities are among the oldest in the world, being first brought to Iraq (as church tradition records) by the Apostles Thomas and Thaddeus. But well before Thomas arrived in the region with the gospel, Jonah was sent by God to preach a message to the ruthless Assyrians in their capital city of Nineveh that they must confess and turn from their wickedness or face destruction.
What records do we have to support God’s assertion that not only were the Ninevites a wicked people, but that their evil was so pervasive that God warned them of certain destruction? On the campus of the University of Mosul resides the rebuilt library of Assyrian King Assurbanipal, who reigned over the Assyrian Empire from Nineveh up to 627BC, just before Nineveh and the Assyrians were destroyed. This library houses 10,000 clay tablets that document exploits of the Assyrians.
Like many of the warring nations at that time, they were ruthless against anyone who they viewed as opposing them. One such example is from a tablet that recorded how King Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) handled prisoners captured after one of his conquests: “I built a pillar against his city gate, and I flayed all the chief men, and I covered the pillar with their skins. Some I walled up within the pillar; some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and 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, and many I took as living captives. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, and their fingers, of many I put out their eyes. I made one pillar of the living, and another of heads, and I bound their heads to posts round about the city.”
You may be wondering what the Old Testament book of Jonah, and the library of Assyrian kings, has to do with today’s massacres that are occurring as I write this article in Northern Iraq? On Thursday, July 24th, members of ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) released a video showing them smashing the tomb in Mosul that by tradition is believed to be the burial place of Jonah, and is considered a holy site for Christians and many Muslims. Mosul, where the famous library is housed, is the second-largest city in Iraq and is built on and adjacent to Nineveh.
ISIS, a Sunni jihadist group with former ties to al Qaeda, is making an assault directed against Christianity. But the destruction of Jonah’s tomb is not what has drawn world attention. As with the wickedness of the ancient Assyrians that caused God to send Jonah to warn them of impending destruction, ISIS is slaughtering Iraqi Christians (as well as others who they view as opposing their views). And the means by which ISIS is carrying out their genocide is reminiscent of ancient Assyrian practices, where it’s not enough to simply kill someone - their deaths must be put on display as heinous acts of terror, even to the point of little children.
ISIS terror tactics include putting murdered Iraqi Christian’s heads on spikes, crucifying Iraqi Christians as a taunting insult to their Christian faith in Jesus Christ, and beheading little children merely because they belong to a Christian family. I was skeptical at first that such evil could be so openly flaunted around the globe, but through the technology of global media these acts of terror are being proudly displayed by this bloodthirsty group for the whole world to see.
There were once over one million Iraqi Christians in Iraq, mostly Chaldeans in northern Iraq who were part of the Roman Catholic church. In the past five years, this number is down to an estimated 500,000. The reason? Christian persecution - first Al Qaeda, now ISIS.
How does someone in my position, a comfortable American blessed to live in a country of such freedom, process such a level of inhumanity of one group of people towards another, especially when the inhumanity is driven by a hatred for Jesus Christ? My heart, and many others in the world today, are broken over such incomprehensible evil. This evil must be stopped.
Christianity in Iraq may be on the brink of being wiped out. We are witnessing the ultimate in Christian persecution. If you are a Christian reading this, we must use the most powerful weapon we have: prayer to our God. If you are not a Christian reading this, I would bet you feel an inward need to pray, because we as a nation may be able to stop ISIS at some later time, but right now we need the power of God to intervene.
Ed Croteau 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.