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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Prophet Jonah And The War On Terror

Ancient Nineveh, near today's Mosul, Iraq
Next to the story of Noah and the great flood, the one about Jonah and the great fish is among the most likely to be pictured on the walls of our church nurseries.

But this is not primarily a story for children, but one about how God's people are to respond to a terrorist nation. And it is not so much about the character of Jonah as it is the character of a God who reaches out to all nations, even the worst of them.

Jonah (means "Dove") is called by God to carry a warning message to Israel's archenemies, the dreaded Assyrians, known as one of the most brutal and cruel regimes in history. Among their atrocities were skinning people alive, impaling them on stakes, cutting off prisoners hands, feet, noses and ears and ripping out their tongues. Wholesale beheadings of people they conquered were also routine.

In speaking out against them the Hebrew prophet Nahum spared no words: “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims. The crack of the whips, and rumble of wheel, galloping horses, and jilting chariots. Charging cavalry, flashing swords, and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses---all because the wanton lust of a harlot, alluring, the mistress sorceries, who enslaved nations by her prostitution and peoples by her witchcraft.” 

Some examples of Assyrian war crimes
All of this could have given Jonah pause when God called him to a special mission to deliver bad news to Assyria's capitol city, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

But there was likely another motive for Jonah "fleeing from the presence of the Lord" by booking a ship to Tarshish, headed in the opposite direction. As a loyal Israeli patriot, I suspect he wasn't wanting any part of giving advance warning to the Assyrians, fearing they might take God's words seriously and repent, resulting in God showing them mercy instead of utterly annihilating them. 

When that turns out to be exactly what happens, Jonah is totally outraged and pouts, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

In other words, Jonah's hatred was such that he would rather die than to see his ruthless enemies live.

Does anything in this story sound familiar?

For a related post see http://harvyoder.blogspot.com/2014/09/bombings-and-beheadings-are-equally barbaric.html

For more background on the brutality of the Assyrian empire, see http://faculty.uml.edu/ethan_Spanier/Teaching/documents/CP6.0AssyrianTorture.pdf
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