Are we Nineveh? This is the question that popped into my head this morning as I sat quietly before the Lord sipping my coffee. I opened my Bible to the book of Jonah, and as suspected I felt the Holy Spirit reveal many answers to the question that had been poised in my mind. In fact, many more answers than I anticipated.
Everyone remembers the story of Nineveh, Jonah, and of course, the whale. I think during unprecedented times in life, such as we’ve been seeing in 2020, it’s only natural to figure God must be involved. Of course, He’s always involved in our lives, but it’s the things that shake us that cause most people to take notice of His hand. When the going gets tough, knees get to bending, and even I have been saying since early March that I believe God is doing something big in our country right now. This morning I woke from my dreams, unsure what they had been, but very strongly hearing the words “great awakening” echoing through my mind.
If we consider the town of Nineveh we immediately remember its wickedness. I mean, even Jonah says of the place, “those who cling to worthless idols turn from God’s love for them.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even a terribly convincing storm at sea to tell us that our country clings to worthless idols. We worship celebrities, trust in stock options and account balances, and spend more time on reality television consumption than soaking in scripture. Of course, we are Nineveh, right?! One look at cable television, the state of marriage and family, or even how many hours of overtime we pull a week instead of quality time spent with those we love will tell the tale. Our country has to be Nineveh! And God has been trying to capture the attention this year of a Nation gone bad.
As I read the book of Jonah, though, I found words that didn’t quite gel with my assumptions. Certain that the Christian Church was the role of Jonah, the messenger sent to set a country afire with the truth of God’s mighty hand of vengeance, I made my way through the familiar tale. Understanding that the whale was God’s Grace for the church that had too long remained silent, and that like how God had rescued the fleeing man in the belly of a fish, He could carry us believers through the storms of this year. We had only to stand firm for truth, justice, and the sovereignty of the Heavenly Father we served. Yes, we could deliver the message of God to an evil Nineveh; I was sure of it. Our country was on the brink of destruction. It wasn’t the first whisper of end times.
But then came the part that upended my assumptions. When Jonah came in hard and fast with his word from the Lord it didn’t go as I would think. The sinning people didn’t throw him out of the gate with a busted nose and bruised ego. They didn’t even laugh. They didn’t come up with reasons why this weird man, smelling strangely of whale innards, must be off his rocker, or perhaps on a secret mission from a crooked government. They didn’t come up with a hundred conspiracy theories for why Jonah would falsify this message, or change the subject to how the fish that brought him in was also carrying illegal citizens in its belly. The people of Nineveh weren’t worried Jonah had an ulterior motive to take their weapons (cause he was from an enemy city, after all), or that being from another region, he simply wished to push his beliefs onto them. No one said, “hey, Jonah. Why are you coming here to us in Nineveh? What about the people of Mosul? They are much more wicked! Don’t the lives of Mosul citizens matter?”
The people of Nineveh did none of those things. Instead they began fasting and putting on sackcloth. They repented for their wrongdoing, and they sought to change their ways so the God of truth would have mercy on them. In fact, their King set the perfect example. He put forth orders for fasting and commanded all his kingdom to serve the One true God, to seek repentance, and to hopefully find favor in His eyes, preventing the fall of their city. I realized at this point there was no way we were Nineveh. The Lord had been trying to get our attention since the beginning of the year. He had sent plenty of messages, in the forms of pandemic and civil unrest, and we had scoffed at them all. We had continued to serve our idols in the forms of politics and personal rights. We had turned from God’s love in favor of fights over flags and fantastic distractions from the enemy in all its YouTube glory. Barely a one put on even a bit of sackcloth at all.
In the end of the book of Jonah we find an abrupt conclusion with a very angry Jonah. The Lord, in His boundless mercy, has given grace to Nineveh. He has decided to not destroy them, and we find Jonah raving mad about it. Here we have Nineveh (a city of sinners) and we have a righteous Jonah. I mean, sure he tried to shirk his duty initially, but being in the belly of a whale for three days has to count for something. Jonah cannot believe that God made him come all the way out here for people nothing like him, and when it’s all over they get the same love Jonah himself does. He’s so beside himself he decides to take a nap, under a tree that God has provided. He likes the tree. But to prove a point the Lord takes it away. Jonah awakens with his anger about the dead tree, but God sets him straight. The end.
I did say abrupt, right? I think it’s because God’s word should be the final one on any matter. At the end we find Jonah mad at other children of God getting more favor than he thinks they deserve, and even angry about something as pointless as a shade tree. But the Lord is quick to remind Jonah what is important at this moment. Loving His people (even the sinners of Nineveh). God’s love is truly boundless. We aren’t left knowing if Jonah got God’s point, and I think that may be where we stand as a country now.
We are Jonah. We’re angry at all the wrong things, forgetting that the grace and love our Father models is what is most important. Our country may indeed be like a Nineveh of sorts, turning towards all kinds of idols and false teachings, but I could only hope and pray that we all could be like Nineveh in our repentance. Yet instead of falling on our knees humbly seeking God’s forgiveness, we are ignoring the messages He is sending. Rather than being a Nineveh with ears to hear, we are a Jonah, quick to run away from God’s will, quick to become angry at little things we consider personal affronts, and quick to judge everyone and everything under God except our own shortcomings.
Are we Nineveh? One can only hope. One can only pray that our king and our people (all our people) will humble themselves before God. Perhaps if we can lay down our perceived anger and take our focus off the vines/shade tree that doesn’t matter in a kingdom (of Heaven) sense, then God will spare our land. One can only hope.