Joy in Ninevah
A while back, my husband and I went to see a live production of Jonah. As I watched the play and later pondered the scripture, I asked myself, “Is there anything good about Nineveh?”
Nineveh was a large Assyrian city (late 7th century B.C.E.) whose people were ruthless, lawless, and lived in disobedience to God’s commands. God had a warning for the Ninevites and chose Jonah to be his messenger (remember the story of Jonah and the whale or the big fish (Jonah 1,2)? After a harrowing journey of running from God, Jonah delivered God’s message of impending destruction to the Ninevites.
As you can well imagine, when the Ninevites heard that they had only forty days until God’s punishment would come, there was fear and loss of hope for their future. There was NO JOY in Nineveh. Scripture tells us what happened: “6 When Jonah’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. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: By 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. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (NIV).
The city (120,000 people) fasted, cried out to God for forgiveness as they prayed and – perhaps most importantly, changed their ungodly behaviors and began to honor God and follow his ways.
Have you ever felt like you were in your own Nineveh? Perhaps you or a loved one faced a time of trial, or you realized life was spinning out of control. You may have realized you were doing things that displeased God (like gossip, being stingy, being addicted to something, not being compassionate, etc.). Maybe you felt like you tried and tried to change whatever was wrong but failed. Maybe you just felt like giving up. The good news is that the Ninevites did not give up; they continued their journey of grief and remorse, trusted in God’s goodness and God responded to their prayers. He saw their behavior change and witnessed them coming before his throne of grace in a right spirit of sorrowful humility.
Scripture confirms how forgiving and compassionate God was in Jonah 3; “10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (NIV). That was how deep God’s love was for them!
Now there was JOY in Nineveh! There was joy in knowing God had responded to their cries. There was joy because their lives were again in line with the One who created them. There was joy because they felt the love of God for them in their distress.
Today we are all in Nineveh. We are either trying to “do our own thing”, or we are earnestly doing the best we can to listen to God and follow his word and his will. The answer to my question, “Is there anything good about Nineveh?’ is a resounding, YES! The wonderful news of Nineveh is (1) our God is a God of second chances and (2) he loves us so much he will do whatever it takes to bring us back (if we have strayed) into relationship with him and (3) when we live lives that honor God there will be joy in our Nineveh’s!
What a powerful yet compassionate God we serve! He knows what we are doing, and he desires each one of us to walk in peace and joy rather than to struggle and doubt. May the Ninevite’s story remind us of the joy that can be ours as we seek God’s heart and never give up!