For our discussion today, we must call on ancient history and archaeology. Nineveh was the capital city of the Assyrian nation. These people were well educated and cultured. There is evidence that twenty-five hundred years ago they made glass. The king owned a library of thirty thousand volumes. Lion hunting was a favorite sport.
The dark side of their story was the use of black magic, fortune-telling, dreams, and spells. The Army was an unconquerable war machine that ruled by fear and torture. They cut off hands, noses, ears, fingers, and put out the eyes of defeated victims. It was customary to make pyramids of heads. Those in danger could be skinned alive, impaled, or burned.
Jonah probably knew these things and certainly hoped that God intended to destroy the enemy of the Hebrews. That was not for Jonah to decide if God would send judgment or offer grace to these lost souls of Nineveh. In the book of Jonah 1: 1-17, we find our prophet asleep while avoiding God’s instructions to go and preach to those people. Today believers can be just like Jonah. They are asleep figuratively while millions face eternal judgment. Jonah was commissioned by God to go to the lost just as Jesus commissioned us. Watch what happens when God’s great commission is neglected.
According to Matthew 28: 19,20, God expects his servants to go. There was no ands, ifs, or buts. Keep in mind that we are talking about the Almighty Creator of the universe who issued a command. Just like Jonah, this text of Matthew is not a suggestion. It is a command full of expectations. To not go, the consequences will fall on our own heads.
Going back to the book of Jonah, we read in chapter 4:11, the people who were to receive the message from God through Jonah were described as people in need. God did not tell Jonah that he should give them a milquetoast message so that they would feel better and be better people. God did not expect them to clean up their act or turn over a new leaf.
If we are not careful, we will do the same thing as Jonah acting in disobedience. Look at chapter 1, verse three. There is a degradation of Jonah’s travels. First, he went down. Any disobedience of God is a downward motion. Then the verse says that he paid a price. Perhaps there are things in our own lives that are the result of experiencing a price for disobedience and we don’t even realize it. It was Jonah’s intention to go to a city called Tarshish which is about as far away as he could go in Spain. It is important in this part of our discussion we remind ourselves that Jonah was a prophet. Therefore, because of his disobedience, his life was less than what it could be.
The effect of Jonah’s disobedience fell on other people, not those in Nineveh. Sometimes we don’t realize how much effect we have on other people when we are disobedient to God. In the case of this rhetoric, it was well known what happened. The ship was supposed to be carrying goods to other lands. They lost the lading, or those shipments they were caring. They lost their self-confidence and became very fearful. They were troubled for their eternal destiny.
Going further into the life of Jonah in chapter 1, we see an inconsistent witness. Verses six and nine talk about praying or not praying. Then the accusation came to Jonah. They said, “Why did you do this?” I am sure there are those people that we have harmed by our disobedience who would like to ask us that question. The answer boils down to a simple response: disobedience.
Notice at the conclusion of the experience that Jonah had, God did not change his mind. The commission to go to Nineveh remained the same. It is like our Scripture in Matthew; the harvest is ripe, and they are ready to respond. It might surprise us to discover that there are people we have overlooked or ignored that would like to say to us, “We were ready, why did you not come to us, why did you not ask us, why did you not tell us?”
The method that God uses, and his reasoning is his alone. It is not for us to question. It is only for us to obey. He expects obedience. He expects us to comply with his instructions. Should we do that, his goal will be fulfilled through us. Would it not be wonderful, if we were so subjected to God, that we were obedient to him when he tells us through the Holy Bible or tells us through the imprint of the Holy Spirit to perform a certain mission and we obeyed?