In my entire life, I never thought of Nineveh as any place other than that place in the storyÂ of Jonah and the Whale. However, Nineveh is more than that. It is a city built by Nimrod in Assyria. In my opinion, it was built after the Tower of the Babel, which is when I believe Nimrod left Shinar.
If the book of Jonah is any indication, Nineveh was an evil city looking for God. How can evil people be looking for God, you might ask? Because evil can be what you do or it can be who you are. In this case, Nineveh was evil by what it did. And why would a city looking for God do evil? Because consciously, they were not so much looking for God, but needing Him, without realizing it was Him they were needing. When people need God without understanding their need, they will look to extraordinary sources for it, and doing good is the surest way to find Him… but it is also the hardest. Doing good is a long term plan, and for many who view it selfishly it will seem unrewarding. Doing good requires self-sacrifice, and people in pain often feel sacrificed already.
For those who do not understand that their need is for God, doing good is rarely the path they will take. Those who do will usually be content that at least they made the world a little better, or at least they can look themselves in the mirror at night. Doing good requires the knowledge that you will fail a large portion of the time to make a world at whole a better place… and for people who really need God, but do not know Him, failure does not seem a viable or fulfilling option. People who do good are seen as failures, and in turn fools. And even the do-gooders themselves can have trouble seeing themselves otherwise.
Failure is something that most people cannot deal with. And when doing good things fails to change the world, it can make a person pessimistic and bitter. It can push them away short term success and more toward short term relief from their pessimism and bitterness.
In the world of today, you can see a mixture of these extremes, selfless people who settle for a standard of being good without making a difference, to pessimistic and bitter who seek relief from their feelings of betrayal and hopelessness. Both have in common the need for God, and acceptance of short-term gratification. The former people would seem to make good Christians, if only they were Christians; the latter would often make fantastic Christians, if only someone would realize that their passion for God would equal the hopelessness in which they currently live. The former are often more difficult to convert to God. After all, they are already doing what good they can… “what’s God doing?” The latter can actually be easier, if only they would realize that the love which they so crave will rescue them from their despair. Seemingly good people have nothing to be delivered from… at least nothing they would believe they need delivery from. The hopeless need only be given hope… and they will repent.
Now, imagine an entire city of hopeless people who need God… the ultimate hope. Their need, for those looking to see it, is so obvious. But for Jonah, it was unfair to give such hope to them, because in their hopelessness, they were evil, or at least undeserving. Of course they were undeserving! That’s the point! Otherwise “good” people who don’t “know” God are no more deserving… they just don’t wear that undeservedness on their sleeve.
Nineveh did, and Nimrod founded that city. What in the world does that say about Nimrod?
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Nineveh has a total of 26 verses for it in the Bible.Â The first two verses tellÂ of its relation to Nimrod…Â
- Genesis 10:11 – From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah
- Genesis 10:12 – and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calahâ€”which is the great city.
Â Later, scripture tells of King Sennacherib, who ruled over all of Assyria… including Nineveh.
- 2 Kings 19:36 – So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
- Isaiah 37:37 – So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
Basically, Isaiah prophesied against Sennacherib for his treachery. God had actually foretold his victories against other cities, but rather than glorying in God, Sennacherib gloried in himself. Afterwards,Â God killed his army andÂ Sennacherib retreated to Nineveh (he ruled from there), and then his sons killed him and took over.
Sennacherib was king from 705BC to 681BC. Here’s a summary of his rise to power from Wikipedia…
As the crown prince, Sennacherib was placed in charge of the Assyrian Empire while his father, Sargon II, was on campaign. Unlike his predecessors, Sennacherib’s reign was not largely marked by military campaigns, but mainly by architectural renovations, constructions, and expansions. After the violent death of his father, Sennacherib encountered numerous problems in establishing his power and faced threats to his domain. However, he was able to overcome these power struggles and ultimately carry out his building projects. During his reign, he moved the empire’s capital from his father’s newly-constructed city of Dur-Sharrukin to the old city and former capital of Nineveh. It is considered striking that Sennacherib not only left his father’s city, but also doesn’t name him in any official inscription during his reign. Â
That said, Jonah appears to have lived before then. From the dates I have seen, I think the happenings from the book of Jonah probably occurred somewhere around 750BC, perhaps a bit earlier…
- Jonah 1:2 – â€œGo to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.â€
- Jonah 3:1 – [ Jonah Goes to Nineveh ] Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:
- Jonah 3:2 – â€œGo to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.â€
- Jonah 3:3 – Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it.
