After Jonah’s “wake up call,” God clarified what He wanted Jonah to do. God was calling Jonah to travel from Gath-hepher 500 miles northeast to Nineveh to call the people to repentance. 500 miles. No planes. No trains. No automobiles. This was going to be a stroll across a hot desert either on foot or possibly on a camel or donkey. (Somehow, I seem to be strangely drawn to these guys who wander around in the desert! :0)
Back in the day, the average amount of ground people covered on such excursions—“a day’s journey”—was somewhere around 20 miles a day. So a 500 mile trip took about 25 days of travel. Throw in a few Sabbaths (when he would have to have parked and rested), and he would have been on the road for about a month.
Nineveh was built by Noah’s great grandson, Nimrod (Yes, that was his real name. Genesis 10:8-11). Scholars estimate that Nineveh’s population was somewhere between 120,000 and 600,000—extremely large for a city back then. Nineveh’s economy centered around the fishing industry, which was very convenient, because it just happened to be located on the eastern coast of the Tigris River where fish just happened to be plentiful. This dependence on the proliferation of fish lent itself to Nineveh’s becoming entrenched in idol worship. Nineveh worshipped Ishtar, goddess of fertility, love, sex, and war. Quite a combo.
The worship of a fertility goddess usually involved both male and female cult prostitution, sometimes rape, occasionally child sacrifice, and numerous other vile rituals. Nineveh had become quite a pustule of a city.
All of this was on top of the fact that Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, which had long been Israel’s enemy. Assyria had attacked, oppressed, harassed, and captured land from Israel for years and years prior to this point in time. Finally, Israel had driven them back, and now, when God ought to be destroying Nineveh—as Jonah probably thought—God was telling Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them to repent so they would not be destroyed. It was a bitter pill for Jonah to swallow.
But, still, Nineveh was 500 miles away and in a weakened state. Why would Jonah care whether or not it were destroyed?
Remember, Jonah was a prophet, and good prophets always know their history. Jonah knew that God had a habit of using enemy nations to bring judgment against His people. Jonah saw that Israel was once again beginning to slip back into its old sinful ways, and may have thought it was just a matter of time before God’s wrath was stirred and He turned Assyria loose on Israel.
It seems like Jonah had some valid, even biblical reasons (Remember God’s judgment against everybody but Noah’s family? Sodom and Gomorrah?), for wanting God’s judgment to fall on Nineveh. Can you think of a time when you had very good reasons for wanting God to act your way when He seemed intent on acting His way? How do Isaiah 55:8-9 and Proverbs 3:5 apply here?
Consider Jonah’s thoughts about the Ninevites’ sin and the punishment they deserved alongside the story of the Pharisees versus the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). Do you see any parallels? What was God’s stance towards the Ninevites and the woman compared to the attitude of Jonah and the Pharisees? How does II Peter 3:9 apply?
Repent: from any time you’ve thought your way was better than God’s way.
Request: that God will help you to forgive anyone who has sinned against you.
Seek God: for the wisdom to know how to stand against sin while showing compassion for those who are in bondage to that sin.