“But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” Jonah 4:11 (NIV)
I’ve always been amazed at the sweeping spiritual awakening that occurred in the ancient city of Nineveh recorded in the book of Jonah. You may recall the details. Jonah was a reluctant prophet of God. One day God came to Jonah with the daunting assignment that he was to go to Nineveh and preach to the inhabitants of that great and sinful city.
God said “Go!” and Jonah said “No!” He tried to run from the call of God upon his life by boarding a ship headed in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. God brewed up a storm that resulted in Jonah being tossed overboard by the ship’s crew. God summoned a giant fish to swallow Jonah, in effect rescuing Jonah from certain death. Soon Jonah is deposited back on the beach, presumably not far from where he started his failed attempt to run from God.
So God came to Jonah and essentially said, “Alright Jonah, let’s try this again.”
Meanwhile there is the city of Nineveh, one of the great cities of the ancient world. Later it would become the capital of the massive Assyrian Empire. God has His eye on Nineveh from two perspectives. On one hand the city is in great peril, having rejected the God of the Israelites and embraced every imaginable paganistic expression. They were in the cross-hairs of God’s judgment. On the other hand the city is the object of God’s great love and concern. God looks in pity upon the people of the city. He says to Jonah, “They cannot tell their right hand from their left.” In other words they are lost … and they don’t even know it. They must be told they are in grave danger.
So God gave to Jonah a short, simple message to preach to them: “Forty days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4). That’s all Jonah preached, and God took that short, simple, yet powerful message and used it to break the heart of a city. Their response is described in equally succinct words: “The Ninevites believed God” (3:5). The inhabitants of the city were so gripped with conviction that they spontaneously called for a repentant response.
Then news reached the palace of the king. He, too, was caught up in the wave of repentance and awakening. Don’t miss that point … the national spiritual awakening started among the people and spread to the capital, not vice versa.
In the end an entire city repented and turned to God. This is one of the most remarkable movements of God among any people in history.
I look at our own nation today and wonder if we are not just like the Ninevites. We do not know our right hand from our left. We are lost and we don’t even know it. We are drowning in a sea of national debt, smothering under a cloud of economic despair, and languishing without a true direction. Nationally speaking, we can’t even bring ourselves to want God or His will.
In short we need God to have mercy on us, as He did on Nineveh. It was His mercy that granted them a reprieve of forty days. We need God to shed His grace on us once again, awakening our hearts to the desperation of our situation, pointing us to the only Truth that will set us free … Jesus Christ.
We, the people of God, are the Jonah of our day. God has sent us to a perishing city, state and nation. Will we run from God and His call, or will we run with God to the perishing masses who are perilously close to destruction?