- Jonah 3:4 – Jonah began by going a dayâ€™s journey into the city, proclaiming, â€œForty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.â€
- Jonah 3:6 – When Jonahâ€™s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
- Jonah 3:7 – This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: â€œBy the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.
- Jonah 4:11 – And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their leftâ€”and also many animals?â€
So, how evil was Nineveh at the beginning of this story? Note this from Wikipedia…
Nineveh had to wait for the neo-Assyrian kings, particularly from the time of Ashurnasirpal II (ruled 883â€“859 BC) onward, for a considerable architectural expansion. Thereafter successive monarchs kept in repair and founded new palaces, temples to SÃ®n, Nergal, Å amaÅ¡, Ishtar, and Nabiu of Borsippa.
It would seem that leading up to God’s instructions to Jonah, Nineveh was engaged in building magnificent temples to other gods. No wonder God was willing to topple it. There, is the prophecy in Nahum and Zephaniah, concerning Nineveh.
- Nahum 1:1 – A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.
- Nahum 1:2 – [ The LORDâ€™s Anger Against Nineveh ] The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies.Â
- Nahum 1:8 – but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.
- Nahum 1:11 – From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the LORD and devises wicked plans.
- Nahum 1:14 – The LORD has given a command concerning you, Nineveh: â€œYou will have no descendants to bear your name. I will destroy the images and idols that are in the temple of your gods. I will prepare your grave, for you are vile.â€Â
- Nahum 2:1 – [ Nineveh to Fall ] An attacker advances against you, Nineveh. Guard the fortress, watch the road, brace yourselves, marshal all your strength!Â
- Nahum 2:5 – Nineveh summons her picked troops, yet they stumble on their way. They dash to the city wall; the protective shield is put in place.Â
- Nahum 2:7 – It is decreed that Nineveh be exiled and carried away. Her female slaves moan like doves and beat on their breasts.
- Nahum 2:8 – Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away. â€œStop! Stop!â€ they cry, but no one turns back.
- Nahum 3:1 – [ Woe to Nineveh ] Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!
- Nahum 3:7 – All who see you will flee from you and say, â€˜Nineveh is in ruinsâ€”who will mourn for her?â€™ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?â€
- Zephaniah 2:13 – Assyria He will stretch out his hand against the north and destroy Assyria, leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert.
According to Wikipedia, it is unclear exactly when these propheciesÂ were uttered. However, it helpsÂ to note the likely sequence…
Jonah had already uttered his message of warning, and Nahum was followed by Zephaniah, who also predicted (Zephaniah 2:4-15) the destruction of the city, predictions which were remarkably fulfilled (625 BC) when Nineveh was destroyed apparently by fire, and the Assyrian empire came to an end, an event which changed the face of Asia.
Finally,Â there are 2 references to Nineveh in the New Testament…
- Matthew 12:41 – The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.
- Luke 11:32 – The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.Â
Interestingly, Jesus reaches back to before Assyria’s destruction, and even before Nahum’s prophecy against Nineveh. Apparently, Nineveh was truly repentant for some time after Jonah’s message, or else Jesus would not cited them. However, they also did not “get it”, what it means to be children of God, for they went back to their old ways. Eventually, God just let them be destroyed. However, there was that short time when they were right with God… they just didn’t realize what they had, or simply didn’t know how to keep it against the backdrop that was their world.
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Nimrod sure started some troubled cities, huh?