THE PATTERN OF DIVINE INTERVENTION-Chapter 4
Chapter Four: The Nineveh Intervention
By David Schnittger
The Bible presents Yahweh God as both transcendent and immanent. By transcendent, we mean that He stands beyond and is unaffected in His essential being by the circumstances of earth and the universe. By immanent, we mean that He is, at the same time, concerned and intimately involved in the affairs of this universe, and, in particular, with mankind. As such, God has chosen to be responsive to man’s actions, whether judging and punishing sin and unbelief, or granting merciful intervention in response to man’s repentance and faith. It is the latter subject that we will explore in this series of articles. We have already looked at the Exodus intervention under Moses as well as the Babylonian Captivity intervention under King Cyrus. This article will deal with the Nineveh intervention under the prophet Jonah.
In this article, we are going to examine the Divine intervention that took place with the Assyrian city of Nineveh around 750 B.C. We are going to look at the main points of this intervention and then discern whether there is a pattern evident in this intervention. In subsequent articles, as we look at other examples of Divine intervention, we will explore whether this same pattern is evident. The purpose of this study is to discern the times in which we live to see if America is in the midst of yet another gracious Divine national intervention.
JONAH’S CALL AND RESPONSE
The events that are recorded in the book of Jonah took place during the reign of Jereboam II (793-753 B.C.) before Assyria defeated Israel in 722 B.C. We read of Jonah’s call in Jonah 1:1-4:
Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son or Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.
Jonah was a foolish prophet in that he thought that he could not only disregard the Lord’s call to service, but that he could run the other way and somehow avoid consequences. As he was soon to learn, you can run but you cannot hide!
The Lord had to arrange a “memory lesson” for Jonah in the belly of a great fish. You will recall the dramatic narrative of the Lord sending a great wind into the sea, causing the sailors to throw Jonah overboard. At the same time, the Lord prepared a hungry fish just waiting to swallow up the rebellious prophet. It was here that Jonah experienced a “memory lesson.” We read of it in Jonah 2:6-10:
I went to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. When my soul fainted with me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.
Following Jonah’s “memory lesson” in the belly of the great fish, the Lord gives Jonah another chance to fulfill his original calling. This “recommission is recorded in Jonah 3:1-3:
And the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee. So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LOD. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.
Aren’t we glad that the Lord gives second chances? After Jonah’s harrowing adventures subsequent to his initial disobedience, he wisely decides, this time, to obey the Lord. We read of Jonah’s subsequent ministry in Nineveh in Jonah 3:4:
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
Jonah’s message from God was very simple. In 40 days, God is going to destroy Nineveh, His message was ONLY judgment, not deliverance. However it had a very powerful effect, as seen in Jonah 3:5-9:
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yet, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
Jonah’s message had a very unexpected effect, even on the prophet himself. Rather than rejecting the message and persecuting the messenger, as one would expect from a powerful and self-important king, he repented and his people followed suit. The hearing of the Word was mixed with faith, resulting in deliverance.
Notice that Jonah’s revival message included that hope that Nineveh’s repentance might provoke a corresponding repentance on God’s part. We see just in Jonah 3:10:
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
We see in the case of Nineveh, as well as so many other instances recorded in Holy Writ, that the actions of man affect the decisions of God. This can be in a beneficent way or a malevolent way. History records that Nineveh’s repentance was short-lived. They returned to their idolatrous and rapacious ways, provoking God’s ultimate destruction of Nineveh in 612 B.C
Subsequent to Nineveh’s repentance and revival under Jonah, they later conquered Israel in 722 B.C. The instrument of Assyria’s destruction was Babylon, the next world empire to march across the stage of world history. Judgment averted merely became judgment delayed. This judgment is recorded in Zephaniah 2:13-15:
And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness. And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work. This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly; that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.
THE NINEVEH PATTERN OF DIVINE INTERVENTION
I believe we see in the captivity narrative the continuation of the pattern of divine intervention first seen at the Exodus, and again at the Babylonian Captivity. Let me summarize it as follows: A needy people cry out to God in desperation. God has respect to their cry and raises up an imperfect person, who, against the resistance of the establishment, is God’s agent to affect deliverance. In the next article, we will see if this pattern holds for the “global deliverance” effected by the Lord Jesus Christ.