I recently reread the book of Jonah in the Old Testament. You know, the story of the prophet of old who was in rebellion to the call of God on his life. And, in the process of running from God is thrown overboard and swallowed by a great fish. Now, don’t get caught up in the nonsense of arguing big fish – little fish. I have worked in several countries and actually seen fish (not whales) that are big enough to swallow a person. I recently wrote a blog in this regard (see: “Swallowed By a Huge Fish” – blog for February 24, 2022).
Let’s look at the history of the City of Nineveh, the then capital of the Assyrian Empire to which Jonah had been sent to prophesy its doom if it did not repent.
Archaeology has shown that ancient Nineveh was indeed a ‘great’ city in terms of its size and scope. The capital of the Assyrians, it housed anywhere from 120,000 inhabitants to nearly 600,000 and was perhaps the world’s largest metropolis in Jonah’s time.
When the French archaeologist Austen Henry Layard unearthed the city of Nineveh, he found the city’s hub to be one mile in width and two and a half miles in length. Its metropolitan area, however, stretched up and down the Tigris River for more than 20 miles. The outward perimeter of the city — which included other “suburbs” – was determined to be more than 60 miles in length. The 60-mile wall around the city was estimated to be 100 feet tall. In addition to this wall, there were 1,500 towers that were 200 feet in height.
As great as the city was, however, its people – the Assyrians – were equally cruel and wicked. These idol worshippers were especially wicked toward the Israelites. All of Israel hated the Assyrians for their cruel, barbaric ways. The armies of the Assyrians often skinned their captives alive, removed tongues, gouged out eyes, and mutilated the population of entire cities by driving over people with chariots affixed with iron spikes. They also burned children alive and committed other atrocities that were designed to terrorize their adversaries and make them submit.
The Ninevites may have been guilty of much cruelty and injustice even among their own people. That their king decreed they should “turn from [their] evil way and from the violence” when they heard the prophetic message may refer to repenting from violent crimes within Nineveh. It is recorded in Jonah 3:8. “Every person and animal must put on sackcloth and must cry earnestly to God, and everyone must turn from their evil way of living and from the violence that they do” (NET).
I was thinking of how this large city repented in response to the prophetic message brought to them by one man who was from a nation that they hated and almost destroyed. A message from the God that they did not believe in and did not recognize or worship as God. It was a powerful time of God’s grace and mercy moving upon non-believers and calling them to repent and turn to Him.
My point: We could use prophetic voices like this today in both the Church and to the nations. Too often the prophetic voices today speak only what we want to hear and not what we need to hear. Too often the teachers of the Word today are teaching pleasantries and things that we want to hear. The Bible calls this “teachers who tickle our ears.” It seems that the message of the radical and revolutionary Gospel of the Kingdom has been muted and is seldom heard any more.
An example: We are currently witnessing a war started by Russia and destroying an innocent nation of Ukraine and her people. Where are the prophetic voices speaking for God? Where are the prophets who should and could bring a word to the Russian leaders (and nation) regarding the need to repent and turn back to Him? In the same light, where are the prophetic voices to the Ukrainian people bringing comfort and hope in a very difficult time? The Church seems to be silent. Even in my nation I don’t hear prophetic voices – or even the voice of Christian leaders – speaking against what is now taking place or giving a God-point of view in the midst of very trying times. As a number of young men I mentor who live in the regions of the war have noted – the Church is saying nothing, maintaining the false separation between religion and politics. They are not impressed. Neither am I.
It is time for a new generation of prophets like Jonah to rise up and bring the Word of the Lord to current situations in many troubled areas of the world.