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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Nineveh, that Great City

English: Jonah vomited out by the great fish o...
English: Jonah vomited out by the great fish on the shore of Nineveh. Sculpted capital (left side) from the nave of the abbey-church in Mozac, 12th century. Français : Chapiteau de la nef de l'abbatiale de Mozac représentant Jonas recraché par la baleine sur la plage de Ninive (XIIe siècle). Face gauche du chapiteau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jonah was a prophet who was swallowed by a great fish, some say a whale. But he did more than that; getting swallowed by the fish was just an incident on the way to finding the path of obedience. First, he heard the instruction of God to go the the great city of Nineveh and preach against their sin and corruption. 

Nineveh was the capitol of Assyria. Jonah didn't like Assyria because of political conflict with his own country, Judah, so he resisted the call. The Assyrians were renowned for their destructive and humiliating torture of conquered people. Assyria had already captured the northern kingdom of Israel. Of course, his resistance got him in trouble with God who provided the fish to rescue him when the boat he had taken to escape was caught in a storm. After that he went and preached in Nineveh, and the whole city repented beginning with the king. The destruction God had promised was abated, and Jonah moved on to other calls from God.(2 Kings 14:25)

Restored Adad Gate
Restored Adad Gate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nineveh also moved on. The city was sophisticated and offered many luxuries. There was a library, a zoo, and many gardens. There was a temple there dedicated to the goddess Istar and other dieties. The city had 15 gates, some of which have been restored. Sennacherib was the king who was responsible for much of the great renown of the city because of his building programs. 

A hundred years after Jonah's revival, Nineveh was 

again in the pit of sin and corruption, and another prophet, Nahum, one of Israel's minor prophets, called for repentance there, but this time there was no reprieve: destruction fell. Scholars place the destruction at 612 bce. The Book of Nahum has been described as both prophesy and history depending on the date the book was written. Not all authorities agree on the date. Nahum is one of the Minor Prophets, classified as "Minor" because he did not leave a large body of writing.

In the first chapter of Nahum, the writer establishes God's right to call Nineveh to account. God calls all people to be obedient and to follow his commands even though they may be alien and unlearned in his ways. 

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.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
    the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
    and clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum records the destruction that fell on Niveveh including natural events as well as military campaigns. The Tigris River bounded the city on one side, and a storm caused the water to rise and flood the city. The description includes details that may indicate other destructive forces. Nineveh was built on a major fault line and sustained damage periodically from earthquakes.
 The horrors of defeat extend beyond military limits. The city was sacked and burned so that there was no remnant to remind later generations of the site of the great city of Nineveh. There were no survivors. For many years it was believed that Nineveh was a myth or fable until about 1849. Since then many discoveries have revealed the magnificence of the temples, palaces, and gates of the city.

Refined low-relief section of a bull-hunt frieze from Nineveh,

The Bible records the destruction of Nineveh as judgment against the evil of the Assyrian empire and the cruelty of the practices of the government. It should serve as a warning to modern nations that God does not take governmental sins or cruelty lightly.  

Location of the province of Assyria; east of t...
Location of the province of Assyria; east of the Tigris River. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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